Jan 31, 2013

Kamikaze 89

Being a lonely, sluggish, and slob-like fellow in an absurd campy leopard-colored detective outfit is probably not the way German New Cinema master auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder expected to be last remembered, but such was his fate after overdosing on cocaine shortly after his final screen appearance as the lead protagonist in the softcore dystopian cyberpunk flick Kamikaze 1989 (1982) aka Kamikaze 89 directed by Wolf Gremm (Death or Freedom, Fabian). While many have mixed feelings about Fassbinder’s final auteur-piece Querelle (1982) – a renegade cinematic reworking of Jean Genet's 1947 novel of the same name that more than hints at the fact that the ill-fated filmmaker was heading in a completely different direction aesthetically due to the film’s elaborate expressionistic sets and international star cast, Kamikaze 89 would prove to be an ostensibly depressing and even embarrassing celluloid affair; both for the fallen star (although the auteur personally enjoyed the experience and performance) and the audience. Based on the 1964 novel Murder on the Thirty-First Floor by Swedish Marxist journalist/crime novelist Per Wahlöö, Kamikaze 89 was a cinematic work where Herr Fassbinder finally got to live out his lifelong dream of being a star hero of the silverscreen and not a mere defeated victim like in his own self-directed works Katzelmacher (1969) aka Cock Artist and Fox and His Friends (1975) aka Faustrecht der Freiheit.  As Kamikaze 89 co-scriptwriter Robert Katz wrote in his biography on Fassbinder entitled Love Is Colder Than Death (1987), “while Rainer didn’t quite direct himself, Gremm rarely restrained him from doing whatever he pleased,” which is quite obvious for those that have seen it as the film essentially feels like a high-priced cinematic vehicle for Fassbinder to have fun and forget about the worries of directing serious films. Thus it should be no surprise that Kamikaze 89 is like Welt am Draht (1973) aka World on a Wire for philistines as directed by post-Polyester (1981) John Waters (had he not failed out of film school) on sunny and sardonic cyberpunk steroids. Featuring Fassbinder’s ex-boy-toy Günther Kaufmann (Whity, The Third Generation) as his sometimes sidekick and his favorite mature leading lady Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven) in another important role, as well as cameos from his friends Frank Ripploh (director of the 1981 gay cult movie Taxi zum Klo) and Juliane Lorenz (Fassbinder’s young film editor who would later become the head of the Fassbinder Foundation) and cinematography done by Xaver Schwarzenberger (Berlin Alexanderplatz, Querelle), Kamikaze 89 is the Fass-bande gone kraut Hollywood.  

 Kamikaze 89 director Wolf Gremm described his collaboration with the German New Wave Superstar auteur as follows: “When I plan a film, I often think in terms of animal images for the characters. In conceiving Kamikaze 89’, I always had Fassbinder in mind as a leopard, but I never told him this. At the first costume fitting I showed him fifteen possible futuristic detective and police costumes of very different styles. It happened like this: He came in. I was smoking a cigar. I offered him a Camel cigarette. He looked over the costumes. I smiled. Then he looked at me and smiled too. He said, “You like this leopard one.” And I said, “Don’t you?” And he said, “Let me try it on.” He looked at himself in the mirror and said, “I love me. Now I’m Lieutenant Jansen.” From this point on, we never had to discuss the style of the film.”  Indeed, the style of Kamikaze 89 is like technocratic mid-camp chic on cyber-crack as a sort of hyper-cynical science fiction flick for those that know, but absolutely loath the genre as a big-budget Teutonic brother to Slava Tsukerman's sci-fi cult classic Liquid Sky (1982).  Indeed, if you loved any of the films in The Matrix trilogy and/or any of the aesthetically sterile, sentimentalist sci-fi flicks directed by Steven Spielberg, Kamikaze 89 is most certainly not the film for you.  In fact, if you felt like a born-again humanist after watching Planet of the Apes (1968) and/or Soylent Green (1973), you're probably better off watching the latest Roland Emmerich flick than watching Fassbinder fight cyber-crime, even if the German New Wave auteur – with his bloated belly, unkempt beard, and bad acne – did resemble a sci-fi fan-boy during the production of Kamikaze 89.

