Jan 20, 2012
Edwin Brienen’s Last Performance (2006) is quite possibly the first consciously LaVeyan melodrama ever to be made. Auteur Edwin Brienen has been described as the ‘Dutch Fassbinder’, but such a label is merely generous for a filmmaker who – although produces seemingly 'original' films at an unseen speed – lacks the overall artistic talent and integrity of the much greater and more eclectic German filmmaker. Instead, I would describe Brienen’s work as a mix between that of his fellow countrymen Tom Six, Christoph Maria Schlingensief (minus the humor), and Fassbinder-kitsch. Although Brienen does not deserve to lick Fassbinder’s thoroughly decayed, gaping asshole, his films do provide the viewer with a window into the passive nihilism and cultural bankruptcy of hyper-hedonistic, postmodern Europa through a cheap and broken multicultural window. Brienen’s work Last Performance is somewhat different from most of his previous works in that it was filmed in the English language and that it takes place in the typically debauched New York, New York theater world. Borrowing somewhat ineptly from the philosophies of Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, Last Performance is an excessively pessimistic yet superficial work that barely scratches the surfaces of the relatively deep barrel of ideas from which it borrows from. What makes Last Performance somewhat interesting is that these philosophies are contained within a megalomaniac microcosm inspired by the real narcissistic (and sometimes tragic) lives of famous NYC-based but mostly unrelated artists like Andy Warhol, Klaus Nomi, Yoko Ono, Lydia Lunch, and various others.
Last Performance opens with the haunting opera track "Dido und Aeneas: Dido's Lament" as performed by otherworldly countertenor Klaus Nomi. Considering that out-of-this-world-alien-Aryan Nomi died nearly a quarter of a century before the production of Last Performance, a pudgy imposter unfortunately takes his place and sports the iconic wardrobe and lip-syncs the somewhat prophetic song of the late New Wave German opera singer. Admittedly, the opening song and scene sets the tone for what will follow in the film: decadent and depressing scenarios mixed with recycled ideas and art. In the film, a self-loathing alpha-homo named Tom starts a clearly dubious sexual relationship with a aspiring European Starlet named Julia, thus throwing his overly effeminate butt-buddy Cooper into an erratic crying game of the most self-torturing kind. Due to its barely controversial themes and NYC setting, Last Performance is strangely reminiscent of William Friedkin’s much tamer film The Boys in the Band (1970); a somewhat revolutionary work that boldly (for that era) yet fairly measures the pros and cons of cosmopolitan gay-dom in everyone's favorite metropolitan city. The cover of the Last Performance dvd should feature the tagline, “to bugger or not to bugger”, as such words quite aptly summarizes the overall feel and postmodern spiel (s) contained within the film. In a sense, the film reminded me of some of the more banal existential eroticism writings written by the thoroughly bored and imprisoned Marquis de Sade had he been more passive and lived in contemporary times, as only an exceedingly privileged individual could find such complaints and needless and manufactured drama as the characters of Last Performance. The only character that counterbalances the white pseudo-aristocracy of boredom in the film is an anti-social Negro in exaggeratedly effeminate neo-pimp garb who enjoys the pioneering “unemotional” (as he describes it) Teutonic-electronics of Kraftwerk and the beautiful words of German genius Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Indeed, Last Performance is essentially a melodramatic sideshow of pointless decadence where pleasure can only be found in the realm of sexual humiliation and self-degradation. After all, how many other films feature a Queenish queer dressing up in drag in a vain and pathetic attempt to lure back his cheating dilettante-heterosexual boyfriend. That being said, the greatest achievement of Last Performance is most likely its proclivity towards embarrassing viewers with its exceedingly shameless and emotionally-ravaging characters.
When it comes to the overall mise-en-scène, set-design, shot composition, and music, Last Performance is surprisingly a distinct and mostly pleasurable experience for the eyes and ears. Had the acting performances, writing, and dialogue matched the integrity of the audio/visual aesthetics featured in the film, Last Performance could have been a minor masterpiece of sorts. Instead, Last Performance is a marginally exciting adventure through a mostly adventure-less and soulless world of miserable self-worship and contrived carnality. To its credit, Last Performance concludes with a quasi-Satanic ritualistic play of sorts, hence the title of the film, but that does not save the film from being an often sterile and mostly impotent journey through the limp-wristed left-hand path of the NYC theater dramarama netherworld. If Last Performance left any notable impression on me, it is that Edwin Brienen, being a young and highly productive filmmaker, is a ‘work-in-progress’ who quite possibly has the embryonic makings to be a great filmmaker in upcoming years. The greatest tragedy of Last Performance is not the one featured in it's storyline, but that a film that had the potential to be somewhat great only ended up being somewhat engrossing and less than thought provoking. With the glaring lack of genuine auteur filmmakers in the 21st century, one can only hope that Edwin Brienen will develop into a director that is worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as the truly great arthouse auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Of course, after seeing a pretentious and pseudo-provocative photograph of would-be bad boy Brienen receiving a (probably bogus) blowjob while wearing (like fellow hack Hollander Tom Six) a cowboy hat on the front-page of his personal website, I do have some serious and legitimate doubts about the barely flying Dutchman's future artistic potential and integrity as a serious martial auteur to be reckoned with.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:18 AM
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