Featuring an original quasi-psychedelic musical score by Eugen Thomass, who later composed music for Syberberg’s three-hour biopic Karl May (1974), and cinematography by Petrus R. Schlömp (Johannes Schaaf's Tätowierung (1967) aka Tattoo) that ranges from primitive cinéma-vérité-like garbage to highly stylized celluloid majesty, Syberberg’s first feature is indubitably an uneven experiment in eccentricity that sometimes feel like it was directed by an autistic pothead with a BS degree in Teutonic literature yet it is surely one of the more intriguing German films of the late-1960s. In short, the film is certainly no cinematic ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ like Syberberg's later great cinematic masterpieces, but it does arguably hold the distinction of being what can be described as the first (and arguably the last) proto-Alt-Right artsploitation flick. Indeed, featuring hilarious real-life racial ‘caricatures,’ goofy snickering retards and sneering cripples, and a genuinely subversive metapolitical right-wing Weltanschauung of the abstractly expressed sort, Scarabea features the sort of aggressive anti-liberal spirit that is comparable to a contemporary Pepe-saluting internet troll army.
A girl with a French passport but two German parents that seemingly loves wandering around aimlessly and engaging in artsy fartsy leisure activities like photography and acoustic guitar playing, Scarabea is surely a cosmopolitan kind of gal, though that does not stop her from basking in the pleasantly perverse poetry of naughty one-time-Nazi Gottfried Benn. In fact, Scarabea recites the following lines from the Benn poem “What’s Bad” to Herr Bach: “Not reading English, and hearing about a new English thriller that hasn’t been translated. Seeing a cold beer when it’s hot out, and not being able to afford it. Having an idea that you can’t encapsulate in a line of Hölderlin, the way the professors do. Hearing the waves beat against the shore on holiday at night, and telling yourself it’s what they always do. Very bad: being invited out, when your own room at home is quieter, the coffee is better, and you don’t have to make small talk. And worst of all: not to die in summer, when the days are long and the earth yields easily to the spade.” While Bach does not know anything about Benn or his poetry, he will die in the summer during a long day in a fashion worthy of a Benn poem.
Meanwhile, bloated bad boy Bach becomes possessed by horrifying hallucinations involving dung beetles playing with dung and seemingly gallons upon gallons of freshly squeezed human breast milk. Indeed, Bach has so much breast milk squirted on him that he looks as if King Kong busted a load on his face after a rough inter-species blowjob. In what seems like a bad omen towards the end of the film, Bach passes a lynched bird hanging from a tree while a lame multicultural psychedelic rock band plays in the background. When Bach gets near the finish line, he curiously decides to sit down and rest to look at some of the photos that he has taken during his journey using a camera that he borrowed from Scarabea. When Bach hears peasants cheering his long waited arrival while examining the photos, he finally decides to get off his fat ass and reach the finish line, but soon drops dead while disappointed peasants look on and somberly state things like “he won so much land.” In terms of the position of his lifeless corpse and even his clothing, Bach’s freshly dead carcass strangely foreshadows the highly publicized assassination of Theo van Gogh, which is certainly fitting considering the anarchic and anti-politically-correct nature of Scarabea. As for Scarabea, she is quite visibly unmoved by Bach’s rather pathetic ironical death, though she circles around his body and carefully examines photographs that were taken by the forsaken protagonist with her camera. Of course, it certainly could be argued that Scarabea's flagrant apathy in regard to Bach's demise is symbolic of post-WWII German alienation and the state-sponsored antisocial tendency of contemporary Germans to not care for each other or the survival of their nation (in that sense, the film is certainly more relevant today than when it was first released nearly half a century ago). After all, auteur Syberberg is (in)famous for once stating regarding his nation, “We live in a country without a homeland.” As for Herr Bach, he only finds death upon attempting to find a new and hardly improved Heimat, but of course he never realized that no amount of land would fill the void that a lack of culture, spirituality, and family had left in his sad forsaken soul.
It should be noted that American left-wing Judaic film critic J. Hoberman once described Syberberg, as well as Andrei Tarkovsky and Stan Brakhage, as a “conservative avant-gardist” and even dared to criticize his films for being supposedly “terminally German,” thus underscoring his characteristic kosher Teutophobia. Although I guess it does not say much considering the shamelessly Wagnerian essence of his later cinematic work, but I think it is safe to say that, due to its guido island setting and eclectic collection of grotesque Sardinian peasants, Scarabea is Syberberg’s least “terminally German” film, though it is certainly more innately Teutonic than anything that trendy left-wingers like feminist hag Margarethe von Trotta, half-Hindu commie Harun Farocki, or Mercedes Marxist Volker Schlöndorff has ever directed. Also, while the film might not be an obvious ‘Trauerarbeit’ (“work of mourning”) piece, it certainly expresses the Syberbergian themes of ‘freudlose Gesellschaft’ (“joyless society”) and ‘Auslöschung’ (“extinction”), especially as far as the tragic spiritually and culturally moribund male protagonist is concerned. Unlike most of the left-wing German filmmakers and the quite insanely immature neo-Marxist rock stars of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Syberberg had at least enough maturity and empathy to understand that the capitalist pigs of his Fatherland were oftentimes tragic individuals that had sold their souls to nihilistic materialism and thus were doomed to live a patently pointless existence plagued by insatiable greed and social alienation.
