Jan 16, 2013

The Niklashausen Journey



Out of all the films in German New cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s extensive celluloid oeuvre, his early TV-movie The Niklashausen Journey (1970) aka Die Niklashauser Fart – a revolutionary quasi-anti-revolutionary cinematic work co-directed by Michael Fengler (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, Weg vom Fenster) – is easily the artistically erratic enfant terrible’s most audaciously abstract, avant-garde and politically pretentious work, thus it should be no surprise that it is one of the filmmaker’s most least viewed and discussed films, even among academics. Quite easy to write-off as a wretched and curiously convoluted piece of experimental celluloid trash that is most symbiotic of its decidedly defiant generation, The Niklashausen Journey still offers an intriguing and oftentimes aesthetically intoxicating look at Fassbinder at his most political as an uniquely unloyal and uncompromising anarchist disillusioned with the political trends of his zany and overzealous zeitgeist. Extra loosely based on the real-life 15th century south-central German folk hero Hans Böhm – otherwise known as “the Drummer of Niklashausen” – who after claiming to see a vision of the Virgin Mary sermonizing slave-morality-inspired words of social equality, preached the absolute abolition of forced labor, tolls, levies and other payments to the nobility, thereupon inspiring tens of thousands of peasants to revolt, was charged with heresy and burnt at the stake on July 19, 1476 on the order of the Bishop of Würzburg, The Niklashausen Journey is as audaciously anachronistic as films come. Heavily influenced by positively pedantic commie frog Jean-Luc Godard’s dystopian black comedy Week End aka Weekend (1967) and Brazilian auteur Glauber Rocha’s class conscious western Antônio das Mortes (1969) aka O Dragão da Maldade Contra o Santo Guerreiro – a work the German auteur would also pay tribute to with his subsequent TV-movie Rio das Mortes (1971) – as well as a number of anti-Heimat films by corrupted krauts like Herbert Achternbusch and Werner Herzog, The Niklashausen Journey is foremost Fassbinder’s audacious response to the failed far-left student revolts of 1968 with the filmmaker himself playing the reflexive role of the ‘Black Monk’; the dubious and cryptic mastermind of an anti-aristocratic/anti-capitalist revolution in the beautiful Teutonic countryside. Featuring music and performances by the founding Krautrock group Amon Düül II, The Niklashausen Journey is a peculiar product of its time directed by a German New Wave master who had yet to master his marvelous niche for naked melodrama and refine his particular political persuasion.



The Black Monk (played by Fassbinder in an uncredited performance) – a black-leather-jacket-sporting con-man/intellectual revolutionary – is conspiring among his equally coldhearted compatriots (a blessedly beauteous Hanna Schygulla as “Johanna” being one of them) as to how and when they will spark a peasant revolt against an extremely effete aristocratic bishop and his overweight and seemingly catatonic, panty-flashing mother. The malacious monk mastermind concludes that it will only take a handful of people (as Johanna mentions, only “3 or 4” people are needed to form the “vanguard of the party”) to make the serf revolt a rather bloody and brutal reality, so he is quite thrilled when he runs into proletarian pawn Hans Böhm (Michael König); a megalomaniacal, if not mentally feeble, hippie mystic who feels confident in his serf sermonizing and self-worshiping heroics after he claims to have been given a blessing by the Mother Mary herself to exterminate lawnmowers and the all-powerful aristocracy. Vomiting corrosive communist intellectual masturbation from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, the plotting peasants pump themselves up for a collectivist coup d'état that is destined to fail right from the get go. Black Bavarian Günther Kaufmann – who plays the role of the “Leader of Farmers” – is also ripe for a renegade revolution, especially after reading about how his black panther brothers were slaughtered like common swine by American pig police.  As with every so-called 'people's revolution,' the revolt is funded by a bored aristocrat, this time in the fecund form of a rich bitch named Magarethe (played by Margit Carstensen) who has the hots for sexually potent peasant hero Hans Böhm.  While most of the revolutionary hippie yeomen inevitably meet a similar fate to Jesus Christ, the Black Monk lives on to spread the unholy gospel like an incurable venereal disease, infecting everyone he can with a corrupt cause with only one reward; a violent death. Featuring a trying collection of tableaux ranging from the titillating and transgressive, to the terribly trite and aesthetically tormenting, The Niklashausen Journey is, at worst, a strikingly sloppy mess of pompous political self-pollution and, at best, a bold, blunt, and beautiful expression of subversive sociopolitical cinematic art, but, at the very least, one has to admit that the film is an ambitious aesthetic affair, even if Fassbinder himself rarely, if ever, referenced the work at any point in his. If I did not know better, I would never suspected that The Niklashausen Journey was shot for a late-night slot for WDR Television’s drama unit, especially a work where the loony lead protagonist declares, “Long Live Lenin…Smash Fascism!” in a manner that was surely suppose to be sardonic and symbolic of left-wing hero-worship, at least in to Fassbinder’s politically discouraged eyes.



Undoubtedly borrowing aesthetic techniques from his friend Werner Schroeter, especially his early epic of allegorical tableau Eika Katappa (1969), even including an absurdist quasi-operatic performance from the German New Wave dandy’s muse Magdalena Montezuma (Der Tod der Maria Malibran, Der Rosenkönig), Rainer Werner Fassbinder was still indubitably a ‘work-in-progress’ as a filmmaker at the time he co-directed The Niklashausen Journey; a seriously structurally splintered, semi-surrealist and strikingly symbolic cinematic work that can easily be compared to the early films of Carmelo Bene (Capricci), Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo), Jane Arden (The Other Side of the Underneath), and Rafael Corkidi (Pafnucio Santo). Of course, like most of Fassbinder’s films, The Niklashausen Journey ultimately has a distinctly post-war German essence of ecstatic and eccentric ethno-masochism and a need to atone for the Fatherland’s National Socialist past. An individual who described himself as an “Romantic Anarchist” (which he stated 3 months before his death in March 1982) who personally knew members of the far-left West Germany terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF), including cinematography student Holger Meins (a bomb-maker who starved himself to death during a clearly failed prison hunger strike) yet thought their actions were stupid and their armed violence to be self-defeating, Fassbinder was one of the few individuals of the 1968 generation to upload his radical, if not severely skeptical, utopianism.  In fact, the filmmaker once stated in regard to his motivation to keep on directing films, “From utopia, the concrete longing for this utopia. If this longing is driven out of me, I will not do anything else; that’s why as a creative person I have the feeling of being murdered in Germany, if you would please not mistake that for paranoia….I believe this recent witch-hunt…was staged in order to destroy individual utopias…If it comes to the point where my fears are greater than my longing for something beautiful, then I’ll quit. And not just quit working.” Of course, Fassbinder did “quit…and not just working” when he overdosed on cocaine in 1982, but he would ultimately direct a number of politically oriented cinematic works, including (but not limited to) Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (1975), Satan’s Brew (1976), Germany in Autumn (1978), and The Third Generation (1979) preceding the release of his most politically conscious film The Niklashausen Journey. Featuring a trio of bloody, face-painted Maenads calling for the God of War (Ares), debauched aristocratic pederasts in dire fear of peasants, Uncle Tom U.S. military police trained to kill their black soul brothers, Krautrock rockers rocking out recklessly, junkyard-based political crucifixions, and failed revolutionary leaders who are more than willing to spare endless cycles of sacrificial pleasant lambs in their struggle for the Trotskyite ‘Permanent Revolution,’ The Niklashausen Journey makes for an aesthetically and intellectually intriguing cinematic work, if not Fassbinder’s very best.


The 'message' of The Niklashausen Journey can probably best summed up with a preacher from the film's sermon: "Nevertheless, every revolutionary uprising leads to new injustices...occasions of new unrest and inequalities...and gives rise to new disruptions...An evil may not be driven out with an even greater evil."  Too bad, Fassbinder's one-time collaborator Alexander Kluge – the racially self-flagellating Frankfurt School lawyer-turned-filmmaker and personal friend of anti-Aryan Jewish-Marxist philosopher Theodor W. Adorno – never seemed to understand these words of wisdom.



-Ty E

7 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The last two syllables of the word "Niklashausen" is the word "Hausen" which also happens to be the last half of Ray Harryhausens surname. For one brief magical mo-girl-t when i arrived here today i thought you`d reveiwed a "Harryhausen" movie, you can imagine my disapoint-girl-t when i saw that it was more Fassbinder bull-shit.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Blessedly beauteous indeed ! ! !, Hanna Schygulla (with her hair as white as snow, from excessive saturation with spunk hopefully ! ! !) looks quite stunning in that picture, when i saw it i started jerking off immediately and i spunked with-in one minute (that incredible bird helped me to forget all about those hideous faggot images from yesterdays reveiw). Hanna was so amazing at the age of 25 when this movie was made, truly one of the most gorgeous birds i`ve ever seen.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I just downloaded that picture of Hanna to my computer, with regards to non-porn thats a privilige i usually only reserve for pictures of Heather O`Rourke, it simply cannot be stated and emphasized enough what a stunningly beautiful bird Hanna Schygulla was at the age of 25 in 1969, imagine the pleasure Fassbinder could have had with her if he`d been wholly and exclusively heterosexual instead of a 75% faggot but only 25% straight geezer ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

So the ger-girl word for "Journey" is "Fart" ! ! !, trains and cars in Krautland must all stink of shit ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I like the naked bird covered in blood, that is an ugly slag but i`d still love to shove my willy up the birds bum.

eddie lydecker said...

Scenes set in car junkyards always seem to inbue the movie with a cultish ambience.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hanna Schygulla is one of those kinds of incredible birds where you just have to see her face and it drives you into an immediate masturbatory frenzy, that bird was literally like the proverbial 'living doll'.