“What do you call the power to turn your imagination into reality?”
(Kino, p. 50)
In Kino by JÃ¼rgen Fauth, Mina Koblitz, home early from her disastrous wedding and honeymoon, knows three things about her German filmmaker grandfather Kino: his own son cannot stand the thought of him; he made a horrible film; he killed himself. When she finds two cans of celluloid with one of Kino’s lost films outside her New York apartment, Mina calls on a film expert in Berlin, more to determine the monetary value of the film than anything else and hoping to possibly sell it. Instead, she begins to see that Kino was much more than he was made out to be – at the very least, his missing film Tulpendiebe is a sign that Kino once had a promising start. Unfortunately, Mina’s interest in Kino is slight compared to those who want Tulpendiebe for their own purposes.
Kino’s films are special, in part, because they have an odd after-effect. Once Mina sees the first film, she can’t unsee it, and the scenes replay themselves before her – literally. Same camera angle, same incidents, same lighting. Mina’s grandmother talks about this phenomenon because she once saw a man fall to his death amid broken lumber, the same scene having played out in Tulpendiebe: “[H]e called himself a visionary, and that suited him fine. He didn’t understand his power, had no idea how to control it, and he didn’t care. His movies set events in motion…It was extraordinary” (Kino, p. 120).
Presented as a dabbling, irresponsible artist by some and personally describing himself as a “conduit” of the images, Kino created himself in the bars and whorehouses of Berlin before the rise of Hitler and Goebbels. With his friend Steffen by his side, he assumed a new persona each night. Having lost a leg in a childhood accident, Kino finds women, drugs, and friends abound, particularly when Steffen dubs him a movie director. When Kino calls himself, instead, Kino – meaning cinema – it sticks, and as he says, the lies became truth as Kino goes from being an extra in Fritz Lang’s films to directing his own film.
Ultimately, the novel revolves around this idea of lies as truth. Since Mina learns of her grandfather first through her own father, then through Kino’s journal, and lastly through her drug-addled grandmother, the truth of Kino changes. Who he is and why he created what he did changes depending on who is being asked, and as Mina’s grandmother says about the films Kino was forced to make under Goebbels: “A screen doesn’t just show things, it also hides them. There was no truth in Kino’s operettas! They told splendid lies about gaiety and happiness when the reality was death and fear and destruction and oppression” (Kino, 125). But in a sense, those lies became the Germany many wanted to see.
Thwarted from fame in Germany by Goebbels and saddled with an unsupportive wife, Kino cannot fully realize his potential until it is much, much too late. When Kino is finally able to create a film without control after immigrating to America, he goes off the rails, and his friend and producer Marty tells Mina: “He turned it into something we weren’t ready for, using every trick he had learned….Twenty-Twelve contained bits and pieces from earlier stories, scenes pilfered from his other movies, and a strange private mythology. It was reality-warping and prophetic” (Kino, p. 150).
Kino is obsessive, working as a cab driver in LA, writing and rewriting scripts, picturing films in the dozens of red light changes he passes on the Hollywood boulevards, and pitching ideas when and where he can. For Klaus Koblitz, the man known as Kino, is deeply unhappy. As Uma, Mina’s grandmother pointed out about Kino’s operettas, film hides truths as well as telling lies. Kino’s life is much like this, and even at the end of the novel, the reader must parse the facets of Kino’s life to find some semblance of the man.
Funny at times but deeply despairing, Kino is a testament to the visionary but destructive power of genius and how such genius alters the world around us.
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