Film of the Month – The Boat God of the Lakeside Sports Club

by Michael Girke

This film is filled with the belief in progress. It articulates this in the only legitimate manner for art – it assumes that narratives let themselves be changed; that through their assistance, humanity interprets its reality.
A facet of Robert Bramkamp’s concept of cinema is the positioning of the historical, the factual and the fictive within a relationship from which another film form arises, one full of possibilities yet unseen and untapped. The point of departure of his new film, The Boat God of the Lakeside Sports Club, is that the antediluvian Mesopotamian region between the Euphrates and Tigris and the Brandenburg region around Lakes Glubig and Scharmuetzel have slipped atop one another. In clarification: The relationship between the prehistoric region and German reality is greater than one thinks. Can Brandenburg profit from this constellation? Will it transform itself if an antique Sumerian God wanders amongst humankind there?
If sought, the historical links of Bramkamp’s film, within the history of cinema, are found in the epic films; “Troy”, “The Passion of Christ”, and “Lord of the Rings” are all current annexations of mythology which utilize all the potentialities of cinema so as to render the miraculous with an aura of tangibility. The makers of such films, however, always merely turn on Hollywood’s special effects machinery so as to excessively inflate the film figures – as if being superhuman were the singular factor that facilitates in fashioning a tolerable existence.
The Boat God comes across un-heroic, banausic, as if he has just been kidnapped into a myth from a Neuköln corner bar. His name is Enki. 5,000 years ago he imparted abilities onto humans, abilities which enabled them to prevail over the destructive natural cycles and establish a civilized world. Today, he works as temporary help at the Lakeside Sports Club. Enki embodies that which is materially absent, that which must imperatively occur so that the routine existence in the immediate region of Lake Scharmuetzel – a region pressed to the societal perimeter by the dominant economic situation – once again becomes worth living. Undeniably, as is obvious from appearances, such a God has long failed history.
“Were it feasible, we would have gladly managed without so much mythology. Now, however, we are convinced that the myth is a language, a means of expression.” This was written by Cesare Pavese, an Italian writer, communist, and resistance sympathizer during the time of Mussolini. Pavese employed antique mythology in order to illustrate how – in societies such as that of post-fascist Italy – old, presumed-dead forces-of-effect and conflicts continually asphyxiated any anticipated new start. Bramkamp’s film correspondingly contradicts the notion that a myth is simply a flight of fancy. In the ancient Greek, mythos means “the word that sounds facts.” Dissimilar to logos, the word of the philosophers and theoreticians, mythos embraces individuality, feelings, dreams, emotional lows and contradictions in one; mythos, thus, is much more inclusive in its comprehension of humanity.
Nowadays the mythology of cinema serves a cult of the broadly disengaged; it serves the devaluation of everyday reality. The “Boat God” is a remonstration against this. The manner in which Bramkamp plays a myth along, in which he amalgamates it with the authentic life stories and difficulties of the people of the Lakeside Sports Club, gives the myth its reality back. The portrayal of a myth as a perpetually valid truth is the epitome of torpidity. Mythology can be relentlessly broken and altered, and this must indeed occur, otherwise the grand narratives and current everyday experiences of life have nothing do with one another. If there is an enlightened treatment of mythology to be found in the cinema of today, then it is in Robert Bramkamp’s film.
Those who cling to the strict division of genre categories will have to see double for this film: In “Boat God,” the documentary and fictitious are inextricably fused. Bramkamp documents how he interleaves his own concepts into reality. Brandenburg is full of extraordinary composite creatures, mutants. As a hero, Enki fits splendidly into their world of wickedly cool thrills and sensations. But he has no desire to play this role, is angry, for the narratives of the mutants only concern themselves; the social – and the corresponding active and transformative participation in the social – has been completely lost from their sight. On occasion, the horror on the silver screen is an expression of exact knowledge of the public.
The sports club lending the film its title truly exists. Located in one of the abundant, steadily disintegrating East German areas falling into agony as it is increasingly abandoned by the job-seeking inhabitants, the club represents a truly authentic miracle. It is one of the last cultural attractions in which everyone can participate. In the concluding scene at the employment office, Enki requests an extension of his job-creation program position; according to law, however, he may not be utilized for the purpose of maintaining existing structures; aid is only available after the structure’s deterioration, for cleaning up. In the heads of the state, a disaster film is obviously running. Enki attempts another narrative with them, that is, to present them another reality. Bramkamp’s film is an element of a project which is being continued on the Internet. There, everybody can emulate Enki and to bring abilities and knowledge into play so as to enable the continuance of the lakeside boat club. With this, the film moves further into the world which one enters when one leaves the cinema.
John Ford, the director of Westerns, loved to film on location in the legendary Monument Valley, far from Hollywood. Doing so offered him the occasional possibility of escaping the routines and intrigues of the film industry. In “Boat God”, it appears as if Bramkamp has likewise found his Monument Valley. When was the everyday life of Brandenburg ever presented in such beautifully colored pictures? When was its noises recorded on tape ever so intensively? The breadth and openness of the heavenly skies correspond with the way that the film, with elation and great abandon, confronts publicly repressed facts.

Copyright © konkret, 2006