Oct 29, 2012

Shadow of Angels

Like The Tenderness of Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe purportedly directed by Ulli Lommel (Adolf and Marlene, D.C. Sniper), Shadow of Angels (1975) aka Schatten der Engel directed by Daniel Schmid (La Paloma, Jenatsch) is a melodramatically immaculate work that looks and feels like it was ghost-directed by German New Wave alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who also suspiciously starred in, produced, and used his production company for the film. Based on Fassbinder’s controversial play The Garbage, the City, and Death (1975) aka Der Müll, die Stadt und der Tod; a work that irked German historian and Hitler biographer Joachim Fest so much that he would label the auteur filmmaker a, “left-wing fascist” due to the perceived ‘anti-Semitic’ subtext in the work. Not only would copies of The Garbage, the City, and Death be withdrawn from distribution by the German publishing house Suhrkamp Verlag, but Schmid’s adaptation was also withdrawn from theaters in new ‘democratic and philo-Semitic’ post-war Germany, thereupon sparking outrage and protest in lucidly liberal Paris, France of all places. Outraged, French post-structuralist/post-modernist philosopher Gilles Deleuze remarked, "Banning or blocking a film by Schmid is no victory in the fight against anti-semitism. On the contrary, it is a victory for a neo-fascism (...). For some people will remember the poignancy of this film, its political significance and how it was forced out of the public eye." Indeed, for anyone who has seen Shadow of Angels, it seems like an asinine absurdity that such a philosophically multifaceted and aesthetically scrupulous cinematic work would not at least seem somewhat sympathetic to the Semite plight, especially if one considers the nefarious nature of many of the gentiles in the film and writer Fassbinder's less than fascistic political proclivities, but I guess most viewers need their movie morals spoon fed to them with a clear distinction of “black” and “white.” Centering around a lonely quasi-existentialist prostitute who receives abject apathy and even contempt from her homosexual husband, prissy fellow hookers, and unsympathetic parents, the physically used and abused and emotionally broken Dietrich-like lady finally finds short-term solace in the unlikely form of a rich Jew.

During the beginning of Shadow of Angels, sonorously sad streetwalker Lily Brest (Ingrid Caven) commits a seemingly sadistic act when she breaks the neck of a kitten, but by the end of the film one realizes that it is not an act of mindless savagery she has engaged in, but selfless mercy and sympathy. As a fellow pussycat of the night dwelling in the ghettos of Frankfurt in the hopes of merely getting by, Lily knows what it feels like to no longer want to live. Married to a homosexual man-child named Raoul (R.W. Fassbinder) who lives by the decidedly deranged personal dictum “beating means love” and blows all of her hard-earned money via prostitution on gambling when he is not busy playing with toys, Lily has no one in her life to reach out to. Incidentally, Ingrid Caven (who plays Lily) was briefly married to her onscreen husband Rainer Werner Fassbinder in real-life, thus making both of their performances in Shadow of Angels seem all the more audaciously authentic, hysterically  heated, and characteristically chemistry-driven, especially when Raoul seems more concerned with the size of Lily’s gentleman suitor’s genitals than the fact they are copulating with his wife. Things eventually change for Lily when a bright light appears in the red district in the form of a rich Jew broker (played by Klaus Löwitsch) who, on top of buying her body for a pretty penny, confides in the intelligent call-girl, which eventually evolves into a passionate, albeit diacritic and dangerous, love affair that is ultimately doomed due to the lovers' conflicting backgrounds, forthwith giving Shadow of Angels a vaguely Shakespearean feel of sorts. The son of two Jews who perished in the holocaust at the hands of the people in the town he now acts as the unofficial dictator of, the rich Jew is not exactly a fan of Lily’s ex-nazi drag queen father, who the kosher fat cat personally blames for his belated parents' deaths. The rich Jew believes he is, “not a Jew like the others,” but fits into character with many of the stereotypes of the Israelite Semitic type, being a cunning capitalist who allows people to starve to death if it will earn him one more shekel, yet the other cryptic ‘movers’ and ‘shakers’ of the decrepit Frankfurt town are ultimately more repugnant and vicious. For example, the Chief of Police (Boy Gobert) who states of Jews, “they hate you and yet they need you for their perverted pleasures,” thus insinuating the perennial stereotype that Jews are parasites and exploiters, is completely in bed with the rich Jew, even helping him with the cover-up of a murder and the committing of murder despite his personal disdain for the kosher broker. The only one who stays true to his old school National Socialist ethos is Lily’s degenerate father Mr. Müller (Adrian Hoven), a vitriolic cabaret singer in drag who resembles an older, lower-class version of Helmut Berger à la Visconti’s The Damned (1969). Mr. Müller has no qualms about admitting that he has killed Jews and that he wished he had killed the rich Jew’s parents. Müller believes that the rich Jew “raises her (Lily)...to degrade him,” which is indubitably true, but the uncommonly handsome Hebrew madly and hypocritically falls in love with the progeny of one of his greatest adversaries, thus his generosity is not in vain.

 As stated by Ulli Lommel’s typical tall, dark, and handsome character “little Prince” – one of the rich Jew’s most right-hand men – “cocks can achieve miracles,” especially in Shadow of Angels, but wonders of love sometimes come at a hefty price, which the wealthy Judaic is surprisingly willing to pay, even if it means the annihilation of what he loves most. Of course, in the end, the rich Jew and his gentile minions are still on top and the prostitutes and lower-class anti-Semites are still at the bottom, hence certain ‘liberal’ European’s misguided belief that Shadow of Angels is a work of postmodern left-wing fascism. If anything, it only goes to show that German auteur Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (Parsifal, Hitler: A Film from Germany) was right when he stated that "Whoever joined the Jews and the leftists was successful, and it did not necessarily have anything to do with love, or understanding, or even inclination. How could Jews tolerate that, being that these others only wanted power,” in his aptly titled article On the Misfortune and Fortune of Art in Germany after the Last War (1990), as his controversial remark is certainly pertinent in regard to the hostile response to Shadow of Angels and the overall message of the film itself. Despite both Schmid's film adaption Shadow of Angels being regarded as a minor masterpiece of melodrama, as well as the play that it is based on, The Garbage, the City, and Death, being regarded as one of Fassbinder, if not his most, greatest play, that did not stop authoritarian holier-than-thou leftist gatekeepers from trying to assign these aesthetically and historically important works to the cultural garbage heap of history. Although screened in competition for the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, Shadow of Angels has never been released on international DVD and continues to be attacked (although to a lesser degree than the Fassbinder play) by self-righteous academics of the ostensibly self-righteous, cultural marxist sort.  That being said, I guess the Neuer Deutscher Film auteur died in vain when he was found dead with a script he was working on for a film about Jewish Marxist agitator Rosa Luxemburg in his hand because who needs neo-nazis when you have leftist fair-weather friends like those of Fassbinder, who was arguably the most culturally and artistically German filmmaker of the post-WWII era.  Needless to say, his Swiss friend Daniel Schmid did a great service when he directed Shadows of Angels; one of the greatest films associated with the Fass-bande.

-Ty E

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