Jan 30, 2013
Among the lovely leading ladies of Fassbinder’s eclectic entourage, including the elegant and ethereal flaxen-haired Hanna Schygulla (whose Nordic beauty perfectly exemplified the Arno Breker ideal), the devilishly divine, waif-like, and ever erratic and neurotic norn Margit Carstensen, and the altogether charming yet somewhat homely and ever pre-menstrually-charged Irm Herman, there is but one leading lady, Brigitte Mira, who stands out not least of all because of her rather advanced age and thoroughly endearing gnome-like appearance, but because of the intense warmth, sweet naiveté and grandmotherly charm she so masterfully exudes—clearly all very natural, positive female traits which Ms. Mira carried over in a very fluid fashion into her rememerable roles in such Fassbinder classics as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (1974). Indeed, these very traits are precisely what made Mother Mira so very likeable as an actress in nearly every role she played, and which also granted her a very special place in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sometimes very debauched and wicked heart; seeing that Fassbinder was a notoriously difficult director to work with, whose penchant for fierce and fiery arguments and childish, unrepentant displays of queendom, often driven by derisive and contemptuous cat-fights with his leading actresses (such as Hanna Schygulla, whom he once famously accused of “busting his balls,” and whose face he couldn’t stand to see anymore after she demanded higher pay on the set of Effi Briest (1972), and with whom he would not resume work again until 1978), it comes as no surprise that the ever gentle and unassuming Brigitte Mira, with her thoroughly mild affect (even in moments of anger or frustration), would arouse even in the often faggishly flustered Fassbinder only feelings of deep feminine warmth and admiration—to such an extent that he directed his very own bizarre, yet rather winsome and fun homage to Brigitte Mira, appearing as herself in the lead role in the 45-minute made-for-television film, Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht aka Like a Bird on a Wire (1975), in what is perhaps one of the most oddly campy autobiographical pieces ever committed to celluloid.
Named for the Leonard Cohen song “Like a Bird on a Wire” (Fassbinder apparently being a tremendous fan of the Jewish folk icon), Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht begins with a close-up shot of Brigitte (who herself, interestingly, was the daughter of a German mother and Russian-born Jewish composer despite the fact she played small roles in National Socialist era movies) mournfully singing the German lyrics to the song, juxtaposed against Leonard Cohen’s wanna-be Appalachin’ kosher hillbilly blues vocals in the background. Brigitte’s vividly blue eyes tremble and appear rather glassy in this beginning title scene, as if she is on the verge of tears, and combined with the rather melodramatic, melancholic lyrics, one can easily anticipate that the bulk of the film will involve the older actress reminiscing about the glory days of the Reich and how everything since has gone to shit (which it will, to some extent, but the film also, quite interestingly, “devolves” into something of a debauched, high camp musical later on). After joyously downing one too many glasses of vodka, Ms. Mira, in Fred Rogers-like fashion, welcomes the audience into the make-shift living room of her home (while also acknowledging it is a film set) and rather somberly recounts her youth as an operetta soubrette, occasionally bursting, almost seemingly schizophrenically, into songs about the trials and tribulations of her difficult love life, with intermittent breaks to describe each of the five men who have in their own unique and troubling ways left deep impressions on her (one of which was apparently a concentration camp survivor and also a hardened criminal, and yet another who was an export merchant and womanizer who very boldly brought his out-of-town girlfriends home to meet his wife). After describing in vivid and mournful drunken detail her long serious of failed relationships, Ms. Mira boards a train with Evelyn Künneke (a famous German singer and actress, part of the Lili Marleen generation, who went on to make several cameo appearances in films by Rosa von Praunheim, as well as several other Fassbinder films), in which the two engage in a rather unpleasant, yet typically female—catty and passive aggressive—conversation.
The remainder of the film sees Brigitte re-live her youth as an operetta soubrette, in which she dazzlingly sings a couple of German classics, including a few songs by Marlene Dietrich and Evelyn Künneke, while on stage in a leather fag bar (with her son Ingfried Hoffmann on piano) amid dozens of ball-busting bear cubs and full-grown, hirsute biker bears dressed to the nines in leather vests, tight chaps, chain mail and military hats, and in yet another scene, Mother Mira hosts an all-ladies fashion show in which she again sings a couple of numbers while fascinatingly describing her childhood years growing up during the Reich. In the penultimate scene, in what is perhaps the most interesting act of this anything but banal film, Brigitte sees herself as the sole female focus, dressed in a glamorous blue dress with a feather boa around her neck, bedecked in elegant gemstone jewelry, prancing around and singing about diamonds amid a gym full of muscular fags—one of which includes Fassbinder favorite and one-time boyfriend who later committed suicide, Moroccan Negro El Hedi ben Salem—rather unemotionally lifting weights while flexing their abdominal muscles with their semi-turgid members resting both comfortably and conspicuously in bright orange, rhinestone-encrusted speedos (clearly, the most tantalizing of eye candy for the fanciful Fassbinder, who quite conveniently couldn’t resist adding a flattering photo of himself at this jocular juncture). Indeed, this is a very enjoyable and unusual film, even coming from rather quirky and melodramatic Fassbinder, and a must-see for anyone who relishes the director’s work, this film especially being a clear and lasting homage to one of his best loved leading ladies, Brigitte Mira; a wonderful woman who would return the favor by describing the oftentimes maligned filmmaker to an interviewer as, "a gentlemen through and through." Featuring muscle-bound, banana-hammock wearing bodybuilders and leather fag clones galore, in effect being an alluring amalgamation of Mira’s drunken soliloquies and reminiscences of her past, interspersed with a cornucopia of fetishistic gay imagery, Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht has the unique characteristic of being a lasting, high camp tribute to perhaps not the prettiest of the Fassbinder femmes, but clearly the one who with her motherly sentimentality and always kind demeanor melted the seemingly incorrigible Fassbinder’s heart.
-Magda von Richthofen zu Reventlow auf Thule
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:30 PM
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