Jan 30, 2013

The Laughing Man - Confessions of a Murderer


If there was ever a German soldier whose life vaguely resembled that of the character of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (1979), it is most unequivocally Siegfried Müller aka "Kongo" Müller; a veteran of the Wehrmacht who emigrated to the Republic of South Africa in 1962 and became a lethal Lieutenant for "Mad" Mike Hoare's mercenary outfit during the Congo Crisis in 1964. Although Müller never developed the murderous mania that would propel the character of Kurtz into acting as a virtual God for psychotic Southeastern Asian savages and revolting against his own country, the Teutonic trooper did wallow in a world of alcohol-fueled murder and souvenir skull collecting, thus leading some to believe he hit the terminal Third World nation with a tidal wave of Teuton terror. After being first featured in the documentary Kommando 52 (1965), Müller – a supposed 'alive and well Nazi' hunting wild buck Negroes in the Congo – become an easy (with his Nazi medals and all) yet dubious icon of Western 'neo-colonialsm.' Cinephiles might remember Kongo Müller and his death's-head obsessed mercenaries from Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s Mondo masterpiece Africa Addio (1966); a devastating yet delightful documentary of discourteous death chronicling the bitter and brutal end of the colonial era in Africa. Müller was also the inspiration for the character of Henlein (Peter Carsten) from the underrated mercenary war-action flick Dark of the Sun (1968) aka The Mercenaries directed by Jack Cardiff, but unlike the fictional character created in anti-tribute to the German soldat, the real-life warrior was far from a pompous psychopath who attempted to slaughter his own multicultural compatriots as a true soldier's soldier who took care of all his men despite their continent of origin. In the East German documentary Der Lachende Mann - Bekenntnisse eines Mörders (1966) aka The Laughing Man - Confessions of a Murderer directed by Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann, one is treated to a focused face-to-face interview with Siegfried Müller about his strikingly singular life as one of only a handful of men who fought on both the Eastern Front during the Second World War and saw the African colonies crumble before his vivacious eyes. Condemned as an out-and-out Nazi who never severed his relationship with the swastika due to his insistence on proudly wearing the Iron Cross 1st Class he earned from the Third Reich during the Second World War despite now siding with the United States, Müller is treated like a born-again Aryan assassin in The Laughing Man by the completely compromised East Germany communist directors, but in the end, the charismatic career soldier would have the last laugh.

Beginning the production under determinedly dubious and totally false pretense by posing as a West German TV production team, deluded documentarians Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann lost any sense of journalistic objectivity before even beginning to shoot a single frame of film for The Laughing Man, but I guess one should not expect anything less from corrupted kraut commies who masterfully massage the Slavic hands that feed them. Aptly titled The Laughing Man due to Kongo Müller’s seemingly permanent smirk, it probably would not be an exaggeration to say that the German mercenary has a grin that would cause Conrad Veidt’s character Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1928) to curtail his razor sharp Comprachico-constructed grimace. The son of a Lieutenant colonel in the German Wehrmacht (army), Prussian commando Siegfried Müller was born for war and, indeed, he waged it like a rebel warrior from the postcolonial era long before the European colonies ever capitulated. As someone who fought on the Eastern Front for the better part of the Second World War, Müller disguised himself as a Polish peasant by day, thus utilizing guerrilla rebellion tactics of ‘undercover war’ before desperate yellow, black, and brown people ever had the chance to murder their masters. Müller had his “Baptism of Fire” during the outbreak of World War II in 1939 on the Silesian-Polish frontier, earned the rank of ‘First Lieutenant’ on Hitler's birthday, and would conclude with war in 1945 by being partially lamed via a bullet in the backbone at the time of the Fatherland’s apocalyptic defeat. After managing to escape from the East and becoming an American POW, Müller served with the Americans in the so-called Industrial police for two years, served with NATO in German units during the Korean war, and worked as an assistant manager at a hotel and restaurant (especially focusing on the bar as he likes a “good drink”), but the Congo was calling and he heroically answered as a European commando on permanent vacation in Africa with a special self-proclaimed interest in "revolutionary war." In the communist eyes of Heynowski and Scheumann, Kongo Müller is nothing more than a rare live killer Nazi on the loose who is bringing the same devastation to African negroes as he purportedly did to Eastern European Hebrews and their Slav compatriots. As for Müller, he believes his campaign in Africa is only similar to his tours of Europe in one manner: anti-bolshevism. Indeed, Müller makes no lie that he and his men, “are fighting in Africa for Europe” and that he it would be a “great pleasure” for him to join a Vietnam Legion and battle the Viet Cong. As a matter-of-fact kind of guy, especially when drinking his favorite alcoholic beverage (apparently, he adopted his affinity for firewater due to the “stagnant water” in Africa), Kongo Müller states quite proudly that it was, “necessary to show the blacks that white men were there, since the whites still have a fantastic name in Africa.” Aside from discussing his bloody battles against rebels and his hobby of head-hunting and totenkopf trophy-collecting, Müller also discusses his strong relationship with the Goethe-Institut (aka Goethe Institute) and the need to spread Teutonic kultur around the world. Needless to say, killer cool commando Kongo Müller is a proud kraut through and through who brought carnage and charisma to the decidedly dark continent.

