AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
by Harlan Kennedy
None more startling, though, than Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who this year sported chrome-link chains across an ever-increasing circumference. The Teuton wunderkind – well, at 35, not quite a kind but still a wunder – clump-clumped into his press conference, charismatic and bellicose. His film Die Sehnsucht Der Veronika Voss had just unreeled to noisy boos and claps and was to go on to win the Berlin Golden Bear. Herr F. was vigorously giving questioning newshounds the impersonation they wanted: an enfant terrible at bay.
Veronika Voss is not, heaven knows, Fassbinder's
best. But in a merciless
There may be an
allegory in Veronika Voss – a dying
With a Curtís Bernhardt
in full swing at the Astor – reports ran that Fassbinder
it as the condition for fest-premiering his own film – and with noir-ish bows
to vintage Hollywood in movies like Christ Petit's An
Unsuitable Job for a Woman and Amos
Bernhardt's work began
with flair in Germany, then fell away in
The best modern
make-over of film noir and heyday Hollywoodism was
Film noir nightmare
As if to underline the
point, one of the mightiest spectacles at
Friedrich staged it all as a human zoo in motion. The cast is sardine-packed in a cage for the Prologue; American soprano Karan Armstrong uncoils from a snake-skin as Lulu; a dinosaur skeleton towers over the whole production. And you come away wondering what growling, primal carnivore will next jump out at you from the German jungle of atavism? Try these fine monsters!
Fucking City. All right, so the lot
of us turned up wrapped in raincoats and carrying newspapers for this film
about four Berliners – two guys, two girls – and the fun they have making
home porno movies. But if we came to drool we stayed to applaud. There are no
hardcore gymnastics in Lothar Lambert's film; and if
there were you couldn't see them too well through the smear and sizzle of
black-and-white 16mm. Just a raunchy-spoken comedy full of bull's-eye truths
about the power of lust and the collisions it causes between dream and
reality, supply and demand, sense and sensuality. In sex you can't make an omelette without breaking egos, and
Die Beruhrte (No Mercy No
Future). Christ-like progress through the stations of sacrificial
sex by a schizophrenic girl. Set in
Director Helma Sanders-Brahms spoke briefly about her film: "I wanted Rita G.'s story to parallel the process of filmmaking. She offers herself and her love to a series of different men. And in the same way the filmmaker with each film gives herself up to something new, 'risks' herself in encounters with something outside society's norm."
There is a harrowing scene of bloody and prolonged lovemaking between Rita G., not yet recovered from an abortion, and a black gastarbeiter she picks up and brings to a hotel room. "I knew that this scene, in normal film terms, goes on `too long,' " says Sanders-Brahms. "But I did it deliberately. I wanted the audiences to become caught up in the spiral of suffering, that Rita G. is in. In real life, that lovemaking actually lasted three hours. In my film, it's just three minutes. But the shock value, the relentlessness make it seem more."
Bolder than the film's individual scenes or details is the way Sanders-Brahms has defined a whole society – its bigotries, its neuroses, its authoritarianism, its passion for superficial propriety – in the story of one tragic casualty. That there is a potent political subtext in the film, Sanders-Brahms leaves us no doubt. "The nightgown Rita G. wears and the knife she uses to cut her wrists belonged to Ulrike Meinhof."
Other new German
films, steeped in reeky exotics, were a cassoulet of good and bad. Ulrike
Ottinger's Freak Orlando pushes Virginia Woolf's sex-swapping hero(ine)
none-too-willingly through a fantasyland of German history. Wacky
Barnum-and-Bailey images; steadfast elusiveness of purpose. In Unsere Leichen Leben Noch – five
Best of all was Werner Schroeter's Liebeskonzil which, though ball-and-chained to proscenium formalism in its filming of a banned play by Oscar Panizza (the Bavarian Rabelais?), has Schroeter's deadpan extravagance and chalky, outré makeup out of the Chez Lazarus drag club.
So there were films
dancing about and keeping their feet warm in
How else could the ill-accoutred survive such as Sweden's The Frank Murder, in which Gucci-clad angels help a village idiot to fight the local landowner; A German Revolution, wherein director Helmut Herbst tries, and gaspingly fails, to give Georg Büchner the kiss of biopic life; and Zoltan Fabri's catatonic Requiem, to which the only proper response would be the Hungarian for "Zzzz…"?
What is it that sits
like an incubus on the
Not quite your Napoleon perhaps, with Carmine Coppola, color tints, and orchestral tuxedos stretching beyond the earth's curvature. But it was another chance for silent cinema to show that it could still crow fortissimo, and for Ruttmann's day-in-the-life-of-a-city to prove itself a marvelous whirl of movie invention. The humming flux of humanity, the wax and wane of a working day, the Léger-like beauty and bustle of factory machinery, the street-life asides as witty as Chaplin.
nonfiction classic was the best revival at
On the screen:
Cozarinsky's film, shown out of competition, delineates not so much the banality of evil as the what-the-hell-life-goes-on accommodations people make to it. Look happy or look down a rifle barrel. Lulu – the survivor, the toujours gai – would have recognized the smiling jungle, the entente of life-or-death hypocrisy.