 In the not-so-distant future during the year 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany is an undisputed Utopian dream on earth because, aside from being the wealthiest nation in the world, there is nil unemployment, inflation, nor pollution as “everything is right as rain” in the less than democratic nation. Of course, with the disappearance of harmful drugs and violent crime, Kamikaze 89 features a world without worry, aside from police brutalizing those that dare to drink alcohol, at least until a bomb hoax forces a rather laidback campy cop/dandy detective named Jansen (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) to take a break from his half-ass hobby of living-room tennis. Apparently, set to detonate at the main headquarters of “the Combine” – a passive-aggressive authoritarian company that controls all of television (48 broadcasting channels), news, and paper and electronic media – Jansen and his dopey and less than devoted partner/sidekick MK1 Anton (Günther Kaufmann) are given a mere four days by their commander to uncover who was behind the seemingly nonsensical hoax and in the process, meet a number of dubious queer characters that run the media empire. With an ambiguous reference to ‘Krysmopompas’ – the underground enemies of the Combine – Jansen and his black Bavarian buddy only have a couple loony leads to go by. When the Human Resources Director (Brigitte Mira) of the Combine building mysteriously falls to her tragicomedic death as the supposed first suicide in Germany in over four years, Jansen begins to suspect that there is something more malevolent going on in the socially mundane metropolis, thus sending him on a number of leads and misleads that tangle the plot of Kamikaze 89 up in a maze-like manner that is made all the more muddling by the film’s domineering aesthetics and half-serious and oftentimes satirical tone. Early on in the film, the nephew of the man that is the head of the Combine confesses that he sent the bomb threat after being influenced by a Krysmopompas comic (in a manner similar to how present-day media blames movies and comic books for the actions of lone-nut killers), but this confession is ultimately false. After catching his partner-in-crime-stopping MK1 Anton snooping in his desk, as well as an order from his boss telling him not to trust anyone (not even the boss that gave the order), Jansen is sent on a tedious trail that is all the more suspect as he weaves through the wacky wonderworld.  Battling tranny-molesters wearing ski-masks and neglecting medical attention criminal suspects (it is not the detective's style to waste time on dead-end leads), half-jaded Jansen is on his way to uncovering the hard truths of an insidious industry-run society of contrived immaculateness, but not without meeting with a blue-eye-busted ex-employee of the Combine named Weiss played by Franco Nero who worked on the mysterious 31st floor (often mentioned throughout the film as an inside joke/source of mystery) of the 30 floor Combine building.  Apparently, some egocentric elitists at the Combine were unhappy with their bosses for "murdering" their "minds" while they worked on an artistic project for the "spiritual renewal" of the Aryan nation, thus erupting in anti-Combine comics featuring pornography and Der Stürmer-esque caricatures and eventually violence against the conspiring corporation.  In the end, Jansen (or more like Fassbinder) stands all by his lonesome, smirking at the audience as the end credits role; no doubt a frolicsome farewell for the foredoomed filmmaker!

 Featuring a technocratic metropolis with a quasi-New Romanticist aesthetic, Kamikaze 89 contains an undeniably visually enthralling world with a now-classic soundtrack by Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream), so much so that the film is more a colorfully campy cinematic cuisine for the eyes and ears than a thrilling tale of sci-fi bureaucracy gone awry, which is probably the result of director Wolf Gremm’s ineptitude at cinematic storytelling, hence why the would-be-auteur, who according to Robert Katz, “held the record for winning more frequently than anyone else the German film critics’ Sour Lemon, presented to but never accepted by the director of ‘the worst film of the year’,” was artistically excommunicated to the world of television and would never direct a feature-length studio film in Germany ever again. Still, aside from being “a footnote to film history” as described by New York Times star reviewer Vincent Canby, Kamikaze 89 is a somewhat strikingly symbolic work of cinema history that foretells the artistically sterile state of, not only German cinema, but international cinema as a whole after the tragic yet predicable death of Fassbinder and Hollywood's horrendous homogenizing effect on the world. Featuring an soul-deadening futuristic dystopia where 99.3% of households watch a twenty-four hours-a-day reality television game show entitled “the Laughing Contest” – a foul forerunner of brainless and tasteless popular 'reality TV' shows like Fox's American Idol (2002-present) – Kamikaze 89, like any worthwhile science fiction work, does manage to predict the future; a cinematically fatalistic forthcoming that Fassbinder probably would have not fared well in. Interestingly, Günther Kaufmann’s quadroon son Davy Kaufmann – a rock and soul singer of sorts like his father – would go on to become a star of Germany's "Got Talent" in 2009, thus adding some credibility to the redundant robotic retard realm that is featured in Kamikaze 89. Of course, aside from being plagued with crime, population, pathological pill-popping, adolescent alcoholism, and racial/ethnic chaos, the contemporary world also fails to feature city scenery as aesthetically alluring as those in Kamikaze 89; a virtual science fiction flick for inebriated Werner Schroeter fans.

As for Rainer Werner Fassbinder's thoughts on Kamikaze 89, his biographer Robert Katz wrote that according to director Wolf Gremm and Juliane Lorenz, the German New Cinema auteur, “loved it, especially seeing himself in every scene,” so much so that there was talk of two Kamikaze sequels and the Querelle director even, “kept the phony leopard-skin suit and wore it from time to time during the few remaining months of his life.” Fassbinder also, “developed a big-brotherly fondness for Wolf, whose easily ignited childlike enthusiasm was sunshine in Rainer’s leaden sky,” so much so that Kamikaze 89 director was staying at his filmmaker friend's house on the night of June 9–10, 1982; the nighttide hours when German New Cinema’s Superstar director inevitably perished from his own excesses. Although Gremm did not earn the much prized Sour Lemon award for Kamikaze 89, he did manage to offer Fassbinder a couple months of irreplaceable joy from his short life of controlled chaos before the filmmaker finally lost his grip over personal pandemonium.  A filmic farewell to Fassbinder, Kamikaze 89 is probably only of interest to fans of the filmmaker, but quite remarkably, like most decent films (and I am not saying it is anything resembling a masterpiece, not even a minor one), it manages to get better with subsequent viewings.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just thought I would let you know this film is getting a blu-ray release sometime next year. http://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=18137