video diary: german invasion

January 15th, 2008 | Uncategorized

german tv crew

My memoir Fun Home was just published in Germany, and a German television program decided they wanted to interview me–must be the slow season there. So the director flew over from Cologne, and the cameramen came up from NYC to film me for a day last week.

You might think it would be exciting to have a camera crew filming you all day. But based on my small amount of experience in such matters, I knew it would be excruciatingly boring. I didn’t know it would also be windy and rainy. To entertain myself while they fiddled with their equipment, I made my own short documentary of the process.

61 Responses to “video diary: german invasion”

  1. Irene says:

    Ooooh, Regenschirm! Oddly, your footage looked eerily similar to a lot of the TV I watched as a student in Germany. I wonder if what they filmed will be available on Youtube? What’s the German for Fun Home? Spassheim?

  2. Maggie Jochild says:

    Such a good German you were.

    Anonymous kitty, however, seemed to be taking a stance of non-collaboration.

  3. iara says:

    There must be a law of relativity that says that you can get close, but cannot ever fully capture in video the feeling of boredom that comes with making a video, since the act of observing and videotaping it alters its state and makes it ever so slightly less boring?

    I like your new glasses.

  4. Aunt Soozie says:

    That was fabulous. I loved the outlet of air as the response to the question about light. What I really want to know is what did you do for lunch
    and what do the blue shoes look like?

  5. Helena says:

    Sorry, but I’m one of those boring Germans. So I would like to know when and where this airs. Thank you.

  6. Jo says:

    I am an Austrian (we get the boring Germans TV) and would like to know as well!! Which TV station? YEah!

  7. iara says:

    just to be fair, I think so far nobody accused these particular Germans (or any other Germans or Austrians) of being boring. The boredom had to do with the process of being filmed, as far as I could tell. Is there an innuendo that I missed? Would it have bene more fun to wait around on a rainy day while Guatemalans fiddled with their equipment?

  8. Feminista says:

    “The German Invasion” is a takeoff on the British Invasion,which is what the media called the Beatles on their first US visit in ’63. Some other Brit rock groups followed suit.

    I thought the camerafolks seemed friendly and humorous.

  9. Feminista says:

    I also liked seeing the life-size cut-out of Mo inside the the house.

    May the German-speaking world be as entertained,educated and enlightened as we English-speakers have been with Fun House.

  10. K.B. says:

    “Eine Familie von Gezeichneten” I love it. Who came up with that? It’s an even better pun than the original “Fun Home”. Although it’s much heavier than the somewhat light hearted Fun Home. “A family of drawn ones” = “A family worn by fate” I’m not sure I’m getting the right feeling into the English words. Maybe someone else can do better?

  11. (Sir Real) says:

    Are the blue shoes those Crocs that looked like turquoise blossoms, in one of your past blog photos?

  12. Fester Bestertester says:

    This is so great. I hope someone can figure out some way that those of us on this side of the Pond can see the interview. [Any notion of how long it will run in its final form? Presumably if they sent someone from Cologne, this isn’t going to be a 90sec spot.]

    Two questions about the documentary:
    1] Just before they film The Blue Shoes, does the director really cop a feel on Mo?
    2] What is he looking up in your dictionary while they’re filming the shot of _Fun Home_?

  13. Yes, the blue shoes are my Crocs. Which I am assured are all the rage in Germany too.

    Yes, the director totally grabs Mo’s breast.

    It just appears as if he’s looking something up in the dictionary, he’s really looking at a monitor on the floor.

    I’m trying to get info about when and where the piece will air. The director said it’d be about 6 minutes long.

    And Aunt Soozie, they brought their own sandwiches.

  14. BrooklynPhil says:

    I think a lot of money could be raised (for charity?) by auctioning off life size cut outs of Mo, Sydney, Clarice, et al! Who wouldn’t want their own person DTWOF?! 🙂

    I think the moments of the cat in the video are the best– she’s inquisitive, but not too scared of the foreigners. Also, I liked the moment of the windsheild wipers on the car, with the bare trees behind. Very B/W, formalistic.

  15. Suzanonymous says:

    K.B., thanks for the translation. That is really cool; both meanings caught in one saying, but not too punny, I assume.

