Dec 26, 2012

Beware of a Holy Whore



By no means one of German New Wave auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s greatest films, Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) aka Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte – an anecdotally embarrassing semi-autobiographical based on the filmmaker’s virtual hell on foreign earth while filming the wacky and tacky kraut anti-western Whity (1971) only a couple months before – is a virtual “who’s who” of New German cinema, features acting performances by Fassbinder himself, Werner Schroeter, Margarethe von Trotta, Ulli Lommel, Kurt Raab, Hanna Schygulla, Ingrid Caven, Harry Baer, Magdalena Montezuma, and countless others. Marking a break in Fassbinder's oeuvre and an unofficial start to the cinematic works associated with the director's “avant-garde” Anti-Theater (antiteater) – the troupe of pre-film actors that the director lived with and made his original films with – Beware of a Holy Whore is probably the closest as one will ever get to understanding the “controlled chaos” of the auteur’s filmic family and frenzied filmmaking process. Indeed, some of Fassbinder’s collaborators have less than fond memories of the film, including celebrated cinematographer Michael Ballhaus who stated in an interview: “Some of the films we did together, such as Beware of a Holy Whore, I find pretty awful when I see them today.” Undoubtedly, I would be lying if I did not admit that Beware of a Holy Whore made me feel a bit ambivalent toward the Fassbinder family, including the director himself, as the emotionally sterile (although intentionally so) yet sin-ridden cinematic work is like François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) aka La Nuit Américaine meets Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt (1963) aka Le Mépris from insanely inane inhospitable hell where unadulterated narcissism fuels a fickle furor of nihilistic sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that would ultimately take a tragic toll on the filmmaker behind it in the long run. As actor-turned-director Margarethe von Trotta explained in an interview regarding Fassbinder: “When we were filming Beware of a Holy Whore in Sorrento, he would go on three or four hours of sleep. Like Pasolini. There are people like that – often people who freely, almost obsessively, give rein to their sexuality, without becoming intellectually or artistically drained. They derive special spiritual and creative power from their excesses…I sometimes wonder if those people know that their lives will be short and therefore need to burn their candle on both ends, frantically living for the moment.” With its various scenes of unsanctified girlfriend-swapping, brutality against girls and girly men, brazen bisexual affairs, dubious money handling, crippling cocktail of alcoholic and other unidentified controlled substances, and all around hostile human ugliness, Beware of a Holy Whore left me with the unforgettable impression that Rainer Werner Fassbinder needed real-life manic melodrama to fuel him with enough tenacity and vigor to crack out celluloid melodramas works so quickly as a sort of king of psychic vampires of the artistically driven sort.



If any film displays the passive arrogance of post-war Germans, especially of the ostensibly anal Aryan ‘artiste,’ it is most certainly Beware of a Holy Whore; a work of penetrating “pornographic pretentiousness” and "narcissism-exploitation" where every single character has their head so far up their own ass that it brings a new meaning to Uncle Adolf’s quote, “Those who cannot see past their own nose deserve our pity more than anything else.” Of course, one will have a hard time feeling even the most measly morsel of sympathy for the most characters in the film as their film-wrecking wretchedness of douche-bag dandy decadence, shifty and seedy sexual secretion sharing, prissy prima donna pomposity, and vehement vulgarian vanity is just about enough to make a speed-driven Warhol Superstar (it should be noted that Beware of a Holy Whore has the feel of a slick and professionally directed early Factory film) feel consumed with decided disgust, but one must respect Fassbinder for having enough whorish humility to reflexively resort to the most unflattering of self-criticism and self-parody. Waiting for the patently pretentious and audaciously arrogant auteur filmmaker Jeff (played by Colombian-born actor Lou Castel whose blond boyish looks are a far cry from Fassbinder’s semi-Mongolian schoolboy appearance), as well as the production money and film stock to show up and start filming, the cast and crew featured in Beware of a Holy Whore find themselves sulking in self-isolated corners of cumbersomeness, but things only get worse with the arrival of the dickhead dictator of a director who can’t find happiness in cock, cunt, or caviar, hence his pathological need to create films. Only the always cool Eddie Constantine, who plays himself as the international lead star, can keep his cool around a band apart of 20-30-somethings who seem more interested in contriving poses for their contemptible contemporaries than utilizing their “method acting” for the silverscreen. Indeed, tons of “whoring” goes on in Beware of a Holy Whore, pitting fag against fag hag with notable harlot heartlessness from Margarethe von Trotta who, despite being engaged to the production manager Sascha (played by Fassbinder), has no problem philandering with director Jeff; a switch-hitting softcore sadist that enjoys physically, sexually, and verbally abusing both boys and girls, especially the emotionally needy sort.  Jeff also has a jealous actor boy toy named Ricky (played by Marquard Bohm) who looks like an inbred version of Mick Jagger and is plotting revenge against his deceitful dick-sucking director lover. Ulli Lommel – who would direct his first feature Haytabo (1971) around the same time as Beware of a Holy Whore using many of the same actors, including charismatic Constantine in the lead role – plays the role of a set manager that, like in real-life, dreams of becoming a director in his own right and seems to utilize any opportunity he can get for Jeff to degrade him. In one of the more standout performances, Magdalena Montezuma plays “Irm,” a thinly disguised pseudonym for Irm Hermann (who seems to have dubbed her own voice for "Irm" later), who like the real woman, was deeply in love and financially supported the director during his early years of poverty as a novice filmmaker and was repaid for affection with physical and verbal brutality. In a scene that totally seems to capture his essence, Werner Schroeter plays a photographer with a graceful passivity that allows him to escape from the renegade film production rather unscathed just as he did the New German cinema scene. Although a marginal role, Kurt Raab plays a character whose grotesque yet gut-busting gayness and crude cross-dressing makes for a rare moment of comic relief in Beware of a Holy Whore that is more than needed. If Fassbinder achieved anything with the film aside from depicting the downright despicableness of everything that went on during his early film productions, it is that he was able to juggle an ungodly number of inciting idiosyncratic characters in a film that essentially takes place in a handful of rooms.



