A Swiss filmmaker gets ensnared in a plan to ensure Nazi domination of world cinema in this oddball historical fiction.
Emil Nägeli has received some praise for his cinematic efforts, enough to draw the attention of the Nazi officials chafing at Hollywood's dominance of the world cinema market. With the luminaries of German cinema either dead (F.W. Murnau), decamped for Hollywood (Karl Freund), or, unknown to the authorities, about to (Fritz Lang), Nägeli is chosen as just prestigious enough and, perhaps, malleable. He is charged with making a film that will be such an artistic triumph that it will open cinema as a new front in the coming battle for world domination. His location for shooting, for reasons never really made clear, is Japan, where the Japanese film minister, Amakasu, has his own schemes for cultural domination. Also flitting through are Charlie Chaplin (in a plot that borders on slander) and the German film critics Lotte Eisner and Siegfried Kracauer. What this is supposed to add up to is anyone's guess, as the novel is interested in neither plot nor dramatization. Nearly half of the slim book is taken up with the childhood traumas of both Nägeli and Amakasu and any memories that have to do with ear wax or rotting teeth. There is no sense that Nägeli is under any pressure from Nazi officials, and the vague overtures to making him a figure of resistance don't amount to much. Nothing has any weight here. Fritz Lang escapes Germany as if he were simply catching a train to the country. And the reader is given no reason to care about either the characters or what story there is given the cold detachment with which all are portrayed.
Imagine Weimar Germany as Night of the Living Dead minus the thrills.