Aug 7, 2012
As far as Kraut comedies are concerned, none can compare to the dementedly iconoclastic semi-surrealist works of Christoph Schlingensief and his work Die 120 Tage von Bottrop – Der letzte neue deutsche Film (1997) aka The 120 Days of Bottrop – The Last New German Film – a ferociously farcical parody of German New Wave cinema (most specifically the works of R.W. Fassbinder) – is arguably the ardent Aryan auteur filmmaker’s most keenly reflexive and gut-busting effort. Featuring campy cameos and puckish performances from some of the biggest names in German New Wave (and Kraut cinema in general) – including Udo Kier, Helmut Berger, Volker Spengler, Leni Riefenstahl, Roland Emmerich, among others – The 120 Days of Bottrop is an overwrought unlove letter to German motion pictures that is more harsh than the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche’s in terms of its bloodthirsty besmirchment of the Fatherland. The 120 Days of Bottrop features a number of the real-life surviving members of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s lecherous, carnivalesque inner-circle in a notably degenerated state (including Volker Spengler as an eccentric flaccid-cock-smoking producer) as they attempt to remake Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final masterpiece Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin – Europe’s largest building site and the setting for Fassbinder’s 15 ½ -hour TV movie Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) – in a mere 5 days under increasingly topsy-turvy conditions. Intended as the final work of Neue Deutsche, the filmmakers in The 120 Days of Bottrop run into trouble as they begin to lose money and actors for their ostensibly ambitious final project. Part-homage but mainly a savagely sardonic satire of German cinema and post-nationalist Teutonic kultur in general, The 120 Days of Bottrop is very possibly the final word on German New Wave cinema from a director who couldn’t have been better suited for the job. Being a child of the German New Wave and casting many Fassbinder regulars (Margit Carstensen, Udo Kier, Irm Hermann, etc) in his own uncompromising and antagonistic absurdist works, Schlingensief offers a candid and carnal perspective with The 120 Days of Bottrop that is more sportively sadistic than stalely sentimental in its portrayal of the once-revolutionary film movement its pays exorbitantly erudite yet erratic anti-tribute to.
As an unhinged left-winger who had gained international infamy for the many combative ‘artistic pranks’ (as best exemplified in Paul Poet’s documentary Foreigners Out! Schlingensief's Container) he elaborately assembled over the past couple decades, it came as somewhat of a revelation to me that with The 120 Days of Bottrop, Schlingensief was quite critical of the ethno-masochistic and defeatist nature of most German New Wave films/filmmakers, especially regarding those works created during the last waning decade of the movement when passive nihilism came into vogue. Of course, with 100 Years of Adolph Hitler (1989), Schlingensief took a couple sharp snipes at Wim Wenders for his shallow and pathetically passive liberal idealism, but The 120 Days of Bottrop is an full-fledged offensive attack on the overly clichéd and often grueling weltschmerz that plagues most of late era post-WW2 German New Wave cinema. While also a radical leftist like his cinematic forefathers who had criticized and lampooned Germany’s National Socialist past in most of his works, Schlingensief never stooped to the irredeemable level of using his art as a platform for a one-man pity party of the putrid self-denigrating persuasion, nor did he ever embrace the highly contagious and toxic self-censoring artistic-hindrance of political correctness. After all, it is doubtful that Schlingensief was trying to appease culturally sensitive types when he decided to cast a real-life retarded untermensch as Fassbinder’s delightfully (if aesthetically disgusting) dimwitted doppelganger in The 120 Days of Bottrop. That being said, it would not be a stretch to describe The 120 Days of Bottrop as the sort of postmodern satire that Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame would have directed had they had an encyclopedic understanding of German cinema instead of a proclivity towards fanboy wet dreaming about pop culture trash. Of course, one wouldn’t expect anything less from Schlingensief; an anarchic auteur who had the audacity to direct Mutters Maske (1988); a terribly tragicomedic remake of Jud Süß (1940) director Veit Harlan’s National Socialist arthouse masterpiece Opfergang (1944). Needless to say, I doubt Joseph Goebbels would have found as much solace in Schlingensief's remake as he did with Harlan's celluloid magnum opus.
For whatever reason (but indubitably to mock the pretentious German-Dutch auteur in some sense), The 120 Days of Bottrop opens with the intertitle, “Wenders would have called this film a melancholy parody. Fassbinder never would have made it.” Indeed, the film is a spoof, but it is more maniacally and malevolently merry than mirthless as Schlingensief certainly does not shed a tear for Fassbinder and his friends. Indeed, despite his cinematic experiments in black comedy with later films like The Third Generation (1979) and Lola (1981), Fassbinder would have never made a film so patently preposterous and seemingly unpretentious as The 120 Days of Bottrop; a work that has more in common with the early arthouse-sleaze films of John Waters like Pink Flamingos (1972) and Desperate Living (1977) than following in the rich cultural footsteps of the German New Wave filmmakers. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to state that not since Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977) has a German film been so gravely and feverishly preoccupied with its nation’s cultural history as The 120 Days of Bottrop, yet it is also a work that – not unlike popular American animated sitcoms like The Simpsons and Family Guy – can be also enjoyed by hopeless philistines who fail to appreciate its profoundly pastiche persuasion. Helmut Berger concludes The 120 Days of Bottrop with the snide statement, “I’ve had enough. If I had to act in one more German movie, it would be suicide.” Knowing that Fassbinder concluded his prestigious acting career looking quite disheveled and oafish in the intrinsically mediocre and pathetically prosaic yet nonetheless sometimes strangely enthralling West German cyberpunk flick Kamikaze 1989 (1982), one can only wonder whether or not the Bavarian auteur filmmaker's fatal overdose that same year was the result of an unconscious death wish, but judging by Schlingensief’s social commentary in The 120 Days of Bottrop, one does not have to think too hard to come up with an informed hypothesis. After all, the German New Wave celebrity died with a copy of a script he was working on that paid homage to the life of a Marxist Jewess who sought the violent overthrow of his nation, which is undoubtedly a great metaphor for the life and work of Fassbinder and Neuer Deutscher Film as a collective, as so astutely observed and facetiously expressed by Christoph Schlingensief in The 120 Days of Bottrop.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 2:40 AM
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