Oct 22, 2012

Satan's Brew




Although I still haven’t managed to view all of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s extensive filmography, I am quite certain that his work Satan's Brew (1976) aka Satansbraten – a work assembled during a period of immense professional distress for the Bavarian-born auteur – is his greatest kraut comedy and one of his most distinguished and delightfully deranged works in general. Opening with a quote by the Greco-French schizophrenic playwright Antonin Artaud and inspired by his surrealist "theatre of cruelty" theories, Satan's Brew lacks the signature manic melodrama of Fassbinder’s previous films and instead replaces it with slapstick sadism, grotesque gags, potent political nihilism, and a sardonic smidge of homosexual glorification. Centering around a philandering poet named Kranz (Kurt Raab) who spends more time finding new holes for his penis than writing verses with his pen, Satan's Brew is ultimately a work about the self-flagellating extremes a writer will go through while experiencing a chronic and mentally crippling spat of writer’s block. A lapsed leftist who earned minor praise during the student movement of 1968 as a poet of the failed revolution, Kranz quite hypocritically and shamelessly sinks to the level of a full-fledged con-artist of the real-life ‘role-playing’ sort by "becoming" German Conservative Revolutionary poet Stefan George after unwittingly plagiarizing his poem The Albatross. On top of flagrantly and failingly attempting to steal George’s physical, aesthetic, and mystical ‘messianic’ essence, Kranz also goes to the seemingly schizophrenic and marvelously masochistic extremes of adopting George’s sodomite sexual persuasion, henceforth resulting in the most absurd of consequences. Undoubtedly one of the most insanely idiosyncratic and fiercely frolicsome cinematic works of Fassbinder’s exceptionally prolific filmmaking career, Satan's Brew is a potent and oftentimes aesthetically putrid piece of laugh-out-loud lunacy that could and should be easily regarded as not only one of the greatest German comedies ever made, but also one of the most fantastic works of cinematic facetiousness ever made. Period. 



Left: Stefan George with brothers Stauffenberg ~ Right: Kranz as George with a male prostitute model

To get a more thoughtful understanding and pleasurable experience out of Satan's Brew, one must indubitably at least have a rudimentary understanding of Stefan George and his influence over prominent figures of early twentieth century Germany. Before becoming very likely Germany’s most eminent and important sage poet and occult teacher – an avant-garde nationalist messiah of sorts who dreamed of an esoteric Teutonic empire ruled by artistic elites – Stefan George was a decadent scribbler who cavorted with Fin de siècle French Symbolists like Arthur Rimbaud’s pederast poet lover Paul Verlaine and proto-surrealist Stéphane Mallarmé. Despite his blatant high-camp persuasion – both in terms of his poetry and iconic appearance – George advocated a life of conservative celibacy for his younger protégés; members of his George Kreis literary circle. Of course, George and his arcane odist nationalistic work did not merely appeal to up-and-coming homophiles, but also many prominent Germany intellectuals and artists of his heyday, including National Socialist architect Albert Speer, whose older brother was part of the literary circle and who once described the secretive sage upon seeing him in public as having, “radiated dignity and pride and a kind of priestliness... there was something magnetic about him.” Indeed, renegade aristocrat Claus von Stauffenberg and his elder brother Berthold Alfred Maria Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg (who George dedicated his poem Geheimes Deutschland aka "Secret Germany" to) – both of whom were involved in the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler – were also members of George’s circle and even quoted passages from the poet’s work Der Widerchrist aka The Anti-Christ to fellow members of the conspiracy.  Of course, despite being barely recognized outside of his homeland of Germany, especially after his death and the conclusion of the Second World War when nationalistic sentiment in Germany became somewhat taboo, few poets in history have exercised such a formative and ultimately imperative role in shaping the mind's of a nation's young elite, thus to compare him to a deadbeat degenerate such as Kranz of Satan's Brew is nothing short of an antagonistic absurdity.



 Needless to say, anti-hero Kranz of Satan's Brew has next to nil of the metaphysical aristocratic influence of Stefan George as he is a lecherous literary nonentity whose only followers are his lonely blue-blood mistress and another concubine, Andree (Margit Carstensen), from the country who suffers from an acute case of neuroticism; a wobbly weakling of a woman who substitutes the soulless lyrics of her ambivalent lover for a life of her own. On top of his faithful fans/lovers, Kranz spends his downtime bickering with his stocky wife Luise (Helen Vita) – who seems more like a controlling mother than a perennial ladylove – and playing with his seemingly autistic half-retarded brother Ernst (Volker Spengler); a distinctly perverted man-child with a pathological fetish for flies. One day, after realizing that he has subconsciously plagiarized a poem by Stefan George, subsequently deciding that, “I have the strength..to be Stefan George,” a figure he proclaims is only second to Friedrich Nietzsche in terms of the kraut written word. Soon thereafter, Kranz hysterically attempts to recapture every biographical element and character attribute of the famed Conservative Revolutionary poet, including striking George’s particularly picturesque dramatic poses (with make-up to boot) and starting a literary circle of his own, but instead of gaining fervent full-fledged fans of his own, the exceedingly pathetic poet hires male prostitutes, which he specifically states must be of mostly Latin origin with one or two “Germanic” Germans. George even goes as far as swapping his rampant heterosexuality for a visit to the tearoom, confusing a male prostitute’s cryptic-gigolo-lingo for poetry, thus making it seem that Fassbinder is insinuating that homosexual are born-poets, forced into linguistic esotericism out of necessity out of fear of negative repercussions from good bourgeois society. A conspiring thief and constant borrower, Kranz is only able to shed his pseudo-identity as Stefan George and break his writer’s block when he is maliciously manhandled by one of his creditors (a prostitute and her band of beatboys), thereupon becoming conscious of his lust for pain and inevitably resulting in the inspiration he needs for penning his best-selling novel Fascism Victorious, or No Funeral for the Führer’s Dog; undoubtedly a postmodern existentialist romp of sorts. 


 In the end, Kranz loses all of his loser followers and most of his mistresses, including his undersexed wife, but he also earns praise from mainstream society by a recently converted fan's remark that his new written works are thankfully, “not that leftist junk you (Kranz) use to fabricate.” With Satan's Brew, Fassbinder cleverly criticized and lampooned the radical leftist idealism of his youth (as he would also do with his subsequent works Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven and The Third Generation to the dismay of many of his followers), as well as the personal struggle he suffered as an auteur in an unprolific state of artistic limbo. That being said, Satan's Brew is nothing short of a dynamic declaration of his creative return and personal reinvention as a filmmaker, even if it is of the slightly self-denigrating yet strikingly scrupulous sort.   The impeccable antidote to lifeless pseudo-independent Hollywood comedies like I ♥ Huckabees (2004), Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and other related self-important, would-be-philosophical existentialist excrement, Satan's Brew is a gregarious gag show for those film fanatics who have a hard time keeping from laughing jovially when confronted with words like "humanism", "xenophobia", "diversity", and other linguistic burps urped by vogue social regressive types.  Stefan George and Rainer Werner Fassbinder may not have had a lot in common aside from their predilection towards tender dicks and a strong sense of 'Germanness' as expressed in their work, but they certainly could agree that youthful left-wing idealism is a dead-end street of aesthetic duplicity and pretentious posturing.



-Ty E

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