While I was in Germany I saw Bridge of Spies with my friend. It’s in English, of course, directed by Steven Spielberg and with the screenplay written by the Coen Brothers and some guy I’ve never heard of.
Because it’s showing in Germany, the film has been dubbed. It’s so very weird to hear Tom Hanks, with his laconic drawl, rendered into German. Friends tell me that the same actor is always used to dub Hanks’ voice into German. So, as familiar as the voice of Hanks is to us, just as familiar the voice of the “German” Hanks is to them.
Funny how that works.
Much of the film takes place in Berlin, which is a bit of an irony as I’m sitting in Berlin. In any case, the film is about former Insurance Attorney James B. Donovan, who through a complex plot line, ended up negotiating the release of U2 Pilot Gary Francis Powers for Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel back in 1961, shortly after the construction of the Berlin Wall. And it turns out that Frederic Pryor, an American graduate student who was caught in East Germany at the wrong time was also thrown into the deal.
I hadn’t realized how improvised these negotiations were. How much they worked through essentially unofficial back channels on both sides of the equation. A fascinating film.
Rudolf Abel is long dead, as is Gary Powers, who died in a helicopter accident years later while piloting a copter for news reporters. But Frederick Pryor is still alive. He’s a professor emeritus at Swarthmore, and there is a very interesting interview with him about all the little liberties that the film took about which the professor knows firsthand. And those are only the falsehoods that Pryor knows about first hand. God knows what other liberties the film makers took. But that’s film-making. Many of these liberties are taken for dramatic effect. Others seem to have no obvious reason. But what do I know.
Most Americans have, of course, heard of the Berlin Wall, but few really understand the situation in the former East German “Democratic Republic” (DDR). For almost 30 years, the country was essentially the world’s largest prison. The wall wasn’t just in Berlin. It extended for the entire border with West Germany, even though for most of that distance it was less a wall then a series of fences with mine fields and multiple sharp shooters on border towers. It’s kind of hard to conceive of now. On the Eastern end, one might be able to visit Poland or Czechoslovakia, not that it was much easier to get from these countries to the West. The world’s largest prison. That’s what it was.
See the Trailer for Bridge of Spies.