Nov 21, 2012

Jail Bait



If master Neuer Deutscher Film auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder can be credited for directing anything remotely resembling a sexploitation flick in the rather ridiculous spirit of of self-proclaimed boob-man Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Mudhoney), it is surely his rarely-seen and indefinitely banned TV-movie Jail Bait (1973) aka Wildwechsel aka Wild Game aka Wild Game Crossing; a strikingly sleazy yet simultaneously sophisticated cumming-of-age flick about statutory rape, the disintegration of traditional German lower middle-class morals, and the problems associated with parricide. Based on a work written by German Brechtian communist playwright and all-around Renaissance man Franz Xaver Kroetz – an author best known for his socially conscious melodramatic portrayals of rural Bavaria – Fassbinder’s Jail Bait ultimately proved to be too ‘pornographic’ and probably too morally and politically ambiguous for the man who penned the play it was based on. In fact, Kroetz was so outraged by Fassbinder's Jail Bait that he took serious legal action, thereupon causing an injunction to be enforced, resulting in scene cuts and an extremely limited release of the film, hence its virtual total unavailability today. Fassbinder and Kroetz publically argued over Jail Bait with the letters from each being published in the 1970s in various mainstream German newspapers. In his first open letter to cavalier kraut Kroetz, Fassbinder wrote: “it is a pity that you cannot be altogether honest. Why are you embarrassed to admit that you refused my offer to work with you on a script that would be acceptable to both of us?...Everything that is in the film is also in the play…Maybe this now embarrasses you. But it need not, because your play isn’t that bad, honestly.” In the same letter, Fassbinder would also go on to state that Jail Bait is, “the first time you have been understood,” meaning that as a loyal communist who writes in supposed tribute/admiration/defense of the “ordinary people” aka proletariat, the filmmaker has made the pretentious playwright's work more palatable to less literate and politically astute audiences who rather enjoy their 'bread and circuses' to 'socially redeeming' swill. And indeed, featuring sex, death, and rock ‘n’ roll, Jail Bait is undoubtedly a work that can be digested and enjoyed by the proudest of philistine peasants, but that does not make the film even less intricate than his previous no even subsequent efforts. Starring Eva Mattes as a 14-year-old floozy schoolgirl and Harry Baer as a 19-year-old chicken factory worker who makes the moronic mistake of deflowering a feisty and finagling femme fatale of the uncommonly fulsome and underage sort, Jail Bait is a smutty yet seasoned cinematic tale about young love gone awry and then some.



Hanni Schneider (Eva Mattes) may be a high school girl who still sleeps with dolls and comes from a rather wholesome, if authoritarian, family, but when she is offered a ride on the motorcycle of a charming James Dean-wannabe named Franz Bermeier (Harry Baer) – a young man that sports a terribly teased pompadour hairdo and sports tight studded jeans and equally small fitting t-shirt who has clearly bought into the shallow, nihilistic rebellion of Hollywood à la The Wild One (1953) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and pseudo-erotic negrophiliac renegade rockabilly of American icon Elvis Presley – she cannot help herself and before she knows it she is literally rolling around naked in the hay with her carboncopy rebel-with-a-single-cause: the ravaging of tempting teenage girls. Of course, before he even realizes it, Franz has fallen to prey to the teenage temptress' carnal charms and he soon believes the he is madly in love with the homely dame, henceforth eventually leading to his disregardfully decided damnation as a result of his fleshy metaphysical enslavement to the dastardly dame. Unbeknownst to Franz, horny Hanni has a fascistic father named Erwin Schneider (Jörg von Liebenfels; presumably of no relation to the Austrian proto-nazi völkisch theorist of a similar name) with unhealthy and even quasi-incestous feelings for his sole progeny, which results in the young man’s arrest for supposed statutory rape. Being a possessive and pestering parent with a perverse proclivity towards prying into his daughter’s sex life, Erwin declares that he wishes that Hanni’s boy toy Franz was castrated, condemned to death, and hanged as he nostalgically reminiscences on the glory days of the Third Reich. Essentially, Erwin is a living relic who dreams of an aggressive authoritarian regime where all forms of social subversion and moral decay are stomped out with a mighty ironfist, which he – as a virtually impotent lower middle-class man of limited eduction and political impotence – is unable to do. Being ‘daddy’s little (deranged) girl,’ Hanni is quite inexorable and extreme when it comes to her egomaniacal wicked wants and nefarious needs, especially in romantic matters. After discovering that she is pregnant, Hanni conspires to have her father killed because, to quote the lethal lady, “he has to go because we need room,” and she ingenuously recruits her ex-jailbird boyfriend Franz – who has already been to prison once because of erratic father Erwin – to do it. A rather gross gal that wishes she was a true blue Swiss miss (despite her chubby, swarthy, and semi-Mongolian appearance), who would be lucky to play a nude extra in an Andy Milligan flick; and whose understanding of the world around her is no more sophisticated than that of a 7-year-old, Hanni will not stop at anything, even if that meets murdering her only father in the Fatherland.



Probably unwittingly, Fassbinder himself revealed why Franz Xaver Kroetz was probably offended by Jail Bait when he stated in an interview regarding his less than condemning portrayal of Hanni’s father Erwin, “I think I’m one of the few directors in Germany who has a positive relation to his characters…in some cases, like the girl’s father in JAILBAIT when he talks about the war, I’m indulgent almost to the point of irresponsibility.” Indeed, it was probably not the gratuitous nudity and negligent behavior of the anti-hero “Bonnie and Clyde” couple of Jail Bait that proved to be most irksome for Kroetz, but the fact that the misogynistic and fascist father – a man that fawns over his daughter and has mostly merry memories of the Third Reich – is ultimately the only true voice of reason and responsibility in the film.  Like many of the  German director's previous but especially subsequent films (i.e. Fox and His Friends, Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven, I Only Want You to Love Me, In a Year of Thirteen Moons, etc.), Fassbinder utilized Jail Bait as a way to analyze and depict why certain members of the inerudite working-class carry out the decisively extreme and desperate actions that they do. Unable to communicate their emotions to one another, both Hanni and her equally extemporaneous father Erwin merely act on emotion without taking a second thought as to the radical repercussions of their actions, thereupon leading to the literal (and in Hanni's figurative) end of their lives. As for Franz, his greatest crime, even as a murderer, was an act of perverse passion by a misguided and moronic young man brainwashed by Hollywood movies and American rock 'n' roll to think his belligerent behavior was that of a virtuous underdog just defending his love. Unfortunately for Franz, he has found a kindred spirit in Charles Starkweather. Although by no means Fassbinder's greatest work, Jail Bait is also far from being the accursed auteur filmmaker's worst film, thus making it mandatory-viewing for fans of the German New Wave master, as well as unhealthy junkies of teen rebel flick. Not only does Fassbinder deconstruct the juvenile subgenre with his postmodern teenage outlaw film, but he added a post-war German twist with which the apparently celebrated playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz could not contend.



-Ty E

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