Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cinema's Naughtiest Germans!

Oh those Germans. And how well they die... on Netflix! It seems half the films available for instant viewing are for, by, or about that most egomaniacally insane of western nations, Deutschland! For some reason these Teutonic descendants of pillaging marauders and towheaded savages are just meant for the casual distance provided by Netflix streaming. Let's take a look:

1. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979, dir. Fassbinder)
Failed attempts to get through badly cropped, dubbed VHS bootlegs made me associate Fassbinder with tedium, experimental amateurishness ala Warhol/Morrissey and inevitable peevish headaches, and even the title of this film made me think it was about Eva Braun, mistress of Hitler (below). But now, on streaming Netflix, Fassbinder is ready for rediscovery. BRAUN's got pre-code era frankness and post-war late 1940s Berlin disillusionment, as a combination LAST SEDUCTION meets BABY FACE uberfemme negotiates her way from despair as the impoverished wife of a missing German soldier to mad riches as the mistress of a captain of industry! Brechtian socioeconomic satire merges with Almodovar/Sirk-style operatics like a bayonet through black market butter. Plus, there's lots of good post-war wreckage for our heroine to negotiate her way through (in high heels, naturlich).  A-

2. The Baader-Meinhof Complex(2008, dir. Uli Edel)
Sociopathic German youth never looked better than in late 1960s swinger outfits with machine guns in hand, even if the filmmakers feel the need to use, yet again, Buffalo Springfield singing about how what it is ain't exactly clear / but there's a man with a gun over there, to encapsulate that wild time of the late 1960s (and of course the ubiquitous flaming monk on the eleven-o-clock news). Though occasionally confusing as characters come and go with no ID cards (and all the hot German frauleins change wigs and hairstyles understandably often), it's all boldly ambiguous and rich without being tediously overcrafted. The terrorists aren't painted in any particular brush, letting viewers be attracted to these angry political activists while horrified at the violence of their actions.  The sobering effect is to find your gangster movie fantasia suddenly resembling middle eastern terrorist mentality; you've been tricked into identifying with your own enemy via the mass hypnosis of popular cinema; your own tool of hypnosis used against you, bourgeoisie schweinhund!

Consider the loop of hate that leads from the Nazis back around to the Baader-Meinhof group aka The Red Army Faction: First, the Nazis take their hate out on the Jews; then the toughened surviving Jews split to the Holy Land and take their rage against the Germans out on the Arabs; the children of the former Nazis take the rage of the Arabs out on their parents, for not fighting what they perceive as yet another Hitler in their midst (America). But is it really that these kids don't want to make the same mistake their parents and grandparents did and look the other way as fascism takes over and seals the fate of the free world or is it merely antisemitism reborn in flashier clothes? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so cute... been so violent... for so much media attention. B+

3. The Last Days of World War Two (2005, History Channel)
We all love WW2 because it's the last war wherein we had a clear, unshakably firm purpose as human beings. We needed to band together and work our asses off to defeat Nazism or we'd all be enslaved or killed, so it was more than just a "political policing" action. When Bush calls Iran part of the Axis of Evil he's showing he doesn't know what he's talking about: the real Axis of evil would blow his mind with its horrific yen for wanton destruction. LAST DAYS is flashy, bold and relatively fearless in its constant, excited head counts ("one hundred thousand die on this day, 60 years ago!") And the footage is unsparingly gruesome, sad, sometimes darkly comic... sometimes devastating beyond thought or words. We can never remember this war enough, and thank the stars and General Patton for our continued rulership over the free world! A

Go To Bright Lights After Dark for a semi-sequel to this entry: From Russia With Hell!


  1. Fassbinder is one of the greats, for sure, and tedium and amateurishness are pretty much the last adjectives I'd apply to his brash, formally precise oeuvre. As much as I like the Brechtian minimalism and Hollywood genre pastiche of his earlier films, his late films are where it's really at for me, like Maria Braun and the whole BRD trilogy of which it's a part: lots of Sirkian mirrors, light and color used to suggest character, bold, woozy camerawork. And man, no one was blessed with a better group of actresses, among them the amazing Hanna Schygulla.

    If you want more Baader-Meinhof, incidentally, Fassbinder's own Third Generation is a bitingly funny satire of revolutionary violence and the aimlessness and pointlessness of the political youth movements of the time.

  2. Coool! Thanks, Ed! I'm kind of glad I waited to get into Fassbinder until now that I'm more mature and nihilistic.


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