Oct 1, 2012
Based on The Other Side (1909) aka Die Andere Seite, the sole novel written by Austrian Expressionist/Symbolist illustrator and entartete Kunst extraordinaire Alfred Kubin (1877-1959), the German film Traumstadt (1973) aka Dream City directed by Johannes Schaaf (Tätowierung aka Tattoo, Momo) is a cinematic work that has undoubtedly been drastically altered from its early twentieth century source material. Penned by Kubin in his twelfth century castle, the anomalous Austrian artist must have had the perfect setting for the novel that would later be adapted for film as Traumstadt. Like the sphinxlike figure Patera in the film, Kubin concocted his phantasm dimension with the utmost secrecy, but unlike the character in the celestial celluloid work, the monsters created by the artist never inspired mass rape, murder, and social chaos, although such sordid scenarios would appear at his castle doorstep during the Second World War, thus inevitably inspiring Aryan auteur Johannes Schaaf's thematically-updated script for Traumstadt. Created after the colossal devastation of two fratricidal World Wars and during the onset of the televised violence executed by fame-hungry commie-would-be-rock-stars of the Baader-Meinhof Group, Traumstadt is a wildly idiosyncratic cinematic work about two married middle-aged artists who move to a “utopian” town (“dream city” aka “dream empire”) where, according to one of its seemingly sinister ambassadors: “To a citizen of Dream City, the only thing of importance is his dream. We nourish and grow it. To disturb it would be unthinkable high treason.” Of course, like most fantastic utopian ideas, especially of the postmodern liberal and leftist sort, things don’t exactly turn out as advertised by its proponents and propagandists, as soon discovered by the lead protagonists of the film, therefore making Traumstadt a work that is undoubtedly more relevant today than when it was first released nearly four decades ago. Unfortunately, Traumstadt is not exactly the most accessible film in the world as it has never been released on VHS nor DVD and the only copies floating around today come from a poor transfer of an old TV broadcast, thereupon making the hunt and discovery of this delightfully distinguished phantasmagoric cinematic work a ‘magical’ endeavor in itself. Of course, with its patently foreboding essence, terrible dreary musical score, and seemingly decrepit and decaying sets and asinine and anachronistic wardrobes, Traumstadt is a decisively dystopian work that reminds the viewer that one man’s utopian dream is another man's deranged nachtmahr. After all, in a curiously secluded state that is founded on the satirically self-centered principle, “every citizen has the right to fulfill himself directly and purely. Every mood can be expressed, every need can be fulfilled and every nature can be pursued” and where the only law is, “the total respect of the individuality of the others,” one can rightfully assume there will be social dissonance between conflicting personalities, especially when they wear the malevolently merry mask of smug righteousness and feigned friendliness. Originally advertised with the terribly tempting tagline Bizarre Like Fellini. Surreal Like Bunuel. Explosive Like Cocteau, Traumstadt is as artistically daring and aesthetically delectable as it sounds.
Somewhat discontent with their marriage and lives in general, childless married couple Florian (Per Oscarsson) and Anna Sand (Rosemarie Fendel) decide to move to dream city after being recruited by a somewhat ominous agent with an almost grotesque appearance named Mr. Gautsch. Florian learns that his schoolboy friend Klaus Patera is the “sole ruler” of the town-sized dream empire, correspondingly giving him a sense of security in his decision to become a citizen of the anti-romantic romantic-themed town, yet upon arriving at the supposedly utopian dream realm, his old mate is nowhere to be found. In fact, the oneiric city – with its total lack of children, feverish death cult worship, incompetent death-wishing doctors, repugnant and downright eccentric citizens (including an elderly professor who collects dust mites), proposterous bureaucratic government, shifty and sinister civil servants, sidewalk sodomy, menu-less restaurants, worthless junk stores, valueless currency and schizophrenic stage shows – is hardly the place of delightful dreams, as it mostly resembles a deathly bizarre daydream without end. To get to the city, the Sands book a flight from Munich to the Near East on Lufthansa and eventually arrive at what seems to be the middle of nowhere with a couple medieval Muslims. From there, the couple crosses a miniature desert of sorts, only to be greeted by a repulsive jester-like midget who guides them to the dream city as if he is the gatekeeper of hell. Filmed in Český Krumlov, a small and quite quaint city in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic, a region that was largely German before the conclusion of World War II and fell into general despair during the communist era of the Czechoslovakia, Traumstadt is set in an area that is both aesthetically and symbolically complimentary in character. Indefinitely Kafkaesque in disposition, but of the German-Slavicized instead of Aryanized-Semitic persuasion, Traumstadt is undoubtedly a film that will spark acute trauma in certain less stable viewers, but they will undoubtedly be at a pains to explain their metaphysical affliction for it is a subtle work were few things are explained, ergo putting the viewer in the same boat as the star-crossed Sands.
Ultimately, Traumstadt seems to be a work about the intangibility, bankruptcy, and hopeless of utopian ideals; be they political, philosophical, spiritual or otherwise. Klaus Patera – the mysterious MIA dictator of the contrived chimera cosmos – is just another cryptic and destructive cult of personality like Marx, Lenin, Mao, Oprah and Obama. For Florian Sand, Patera represents the innocence and joy of his youthful years and for a Negro citizen of the dream world he represents a bridge towards equality as testified by his agitated cry, “black and white! We could’ve built a new world together!,” yet in the end, all inhabitants of the town are inevitably left with a feeling of hopelessness and emotionally-charged chagrin. Not unlike many real-life revolutionaries, Hercules Bell, the lone black member of the town – who resembles a Negro Trotsky and rightly describes its inhabitants as a, “colony of lunatics,” decides to aggressively to stir the masses and annihilate the out-of-control monster he helped foster so many years ago, but he is no match for the deluging imbecility of the townspeople, thus leading to his earthly demise in a Christlike fashion. Traumstadt concludes in a manner echoing a historical Europa in ruins: totally ravaged, rotted, and ultimately ruined by idealism. Needless to say, Traumstadt is a particularly pessimistic work that does for fantasy cinema what Schopenhauer and Spengler did for the written philosophical aphorism; making the doom and gloom of the Occident a most aesthetically pleasing affair. Recalling themes featured in such cinematic masterpieces as Victor Fleming's adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Orson Welles' adaptation of The Trial (1962), and Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), but of an emphatically post-cultural middle Europe persuasion, Traumstadt is an absurdly rarely-seen and barely acknowledged film that is in dire need of being unearthed, lest we forget that not all dystopian cinema are flaccid, formulaic, anti-artistic, and ill-begotten like those so furiously defecated by the high-profile hacks of Hollywood. That being said, Larry 'Lana' Wachowski would make for an apropos citizen of dream city. After all, in the specter state featured in Traumstadt, every form of self-worship is possible, no matter how degenerate, so long as you relinquish your self-ruling right to repudiate individualism.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:35 PM
Soiled Sinema 2007 - 2013. All rights reserved. Best viewed in Firefox and Chrome.