Oct 7, 2012

Der Fan

If any film deserves the distinguished title ‘arthouse horror,’ it is German auteur Eckhart Schmidt’s Der Fan (1982) aka Trance; a slow-burning yet titillating thriller set in a Neue Deutsche Welle tableau about a cute yet distinctly deranged teenager girl with an unhealthy crush for a relatively unimpressive new wave singer. Undoubtedly, Schmidt’s greatest and most immaculate cinematic achievement (his underrated 1985 flick Loft is not far behind), Der Fan is a film where the fine-line between obsession and psychosis is transcended, thus resulting in something much more terrifying than mere teenage tenderness with the most surprisingly of results. Starring Luxembourgian television presenter and actress Désirée Nosbusch (Good Morning, Babylon, A Wopbobaloobop a Lopbamboom) aka Désirée Becker of the Eurovision Song Contest 1984 in an ironic yet charmingly fitting role as anti-heroess Simone; a girl who pesters the mailman everyday in the hope that she has received a response from her beloved rockstar “R”, Der Fan is a film about a lonely and equally loony girl whose day-to-day life revolves around the public media happenings of a man she has never actually met, but that doesn’t stop her from attempting to make him her eternally bonded beau. Notable for its long and extended scenes of Nosbusch’s naked and nubile body in exceedingly compromised positions, Der Fan portrays Simone, a girl whose looks are completely and utterly misleading, like a pug pup with an acute case of rabies. Nosbusch must not have realized the severity of the role because long after signing a contract agreeing to star in Der Fan au naturel, she attempted to stop the release of the film, thus resulting in an excessive trial and a scandal in the German press, which she inevitably lost. Admittedly, Nosbusch’s infamous garmentless scenes are what Der Fan is probably best known for, but it would be totally misleading to describe the film as a sexploitation or skin flick. Featuring a highly complementary, if somewhat dated, kraut New Wave soundtrack by the German synth-based group Rheingold – a group fronted by German musician Bobo Steiger (who also happens to play “R”), Der Fan – with the considerably different and notably popular porn flick New Wave Hookers (1985) is probably the most scandalous and salacious yet thoroughly entrancing film ever made centering around a post-punk/new wave backdrop.

Featuring mostly improvised and wordless acting, Der Fan works as a film because – through her monotone voice and body language – one can truly believe that Simone is a patently pathological and pathetic pervert with a foreboding inwardness that is on the brink of bursting out at the most slightest disappointment. Thus, I think it would be fair to describe Der Fan as the Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) of punk rock cinema. Vaguely resembling a poor man’s Ian Curtis had the tragic and suicidal Joy Division vocalist lacked his distinct introverted and haunted charm, Simone’s fantasy boyfriend “R” is quite different from the romantic, media conception she has of him. Tall, dark, and only slightly handsome, but also a famous teenage heartthrob with a wealth of lackluster carnal experience, “R” is surely out of Simone’s league, but that does not stop her from attempting to jump his rickety rockstar bones. After failing to receive a single response from one of her many letters, Simone – who is nervous, neurotic, and suicidal – decides to hitchhike to a TV show that “R” is being taped for at a nearby studio. Estranged from her parents and all but friendless, the character of Simone makes for a fresh and ideally idiosyncratic example of alienation in post-WWII and post-nationalistic Germany. Noxious obsession aside, “R,” like most musicians, is hardly the sort of individual that the masses should celebrate and emulate, let alone swoon over, thereupon making Simone’s perceptibly perverse puppy love seem all the more pitiful and downright perturbing. Naturally, when “R” does not live up to Simone’s inane and imaginary ideal of him, her entirely self-invented internal world is irrevocably shattered resulting in the most heinous of consequences.  Like a Michael Haneke film cleverly disguised as a German John Hughes-esque Brat Pack clone, Der Fan is a work that manages to catch the excessive escapism and narcissism of the 1980s without seeming like an accidental self-parody like so many similar works (e.g. St. Elmo's Fire, Less Than Zero) seem to be.

Unlike most of Eckhart Schmidt’s fictional feature films, Der Fan is a rather realistic work with a genuinely disquieting and ominous atmosphere, at least during the final 1/3 of the film. Initially seeming like a wholesome and lighthearted new wavish melodrama, Der Fan takes a turn for the wonderfully worse, as if the lead cutesy girl goes from being a mousey debutante to Jeffrey Dahmer’s kraut cousin; this film reminds the viewer how even a small punk rock flick can stir a bodacious blitzkrieg of emotions if fastidiously and adroitly executed. Like Allan Moyle’s Times Square (1980) meets Gerald Kargl’s Angst (1983), but with a ferocious feminine flare, Der Fan is a work that has a particular propensity for sparking fear in both arrogant, oversexed male musicians and virginal teenage beta-males alike as the film brings new meaning to the popular and innately preposterous feminist phrase: I am women, hear me roar! Featuring a random artwork from the 1936 Summer Olympics – the legendary National Socialist Olympiad – and footage of rock fans that resembles entranced crowds from the Nuremberg Rally captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will (1936), Der Fan is a work that highlights the Dionysian, neopagan nature of the rock concert and the sort of collective hypnosis and implicit irrationalism that such sexualized sensationalism stirs, especially in the already mentally imbalanced, thus making the death-by-Arno-Breker-esque-statue-to-the-head scene featured in the film seem all the more strikingly symbolic. In his later work Loft (1985), Eckhart Schmidt would also accent the deadly serious nature of artists and art patrons, but to the point of a playful parody, henceforth making the film a lot less threatening than his previous work Der Fan. In Germany, kultur has always been considered one of the more important attributes of a nation, thereupon making Der Fan all the more interesting of a film, as although many pseudo-cultural ingredients were imported to the Fatherland, Kraftwerk – the father’s of the krautrock electronic music scene depicted in Schmidt’s work – are of thoroughly and uniquely Teutonic origin. That being said, Simone could not be more diametrically opposed to Das Model of Kraftwerk’s hit song, but then again, that is what makes her so startlingly alluring, if unmitigatedly disconcerting. 

-Ty E

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