One Way Street: Fragments For Walter Benjamin (1992)
(The other) John Hughes’ One Way Street: Fragments for Walter Benjamin (1992) seeks to present vignettes from the German philosopher’s life as well as his writing, predictably, in a form that reflects Benjamin’s own working method. As a result, fragmentation – pictorial and structural – becomes the (dis)organizing principle of the film. Multiple sub-frames (recalling Nick Ray’s cherished avant-garde film), graphic overlaps and abrupt colour shifts on the visual front are complemented by a thoroughly variegated set of exposition devices: hammy enactment of biographical minutiae, talking heads of authors who have written on Benjamin and other intellectuals of Weimar Germany, fictional interviews and an onslaught of quotes by Benjamin – onscreen as well as vocalized, reminiscent of Alexander Kluge’s attempts at adaptation of Marx, This ‘unclassifiability’ of the film finds an echo in the seeming malleability of Benjamin’s body of work – appropriated by a variety of disciplines and practitioners – which becomes one of its areas of investigation. Never dwelling on a particular strain in Benjamin’s thought (nor enriching our understanding of these dimensions), the film emphasizes the non-teleological nature of his work which resists ideological or philosophical reduction. At times, trying to emulate his subject, Hughes also takes to chains of free associations – toys/soldiers/toy soldiers etc. – that don’t necessarily take us deeper than the surface pleasures they offer. However, probably the most wanting quality of the film is that, situated on this side of the collapse of Berlin wall, the film doesn’t seem to want to open up Benjamin to the present, content in presenting a portrait of the writer locked in a time capsule – exactly the attitude towards past that Benjamin was operating against.