Oct 27, 2012

Freakstars 3000

While in kindergarten at a multicultural public school, I first become aware of retarded people and their particularly outlandish and oftentimes uncontrollable behavior. Herded around the school like a bunch of spastic cattle by obese Negresses wearing unflattering sweatpants, these many times slobbering and even sometimes indecently exposed individuals certainly made their presence well known, whether they were conscious of it or not. Growing up as a wildly imaginative and television/movie obsessed child, I concocted a lot of fantasy ideas for TV series, including a ‘concentration camp comedy’ starring Woody Allen, but never did I dream of a musical talent show with an all star mentally retarded cast, but I was not the least bit surprised when I discovered that absurdist avant-garde auteur Christoph Maria Schlingensief – who once started the political party Chance 2000 that encouraged the mentally feeble to run for office – did. Predating yet in a similar spirit to the popular reality show Pop Idol/American Idol, except less retarded, Schlingensief’s Freakstars 3000 (2004) is a delightful documentary work featuring highlights and unseen footage of the German filmmaker’s 6-episode-TV show of the same name. As a work that attempts to, “highlight the problems of non-handicapped people,” Freakstars 3000 is certainly not the sort of work that one would expect to be the most successful TV program ever featured on the German Music Television Station VIVA due to perceived exploitation of less than musically inclined mental invalids. But then again, it is a sign of the times when institutionalized disabled folks make for more entertaining and original performers than those plastic philistines that occupy prime-time television. As a truly terrific testament to the melodic tenacity of Mother Nature’s most special disabled darlings, Freakstars 3000 lets the viewer know that Germany’s got talent, especially when it comes to the unique untermensch sort. 

 In between yelling amongst one another and engaging in erratic and oftentimes unpredictable conniption fits, the couple dozen or so gloriously grotesque outsider artists of Freakstars 3000 compete for the positively prestigious personal prize of being one of the seven finalists who will ultimately comprise the band "Mutter Sucht Schrauben" aka “Mother Seeks Screws”; a discordant art rock group that plays their instruments out-of-sync with one another in a most charmingly carnivalesque manner. Shot on location at the Thiele Winkler Home for people with physical and mental disabilities in Lichtenrade, Berlin, Freakstars 3000 is a welcome exception conventional reality TV mundanity as the show – with its curious yet oddly charming mental and physical cripples of immense courage – has more genuine human passion and expression than what seems like the entire history of so-called ‘reality TV’ combined, as the contestants of Schlingensief’s broadcasted realism, unlike the narcissistic nincompoops of popular American shows like Big Brother and Survivor, are for the most part completely unconscious of the fact that the camera is constantly rolling. The super freaks of the documentary range from a shy, sensitive youthful girl with Down's syndrome to a morbidly obese middle-aged man with the IQ of a 7-year-old to a spastic 60ish-year-old with an unhealthy hatred for "the swine" Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, as I discussed with a college friend so many years ago, like the special Special Olympics and other events that celebrate disenfranchised groups, it is typically the least retarded person on Freakstars 3000 who ends up being one of the final contestants thus defeating the purpose of it in the first place, although a couple extremely socially/mentally-challenged performers do get to be part of the illustrious music super group “Mother Seeks Screws.” Assuredly one of the most talked-about talents of the show is Achim von Paczensky – an ignoble member of the nobility who has had indubitably fallen from grace due to his hereditary taint – that unlike virtually other contestant on the show, seems relatively normal (at least no less mentally disadvantaged than the average American) and is even in a serious relationship with a special lady whose personal aesthetic and singing style is in the tradition of Germany’s tragic singer/model Nico (Christa Päffgen); or at least Sir Schlingensief believes so. Of course, Schlingensief regular Mario Garzaner – a small, swarthy retarded man who played the role of Rainer Werner Fassbinder in The 120 Days of Bottrop (1997) and was also part of the political party Chance 2000 and Big Brother-inspired television show Foreigners out! Schlingensiefs Container – steals the show in Freakstars 3000, which is no surprise for anyone that is familiar with his real-life, non-performances. 

 As can be expected, Freakstars 3000 sparked a storm of controversy in Germany, not least of all because only two generations ago, disabled members of the volk were oftentimes sterilized and even euthanized, thereupon inspiring moral ambiguity and shame in viewers who don’t know how to respond to a rather retarded man having a conniption shit on live television. As for the characteristically cliché liberal/democratic claim that Freakstars 3000 was a work of tasteless exploitation and not entertainment, I believe such a sentiment is more telling of the guilty conscious of the meekish complainer (as probably intended by the director) and not the show itself because neither Schlingensief nor the contestants at anytime seem to be participating in a work of malicious manipulation and degradation. For example, when a self-conscious contestantant complains that he got only a C in music classic, Schlingensief – a clever and creative man of high-intelligence – states that he got an F in the same class, yet he still sings, thus giving the petrified performer the much-needed courage he needed to go on with the solo singing. Also, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to state that being a part of Freakstars 3000 was probably for many of the performers, the greatest highlight of their lives and probably the point where they felt the most confident and even ‘normal’; which is no small achievement on Schlingensief’s part as he took an active role throughout the filming of the show, including wrestling and bathing members of the home for the merry mongoloids.  After all, when is the last time a bleeding heart liberal set themselves up for nationally broadcasted television show as Schlingensief does when he experiences defeat at the the hands of a rather rotund retard during an impromptu wrestling match?!

-Ty E

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