Tag Archives: Fritz Lang

THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES/ Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (Ulli Lommel, West Germany, 1973)


THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES / Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (1973), is a film directed by Ulli Lommel but produced by Fassbinder, written by and starring  Fassbinder stalwart Kurt Raab, and peopled by everyone who seems to have appeared in previous Fassbinder films, including his lover (El Hedi ben Salem), his current and future wives (Irm Hermann and Ingrid Caven), the stars of THE MERCHANT OF THE FOUR SEASONS (Hans Hirschmüller) and ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Brigitte Mira); and many others. There is a real sense of Fassbinderlandia about this film and a reminder of the influence of Warhol’s factory on his style of filmmaking. Fassbinder’s own appearance in this film as a fat pimp and small-time crook, sexually and physically confident in spite of his size, crotch thrust out, is a signifier of how confrontational Fassbinder liked to be.

And confrontational this film certainly is. It’s inspired by the same ‘Vampire of Düsseldorf’ that was the basis for Fritz Lang’s M (and there’s an homage to it here, the bit with the young girl in the playground) but set in the aftermath of WWII rather than the interwar years after WW1. Kurt Raab’s look is a combination of Peter Lorre in M and Max Schreck’s in Murnau’s NOSFERATU. THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES brings out the homosexual dimension to the fore. Here the serial killer is gay, in love with a no-good pimp (Jeff Roden), living in an underworld of petty theft, black marketeering and prostitution (both men and women) that brings to mind John Henry Mackay’s THE HUSTLER: THE STORY OF A NAMELESS LOVE FROM FRIEDRICHSTRASSE. Lommell’s film also brings out the vampiric dimension to the fore as Raab’s serial killer, though with no special super-natural powers, likes to bite his victims in the neck and suck their blood before dismembering their bodies and selling their flesh to restaurants through the black market where the customers adore the ‘pork’.

THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES is a very impolitic film, one that I doubt could be made now. Jack Babuscio began his review in Gay News (Gay News No 06, June 3-16th, 1976) by asking: ‘Ulli Lommel’s TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973) is a film that will certainly set the blood of many Screen Gay readers boiling. Does this mean you?’ (See below and thanks to Andrew Moore for the images).

A creepy gay man luring adolescent runaways to his home with promises of money and employment, then having his way with them (in this film before or after he kills them, with their naked bodies splayed out) must have fed into all kinds of prejudices of homosexual men as predatory paedophiles. It’s a film that would have been a gift to people like Anita Bryant had she been aware of it then. And I wonder to what extent Fassbinder, Lommell or Raab took this into account or whether the social impact of any of these particular narratives and representations on already vulnerable queer communities still living under the repressive Paragraph is something that would have entered their minds. Was it freedom or thoughtlessness?

Frank Noack tells me that, ‘TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES was attacked in West Germany, by gay activists and gay-friendly straight reviewers, for its sinister portrayal of the gay world, but Fassbinder couldn’t care less. His point, more explicit in PETRA VON KANT and FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, was that gays and lesbians exploit one another as much as straight people do. Neither Fassbinder nor Raab, who has written a deliciously lurid tell-all book right after the maestro’s death, expressed any interest in or sympathy for the gay movement. Because of its explicit male nudity, the film nevertheless won a gay cult following’.

The film’s perspective is that an oppressive world creates its own monsters. Raab’s character (Fritz Haarmann) is arrested by the police under paragraph 175 and made to be a police informant. But his compulsion for young male flesh is his own. I suppose the achievement of this handsome-looking film (Jürgen Jürges first job as dop, deploying a whole arsenal of expressionist devices) is in so well evoking a particular underworld of petty criminals, cheap taverns, dark railways, and dangerous attic flats; in shocking and frightening like a good horror film should, and in arousing sympathy for a queer serial killer.

I suspect Raab’s appearance here had a role in inspiring the skin-head look that would become so prevalent a decade later in London and Berlin.

From the handsomely produced Arrow Box Set of Fassbinder films (vol 1.) chock-a-block with great extras, including interviews with the director, actors, cinematographer.

José Arroyo

The Director by Brendan Nash, Baxter Jardine, 2022.

I’ve spent most of the Jubilee weekend immersed in Brendan Nash’s evocation of Berlin in the 1920s. THE DIRECTOR is as much a page-turner as THE LANDLADY; the same characters re-appear, even more likeable; their movements through various spaces in the city – some still legendary; many subsequently destroyed in WWII –roots the fiction in a particular kind of historicising, where events read simultaneously as vividly alive and lost; and as the book proceed its status as historical fiction becomes clearer. It’s not just that Claire Waldorff is a substantial character in the novel; but director Billy Wilder becomes a main one, appearing right from the beginning accompanying the arrival of Paul Whiteman’s band in Berlin; with the inspiration behind his and Robert Siodmak’s PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (1930) occupying several short chapters; we also go into Babelsberg where Pieps becomes an extra in METROPOLIS; Leni Riefenstahl or someone very much based on her appears tangentially but recurringly; and Goebbels, who likes to be called ‘The Director’ appears at the very end. The book is set in Berlin in the Summer of 1926, and divided into three sections, one for each month. Politics are the background to the book’s main pre-occupation, the search for love by people who are different, in a wide array of ways, but nonetheless want to live as they imagine themselves to be. The street fights between the Nazis and the Communists are just shocking background on their way to an assignation or a day out. What I found particularly lovely about these books as historical fiction is that the focus is not on the great figures of the era, though they do appear, but on ordinary people trying to get by; some of them are taxi dancers; some of them get a scholarship to the Bauhaus; some are cleaners and gardeners, some of them end up singing with Paul Whiteman. But what makes THE DIRECTOR such a democratic iteration of historical fiction is that the stars are ordinary people, very understandable and perhaps extremely likeable for being so, who appreciate they’re living in an extraordinary place, many of them sought Berlin as a destination, a place that allows them to be. What the place was like– and more concretely what particular cafes, cinemas, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs in the Berlin of the period were like — and who these characters want to realise themselves as, is part of the fascination of these extremely likeable page-turners.

José Arroyo

Frame Grabs from Godard´s Le mépris

I hadn´t seen the film for years. I´d forgotten how beautiful it is. Each frame a painting, as they say, filmed by Raoul Coutard. And each evocative, expressive, beautiful. But it´s 24 of them a second, part of a shot, often accompanied by dialogue or Georges Delerue´s beautiful score. And there´s Bardot, and Piccoli, and Jack Palance and Lang and Bazin and cinema as it once was, and even then in the process of becoming something else. I couldn´t stop myself from grabbing frames. It´s on MUBI.


José Arroyo