Fassbinder continues to surprise, this time with an all-out comedy, a high-pitched farce, dealing with the vulgar, explicit and extreme in a way that’s designed to be offensive and to push as many of the audience’s buttons as possible. How did he get away with it? In the first ten minutes of the film, we get fellatio with gun à la CHANT D’AMOUR, a murder enhanced by poppers during coitus, a dildo-drawer with a gun, a woman slapping down her brother-in-law’s erection in close-up, a prostitute getting her nipples tweaked for a laugh… It’s like a grunge explicit version of boulevardier farce about masochistic power relations, drained of any trace of elegance. I found it discomforting and funny.
The plot revolves around Walter Kranz(Kurt Raab), once the poet of the revolution, now suffering from writer’s block, and in constant need of money. He has a long-suffering wife, several mistresses, a brother who’s not all there (and who seems to be modelled on the fly-eating Renfeld, Dracula’s side-kick). He takes adoration as his due and exploits all his inter-personal relationships, including his long-suffering parents, whom he tricks out of the money they’ve saved for their funeral.
designed to be offensive
After two years when he hasn’t been able to write a word, he finally recites some lines he likes. He’s delighted at the break-through only to be told that the lines are not his but those of Stefan George, the famous symbolist poet. So he decides to become George by performing him, by hiring a coterie of young gay men to worship his poetry readings and by becoming gay himself, something he ends up not being too successful at. Performing identity, performing society’s expectations of identity and finding liberation in madness are key themes in the film.
male full frontal
Like in a good farce, everything is over-turned and comes full-circle in a ‘happy’ ending. Walter, who’s surprised when his brother likes the whipping he gives him, ends up finding his own masochistic side, thereby losing the provincial acolyte he’s been dominating, Andrée (Margit Carstersen) but getting together with Lisa, who previously enjoyed an open marriage with Rolf, who has now gone off with the newly liberated Andrée. He finally ends up writing a novel: NO CELEBRATION FOR THE FÜHRER’S DEAD DOG, a book who’s thesis is that Fascism will triumph, a hit with his publishers.
The film is book-ended by a quote from Antonin Artaud: ‘What differentiates the heathens from us is the great resolve underlying all their forms of belief, not to think in human terms. In this way, they are able to retain the link with the whole of Creation, in other words with the Godhead’, ie thinking from a non-hiuman point of view is a way of maintaining contact with the divine. Fassbinder described the film as a ‘comedy about me if I were what I perhaps am but don’t believe I am” Thomas Elsaesser found the film “a rare attempt at comedy from a filmmaker who, as most commentators have noted, is entirely devoid of humour’. A bit harsh I think, though how funny people find it might depend on how far they are willing to be pushed.