Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor who explained how to bring Hitler back to life in 1978’s The Boys From Brazil, then pulled off the trick himself in 2004’s Downfall, has died of cancer at the age of 77, the New York Times reports. Ganz was one of the greatest German-language actors of his age, and his long and illustrious film and television career includes work for legendary directors like Werner Herzog, Francis Ford Coppola, Éric Rohmer, and Wim Wenders, for whom Ganz famously played a melancholy angel in Wings of Desire. That’s the thumbnail sketch of his life and work you can pick up from other news sources, the IMDb, or your cinephile friend. But if you had to reconstruct the career of this important actor based on the films Netflix has made available to stream, his obituary would look a little different:
Swiss actor Bruno Ganz is dead at the age of 77. Ganz, a surprisingly well-known figure given his small, critically reviled body of work, burst onto the screen in 1993 at the age of 51 in Australian director Gillian Armstrong’s The Last Days of Chez Nous. Vincent Canby called the film “the sort of insufferable relationship movie in which characters hector each other with questions not meant to be answered,” which presumably explains why Ganz didn’t work for the next two decades. In 2013, he made a triumphant return as “Older Jorge O’Kelly” in Bille August’s Night Train to Lisbon, which set the stage for Ganz’s most successful year, 2014. That year he made two films: the black comedy In Order of Disappearance and director Barbet Schroeder’s 1990s period piece Amnesia. The next year, he took a final victory lap in Remember, a Nazi thriller directed by Atom Egoyan. Although Ganz’s performance in that film suggested he might have a hidden talent for playing Nazis, he never acted again.
This isn’t just a Netflix problem. Kanopy specializes in international and arthouse films, so it should be packed with Ganz’s work, but it only has four films to Netflix’s five. (Their selection is slightly better curated, including Wings of Desire and The Marquise of O., but his entire post-1993 career has been lost to Amnesia.) Despite its TV-focused mission, you wouldn’t necessarily expect Hulu to be a treasure trove of Ganz’s West German TV work from the 1960s and 1970s, but you might hope for better results than the 2017 film The Party and (if you also have Showtime) The Reader. Only Amazon currently offers anything approaching a representative sample of Ganz’s work: Amazon Prime members can currently watch The Marquise of O. (1976), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Saint-Ex (1996) Downfall (2004), The Manchurian Candidate (2004), Youth Without Youth (2007) and Of Women and Horses (2011). Just as importantly, Amazon is the only one of these services that integrates paid digital rentals and purchases in the same place as free films, so an Amazon user will at least be made aware that Wings of Desire exists, even if it costs more money to watch. Still, offering subscribers only seven of the 121 roles Ganz is credited for on IMDb doesn’t seem like much of a best-case-scenario for a streaming media library.
The internet was supposed to erase geographical boundaries, making art from all over the world quickly and readily available to people all over the world. In practice this has meant making people from all over the world painfully aware of a crazy quilt of copyright and licensing agreements from all over the world, which is maybe a little less valuable, culture-wise. Streaming media services fight this reality by using every trick they can to give an impression of abundance, from overstuffed user interfaces to algorithms that decide that a user who types “Bruno Ganz” into the search bar is probably secretly looking for That 70s Show. But try to trace any throughline in the history of film and television via a streaming media library, whether it’s as broad as “the western” or as specific as “Bruno Ganz,” and it becomes painfully obvious we’re watching through a pinhole. Until next month, anyway, when Ganz’s death and the concomitant spike in search traffic may marginally increase the value of his movies on some top secret spreadsheet to the point that studios include a few more of them in the content packages they license to streaming services, proving once and for all that the system works. In the meantime, there’s always House of Cards.