Nov 10, 2012

Strangers in Paradise



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. 



 The son of Ludwig Manfred Lommel – a popular comedic performer and radio personality who was once regarded as the “Charlie Chaplin of Germany” and whose popularity reached its peak during the Nazi era – Ulli Lommel certainly does not share his father’s political persuasion, especially when one considers that the protagonist of Strangers in Paradise not only refuses a prestigious position utilizing his talents for the benefit of National Socialist Germany, but goes as far as having himself frozen, henceforth literally and figuratively freezing his life and gambling with his fate. As someone who sponsored the building of a veteran home for disabled German soldiers and helped form a relief organization for Germanic Silesians who had been expelled from Poland by communists after World War II, Ludwig Lommel was certainly not someone who was ashamed for being a purported ‘Nazi’ and patriot of sorts. As for Ulli Lommel – a Teuton who somehow managed to rid himself of most of his German accent less than a decade after emigrating to the United States and who has made a number of films attacking Nazism (Adolf and Marlene, Strangers in Paradise, Eva Braun: Her Life with Adolf Hitler) – he is not exactly a man who is loyal to the Fatherland like his national hero father (who was awarded the Officer's Cross, or Merit Cross 1st Class during his 65th birthday). In Lommel’s ‘lost-masterpiece’ Adolf and Marlene, German traitor Marlene Dietrich (played by Fassbinder Superstar Margit Carstensen) gives Uncle Adolf (played by Kurt Raab; star of Lommel's 1973 horror masterpiece The Tenderness of Wolves) hell, but in Strangers in Paradise, Lommel as Jonathan Sage – who initially is happy to turn gay Californians into heterosexuals, but has a change of heart after realizing that boi's just wanna have fun too – unleashes a metaphysical rampage of the counter-cultural music kind against Reagan’s warriors, turning yuppie yahoos into flaming and feisty fairy faggots via mass communal broadcasted hypnosis with his TV remote, which acts as a postmodern magic wand of sorts. Needless to say, most of the charm associated with Strangers in Paradise is derived from its absurdly anachronistic (even at the time at its release) after sitting in obscurity for nearly 30 years. Featuring songs that rip-off/pay tribute to The Beatles, The Doors, Devo, X, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others, Strangers in Paradise is a diverting and unconventionally delightful, if determinedly dated depiction of the generational pop culture and political wars in America (and Britain) as seen through the startlingly silly yet strangely spellbinding and even unsettling personal gaze of deracinated Teuton Ulli Lommel.



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.



-Ty E

14 comments:

teddy crescendo said...

Ty E, you`re absolutely right about musicals being dog-shit for wussies. The ONLY reason they were so popular for 40 years from the late 20`s to the late 60`s was that ALL the movies made during that period were for wussies because of that ludicrous and absurd Hayes office so-called code of conduct that was unfortunately inflicted and imposed onto the American film industry for 34 years between 1934 and 1968. Musicals just rode on the back of all that idiotic censorship, lies, hypocrisy and pansy queer wussie pussy bull-shit.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

When "Some Call It Loving" was shown on TV around 1990 i was actually lucky enough to be recording it with my trusty old VHS player (with basic slow motion and pretty good picture quality in the freeze frame mode ! ! !), i literally lost count of the number of times i jerked off to that incredible (almost naked) cheerleader, that girls bum looked so ass-tonishing as she twirled around with the camera positioned to look directly up her skirt, it was so magical jerking off to a different frame every time, that girls arse really was pure gold ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Turning all homos into heteros, if that dream could actually be achieved in reality it would be THE greatest thing that would`ve ever happened in the entire history of the universe.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

What Teddy said is right, virtually all the films made in America between 1930 and 1970 are now completely unwatchable to modern audiences specifically because of that Hayes office bull-shit. Of course everything that was made between 1970 and 2010 will be equally unwatchable to people 20 or 30 years from now, primarily because "THE TIME OF SEXUAL REPRESSION" will be over ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its a shame i lost that VHS recording i had of "Some Call It Loving", i know i`ve got thousands of graphic sexual images to jerk-off to on the internet now (which is great obviously) but that birds arse was so amazing, it really was a masturbation-aid par-excellence, one of the greatest of all-time actually ! ! !.

steve prefontaine said...

Its so embarrassing and pathetic when they try to resusitate out moded genres like musicals and westerns, it reaks of total desperation (and sexual repression obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Just with regards to "West Side Story" (1960): I want to bugger Natalie Wood (as the bird was in 1955 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously, which is long since dead, unfortunately). I still feel sad about Natalie snuffing it on that boat in `81, i wonder if Christopher Walken murdered the bird like you once said he might have ! ?.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger the girl on the strings.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ulli Lommel wanted to get back at Hollywood for defaming his nation ! ?, the bloody ludicrous, bite-the-hand-that-feeds-him, ingrate, two-faced, hypocrite.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Yes, Hitler was a big fan of sexual promiscuity as long as it was rampagingly heterosexual promiscuity, pansy queer bastards were rightly executed for being inferior scum and filth (which of course they were).

steve prefontaine said...

Ulli Lommel does actually look like a fucking dirty, worthless, Aryan, master race, Nazi, white supremacist, racist, third reich worshipping, hitler loving, pile of Kraut bastard, dog-shit. Just like his father and Schwarzennegger ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Oh that cheerleader in "Some Call it Loving", what an unbelievable arse that bird had, quite ass-tounding ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I doubt if Ludwig Girl-fred Lommel enjoyed being compared to Charlie Chaplin, he was a British Jew, i dont think they were very popular in Ger-girl-y during the time of the third reich.

Phantom of Pulp said...

I share your distaste for musicals. And that still holds me back from wading into this flick. Perhaps I'll find the nerve one day.