  16. The Cat Pimp says:

    The whole thing had a kind of foreign movie feel – all those barren trees, very Bergmanesque. I am very impressed with the cat’s nonchalance as well as the crewman’s nonchalance about his proximity to her output.

  17. K.B. says:

    … actually, on further reflection, “eine Familie von Gezeichneten” comes across as rather very punny. The original “Fun Home” is more subtle.

  18. Emma says:

    When will we boring Germans get a chance to see you in real – introducing your book? Any reading sessions planned already?

  19. Miss C. says:

    Bergmanesque indeed.
    The feeling of invasion is so real – people you’ve never met pulling up in a 4×4, descending upon your living quarters with bulky equipment, occupying the kitty bathroom, filming your stuff. The dark side of fame…

    Das Leben der Anderen. Fascinating.

  20. rosa says:

    Hi there 🙂 I’m German too and also interested in when and where it will air.

    Actually, I really don’t like the German subtitle “eine Familie von Gezeichneten”. Bad, inaccurate and unfunny (and unsubtle) pun, IMHO.

    They often do that to dubbed films here, too – keeping the original English title, but adding a weird German subtitle to it, I guess so that those who don’t understand any English don’t feel completely lost.

  21. Alex the Bold says:

    Whatever you do, don’t mention the war!

    (I hope everyone gets the Fawlty Towers reference.)

  22. Andrew B says:

    Huh. I wonder if Germans will get the joke in the panel where Bruce Bechdel is taking attendance and all the students have German names. Or will they think that has been changed for their benefit, or not notice it at all?

  23. Ian says:

    I love the diva moment about the blue shoes.

    I also love the lifesize Mo leaning on the mantlepiece – I’d love to own one myself!

    IIRC there’s a big German community in the states and I heard the rumour that when deciding which language would be the official language of the US, English only just beat German. No idea if it’s true or not.

  24. Ian says:

    PS Alex the Bold, I’m goosestepping madly around the dining room as we speak … I’m slightly ashamed that when it comes to Germans all I can think of is war jokes, but every one I’ve met has been lovely (It’s an admittedly small sample).

  25. Kate L says:

    For what it’s worth, when I read A.B.’s original blog about the documentary crew, it seemed clear to me that “boring” was a reference to the fact that the crew would be spending much of their time setting up shots, moving equipment, etc. And her comment, “The Germans are coming!” reminded me of the title to the 1960’s movie comedy, “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!”, with Alan Arkin (father of Adam Arkin, who played the gourmet hermit on “Northern Exposure”) as the captain of a Russian submarine that gets stranded on the New England coast.

  26. Aunt Soozie says:

    Feminista….Fun HOME! not house! That was a typo right?

  27. Anna Lee Sand says:

    One of my friends married the German exchange student and went to live in Munich. The first time I visited, their daughter was about a year and a half old. Two handy German phrases I learned during that stay were “Ich habe in meinem hosen gemacht {my diaper needs changing, or, literally, I made in my pants} and “Wo ist mein schnuler????” {where is my pacifier????}

    For some reason, these did not show up in my Berlitz phrase book.

  28. Alex the Bold says:

    Anna Lee,

    You need the Berlitz phrase book for the fetish community!

    (Just don’t mention the war!)

  29. iara says:

    HOME – HOUSE… what’s the difference?

    None really, according to most languages, and a disturbingly large faction of English speakers too. As a non-native speaker of English who is extremely fond of this distinction, I am so saddened to see it eroded by phrases such as “home for sale” “house-made potatoes” etc.

  30. Chapingal says:

    iara Says: “…Would it have bene more fun to wait around on a rainy day while Guatemalans fiddled with their equipment? ”

    LOL as a Guatemalan I can tell you we would it would be funny seeing us, since it would take about 10 of us to actually figure out how to get to Vermont + Drive in the Snow (we have none) + Figure out the equipment… why 10? Because we would bring the entire family along so they could meet the artist and then perhaps do a quick run to Disney (we have no concept of distances in the US)… And of course I am overly exaggerating.

  31. Maggie Jochild says:

    Number one ethnic origin in the U.S. is German (1 out of 6); this parlays into surnames as well.

    There are communities here outside of Austin, Central Texas, where the first language of some children is still German, from an immigration wave in the mid 1800s.