In The 120 Days of Bottrop (1997) – a work the director described as the last modern “German New Wave” film – effortlessly erratic enfant terrible auteur Christoph Schlingensief would go on to parody Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore with stunning sardonic sharpness that can only be absolutely approached by watching both films as a double feature.  Needless to say, Schlingensief's satirical scat film does not feature an inkling of the intrinsically irritating pretense that plagues Fassbinder's flick. Although opening with the inter-title “PRIDE GOES BEFORE A FALL,” Beware of a Holy Whore really seems to be full of characters whose self-control and social sanity is the only thing that “goes.” The characters in the film are so arrogant that they make a Roman blonde beast – a tall Nordic man that looks like an albino straight out of a National Socialist propaganda poster – think that that he is “subhuman” and that they treat him “like a black” because they are all “Übermenschs” from Munich who “all belong together.” Of course, the godforsaken Guido could not be further from the truth, as these Bavarian Aryans are quite the miserable motley crew whose contrary physical appearances are only rivaled by their personal rivalries. Concluding with the Thomas Mann quote, “I tell you that I am often deadly tired to represent human kind without to participate in human kind.,” Beware of a Holy Whore certainly gets across – for better or worse – that Fassbinder was going to portray the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, thus it is no surprise that filmmaker Jeff states, “I guess I won’t be content until I know…he’s been completely destroyed,” as the very last word spoken in the film. The “he” presumably being Fassbinder himself, who inevitably destroyed himself with the behind-the-scenes chaos he dealt with on a day-to-day basis with filmmaking being the only part of life he could control, thereupon sacrificing himself for cinema.  More an important artifact of his filmmaking career and his brand of filmmaking, Beware of a Holy Whore lets the viewer know that although actors may be the worst of whores, we as spectators are nothing more than passive Johns.



-Ty E

3 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

You know that phrase that you quoted from Hitler, it should have read: "Winston Churchill cannot accept that the country hes in charge of is a giant pile of festering and rancid dog-shit" ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Words like: "whore", "bitch", "slag", and "slut" are more direct verbal products of "THE TIME OF SEXUAL REPRESSION". In a society that was completely free of sexual repression there would be no such negative, insulting, or derogatory words. Once again i rest my case ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

When principal photography on "Beware of a Holy Whore" was taking place in September 1970 (interestingly at almost the same time as "Dont Deliver Us from Evil") Hanna Schygulla was only 26 and much closer to the absolute pinnacle and peak of her physical attractiveness and desirability than she was 10 years later in "The Marriage of Maria Braun" or "Lili Marleen", what an amazing and gorgeous young sex-pot that bird was back in those days.