Without a doubt, the musical is my least favorite film genre, in part due its similar conventions with the fundamentally artless film classification of pornography. After all, both film formats typically feature a minor plot and/or storyline as a weak backbone for holding together what is designed for cheap thrills. Of course, my main reasons for loathing musicals so much are their overall aesthetic unpleasantness for the eyes and ears as a source of sickening sensory overload, coupled with grating second hand embarrassment for the cartoonish performers with their superficial shit-eating grins and distinctly deranged poofer dancing, so naturally I never thought I would find even the remotest bit of merit in a melodious sing-a-long movie by Ulli Lommel (Adolf and Marlene, Cocaine Cowboys) of all people. Undoubtedly one of his most ambitious and personal works, Lommel’s politically-charged yet unpretentious sci-si musical Strangers in Paradise (1984) aka Rock America aka The Hypnotist is a film about a talented yet somewhat contemptuous hypnotist named Dr. Jonathan Sage (played by Ulli Lommel himself) who has himself cryogenically frozen after Adolf Hitler (also played by Lommel) offers him the job of providing his marvelous mesmerist skills to use against enemies of the Third Reich. About 40-years later, Mr. Sage is defrosted by a group of rabid and conspiring Reaganites who hope to utilize his hypnotizing talents as a magical means to radically reform socially subversive types, thereupon turning homos into heteros, punks into preps, prostitutes into puritans, etc. Totally ignorant of contemporary societal trends, habits, and mores due to his prolonged hibernation, Sage is ill-equipped to deal with technology of the modern world and soon, even he – a talented magus – is brought under the nefarious narcotizing spell of television. As he is told by a friend shortly after his reawakening that in regard to TV, “there was once a time when it imitated life, now life imitates TV” as everyone now seems to be a groveling slave of the videodrome. But as Sage states quietly immediately after awaking from his solitary slumber, quoting Edgar Allan Poe, “all that we see or seem…is just a dream within a dream.” Comprised of a variety musical numbers written by Moonlight Drive aka William Pettyjohn (a The Doors cover band) that schizophrenically shift between chic “progressive” music (rock ‘n’ roll psychedelic, punk, new wave, etc.) and “backwards” traditional music (country, folk, etc.), Strangers in Paradise is a lighthearted tribute to the mongrolized kultur and people of a country that Ulli Lommel would eventually call home.
Although I am probably not the best person to confide in regarding such films, I can state without any hesitation that Lommel’s Strangers in Paradise – a wildly wacky and tacky wayward work of Americanized melodic kraut comedy – is easily one of the most underrated and overlooked musicals of the 1980s as a sort of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) for alienated suburbanite punks of that era and certainly more entertaining and imaginative than related works like The Apple (1980), Can't Stop the Music (1980), and Footloose (1984). A piece of curiously corny camp for the entire family, Strangers in Paradise is is an accidental indictment of the petty non-problems of Americans from the 1980s, where jock vs. nerd and carny Christian vs. suburban punk dueled it out in a totally Hollywood contrived battle of the American dimwits, while citizens from Soviet bloc countries were waiting in line for their weekly bread and egg rations. Featuring actual stock footage of Germany and London in ruins during the Second World War juxtaposed with paranoid Americans partying in bombshells, Strangers in Paradise does a good enough job itself, if inadvertently so, of illustrating the comparisons between Hitler and the Third Reich with Ronnie Reagan and the American materialistic “right-wing” – which Lommel makes quite blatant with his musical number "The Same Old Song and Dance," especially with the lyrics from the concluding verse, "it's the same old tune played in 4/4 time from 1939" – is an absurd one, but then again, maybe the director merely wanted to get back at Hollywood for defaming his nation. Say what you will about big H, but at least he was no prude nor posturing puritan, but instead a proponent of the arts, culture and sexual promiscuity (if Aryan children were sired as a result, of course), unlike failed actor Ronnie Reagan.
Incidentally, the real Adolf Hitler did have a hypnotist friend named Erik Jan Hanussen who also was a mentalist, occultist, astrologer, and all-around carny con-man that helped teach his Führer friend how to win over the German people via contrived dramatic performance. Despite claiming to be a dapper Danish aristocrat, Hanussen (real name Hermann Steinschneider ) was in reality a lower-middle-class Moravian Jew whose father was a caretaker at a synagogue, yet that did not stop him from earning the friendship of the Sturmabteilung (SA) brownshirts. Hanussen has been dramatized in a number of films, including Hanussen (1955) starring and directed by O.W. Fischer, Hanussen (1988) starring Klaus Maria Brandauer and directed by István Szabó, Invincible (2001) starring Tim Roth and directed by Werner Herzog, and Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa (2005) featuring the voices of Toshio Furukawa and Troy Baker. Needless to say, Strangers in Paradise is quite different from these films and only makes minor allusions to Hanussen, not least of all because Ulli Lommel undoubtedly modeled his character Jonathan Sage as a sort of fantasy self and sci-fi alter-ego of the most imaginary persuasion who is contra to his own father in just about every way, aside from his expertise of entertaining. Interestingly, at one point in the film, Sage remarks that he wished they had left him frozen, especially since the character undergoes artificial hibernation around the same time Ulli Lommel was born. Like a mix between Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) minus the preachy cheap talk and Brian De Palma's merry yet macabre musical Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Strangers in Paradise is a 'cute' (for lack of a better word) and corny escapist science fiction rockfest that offers a tad bit more fresh food for thought than your average Hollywood sing-a-long flick, without resorting to the sort of Teutonophobia that prevalent in the works of Mel Brooks. Incidentally, according to Ulli Lommel's website, the German-born filmmaker is planning a "Hollywood Musical about young people dedicated to changing the world" entitled "SCHOKO BEARS 'N' YUMMIE CATS" that, to paraphrase, includes, "among other important changes, introducing alternative candy and chocolate, without all the poisonous fats and sugars" and will be a "film in 3-D for the entire family with 10 song-and-dance numbers." Although I don't know how I feel about a film that sounds like a kitschy Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) clone for vegans, I will give Lommel the benefit of the doubt that it will at least be as patently peculiar and personal as his lost cult musical Strangers in Paradise; a work that indubitably needs serious reexamination by cinephiles who relish in the cinematically psychotronic.