“As a joke, Steffen introduced me as whomever occurred to him at the moment. I was an orphaned painter, an undercover Spartakist, a science protege on scholarship. Steffen introduced me, and then I had to keep up the lies — that was the game. I was a saxophone player in Bix Biederbecke’s band. I was a Swedish mesmerist. When I was asked about the leg, I talked about dogfights high above the Somme; when they wanted to hear my award-winning poetry, I said the poems were so Futuristic they hadn’t been written yet. All it took was a straight face.
There was one lie that made me seem more interesting than all the others. Everyone wanted to drink with me, get high with me, and sleep with me when we told them I was a movie director. It was the lie that turned me into the center of attention and opened the tightest twat. One night over dinner, Joachim Ringelnatz — the whimsical poet who wore a sailor’s uniform wherever he went — eyed me funny and asked if I wasn’t a bit young to be working for the cinema, “fur’s kino”.
I had my mouth full of lamb’s stew, so Steffen came to my defense. “Don’t you read the papers? Klaus is a prodigy! The youngest director in Neubabelsberg!”
I put down my fork, swallowed, and pointed a finger. “Joachim,” I said. “I don’t work fur’s Kino. I am Kino!”
Three years later, I was in charge of my own set in Neubabelsberg, the largest studio in Europe, making a movie that I had written. The producers, the stars, the cameramen and the newspapers all called me Kino, the name I had given myself over Horcher’s lamb stew. I was a prodigy, the youngest director in Ufa’s history. The lie had become truth.”
What glorious chaos! Kino by Jurgen Fauth is the most enjoyable book I’ve read this year. It’s a wild, caroming romp that crashes into German history, Nazi mind control, American pop culture decadence and modern cinema snobbery. The crazy plot soars from beginning to end.
I know Jurgen Fauth — I’ve sung karaoke with him, joined his popular cooperative writing website Fictionaut, chatted him up about Phish and the Grateful Dead, and hung out with him and his wife, novelist Marcy Dermansky, who recently wrote a superb novel called Bad Marie. However, I did not honestly expect to like Jurgen’s debut novel when I first heard about it, because the book’s early promotional materials hinted at a grim and brainy exploration of German cinematic themes. I did not know that Jurgen was very, very funny.
This book’s brisk story, which hops from New York City to Berlin to Hollywood, alludes constantly to the grandiose cinema of Fritz Lang and Leni Riefenstahl. But the real influence here appears to be the madcap comedy of Ernst Lubitsch (as well as Preston Sturges and Peter Bogdanovich, who should really direct the movie version). There are midnight thefts, naturally, and police chases, and airplane rides. What makes it all work is what makes nearly any comic novel work: the characterizations. There’s a bratty American heroine (the granddaughter of a legendary German film director named Klaus “Kino” Koblitz) who travels to Berlin, an anal-retentive, arrogant German film professor who implicitly blames her for the sins of George W. Bush, a long-suffering husband who spends the entire book sick in bed, and, best of all, a delightfully mean old grandmother who wiles away her last days shooting heroin in a Hollywood Hills mansion.
The novel toys with magic realism and metafiction, and during the sequences from Kino’s Berlin diary it recalls the transgressive thrill of Christopher Isherwood and the Oedipal misery of Gunter Grass. All the influences that stew irascibly here are on proud display at the Tumblr that accompanies the book, including a link to an impressive recreation of the trailer for the fictionally legendary The Tulip Thief, the mythical lost film that the entire story revolves around.