The Berlin & Beyond Film Festival is currently running at what is perhaps America's most un-normal movie venue, the Castro Theater. Friday saw the screening of director Pepe Danquart's "Joschka & Mr. Fischer" and seldom have a film subject and screening location been more alike. Both completely unique, both impossible to forget.
The film follows the evolution of one Joseph Martin Fischer, an ethnic German originally from Hungary, who has always been known by the Hungarian nickname Joschka. Born in 1948, to follow his story is, in many respects, to follow the story of post-war Germany.
Starting out as the politically conservative son of a small town butcher, Joschka goes from being a Marxist leftist, to working class drop-out, to depressed taxi driver, before reinventing himself as a Green Party activist and step by step evolving into the person who becomes an icon of the modern German state.
And what's both fascinating and encouraging is watching how he remains true to himself throughout. His journey is not a study in being corrupted, but rather one of true, meaningful growth; the path to maturity and wisdom. Both for him, and for the society that spawned him.
The Normalcy of Unique
So it was somewhat ironic to see his story first presented to American audiences in The Castro Theater. After all, their stories are so similar in some ways.
Both emerged from the margins of social respectability and normalcy to become uniquely (and somewhat quirkily) central to a new social milieu. And in the process, a newness emerged from the melding that reflects a symbiosis, despite its unlikely genesis.
The theater is like a living time capsule. From the art deco design of the building itself, to the opulently decorated interior and large viewing screen, the Castro just oozes tradition.
Yet so truly does it hold to tradition that it winds up being completely unique for it. Here is the only theater left (anywhere??) with a real organ that rises on an elevated platform from beneath the stage to treat the waiting audience to 20 minutes of live music before each film. If you want to know what a movie going experience was like in earliest days of film, come to the Castro.
And no ordinary films ever play in this most extraordinary venue. The Castro survives by showing vintage, cult, and contemporary avant-garde film festival material.
So it all seemed so fitting, the match of Joschka with the Castro. Two rebels who had triumphed over their outcast status. And through their processes of evolution, both demonstrated how our modern societies and cultures have changed too. By absorbing these outcasts through their maturity and growth, society has demonstrated its own.
It seemed as though both were messengers that night; the theater and the man. Beacons signaling that the best of life is tied to the fullness of life. That there is no us or them; no normal nor abnormal. There is only us. And that perspective is everything. The broader it is - the more real it is. And what's real, works.
Joschka found this out. And so did San Francisco.