Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... KAMIKAZE 1989

Only now does it occur to me... that I would ever see German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder (BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN) running around in a leopard-print suit (well, lurching around, rather) and solving crimes as a hardboiled detective in somebody else's (Wolf Gremm's) queer cyberpunk thriller.

It bears mentioning that Fassbinder died at 37 of a drug overdose, little more than a month before this film was released (and at Wolf Gremm's apartment). One can tell watching this film that he is near death; he stumbles around in a daze, punctuated by episodes of rage and childlike impotence; generally, he's as corpulent and unhealthy-looking as Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL.

It's been years since he could pull off the mesh-shirt/kimono combo

I have a lot of personally complicated feelings about Fassbinder and his death––in the sanitized, arthouse-fan-service version, he's a mad genius/enfant terrible who worked himself to death by making three to four feature films a year and who picked up a drug habit because it allowed him to make even more films. In this narrative, he's the living embodiment of the Lao Tzu quote about "the flame that burns twice as bright" burning half as long. In the version supported by those who knew him personally, he was more like something between a schoolyard bully, an angry toddler, and a cult leader, abusing the actors in his troupe and the people close to him with sadistic abandon. For me, this does not diminish the quality of his incredible films, but forces me to reckon with his personality whenever I engage with those films. It also makes me wonder if, here, at the end, his character invades the personal space of everyone around him because he is directed to, or if he is just being a dick.

Does he throw tantrums––like smashing the buttons on apartment buzzers––because it is a character trait of "Polizeileutnant Jansen," or a character trait of Fassbinder himself?

Seriously, like 10% of this movie is him furiously smashing buttons:

There's a rogue's gallery of Fassbinder regulars throughout, including Günther Kaufmann (WHITY, IN A YEAR WITH THIRTEEN MOONS) and Brigitte Mira (ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, MOTHER KÜSTERS GOES TO HEAVEN):

and the whole thing functions mostly as an insane New-Wave fashion show (which is something I would never complain about):

Just another day at the office

Yep, that's Franco Nero 

Yep, that's a Superman phone

Yep, that's a modified football jersey on a futuristic housewife wearing New Wave swimwear

Yep, that guy is just carrying around a broken toilet

On the whole, it's as if BLADE RUNNER were a queer German art film channeling THE APPLE:

I'm pretty sure the nurse behind this man is wearing a giant BIM mark

except with a dreamy electronic score by Tangerine Dream's own Edgar Froese instead of sci-fi disco, but that's neither here nor there. Perhaps appropriately, the film ends with Fassbinder humping an image of Neil Armstrong and touching himself while listening to the audio of Nixon debriefing Armstrong after the moon landing.

This is literally how the movie ends, and it's Fassbinder's (unknowing?) ultimate farewell to the world of film.

Somehow, it seems appropriate: masturbatory, strange, histrionic, and sad.


Roger said...

I'm not sure this is your intention but now I HAVE to see this film.

Sean Gill said...


Oh––morbid curiosity is a driving force in probably half the movies I watch!

AnonyMike said...

AonyMike here... So speaking of morbid curiosities, German new wave, drug-fuelled death, McDonalds-suberverting (well you didn't speak of that, but what I will, er, does), queer Blade Running cyberpunk... has one cast ye eyes upon the madness of 1984's "Decoder"?

It's a self-righteous industrial monstrosity of heroin-injected Berlin Wall-looming, Soft Cell-scored chaos starring FM Einheit of Einstürzende Neubauten; Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle; painter, film actor, unaffiliated scholar, member of the avant-garde art scene in the East Village in New York City Bill Rice (that's all stolen from Wikipedia), teenage prostitute-turned Bowie charity-cause Christiane F and nothing less than William S. Burroughs himself as "Old Man".

It's both shit and brilliant at the same time. Much like the transatlantic hamburger culture it attempts to satirise.

It's a mess and perfect. It's godawful yet beautiful. It's tragic if you love frogs, yet monstrous... if you love frogs... wait no, it's just cruel to frogs. It's mostly a big fat pile of poo but strangely compelling, especially if you've ever wondered what would happen if you let Front 242 make a movie armed only with heroin, arrogance, frogs and hamburgers at their disposal.

Sean Gill said...

AnonyMike––wow, that sounds spectacular, and right up my alley––I'll have to dig it up!