In the vast pantheon of politically-charged cinema, Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum) lies somewhere between Costa-Gavras's Z and Sidney Lumet's Network. So what exactly do I mean by that? Among the numerous themes and warnings expressed by directors Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta, the collusion between the state and the media is revealed at its most insidious. Whereas freedom of the press is one of the most highly regarded rights in any given "free society", even the most ardent flag-wavers residing in the quintessential of democracies would concede that the presentation of news and information is, without fail, tainted by slant and agenda. Buzzwords like "fair" and "balanced" and "trusted" get thrown around with such repetitious ferocity that the notion of a "free press" becomes something of a fait accompli long before such evenhanded standards can be demonstrated. When corporations and media conglomerates control the flow of information, an agenda cannot help but exist.
Based on the novel by Heinrich Boll, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum demonstrates that the media, working in conjunction with the government, clearly delineates the irony of the phrase "freedom of the press", that in order to enforce the security of the state the freedoms of many must be compromised. The film takes place in the West Germany of the mid-1970s, in which the threat of anarchism and lingering Cold War paranoia galvanizes the government into action. In response to the growing alarm of terrorism, the police raid the apartment of one Katharina Blum, a housekeeper who spent a night of passion with a "terrorist" under surveillance. Guilty until proven innocent as a collaborator, Blum is arrested and detained. Her ethics, morals, political leanings and personal activities are all ruthlessly examined. Meanwhile, yellow journalists working for "The Paper" use every opportunity to take quotes out of context, slant the news to further the government's growing anti-terrorism initiatives, interrogate and harass her acquaintances (including her neighbors, ex-husband, boss, and even her dying mother lying in intensive care.) So where's the harm of trashing one woman's name and reputation? Never mind that the so-called "terrorist" is nothing more than an army deserter and a thief. The growing threat of terrorism, you see, it sells more newspapers.
And if any of this sounds familiar to 21st-Century American readers, I'm sure it's only coincidental.
No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum remains a fascinating if heart-wrenching movie, a horrifying warning against the government and media conjoined in a campaign to maintain the security of a nation at the expense of the freedoms and the honor of its citizens. The Criterion Collection DVD of the film is not as loaded as some of the more celebrated discs in their library, but the presentation of the film is remarkable and the included extras will please fans of the movie.
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced for your viewing enjoyment. The resulting video presentation is very good if sometimes inconsistent. Grain structure is clearly visible but not overbearing. Colors are strong and adequately rendered throughout much of the film, yet certain scenes seem to be bleak and washed-out (the opening sequence featuring Jurgen Prochnow coming off of the ferry seems to suffer the most.) There is some occasional debris and scratches on the negative, nothing excessive but there nonetheless. Contrasts are adequate and display a good range of luminescence. Images are sharp and well-detailed. While not a perfect transfer, the video looks excellent for an almost 30-year-old film.
The audio is presented in its original German language soundtrack (with removable English subtitles) and is strictly Dolby Digital 1.0 territory. The mono presentation is adequate and presents dialog cleanly, although higher frequencies displays some thinness and some occasional minor hiss. The result is decent and definitely listenable, it not overly impressive.
The directors of the film are showcased in an Interview with Schlondorff and von Trotta. In this thirty-minute feature, the directors of the film speak individually and together about the making of the film, their stars, the political milieu in which the film takes place, and working with novelist Heinrich Boll. On a rather chilling note, they also discuss the threats they received during and after they made The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.
The Director of Photography gets his turn at bat in the Interview with Jost Vacano. Vacano, who would go on to shoot such films as Das Boot, Robocop, and Starship Troopers, spends sixteen-minutes discussing his approach to photographing this political drama. He talks about how the atmosphere of the times, especially the suppression of civil rights, affected his style to the point where he wanted the film to reflect truth rather than fantasy, adopting a more documentary-style of camerawork.
The Heinrich Boll section is dedicated to the Nobel laureate and author of the novel from which The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is adapted. A short, text-based Bio provides some biographical information about the novelist. Also included are thirty-five minutes of excerpts from the 1977 documentary Heinrich Boll, in which Boll discusses his own background, his politics and the changing world of the 1960s, and his motivations for writing the acclaimed novel. While the documentary isn't in the greatest of shape – the video is extremely washed-out, and the print is loaded with scratches and artifacts – it is nonetheless an amazing look into the man behind the novel.
Finally, the film's Original Theatrical Trailer rounds out the extras on this DVD.
Practically every review you read about this DVD will proclaim something along the lines of "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum portrays a parable that is perhaps more timely now as it ever was"… and this review is one of them. I apologize for the rather obvious and mundane cliché, but the inherent truth of the statement is undeniable. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum plays like a humanist shout against the darkness and the fear of oppression, a powerful and moving film that presents a compelling polemic against the perils of overbearing governmental and media power at the expense of civil rights and human decency. Criterion's DVD of the movie certainly does the film justice, with a quality audio and visual presentation and a decent amount of extras. While not a super-loaded special edition, Criterion's The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum DVD is more than worth your time. If you are a fan of political dramas and thrillers, or if you are simply interested in well-written, sharply-directed compelling films, I can definitely recommend this film as a purchase.