Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Word of the month: Kostümschinken


Kostümschinken means literally "costume ham", but no, it does not refer to an actor prone to over-act, but to a historical movie distinguished more for the lavishness of its costumes than the quality of the dialogue or acting--think Victor Mature (Samson and Delilah), think Charlton Heston (The Ten Commandments), think Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida (Solomon and Sheba). More recently, Marie Antoinette has been considered by some as a modern version of the genre. More in my first comment...

9 comments:

Ulrich said...

Kostümschinken combines Kostüm ("costume") and Schinken (literally "ham"). But in this instance, Schinken does not refer to a piece of cured meat. The term can be applied to a badly over-written piece of literature, or a painting with a grandiose theme that is badly overdone, or more generally, to a badly overdone piece of art too ambitious for its own good. (As an aside: I once incurred the wrath of a German blogger when, following in the footsteps of Mark Twain, I had declared Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans a grottenschlechter [i.e. abysmally bad] Indianerschinken.)

That the Germans have a thing for bad art can be seen by the number of special terms they have for particular types of that "form". Among these, Kitsch has made it into several languages. I suggested in an earlier word-of-the-month post that Schnulze also has its uses. This month, I would like to add Kostümschinken to the list.

Credit is due to Laraine for suggesting the term as word of the month--she finds it very expressive and loves it for that reason.

Marlene said...

What examples of Kostumschinken did the Germans create in movies, books or painting? When I was a kid, I was crazy about a movie called "The Robe" and another one called "The Egyptian," both starring an actor named Edmund Purdum, who recently died. Now that I know the word, I think those movies were Kostumschinken.

I wonder if there are any modern examples of Kostumschinken. Current tastes might be too ironic for what was wonderful, melodramatic schlock. I'm with Laraine. Great word. Given that overacting is "hamming"; I just see big slabs of ham walking around in costumes.

Ulrich said...

@marlene: Good question: Serious examples of Kostümschinken must exist in Germany b/c otherwise, why would they create the term in the first place?

I can only speak for the post-war era, where certain movies come to mind: A new version of the Nibelungenlied, in which Siegfried was played by a blond beefcake who happened to be the German entry for the hammer throw competition in the 1964 Olympics, i.e. he at least had the right physique--the joke was that among actors, he was the best hammer thrower (BTW his name was Uwe Beyer and he won the Bronze medal).

Another example: There is a German historical novel called Ein Kampf um Rom ("A Fight for Rome"), which depicts the attempts of some Germanic tribes to conquer Rome in the waning days of the Roman Empire. I remember a Kostümschinken that turns the plot into a movie in which Orson Welles, of all people, stooped to play the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. I remember only one shot: Welles in close-up under lighting that is so bad that his nose casts shadows to either side--his expression was one of utter befuddlement, as if he was saying to the audience: "What the hell am I doing here?"

Let me add a personal note re. Siegfried: I always felt that Siegfried, no matter in which incarnation (from the medieval epic to Wagner) was a bit of a joke--all brawn, no brain. In that sense, Uwe Beyer's lack of acting abilities was no real drawback: In a way, he was perfect for the role.

ArtLvr said...

Wonderful word -- thanks, Ulrich and Laraine. I also caught up with your comment at Rex's on how you came to emigrate, very romantic!

Tonight I popped in here especially to take back a poke I made earlier at an unnamed US Senator for his use of the word "transpicuous", which I thought was invented on the spur of the moment! Darned if I didn't find it used by one of my favorite British writers, Michael Innes (pseudonym for the actual Oxford don J.I.M. Stewart). I wish I'd made a note, but it was somewhere in the mystery collection called "The Michael Innes Treasury", probably in the novel "Hamlet, Revenge!" -- I love his over-the-top plots and unrivaled vocabulary!

miriam b said...

I still giggle a bit when I think of a performance of Siegfried I saw at the Met during my college days. I'm sure it was an excellent production, but unfortunately it struck me funny when our hero, looking closely at the sleeping Brunnhilde, declared, "Das ist kein Mann." And it's even more unfortunate that after all this time, that's the one memory I've retained of that production.

Ulrich said...

@miriam B: That's what happens with Kostümschinken--cf. the only thing I remember about "A Fight for Rome".

As to Siegfried, the opera: It's famous for passages of seemingly interminable boredom, where nothing happens except that the guy up on stage seems to be singing for an hour w/o doing anything. Any comic relief will the more memorable for it. The highpoint is, of course, the fight with the dragon--if staged properly.

Anonymous said...

Constance Garnett was the first English translator of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. She "prettified" the original Russian and gave the writing a 19th century flavor that readers of Dickens and Bronte enjoy. The style seemingly held up until Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky started to write more authentic translations. Readers either love their work or hate it because it's not as "neat." Think of Emily Dickinson whose works were cleaned up. So much beauty was lost in those early edited versions--and this was English to English.

Ulrich said...

@anonymous: Am I correct when I assume this comment was meant for the Nachdichtung thread? In any case, I'm working through the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace right now--what a coincidence!

But let's move this to the proper thread, no?

Andre Adrian said...

Kostümschinken - a german word that will hopefully become famous like Gemütlichkeit - this is nice. I like to add two films to the hall of shame: Georges Méliès film Jeanne D'Arc from 1900 - this was french ham, which Hollywood could not have done worse. And one more Nibelungen, the german movie "Nibelungen" by Franz Lang from 1924.
Still both films have some odd charme to me.