Lastly, a brace of
films – one short, one long. Hans Sachs and Hedda Rinneberg's Camilla Horn Watching Herself Play Gretchen in Murnau's Silent Movie Faust! Magic. Fraulein Horn, aged 75 and looking not a day over
glamorous 60, played Gretchen in Faust back
On screen she
continues watching Gretchen, now fighting her way
through a blizzard. "The sound-stage was white with a fake snow... they
started the wind machines and little sticky pieces of snow blew into my eyes,
my nose, my mouth ... but with Murnau you couldn't
stop... and it was cold to show my breath." Reels continue to unspool, the screen is lit showing Gretchen being
carried to a stake, then tied, and Camilla
says, "And now it will be finished." I hope it won't. Cinemas all
over the world, book it now as a supporting program. You have nothing to lose
but your Trout Fishing in
And the feature film
No sooner had the festival closed its gates and festivalgoers vamoosed than news whispered through the jungle of the German night that Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo was to get a quiet and tiny screening at a preview theater.
It was. I went. Herzogs Amazonian epic, which has had the gestation period and labor pains of two elephants and was swathed in myth long before anyone had seen it, tumbled forth from the projector beam and hit the light of a Berlin screen.
herewith. The print was ungraded and some postsynching was shaky. But
"Klaus Kinski Rules" must be scrawled on countless jungle trees down South America way; for ex-Aguirre Klaus is at it again, this time trading Spanish armor for the tropic-stained white suit of the title's opera-crazy German-Irish rubber baron and ice-maker.
His golden hair is all akimbo like warring wheatfields, his mouth is gashed in an imperious sneer, as he paddles and steams up the Amazon bringing Verdi and Bellini to the wilderness. He plays Caruso on wind-up 78's and makes contact with the Indians more profound than language can. His transport is joy, his destination is communion.
Kinski-Fitzcarraldo buys, repairs, and hauls up river – and over mountain – a steamer, the Molly Aida, which becomes his very own floating La Scala: with orchestra and singers and a production of I Puritani played to the river and the passing jungle.
lies as ever in using wild incongruity as a way into Pantheism. Extreme
opposites are yoked and the shock of the surreal startles you into a
Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt together at the mid-jungle Manaos opera-house? Herzog provides them in his opening scenes; with the Divine Sarah wildly and wordlessly emoting while the King of the High C's holds high the suicide dagger at the climax of Ernani. (To pile on colliding anomalies, Sarah in the film is played by a man, and the ultra-stylized staging is by Werner Schroeter, Herzogs compatriot.)
Everywhere in the film irreconcilables are reconciled. There's a stunning scene later in the movie in which the Molly Aida, purling Caruso across the ether, is overtaken by a gliding swarm of native canoes backed by a crescendo of toppling trees. The Indians pull alongside and gently, tickle the side of the boat with their fingers before quietly scrambling up, drawn to the white man in the white suit on the white boat. Kinski holds out a nervously firm hand to shake. The silent Indians answer it with their own greeting: a delicate scrabbling of fingertips on the inside of Kinski's fingers. Then they glide and skitter around him, touching him, exploring him. They finger his blond hair, peer up agog at his blue eyes. Kinski, all the while, magisterially, preposterously aloof, pupils glaring.
Fitzcarraldo is a movie about communion between worlds, the transportability of rapture. There are no hindrances too Herculean if the will is there. One of the film's most spectacular showpieces – its central metaphor – is the scene of the boat being hauled over a mountain. This folie de grandeur is conceived by Fitzcarraldo as the only way he can get his floating opera-house to his own stretch of water, and it's like a DeMille let's-build-the-pyramid-right-here scene given a crazy centrifugal poetry.
Straining ropes, screaming winches, pole-axed pines, crushed Indians. But far from being an expense of in a waste of soles, it pulls the movie's plural threads and themes together in one supreme imagistic conjunction. Music and mathematics unite, expressions of each other. Meaning is born from surreal adjacency (of boat and mountain).
Herzog builds his film from the raw elements – earth, air, fire, water – and melds them in ever startling combinations. In one scene a long shot shows red tongues of flame licking the steamer at night. Conflagration? Indian sabotage? But as the camera moves closer, the flames are seen to be watch fires surreally scattered on the wooden deck among the sleeping Indians.
Water is the primal element and the magical thread of Fitzcarraldo; the liquid highway which connects worlds and cultures. It glints and snakes between green spurs of jungle, it rolls like molten silver at twilight, it floats in pockets of mists; it's changed into ice by Kinski and given as a cool, solid block to the Indians; it catches the demountained steamer in a wild and welcoming whirlpool.
Fitzcarraldo is a film which takes as its protagonist the greatest hybrid form in all art – opera – and spreads the message of its celestial incongruity through all the fibers and fabric of its story. Caruso sings in the deepest Amazon. White men and Indians commune, with touch and trust. The will to connect moves mountains and makes miracles.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE MAY-JUNE 1982 ISSUE OF FILM COMMENT.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.