Feb 16, 2013

Bewildered Youth


Undoubtedly, Post-World War European art, especially from defeated nations like Germany, Austria, and Italy, oftentimes depicted a people who had degenerated to such a curious level that certain artists' work, both in theme and aesthetic, created pieces that barely resembled the kind of work that had previously been created and filmmakers were certainly not exempt from this rule. Out of all of the European films I have seen, probably no other film more exemplifies this peculiar and perturbing problem than Bewildered Youth (1957) aka Anders als du und ich directed by ex-Nazi auteur Viet Harlan (Opfergang, Kolberg), Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels’ favorite filmmaker and the man who directed the infamous National Socialist melodrama Jud Süß (1940) aka Jew Süss. Charged with so-called ‘crimes against humanity’ in 1949 for his part in directing Jew Süss – a work oftentimes considered a superlatively sinister and cacodemonic piece of mayhem-inspiring melodramatic cinema – Harlan was essentially blacklisted in the filmmaking world for his artistic involvement with the Third Reich, but he would direct nine more films between 1950 and 1958 before his death in 1964, with Bewildered Youth; a black-and-white film that caused more controversy in Germany upon its release than Jew Süss, at least before 1945. Using a homosexual emancipation activist named Hans Giese as a ‘scientific adviser’ for the film, Anders als du und ich was originally intended as a quasi-pro-gay film designed to change public opinion about paragraph §175 of the German Criminal Code, which criminalized homosexual acts between consenting men and was not entirely revoked until 1994 after German reunification, but the original cut of the film was banned and it would go through various different and dramatically conflicting cuts with very different messages because the FSK (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle; a German movie rating system equivalent to the MPAA) believed Harlan's vision would "foster perversion" and promote "decadent weaklings." Harlan – who decided to tackle the subject of male-on-male buggery in a brazen attempt to rehabilitate his filmmaking career – made his intentions very clear with the film when he sent a letter to the production company regarding the original script by Felix Lützkendorf entitled Eltern klagen an (Parents Accuse) that the film is based on, stating: “I think what's missing in the script is the fact that there are two types of homosexuals - namely those who have been handicapped by nature, and those who criminally violate nature. The latter act based either on innate immorality or for material gain, or because of damnable weakness. The former, however, deserve our complete sympathy. If we want to be a magnanimous people, we must regard their lives as tragic, and the film must not condemn or persecute them based on any narrow-minded viewpoints. We may prosecute them only in the instances when they seduce youngsters whose nature is basically normal.” After various scenes were cut, scenes shot, and various voices redubbed, the film was released under the title Anders als du und ich (§175) aka Different from You and Me (§175), but in Austria, the original more ‘pro-gay’ cut played under the original title The Third Sex aka Das dritte Geschlecht. A dubbed cut of the film more in the spirit of the uncut original Austrian version was also released under the titles Bewildered Youth and The Third Sex in the United States in 1958. Essentially a kraut queer equivalent to the popular teen rebellion flick Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955) minus the warm Warnercolor kaleidoscopic colors and CinemaScope frames, Bewildered Youth is an unintentionally entertaining and flaky footnote from history that reminds one how the Teutonic Fatherland’s Übermensch campaign and societal inhibitions sank after losing the Second World War. 

