Sep 24, 2012

Weininger's Last Night



With possibly the exception of Ulrike Ottinger’s carnivalesque surrealist lesbian epic Freak Orlando (1981) and Christoph Schlingensief' Mutters Maske (1988) – a loose remake of Veit Harlan's National Socialist arthouse masterpiece Opfergang (1944) – there is no other film that I have been more obsessed with seeing than Paulus Manker’s Weiningers Nacht (1990) aka Weininger's Last Night, not least of all because of having been enamored and intrigued with the film's tragic subject for a number of years. Described by fellow Austrian anti-Semite Adolf Hitler in the following manner, “Dietrich Eckhart once told me that in all his life he had known just one good Jew: Otto Weininger, who killed himself on the day when he realized that the Jew lives upon the decay of peoples,” Weininger's Last Night is about a youthful genius who was plagued with dire inconsistencies and whose own ethno-masochistic proclivities would ultimately lead to his own self-inflicted premature demise at the age of 23 in 1903. Weininger proposed the controversial thesis that the archetypical Jew and the archetypical woman are one in the same: passive, unproductive, unconscious, and amoral. The son of a strict yet cultured Viennese Jewish goldsmith, the physically unremarkable Otto Weininger grew up to receive a Ph.D. degree in philosophy and finished his marvelous magnum opus Sex and Character: A Fundamental Investigation (1903) aka Geschlecht und Charakter: Eine prinzipielle Untersuchung less than a year later – a work that would make the young genius more popular in his day than Sigmund Freud – yet he would not live to see this fame as he committed suicide in the same house Beethoven died in shortly after the book’s publication. 100% Hebrew by blood yet highly influenced by proto-Nazi racialist writer Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s best-selling work The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899), one could argue that Weininger’s suicide was merely the act of a logical man carrying out his own thesis, as he argued that Judaism is "the extreme of cowardliness" and “The Jew has no really strong will.” Indeed, it was not converting to Protestantism that freed Weininger from his innate ‘Jewishness’ but a desperate act of self-annihilation. As fellow anti-Semitic Semite and celebrated Jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon stated in his recent work The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics (2011) about Weininger: “He hated women and Jews because he was a woman and a Jew. He adored Aryan masculinity because he probably lacked that quality in any significant amount in his own being. This revelation probably led Weininger to kill himself…he had managed to understand what his book was all about.” For those who have studied Weininger’s work and life, Atzmon’s thoughts might not seem like much of a revelation, as Paulus Manker seems to draw the same conclusion in his minor masterpiece of celluloid theatre Weininger's Last Night; a film that is both an efficacious introduction to the forlorn philosopher and an audacious piece of Austrian autocratic cinematic art.



No stranger to the curious case of Otto Weininger, Austrian theatric auteur Paulus Manker (Schmutz aka Dirt, Der Kopf des Mohren aka The Moor's Head) directed and starred in the 1982 work Weininger's Night (The Soul of a Jew) written by Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol, which proved to be his greatest triumph as a thespian, henceforth inspiring him to adapt it into the film Weininger's Last Night. Of Jewish ancestry himself (he dedicates the film to his Jewish father), Manker brings a certain authenticity and intense intimacy to Weininger's Last Night that is further exemplified by some of his casting decisions, notably the inclusion of his own mother Hilde Sochor to star as Otto Weininger’s overbearing mom Adelheid. Virtually channeling the spirit of the suicidal Judaic man of immense genius, Manker would also play Weininger in the Hungarian film My 20th Century (1989) aka Az én XX. Századom directed by Ildikó Enyedi – a work that earned its director a Caméra d'Or ("Golden Camera") at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival – but no other acting role can compare to his performance and direction as immortalized in Weininger's Last Night; a work I would humbly consider the greatest celluloid ‘tribute’ to an intellectual figure ever made. A fabulous quasi-Freudian expressionistic psychodrama set almost entirely in one mere opera house theatre room, Weininger's Last Night is a tragicomedic window into one young genius’ seemingly schizoid mind. Haunted by a female doppelganger (a virtual Jungian shadow), his overbearing parents, and historical intellectual figures of his day, including Sigmund Freud, August Strindberg, and Paul Julius Möbius, the Otto Weininger of Weininger's Last Night is propelled into hysterical states ranging from morbid megalomania to maniac depression, yet he is mostly able to prevail due to his intellectual sternness; a trait that English-language Weininger biographer David Abrahamsen (The Mind and Death of a Genius) argued was the only thing keeping the young genius from completely breaking with sanity. As is vividly expressed in the film, even during his untimely suicide by way of a firearm to the chest, Weininger was able to separate his visceral emotions from his domineering intellect, arguing that self-slaughter was no more of a physiological act than sneezing or coughing as described by controversial Italian-German psychiatrist-turned-avant-garde-writer Oskar Panizza. Despite its saturnine subject matter, Weininger's Last Night is ultimately a black comical work of the decidedly snide and cynical persuasion, but not so much so that the viewer is not introduced to Weininger’s complex weltanschauung and his thoughts on Judaism, Aryanism, Zionism, Protestantism, and gender. If Woody Allen’s character in Zelig (1983) was less sentimental and had more testicular fortitude and came-of-age in Fin de siècle Vienna, he would probably resemble the innately neurotic yet intellectually dynamic Otto Weininger featured in Weininger's Last Night.




