Dec 13, 2012

Edwin Brienen's Hysteria

Taking a drastically different approach to his 5th feature-length film Edwin Brienen's Hysteria (2006) – the first film in the director’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (the second being Revision - Apocalypse II and the third remains to be seen, although some believe that his most recent work Exploitation is the final chapter) – a soundly singular and striking silent film directed by Dutch auteur Edwin Brienen that does not feature a single shot of full-color footage, but a variety of one-colored tinted scenes, the most prominent of which being blue for a rather interesting reason. In part inspired by the infamous Italian flick Blue Movie (1978) directed by absurdist auteur Alberto Cavallone (Maldoror, Blow Job), Hysteria – like the artfully sleazy scatological wop shocker it pays tribute to – follows a lonely woman in a horrified and ambiguously delusional lady named Lara (Brienen’s always nude regular Eva Dorrepaal) – the sort of unstable woman that a depraved psychoanalyst would love to get their hands on – in a state of hysterics who has taken sanctuary in the worst possible residency imaginable after a forced encounter with an unwanted date with a ravenous and rampaging rapist. Quite conceivably the world’s most unlucky girl in the world, not unlike the deranged anti-heroess of Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45 (1981), Lara soon realizes the gorgeous Gothic castle that she decided to shelter in is full of coxcomb lunatics, quirky sadomasochists, aberrant aristocrats, and – the worst of all, at least for already severely sexually abused and misused Lara – rapists. More meticulously stylized and ‘anti-erotically’ extreme than even the uncut version of Cavallone’s erratic exercise in naughty and mostly nonsensical nihilism, Blue Movie – a virtual arthouse flick for serial killers and coprophilia junkies – Hysteria is more than a tribute to an obscure sub-cult classic, as the film also pays equal tribute to the silent era, most specifically German expressionism, as if Satanic German National Socialist Renaissance man Hanns Heinz Ewers (writer of such horror classics filmed for the silverscreen as The Student of Prague and Alraune) and Deathrock pioneer Rozz Williams (co-writer/co-director of the S/M serial killer short Pig (1999)) came back from hell and collaborated on an unclassifiable low-budget horror utilizing both archaic and state-of-the-art filmmaking techniques. Indeed, Edwin Brienen's Hysteria is probably the only film ever made that features violent leather-fag fisting (an oddly memorable scene for my girlfriend who later dreamed of shadow people fist-fucking each other in dark corridors of the most unholy and hole-y of dimensions) and a scene of German expressionist opera performed by a Gothic transvestite dyke in a Victorian suit all in one film.

 Literally a “Blue Movie,” especially in regard to the various phantasmagorical rape scenes performed by a positively perverse perpetrator that wears what seems to be a Ronald Regan mask, Brienen's Hysteria manages to pay tribute to Cavallone’s improvised masterpiece of the atmospherically aberrant in a relatively subtle and discreet way, so much that despite being a huge fan of the Italian film, I did not initially recognize the influence in the defiant Dutchman's film. Also featuring classical music by Johann Sebastian Bach – a favorite of the scat-sanctifying anti-hero of Blue MovieHysteria utilizes the same music but under more fitting circumstances, mainly during scenes of the debauched blueblood degenerates partaking in morbidly amusing games of the rich and flagitious, including reanimating dead friends in coffins, encouraging one said dead friend to beat a naked girl with a mallet like the impotent cadaver-like grandfather from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and forcing the same untimely guest to eat shit out of a dog bowl while absurdly wearing a plastic bag over her head. Hysteria also features an eclectic but consistently haunting score composed by Hanno Hinkelbein (Null Records/Aeox) and IO that features everything from industrial noise compositions to ambient neo-classical tracks, so there is no mistake that the film is a modern flick that is not merely a pomo puff piece like the sort you would expect from tired old guys like Guy Maddin and Brothers Quay as Edwin Brienen realizes he lives in the present and not some glorified and intangible past. Wallowing in wantonness, but of the determinedly anti-erotic and scatological sadistic sort, Hysteria will be a grueling challenge for the majority of modern philistine horror whores because instead of offering cheap titillation and thoughtless terrorization, Brienen makes the viewer pay for experience by testing the strength of their psyche and capacity to endure somewhat impenetrable art unlike with the latest Eli Roth and Rob Zombie flick – fanboy masturbation pieces that fail to even achieve a potent burst of postmodern ejaculation – thus I think it is safe to say that it is one of the Dutch auteur filmmaker’s most ambitious efforts. 

 Dedicated to Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (1-900, Submission) – with whom Edwin Brienen collaborated on various TV series before becoming a filmmaker in his own right, and who was brutally assassinated by an Islamist terrorist (although one might draw a different conclusion after watching van Gogh's final conspiracy-themed work 06/05 aka May 6th) – Hysteria has, to some people's confusion, been described by the director himself as a “political horror” work that covers such topics as mind manipulation and false reality. Indeed, upon superficial glance, one would be at a loss to find anything remotely “political” about Hysteria, but Brienen executes these themes in a most unpreachy (and literally unspoken) manner that is disseminated through striking symbolism and avant-garde action in an expressionistic horror setting. Citing the Austrian tragicomedic thriller Die Totale Therapie (1996) aka Total Therapy directed by Christian Frosch – a film that shows how a bunch of mentally and emotionally feeble individuals fair (i.e. they go insane and kill one another) after their brainwashing savior therapist is murdered – as one of his top ten favorite films, it seems Brienen employed a similar technique, albeit to a more cryptic degree, of utilizing the power of psychological terror and influence as a tool for control; be it by a political party, mainstream media, or the leader of an acropolis full of degenerates as is the case in Hysteria. The fact that the (various) phantom rapist(s) in the film wear a variety of masks, including (political) pig, Arab towelhead, and American president illustrate the sort of illusive boogeymen that one sees every day just by turning on their television.  All realpolitik propaganda aside, the greatest strength of Hysteria is the magnificent collection of art-exploitation imagery contained within the film, especially for a work that was produced using the innately distasteful and aesthetically sterile format of digital video, as many scenes resemble moving paintings as if directed by German New Wave dandy Werner Schroeter had he had a special proclivity for German expressionism and old school slasher and gorno flicks instead of androgynous women and Mediterranean men.  Indeed, the dapper lesbo operetta, especially reminded me of a scene from Schroeter's Eika Katappa (1969) and Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972), but seeing as Brienen is "the Dutch Fassbinder" and both Neuer Deutscher Film auteur filmmakers (Schroeter and Fassbinder) were friends/collaborators, this is no surprise.  That being said, the only thing that is a surprise is that both a film like Hysteria and a director like Edwin Brienen exist contemporarily as I surely cannot think of another filmmaker that pushes both arthouse melodrama and pornographic S&M splatter films to such a degree that fecal-flinging fist-fucking begins to seem like an expression of high-camp charm.

-Ty E

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