  32. ksbel6 says:

    Ian…the US has no official language. There has been an interest over the past few decades to make it English (due to the large Mexican immigrant population and the Spanish influence they are exerting), but it hasn’t ever been done. I personally think it would be silly. We all seem to get along just fine without declaring one language to be “the one.”

  33. clan chattan says:

    What does Tobias(?) say after noticing the cat litter? “It’s not stinky” is what I hear.

    Bad cat-manners, whoever-it-is taking the satchel away before Kitty is finished inspecting it. Kitty, btw, looks very well-fed now. And it’s good to see her lampshade work on display in a casual context, too.

  34. Aunt Soozie says:

    Yeah iara…a house is not a home.
    and in Americanese “Fun House” has a very specific meaning as well.
    I’m going to go look up fun house on wikipedia for a definition.
    and then I’m going to go find the German word for “fun house”.
    See ya later.
    (I’m home sick with a virus…can you tell?)

  35. Aunt Soozie says:

    hmmm…good essay on funhouses on wiki and it looks like funhouses are like le weekend. Funhouses are just funhouses in any language. Is that right?

  36. Feminista says:

    Aunt Soozie–There’s no place like home…Home sweet home…Home on the range…Home is where the heart is…Homesick…Subterranean Homesick Blues…House of the Rising Sun…

    Re: official languages. My understanding is that English IS our official language,according to atlases. Due to our rapidly-increasing numbers of Spanish speakers,some people have been trying to add Spanish as the second official language. Puerto Rico,a U.S.”territory”,lists Spanish and English as their official languages.

  37. Jana C.H. says:

    Kate L– “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” is one of my favorite movies of all time. Alan Arkin (Adam? Who he?) had been doing mostly Broadway at that time, and the studio bosses weren’t so sure about casting him. The film turned out to be a big hit, and Alan Arkin’s movie career was launched.

    I didn’t realize it when I saw it as a kid back in the Sixties, but the movie made a big political impact, too. There were special showings to DC bigwigs, and even in Moscow. No one expected an American film to show Russians not as cardboard villains but as human beings just like Americans. Norman Jewison, the director, said that an audience of big-name Soviet directors wept when they saw it because they hadn’t made a film like that first.

    By the way, the climactic moment of “The Iron Giant”, one of my favorite animated films, is stolen directly from “The Russians Are Coming”.

    Wandering off-topic…

    Jana C.H.
    Soviet of Washington
    There’s no Pravda in Izvestia and no Izvestia in Pravda. —Old USSR Joke

  38. Ginjoint says:

    I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I would’ve cleaned like a fiend if I had a video crew coming over to film. No, Alison, I’m not saying your place was messy, I’m just referencing my own OCD and hardcore wiring from my mother. That mother stuff, it gets in your head…

    Some part of me would absolutely need to convince the film crew that, why yes, this is how I live all the time. No, really. Everything in its place and not a dustbunny in sight, no ma’am!


  39. iara says:

    Aunt Soozie,
    Sorry to hear you are home sick – but glad you are not homesick or in the sick house! As you can tell, I had completely missed the special meaning of fun house, lost in a fanatical rant about the home/house distinction.
    Thanks for pointing that out and the wiki article, which was fun to read, especially when you have fun home in mind… I liked:
    “Notwithstanding the images in movies and comic books, fun houses did not drop patrons through trapdoors, which would be far too dangerous.”

    No idea what fun houses are called in other languages… there is only a German wiki version: LaufgeschĂ€ft. I can’t tell for sure if it really refers to the same thing, but it is clear enough that it has something to do with “dark rides”: “Sie zĂ€hlen im weitesten Sinne zu den Dark Rides”!
    So, maybe not “Das Funhouse” but probably “Den Dark Rides”

  40. van says:

    “The Germans are coming” LOL!!

    Invasion indeed! Bulky and obtrusive (I prefer inconspicuous spy cameras mounted on eyeglasses, heh). Oh, the price of fame, huh?;) Über cool! (can’t speak German but that umlaut’s gotta count for something).

