“My name is Bernhard Dörries, basically for as long as I have been alive. In Second Life my name is Bernhard McIntyre; I am 88 years old. In Second Life I am, and I feel like, 37.” And thus the focus of the September 2016 segment of The Drax Files World Makers introduces himself in what is one of the most remarkable pieces so far filmed in the series.
His name may not be familiar to most of us, but Bernhard Dörries was instrumental in the establishing the German New Cinema movement following the end of World War 2. Perhaps not as recognised even within cinematic circles due to his focus on television, he nevertheless made 129 films during his career, ranging in scope from experimental meditations on the moral decline and subsequent clash of upper class society in Germany, through documenting the existence of two German states during the Cold War, to pieces examining art history and the influence of colonial powers on middle east painting and sculpture in the 20th century.
What’s more, he is still filming, having turned his attention to machinima and the potential of Second Life – a platform which has become as much his home as the assisted living centre in which he resides in the physical world.“I discovered Second Life in 2008,” he says. “It not only showed me new worlds, it opened new worlds inside myself! I became a new person!” Bernhard says of his experience of the platform. It is within Second Life that Bernhard lives with his Second Life partner, Alsya, where they share a tropical island home modelled after Stromboli – up to and including the volcano! – and which removes the physical world distance between them.
Throughout his career, Bernhard has looked into the nature of society; starting in Munich at the end of the war, and the near-destruction of his homeland. He has constantly sought to scratch away at the surface veneer of our modern society and look at what lay beneath, and how progress so often involves the burying (and ignoring?) of the past, perhaps leaving issues and situations – and lessons – ignored.
Bernhard’s own situation is perhaps a reflection of this. Elderly, in need of care assistance, confined to a wheel chair, he is of a generation our commercial, consumer-driven society can often see as having little intrinsic value (in the UK, for example, the most frequent television adverts we have for those of 60 or over present their commercial worth in terms of life insurance policies aimed at meeting funeral costs).
Yet, as Bernhard demonstrates, while his body may be frail, his mind – and heart – are as agile as ever, and through Second Life he can fully enjoy creative expression in building an island home and in putting together an 80-minute machinima film. It is a place where he can also enjoy emotional release and partake of the company of loved ones and friends on equal terms, free from and shadows or outlooks which might otherwise colour interactions with him.
Bernhard himself recognises this, saying, “My avatar is [my] co-creator. Equal partner in sharing feelings, co-owner of feelings and emotions.” While the comment may have come in response to a question about his film, there is little doubt he’s referring to the broader dynamic between himself and his avatar. It’s a sentiment anyone who has invested time and self in their avatar will doubtless find resonating. However, with Bernhard, we should see within it a special value.
As with Fran Swenson, whose story Drax covered exactly three years ago in September 2013, he demonstrates that Second Life is as much about expressing who we are, regardless of age or situation or location as it is about creativity. It offers a genuine mix of potential and opportunity unmatched in any other medium.
So much so, that I find my thoughts sliding off at a tangent. Just how well will the upcoming new platforms – High Fidelity, Sansar, et al, with their onus more on the “real” self, through elements of identity, voice, and so on, manage to replicate the broad freedoms all of us enjoy in Second Life when expressing who we are – or who we prefer to be? It’s potentially an interesting subject on which to cogitate, although one perhaps better served in a separate article.
As it is, this a beautiful piece, fully deserving of the slightly longer running time, providing us with insight into a remarkable man who is still as much a pioneer today with his embracing of Second Life as he was when he and his colleagues set out to redefine German cinema.