On top of inspiring thinkers and artists as great as August Strindberg, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Kraus, Alfred Kubin, Robert Musil, Gertrude Stein and Stefan Zweig, Otto Weininger and his work Geschlecht und Charakter would also inspire quasi-fascist thinkers like Austrian völkisch mystic Lanz von Liebenfels, Heimito von Doderer, Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, and Sicilian Radical Traditionalist Baron Julius Evola, as well as the German National Socialists who edited the parts of his writing they did not agree with. Although Weininger's Last Night is arguably the greatest introduction to the life and ideas of Otto Weininger, one must have at least a basic understanding of the intellectual and political climate of late 19th century/early 20th Vienna to fully appreciate the film. At a time when so-called self-loathing Jews (Weininger, Karl Kraus, Egon Friedell, Arthur Trebitsch, etc.) and racially-conscious Jews (Max Nordau, Sigmund Freud, Theodor Herzl, Theodor Lessing, etc.) battled one another in the intellectual world, it is probably hard for modern viewers to accept such a seemingly absurd scenario, thus Weininger's Last Night makes for a strikingly singular and aesthetically extravagant awakening to this seemingly peculiar phenomenon in Austrian history. Despite being a man of overwhelming contradictions, Otto Weininger offers the following telling insight in the film: "Antisemitism is a Jewish invention."  Like Jesus Christ – another great 'self-loathing Jew' of history – Weininger wears a crown of thorns and his is ultimately resurrected via the posthumous popularity of his work Geschlecht und Charakter; a work that will inevitably inspire the goyish antisemitism of the Third Reich. With potent yet preposterous scenarios of absurdist anti-Semitic puppet shows, castration-anxiety-fueled culinary circumcision, menacing Mel Brooks-esque musical numbers, and psychoanalytic psychodrama, Weininger's Last Night is a wonderfully wicked (un)love letter to not only to the film's subject, but a particular time and place in Europe before the rise and fall of Hitler, the death of European imperialism, and the founding of the State of Israel, thus it should be not surprise as to why, although Freud is still a darling of contemporary academics, Weininger has been conveniently disposed of in the kosher dustbin of history.  


-Ty E

6 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The little girl with her arm across her face looks like Heather O`Rourke.

the sneering (homo-phobic) snob said...

I still think it would have been 1000 times better for the future of the world in general if the Nazi's had specifically targeted faggots instead of Jews.

otis rampaging heterosexuality said...

Is that a bird or a geezer ?, if its a geezer thank goodness its a sausage, if its a bird what a pity it wasn`t a real chopper ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

This is one of the most intellectually astonishing reveiws you`ve ever posted (if i`m being honest i barely understood any of it) so maybe it might be a good idea to publish my com-girl-ts here as well, just to balance things up with some lowbrow filth and dirt, as it were.

teddy crescendo said...

Why haven`t you been able to get your hands on digitally remastered Blu-Ray copys of "Freak Orlando" and "Mutters Maske" ?, you always seem so adept at finding pristine editions of incredibly obscure movies.

Madeleine Desdevises said...

I`m still waiting for that reveiw, cant you find a copy of the movie.