    @iara “There must be a law of relativity that says that you can get close….”– Heisenberg Principle ;);)

  41. Alex K says:

    @Ian / German as US national language:

    At I find

    “1775 bestand ein Drittel der Bevölkerung Pennsylvanias aus deutschstĂ€mmigen Bewohnern. Sie waren ĂŒberwiegend Lutheraner, Reformierte, Amische, Mennoniten und AnhĂ€nger anderer protestantischer Glaubensrichtungen. Die Deutschamerikaner in Pennsylvania entwickelten eine eigene Sprache auf der Basis pfĂ€lzischer Dialekte, das Pennsylvania Dutch, das auch heute noch gesprochen wird. Andere bedeutende deutsche Siedlungen gab es in Nordamerika zur Kolonialzeit in New York und Virginia. Bei der ersten VolkszĂ€hlung 1790 machten Deutsche fast 9% der weißen Bevölkerung der USA aus. Im Jahre 1795 wurde im ReprĂ€sentantenhaus darĂŒber abgestimmt, ob in Zukunft kostenlos verteilte GesetzesbroschĂŒren auch in deutscher Sprache vorgelegt werden sollten. Mit nur einer Stimme Mehrheit entschied man sich dagegen. Der deutschstĂ€mmige Abgeordnete Frederick Muhlenberg stimmte dagegen, weil er ein entschiedener Gegner einer sprachlichen Zweigleisigkeit deutsch-englisch war und sich fĂŒr eine strikte Integration aussprach. Dass damals ĂŒber die Amtssprache abgestimmt wurde, ist eine hartnĂ€ckige Legende. Die Bauernsprache, wie das Pennsylvania Dutch auch genannt wurde, schrumpfte danach innerhalb weniger Jahrzehnte auf wenige lĂ€ndliche Gebiete und verschwand fast völlig aus dem öffentlichen Raum.”

    Of which the kernel is: “In 1795 the House of Representatives voted on whether in future printed copies of passed laws, distributed gratis [in English], should also be made available in German. The majority was against this measure – by only one vote…The legend persists that the vote had to do with establishing German as an official language.” See also

    @Andrew B: For a Pennsylvania classroom to contain only students with German-origin surnames would not be unusual. AB perhaps will tell us if any joke was intended.

  42. ksbel6 says:

    Sorry Feminista, but seriously, the US has no official language. I do not know a wide range of information, but the facts that I know, I know well…for instance I can factor and solve polynomials with the best of them. Do not, however, ask me to point to the adverb clause in any sentence.

  43. The interview will be aired on Sunday the 20th on a show called “Titel, Thesen, Temperamente” on ARD (around 23.00).

  44. Susanna says:

    As a “person with migrational background” (official German for a non-white German with one white/Christian/German parent; non-whites with no “aryan” parent are “migrants”, even if their parents were born in Germany) I surely wish that Germans were a bit more boring than they actually are.
    US-American publications are a lifeline for me, because they acknowlege the existence of a non-white, non-European feminism, which is underrepresented and even suppressed where I live.
    Thank you, Alison.

  45. Hammerwoman says:

    Emergency! Emergency! Everybody to get from street!

  46. Jana C.H. says:




  47. Donna says:

    A German I admire: Dieter Dengler, of whom an amazing documentary was made (by Werner Herzog) called Little Dieter Needs to Fly.

  48. European Fan says:

    Titel, Thesen, Temperamente is a prestigious TV show about art and culture! Looking forward to seeing you on it on Sunday …

  49. Aunt Soozie says:

    I hope someone will add subtitles and put the program up on youtube!

  50. Fester Bestertester says:

    Zwar gibt es sie schon seit den 1970er Jahren – damals brachte Justin Green die Geschichte von “Blinky Brown” heraus -[…]

    Up above AB gives a link to the web-site for the show that on which the interview will appear.

    In case anyone hasn’t noticed, they’ve updated the listings to show this weekend’s episode, including: Das gezeichnete Ich: “Fun Home” – Alison Bechdels virtuoses Meisterwerk der autobiografischen Comic-Kunst

    (P.S. For those folks whose German is as non-existent as mine, you might find the following useful: )

  51. Andrew B says:

    Alex K, and anyone else who’s interested: bottom panel, page 33. Alison has just finished introducing the question of why her father stayed in Beech Creek and whether he would have been happier elsewhere, which is a major theme of the book. She describes, hyperbolically (“splendor”), her parents’ excitement at living in Germany, and how it was cut short by her grandfather’s illness, which required her father to return to Beech Creek. So in context, the list of German names ironically emphasizes the contrast between being surrounded by Germans for good reasons — because you’re excited to be living abroad — and being surrounded by German-Americans, because you’re stuck back in the inbred hick town you grew up in, where nobody has arrived since the German immigration over a hundred years before. It’s not merely a matter of demographic accuracy.