Indeed, it is certainly a humorous irony of New German Cinema history that one of the movement’s oldest and most conservative and aristocratic filmmakers was also responsible for some of its strangest and most subversive films. Somewhat strangely, especially considering his reputation among serious and not-so-serious film critics and historians and trendy leftist-wing intellectuals like Susan Sontag, Gilles Deleuze and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, there is not one single mention of Syberberg in Amos Vogel’s would-be-authoritative text Film as a Subversive Art (1974). Notably, New German Cinema’s most famous and legendary filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, was more or less Syberberg’s greatest arch nemesis and wasted no opportunity to besmirch both the filmmaker and his films. In fact, in his 1981 ‘Hitlist of German Films,’ Fassbinder named Scarabea and Syberberg’s later film Karl May (1974) as two of ‘The Most Disgusting’ films of New German Cinema. While the film does feature tons of animal corpses and slaughtering, animal feces, and saucy Sardinian titty milk and thus can be described as, by definition, ‘disgusting,’ Scarabea is disgusting in a preternaturally delightful fashion. Additionally, none of the scenes in Syberberg's film is as unnerving the the slaughterhouse scene in Fassbinder's morbid avant-garde melodrama In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden (1978) aka In a Year of 13 Moons.
In a 2008 speech entitled Hans-Jürgen Syberberg: Leni Riefenstahl’s Heir?, the late great British artist and intellectual Jonathan Bowden noted in regard to the filmmaker's singular (meta)political importance in terms of being the one and only post-WWII German filmmaker to figuratively pass on the Teutonic cultural torch, “Syberberg’s politics is less important than the spirituality of the artistry that he represents. As with all extremely visual artists like him, describing what he’s done makes a lot more sense if you’ve actually seen the material, but of course very few people are entirely aware that this material exists, even though probably a lot of that comes up on the internet almost instantaneously in English. But the reason for this is because people understand what he’s doing. He’s positioned himself to be the repository of the sort of sensibility, which didn’t come to an end in 1945, that certain forms of German classicism that are not particularly redolent of it. There are certain forms of German medieval art that don’t really relate to it. There’s something rather trans-German and quasi-Catholic and German in the European sense, in Nietzsche’s sense of being European as against German, about him. And there’s not very much Protestant in my view about his art aesthetically, for example. But he is the repository of the Romantic völkisch sensibility which people know is quintessentially German and yet is largely denied apart from tourism and a few prissy things now. But it is ideologically denied in contemporary Germany.”
As Bowden's remarks indubitably reveal, Syberberg's films are certainly less accessible to American audiences, yet they contain a perennial spirit that should be celebrated by the growing Alt-Right movement, which thirsts for a true cultural inheritance. I certainly think it is a happy coincidence that Alt-Right animator Emily Youcis looks like a more busty yet eccentric version of Scarabea heroine Nicoletta Machiavelli, which makes sense considering they are both of half-Italian extraction. Interestingly, what no one seems to have noticed about Syberberg is that, not unlike Youcis, he is a very able troll as the subversive subtexts of his film reveal, albeit a rather refined one. Indeed, no other filmmaker in history can be said to have come up with brilliant ideas like allegorically depicting the rampant cultural philistinism of post-WWII ‘democratic’ Germany via a fat kraut pig that has no idea who Gottfried Benn is. Similarly, only Syberberg could have ‘tricked’ kosher carpent-muncher Susan ‘the white race is the cancer of human history’ Sontag into declaring that he is one of the great masters of cinema history and even stating, “Syberberg belongs to the race of creators like Wagner, Artaud, Céline, the late Joyce, whose work annihilates other work. All are artists of endless speaking, endless melody—a voice that goes on and on.” Needless to say, due its relative lack of cultural richness and subtextual significance compared to the filmmaker's later films, Scarabea is probably a good start for Syberberg novices, even if it almost like an exercise in advancing trolling when compared to the aesthetic and intellectual majesty of an unrivaled masterwork like Hitler: A Film from Germany.