Oct 10, 2012

Cocaine Cowboys

Although almost a total and abject failure as a would-be audacious auteur that, aside from possibly Uwe Boll, is probably considered the worst German filmmaker who ever lived, few film directors can boast a career as interesting and diverse as Ulli Lommel (Adolf and Marlene, Diary of a Cannibal). Beginning his long and relatively fruitful (if thoroughly rotten) career as a promising protégé of German New Wave auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starring in his directorial debut Love is Colder than Death (1969) among some 20+ other film collaborations, Lommel eventually helmed the director’s chair and found critical and artistic success with his third film – the Neuer Deutscher Film horror classic The Tenderness of Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe; an extremely loose remake/tribute to German expressionist Fritz Lang’s serialkiller masterpiece M (1931) that was based on the real-life murders of putrid cannibalistic pedophile Fritz Haarmann. Unfortunately, The Tenderness of Wolves would prove to be Lommel’s greatest film, which has led some people to speculate that the crudely carnal and cruel cinematic work was ghost-directed by Fassbinder (who on top of appearing in the film, also acted as its producer). The year 1977 marked the beginning of the end as far as Lommel’s artistic integrity was concerned, as the filmmaker moved to the United States and hooked up with none other than pop-con-artist Andy Warhol, who produced the German director’s films Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and Blank Generation (1980); two films centering around then-popular music subcultures. While neither film features the uncompromising direction and eventual cult status The Tenderness of Wolves would obtain, the paralleling story behind Cocaine Cowboys is interesting nonetheless, so much so that it is actually stranger and more captivating than the movie itself. Featuring inane weirdo Warhol as himself and eternal bad boy of the silverscreen Jack Palance (Contempt aka Le Mépris, City Slickers) as a mafia-connected music manager in a film about cocaine-smuggling rock stars, Cocaine Cowboys is a film that sounds much better than it actually is. Filmed on location at Warhol’s panoramic seaside manor located on Montauk, Long Island, Cocaine Cowboys is soulless yet a sparingly entertaining example of life reflecting artless cinematic art and vice versa.

While working on post-production for his monotonous punk flick Blank Generation starring punk icon Richard Hell, Ulli Lommel was approached by his passive collaborator Andy Warhol to meet a young millionaire named Tom Sullivan at Studio 54 who was keen on making an inherently narcissistic, self-glorifying movie focusing on his unknown band and rebellious angel dust-slinging lifestyle as a scantly charismatic cocaine cowboy. Needless to say, Lommel obliged and instead of creating anything resembling a script, the German filmmaker used his dubious reputation as a profound European 'artiste' and assembled a hurried, brief story on a tape recorder for what would be Cocaine Cowboys, which started shooting a mere week later. Unbeknownst to Lommel, Sullivan made his millions, including the funding for the film, by smuggling cocaine on the international black market. While in the middle of the shooting for Cocaine Cowboys, Warhol’s estate was raided by FBI and DEA agents because they thought the film was a front for a major cocaine operation, which – judging by the film's made-over-a-weekend quintessence and lack of coherence – may have been true, but, naturally, Lommel wholeheartedly denies it.  Not one to hold a grudge, Lommel offered the officers roles in the playing their con-catching selves, which they happily obliged. In Cocaine Cowboys, it is the always quietly conspiring Andy Warhol of all people who uncovers the operation by mere chance while passively taking a series of Polaroids in what is probably his greatest, if stereotypically lackluster, screen performance. In the film, Destn (Tom Sullivan) and his manager Raphael (Jack Palance) – the frontman of an up-and-coming rock band and a major drug trafficker – wishes to get him and his bands out of the cocaine business, but they must do one more big deal before they can permanently sever ties with the Italian mob. When the band loses $2 million dollars worth of coke in a totally nonsensical way (the film has more than one plot hole), they must scramble to find the drugs as angry Cosa Nostra henchmen encircle Warhol’s plush waterfront pad.  Throughout Cocaine Cowboys, the band members roam the beach on their horses as degenerate contemporary cowboys. Instead of being Easy Rider (1969) with its promise of sly and cool cocktail of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Cocaine Cowboys is ultimately a post-hippie abortion of the ceaselessly aimless kind, but then again, for such a soulless era of vacant cock rock, masturbatory guitar solos, unimpassioned sex, unruly drug abuse, and birdbrained haircuts, the film – whether intentional or not – is a reflection of that particularly repugnant zeitgeist, thus making it an innately lackadaisical, bromidic, and superficially stylized cinematic artifact from a thankfully bygone but still influential era.

Ulli Lommel and Andy Warhol on the set of Cocaine Cowboys (1979)

Not long after completing Cocaine Cowboys, Ulli Lommel received a phone call from its star and financier Tom Sullivan asking if he could borrow $10 thousand dollars from the German director. Of course, Lommel turned him down and would later find out not much longer after the call that the once-successful cocaine cowboy died destitute in a Brooklyn gutter like a common hobo at the ripe age of 23, thus starkly contrasting the determinedly debauched dead-end lifestyle he sought to glorify in Cocaine Cowboys; a film that is almost as equally forgotten as the would-be rock star anti-hero is. Seemingly an opportunist who merely wanted to direct whatever films he could, Lommel subsequently displayed the sort of music he really loved with the highly personal sci-fi musical Strangers in Paradise (1984); the director’s vaguely punk equivalent of Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974) about a German hypnotist (played by Lommel) that is cryogenically frozen to escape Hitler, only to be thawed out by a group of Californian Reaganites.  Of course, Lommel scored his greatest American hit with the 'video nasty' The Boogeyman (1980) and subsequently went on to direct a series of irredeemably horrible direct-to-video horror flicks and the rest is history, although the filmmaker did temporarily return to Germany and the music world with the downright deplorable digital diarrhea work Daniel – Der Zauberer (2004) aka Daniel – The Wizard; a film starring Bavarian pop-trash-icon Daniel Küblböck of whom the German director described as: "I know that from my childhood: In Germany we were taught this way: You must not do certain things. You have to behave yourself. And now there is Daniel and he isn't willing to take those fixed bourgeois roles. He creates his own role. He breaks taboos, makes himself up, dresses like a girl. He cries, is clownish, is hysterical. For short: He doesn't behave himself. And because he does this in public, I think some consider this as a salvation and love him and others can't bear this and hate him."  Indeed, on top of trying to capitalize off of Küblböck's less than glorious newfound infamy, it seems that Lommel also found a kindred spirit in the contemptible German celebrity.  I, for one, know that no matter how uniquely unbearable and unwatchable Lommel's films are, I can't help but liking the loony kraut and following his singularly stagnating filmmaking career. 

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Indeed his films are appalling but they`re still 1000 times better than anything the British film industry has ever produced ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ulli Lommel celebrates his 68th birthday on December 21st, the day the world is supposed to end ! ! !.

teddy crescendo said...

That faggot Rex Reed has completely trashed "Seven Psychopaths", perhaps a reveiw from Soiled Sinema would be in order. Besides, it would be nice to see a reveiw of one of the latest releases on here for a change.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ulli Lommels 1980 horror movie "The Boogey-girl" in another classic case in point, although essentially an almost unwatchable abomination its still 1000 times better than anything the British film industry has ever produced.