    So is it a joke? I thought it was funny. It’s certainly possible to make friendly fun of one’s own ethnic group — e.g. Garrison Keillor and his Norwegian bachelor farmers. We are talking about a writer who explains the pronunciation of one German name by saying it rhymes with “rectal”. (See the FAQ page on this site.) Joke or not, there is a point to the panel, and I wonder whether that point will be noticeable to German readers.

  52. --MC says:,e0twv38wcprlr6fl~cm.asp

    Wow, they mention Justin Green and “Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary”! There’s another great autobio book — Justin writes about his, er, Binky’s, struggle with Catholicism and OCD and adolescent sexual curiosity, the three intertwine and subject him to years of hell.
    There was a reprint of it a couple years back, but the printing was substandard — I understand that the originals are owned by someone who won’t let them be scanned for reprints, so they had to shoot off old stats and good copies of the original comic. Still, it’s heavy reading if you can find it.

  53. NLC says:

    MC: Concerning the reference to “Binky Brown”

    Notice that on the page for AB’s interview, they spell the name “BLinky Brown”.

    I had just assumed that this was a typo, but some quick google-ing finds at least one other webpage in German where the name is spelled “Blinky”. I wonder if that’s how the name was “translated” into German (perhaps “Binky” means something “unfortunate” in German?)

    (As an aside, while google-ing I noticed that the original “Binky Brown and Virgin Mary” was listed on Amazon –used, of course– and that the cheapest copy was almost US$80. Perhaps it’s time for me to dig my copy out…)

  54. Alex K says:

    @Andrew: Thanks; well and sensitively read. I had missed the subtext, and I’ve learned from your comment.

    “Surrounded by Germans for good reasons”. Now that DID make me smile. Happiness is just over the fence, where the grass is greener; just outside Beech Creek; just across the ocean; but, of course, wherever you go, as the Bechdels learnt, there you are; you can be just as miserable and quarrelsome in Europe as within overhearing distance of US 80.

    The German-Americans in “inbred, hick” Beech Creek are themselves capable of amazingly exotic splendour. What would a foreigner be able to savour in a tour of duty, with spouse, through rural Pennsylvania? Sugaring for maple syrup? County fairs? Autumn colour? Hunting cabins? Quite a lot, I imagine… Or examine the fascination that AB, from Beech Creek, and her works exert on us. Splendid indeed.

    Grow where you’re planted, eh? And enjoy the Germans that God sends you.

  55. SimonE says:
    Shows dates on which the translators will be reading. Makes planning for next week pretty tough, because the cologne date coincides with my monthly drag king movie night.

  56. CJ says:

    Hey, Titel These Temperamente is real good TV (as far as i can tell, not having one 😉 Literary people watch this.

    If I knew before, I would have someone tape it for me. To bad I just saw it now.
    Here’s a link to their homepage with the teaser for the show:,e0twv38wcprlr6fl~cm.asp

  57. April says:

    ARE there fetish phrasebooks? I’m sensing a potentially lucrative market…

    Wo sind meinem hosen? 😉

  58. Anonymous says:

    I saw the Titel These Temperamente yesterday, and that makes me so happy! To be able to discover your work. You have one more reader now 🙂
    Bye from The Netherlands.

  59. JC says:

    Yes, it was an incredible article. So i could discover your works and you! I have to thank those Germans 🙂
    Greeting from Germany

    PS: your documentary is very funny. I hope the television team see it!

  60. CJ says:

    The feuilliton of my local (well Berlin) paper gave Fun Home a half-page yesterday.

    The author keeps having associations to the Addams Family (I don’t quite see where she makes the connection) and devotes about half of the article to the question, how such a literary publisher came to publishing a graphic novel. And she keeps telling people, that it is different then their image of a comic.
    Are there people in america, who think the comic is the end of the literary world (there are many of them in Germany).

    Well likening it to Marajan Satrapis Persepolis probably is a compliment.

    Hope this link works: