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.