Feb 25, 2013

Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo

While American’s Generation X has the softcore suburban sentimentalist angst-comedies of John Hughes, including Weird Science (1985) and The Breakfast Club (1985), as well as some more radical, working-class come-of-age flicks like Over the Edge (1979), The Wanderers (1979), and River's Edge (1986), West Germany's Gen X had the much grittier and unglamorous work, Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (1981) aka Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo aka Christiane F.; a relatively low-budget and decidedly depressing piece of unsentimental realist melodrama about a damaged and barely-teenage junky girl who, like her discernibly dirty and mentally-ungifted boyfriend and equally inebriated and physically emaciated friends, sells her body to buy heroin, among other undignified things. Directed by then-unknown German filmmaker Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) – who replaced the original director Roland Klick (Deadlock, Supermarkt) after he was fired by producer Bernd Eichinger (co-scriptwriter/producer of the 2004 Hitler epic Downfall aka Der Untergang) during pre-production – and based on the ghostwritten autobiography (journalists wrote the book using two months worth of candid audio-recording interviews with the junior junky) of German 'outsider celebrity' Christiane F. (born Vera Christiane Felscherinow), Christiane F. earned an instant cult following among West German youth, but also shocked older audiences into realizing that virtual children were living a lurid libertine lifestyle where they were pathetically and pathologically peddling their flesh on a day-to-day basis just so they would not have to endure opiate withdraw. The film was released not long after a heroin epidemic hit Western and Central Europe during the mid-1970s, thus making it one of the first, if not the first, junky melodrama to unsettle the ever so stoic Teutonic soul, although gritty pseudo-cinéma vérité coming-of-age flicks like Klaus Lemke's Rocker (1972) and Uwe Frießner's The End of the Rainbow (1979) aka Das Ende des Regenbogens were nothing new in Germany. Featuring a concert performance (which was actually filmed in New York City) and musical score by post-Ziggy Stardust David Bowie, Christiane F. – not unlike fellow kraut auteur Eckhart Schmidt’s Der Fan (1982) aka The Fan starring Désirée Nosbusch – ironically, to some extent, glorifies the same superficial and pseudo-spiritual rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle it rather relentlessly condemns, so it should be no surprise that both the character and the real-life Christiane F. would go on to become a ‘rebel role model’ and degenerate celebrity in the Fatherland. Needless to say, seeing your boyfriend being penetrated by a posh poof is probably not a particularly pleasant way for a little lady to remember the coming-of-age of her womanhood, but everyone knows that no one can stop a young and naïve teenage girl from making irrational sacrifices for her first boy toy in the name of idealistic young love and that certainly holds true in the pussy-pawning, toilet-bowl-clenching, vomit-friendly world of Christiane F

 The year is 1975 and 12-year-old Christiane Felscherinow (Natja Brunckhorst) lives in a cramped Western Berlin condo unit with her little sister and single mother who is always at work. With no real father figure around, Christiane latches on to worshipping glam rock messiah David Bowie; an androgynous fellow who is quite pretty for a boy despite being well into his thirties. When she discovers ‘Sound,’ a new disco in the city center with the unbeatable reputation of being, “the most modern discothèque in Europe,” Christiane, despite being not old enough to gain legal entry, gets all dolled up with lecherous lipstick and super high-heels, and manages to get into the virtual rock utopia with an older friend from school who is a regular at the club. As fate would have it, Christiane meets the her soon-to-be-boyfriend Detlef (Thomas Haustein) – a seemingly half-braindead degenerate who has an affinity for popping pills and tripping on LSD – and his curious crew of exceedingly gulky and gangly teenage losers who commit petty robberies while high on who knows what mind-altering chemical substances. When neo-dandy rocker god David Bowie comes to the Fatherland, it proves to be an extra special night for Christiane as she meets her virtual doppelganger Babsi (Christiane Reichelt) and rather reluctantly tries heroin for the first time by insufflating it, so as to see what her junky beau Detlef feels like and thus getting one step closer to full-blown junkydom. Before she knows it, Christiane is equally hooked on heroin as she is in love with Detlef, despite the fact he prostitutes himself to a suavely dressed sodomite who has an unhealthy obsession with Tom of Finland drawings and looks like one of the corrupt capitalist cocksuckers from Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends (1975). Christiane rarely comes home to her mother’s condo and instead squats with Detlef at a junky friend’s dilapidated apartment that is covered and trash and dirty syringes. The lanky girl and her corrupted comrades also become regulars of the Bahnhof Zoo scene – a superlatively seedy subway station where sex and drugs are regularly sold – because Christiane also needs to peddle her flesh to unconventionally ugly brown men to maintain her habit or at least so she wouldn't suffer the heated horrors of "H" withdraw. As she learns while trying to kick heroin addiction with her gay-for-pay boyfriend – opiate withdraw is a dreadful thing that makes one dream of death just to stop the pain – but the terrible twosome somehow manages to get through it, only to relapse not long after they have detoxed. Pawning her personal belongings (including the precious David Bowie album her beau bought her), stealing from her family, and losing all her dignity and a number of friends to drug overdoses are just a couple of the things Christiane must go through during her life as a juvenile junky, but it only when she walks in on her dick-peddling boyfriend Detlef being savagely manhandled by a major queen that she seems to come to her senses. Needless to say, Christiane F. has come a long way in a mere two years as someone who began as an innocent David Bowie fan and turned into teenage junky who sold her soul and body for more than just rock ‘n’ roll. 

 Although Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo concludes with a postscript revealing that Christiane finally got straight and clean, the real-life teenage junky never really got over her heroin addiction and has served various prison sentences and is still in German newspaper headlines from time-to-time for drug-related arrests, though she did have a marginal musical career in the 1980s under the band name Sentimentale Jugend (with her then-boyfriend Alexander Hacke of the popular German industrial group Einstürzende Neubauten) and would also star in the German cult muzak movie Decoder (1984) directed by Muscha and also starring FM Einheit (also a member of Einstürzende Neubauten) and American avant-garde artist William “Bill” Rice (Manhattan Love Suicides, Coffee and Cigarettes) and featuring a cameo from Junky guru William S. Burroughs. Natja Brunckhorst, who played the title role in Christiane F., unlike most of the other teen actors in the film, would go on to have a marginal acting career, including appearing in German New Cinema auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film Querelle (1982) and playing secondary roles in popular German films like The Princess and the Warrior (2000) directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), but never again having the success and popularity she did with her first role as West Germany’s most iconic teenage junky. Director Uli Edel would go on to portray 1950s Brooklyn junky shemales in the Hollywood production Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989); a delightfully debauched cinematic adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel of the same name, but not to the same grueling and grimy extent as in Christiane F.; probably the only film featuring David Bowie that radically depicts to the viewer that being drug-addled, destitute, and half-dead is not exactly a good thing, not to mention being the only quasi-“After School Special” that is actually intentionally entertaining and reasonably effective in its de-glorifying of the teenage street junky lifestyle, even if it did inspire a couple kraut teens to get hip to what lifelong junky novelist William S. Burrough’s called “Cocteau’s kick.” 

-Ty E

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