One Way Street: Fragments for Walter Benjamin


I thought I was going to intensely dislike One Way Street (1993) owing to the deployment of that bane of documentary film and television: the actor impersonating a historical figure. But these moments are sporadic, and John Hughes’ film is a reasonable introduction to Walter Benjamin’s elusive philosophies. It probably helps if you already know something of Benjamin’s life and work; there are several allusions, for example, to the famous “angel of history” thesis, and we even get to see the Paul Klee print to which the thesis refers (and which Benjamin owned); but there isn’t a reading of the thesis itself, an omission that the BBC in its documentary heyday wouldn’t have allowed. Various writers and academics do their best to convey something of Benjamin’s thought in sound-bite form, and the film as a whole can probably evade some criticism by claiming to be Benjaminesque in its disjointed and fragmented nature (although that would also be an evasion). I think if I hadn’t read any of Benjamin’s books there’d be enough to stimulate my curiosity, in which case the film would have succeeded. Watch it here. (Via Open Culture.)


Previously on { feuilleton }
Passage des Panoramas

2 thoughts on “One Way Street: Fragments for Walter Benjamin”

  1. I’m ashamed to say this, being Australian an’ all, but I find the accents in this very distracting. I realise this is an unfair and irrational reponse (after all, if they’re translating from another langauge, why shouldn’t the filmmakers use their own accents?) but I’ve clearly been conditioned to expect RP in this kind of documentary/recreation.

    There’s a good if slightly dour German documentary about WB called ‘Die Zukunft hat ein altes Herz’ but I can’t find it online.

  2. I had the same thought about the accents but, as you say, it makes no more sense to have them speaking English with another accent while pretending to be Continentals. The whole matter would have been avoided if they’d sidestepped the dramatisation altogether.

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