Originally banned in West Germany for a number of years, The Laughing Man was quite hard to track down for many years for obvious reasons, but with the fall of the Berlin wall and 1990 German reunification, the documentary is nothing more than a curious piece of celluloid history. Essentially, directors Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann use Kongo Müller as propaganda ‘proof’ that West Germany, its master the United States, and its allies were run by crypto-fascists/capitalist-pigs with the career soldier – a man who proudly sports his Nazi Iron Cross – acting as sadist symbol of this worldwide ‘Fourth Reich’ of the free world. Inter-splicing photographs of mutilated Mandingo men and white men carrying white African skulls, the directors of The Laughing Man make it more than clear that Commie propaganda is all about Freudian projection as Müller’s battles against rebels only deserve a feeble footnote when compared to Holodomor (a man-made Bolshevik-led famine that killed upwards of 7 million Ukrainians between 1932 and 1933), Maoist famines (which killed no less than 30 million between 1958 and 1961), and the countless communist campaigns of carnage that have raged throughout the African continent during the second half of the twentieth century. Now a cult film of sorts due to influential cineaste Amos Vogel’s inclusion of the documentary in his revolutionary film history book Film as a Subversive Art (1972), The Laughing Man is now guaranteed a cinematic legacy of sorts, but, of course, being a politically radical Viennese Jew who was involved with early socialist Zionist groups as a youth and fled Austria during the National Socialist Anschluß in 1938, the film critic probably had his own personal reasons for including the documentary in his movie manual magnum opus. While Kongo Müller must have been Vogel’s most daunting daytime nightmare in documentary form, I found the infamous mercenary mini-Führer to be an engaging relic of the past that is no longer relevant in the contemporary world. A micro-statured yet marvelously murderous man’s man who found himself ill-equipped to live the civilian life after spending every single year of the Second World War battling Bolsheviks, only to see his beloved nation experience defeat, Kongo Müller naturally resumed his anti-rebel activities as a career mercenary in the Congo. If one thing is for sure, it is that Müller had marvelous taste in movies as indicated by his remark that Gualtiero Jacopetti – a man surely of greater artistic cinematic talent than Heynowski and Scheumann – is a “good director.” Still, The Laughing Man is a must-see for history buffs and it certainly features more than a couple of laughs. After all, Kongo Müller manages to finish a bottle of Pernod by the end of the documentary as a bodacious blond beast who brought the antidote to the bolshevik bug in Africa.  Unfortunately, diseases travel rather quickly in the Third World.

-Ty E

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