 17-year-old Klaus Teichmann (Christian Wolff), an excellent student in school, comes from a traditional bourgeois family that has the most pressing concern over their son, so when he befriends an extremely effete fellow named Manfred (Guenther Theil) – the bastard son of a poor single mother who is not exactly the most studious pupil in school, his overprotective family begins to worry. After all, less than manly Manfred loves art and even has one of his girly man poems published in the school newspaper, so naturally trouble starts to stir in suburbia when the Dorian Grayish boy brings Klaus to the exotic house of a middle-aged queen queer and antique dealer named Dr. Boris Winkler (Friedrich Joloff); a super suave sodomite with an unhealthy interest in innocent adolescent boys. A ridiculously refined and cultivated man whose home is a virtual museum of artistic treasures and aesthetic pleasures, uniquely urbane Winkler, a wanton wanker, has unlimited resources when it comes to luring in young boys to add to his personal collection. A man who probably modeled his surely striking life of gay Conservative Revolutionary poet Stefan George – a German guru sage who headed literary circles whose members included philosopher/psychologist Ludwig Klages and would-be-Hitler-assassin Claus von Stauffenberg – Winkler impresses the teenage twinks with his dignified knowledge, masterful manners, proto-Kraftwerk electronic avant-garde music sessions, and ostensibly homoerotic indoor Greek wrestling matches between nearly naked men that would certainly tickle the tummy of Yukio Mishima, but Klaus Teichmann’s parents are less than impressed with their son’s pseudo-fatherly friend, so after talking to a psychologist who recommends that they save their son from turning into a salacious sodomite, a war of morals begins. Klaus’ concerned father Werner (Paul Dahlke) grounds his son, but the rebellious teen escapes through a window. When Werner realizes this, he wanders through the wanton world of abberosexuality, including Winkler’s house and a degenerate club featuring a drag show, thereupon leading the concerned father to a feel for filth that he cannot stand. Clearly a spiritually castrated cuckold not unlike James Dean’s character’s father in Rebel Without a Cause, wobbly wuss Werner (undoubtedly, the direct source of his son's lack of masculinity) is upstaged by his wily wife Christa (Paula Wessely) who has the decisive full-proof plan to recurit the Teichmann family housemaid Gerda (Ingrid Stenn) to seduce her son, thus actively recruiting Klaus to heterosexuality. Of course, mother knows best as beauteous Gerda makes a man out of Klaus, but heated homo Boris Winkler, being an effeminate queen who won’t dare allow for one of his beautiful boys to be put under the spell of the female enemy, gets Christa in trouble with the law for her part in conspiring with the housemaid in what is nothing short of middleclass fleshpeddling, but such is the world of Bewildered Youth.

 Although tame by today’s standards, Bewildered Youth is nothing short of a remarkable, if not ridiculous, revolutionary work for its time and certainly a film that, at least artistically speaking, managed to rehabilitate auteur Veit Harlan to some extent as a filmic artist who is just as competent at directing debauched high-camp National Socialist melodramas as he was at directing aesthetically and thematically provocative teen rebellion flicks, especially when compared to Hollywood films of that time like The Wild One (1953) and even later works like Splendor in the Grass (1961), thus signifying Germany's social decay after the conclusion of the Second World War. A work that depicts the good, the bad, and flamingly faggy of the homosexual underground (when it was still somewhat in the underground), Bewildered Youth features a message that is, at least in part, not all the different from raging rump ranger Rosa von Praunheim’s gritty celluloid manifesto It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (1971), because like the less than genteel gay German New Cinema auteur filmmaker’s seedy PSA of politically potent poofer-dom, Harlan’s strangely sound swansong argues against the dangers of narcissistic rich gay men, who with their unlimited funds and cultivated art collections, merely derive a strong superficial satisfaction from buying young boys in a manner no more meaningful than their need acquire worthless knickknacks. Harlan certainly did his job as a filmmaker as it also hard for the viewer to deny the charms of Boris Winkler – a dapperly dressed man of immaculate manners and endless knowledge who is no less suave than Satan himself – because he is easily the most interesting and multifaceted character in Bewildered Youth, so much so that the viewer would like to see him get away with his dastardly deeds, even if he ruined a couple of lives in the process, which he apparently does in the original cut of the film until German censors stepped in, thus denying the film near melodramatic perfection of the majestically absurd lapsed National Socialist sort. Although I found his claim to be a bit dubious upon first hearing it, absurdist Aryan auteur/renegade Renaissance man Christoph Schlingensief (who directed the 1988 film Mutters Maske; a fiercely facetious freeform remark of Harlan’s 1944 melodrama Opfergang) may have been on to something when he stated that German New Cinema master of melodrama Rainer Werner Fassbinder was more influenced by the films of Veit Harlan than the Hollywood melodramas of Danish-German auteur Douglas Sirk, as both kraut auteurs were versatile filmmakers who, on top of being accused of anti-semitism for their portrayals of money-grubbing, Shiksa-seducing capitalist Jews and adapting to the changing times, cinematically depicted – for better or worse – an uncompromising celluloid window of the psyche of the German collective that, unlike the majority of Teutonic filmmakers, has stood the test of the time. After all, who else but Veit Harlan has managed to go from a race-mixing Jew lover (his first wife was the Judaic actress/cabaret singer Dora Gerson), to being the hottest filmmaker of the Third Reich and Joseph Goebbels’ most prized auteur, to being accused of communist sympathies for Verrat an Deutschland aka Der Fall Dr. Sorge (1954), to creating the first important homosexual-themed film of the post-WWII era. That being said, aside from his sexual proclivities, somehow I think Harlan and Dr. Boris Winkler have a lot in common. 

-Ty E

1 comment:

anarky said...

I think its amazing that Harlan made this film. i think it shows the depth of his art.and the perversity of those who persecuted him in the 50s...