A man who once famously stated, “I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others,” Ludwig II of Bavaria (25 August 1845 – 13 June 1886) is a man now better remembered today through myths than reality, not least of all due to all the extravagant castles he built around Bavaria (through which tourist revenue has partially enabled the state to be the richest in Germany), his financial support of Richard Wagner, dubious sexuality and sanity, and mysterious death. Like with all the other films in Syberberg's Germany trilogy, Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King meticulously massages, mutilates, and molests its subject from the perspective of a ‘pomo classicist.’ Beginning with a prophecy from Lola Montez (played by Fassbinder’s ex-wife Ingrid Caven) – mistress of Ludwig II’s grandfather – that due to incest and unruly masses of proletarians, among other things, that, “King Ludwig has no chance,” Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King establishes from the very beginning that the “King of Kitsch” lived a terribly troubled and ultimately tragic life plagued by social isolation (aside from his servant ‘lackeys’ and favorite artists), rotten teeth, and family treachery. A funny fellow of rather refined taste who loves, “the mountains, the forest air, horses...Richard Wagner…Edgar Allan Poe…Friedrich Schiller…the night, the mystic and inexplicable” and “believes in the immortality of the soul,” Ludwig II (played by Fassbinder’s right-hand man Harry Baer, who mutinied against his master when he decided to work with Syberberg) would seem like a happy-go-lucky monarch were it not for his subsequent remark describing his hatred for pollution caused by English industry, so-called ‘progress,’ the Prussian empire, nationalism, socialism, and last, but certainly not least, “mass meetings of people.” In short, Ludwig II is a reluctant ruler who has nil interest in Realpolitik and his royal duties, thus he escapes into a fantasy world of compulsive castle building, the more than generous financial support of his favorite composer Richard Wagner, among other royally blessed artists, and wandering like a child through the night like a phantom in a fairytale. Naturally, his fellow royals were more than a bit concerned over his abandonment of his kingly duties, incessant borrowing and spending of monarch money as a loyal but loony art patron, and his selling of the Kingdom to Germany for a hefty sum so he could finance fantastic castles, so, as Syberberg more than subtly hints at in Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King, Ludwig II was likely assassinated by his own people and possibly his own uncle Luitpold who later maintained the regency. As stated by Ludwig II’s detractor Graf Holnstein (played by Fassbinder’s one-time boy toy, black Bavarian Günther Kaufmann), the Kitsch King once, “gave an opera singer expensive jewelry and didn’t even sleep with her,” which is certainly the sign of a less than sane man, at least among more masculine and power-driven men who seek to conquer and gain power and not waste money on art of all things. As Syberberg wrote, “My Ludwig film begins with the first E-flat major chords of the Rhinegold and ends with the conclusion of the Götterdämmerung, in whose last ray of light little Ludwig, old and bearded, steps out of the mist of Erda’s grotto as a sadly smiling child. The myth of the Nibelungs presents the frame for my film. In the film the interrelations between allusions to Ludwig and to Wagner shuttle back and forth, creating an inextricable associative deepening of an epic cosmos in which we can recognize ourselves and perhaps celebrate ourselves in the tragic mode. For the theme is the destruction of a utopia in the face of a person looking for a lost or artificial paradise.”
Oftentimes labeled a filmmaker of German New Cinema, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg is indubitably the only German filmmaker of his generation to not only embrace his nation’s rich (yet now taboo) cultural legacy, but also a rather idiosyncratic blend of ‘Prussian conservatism’ that somehow manages to reconcile Richard Wagner and Karl May with the likes of cosmopolitan ‘leftist’ German cultural prodcers like of Bertolt Brecht and Werner Schroeter. In fact, during the second, more apocalyptic and anachronistic second half of Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King, the character of Richard Wagner (who is played by two different actors of different genders, the female portrayal being the composer’s Jungian ‘anima’ of sorts) as played by actress Anette Tirier (who appeared in both Schroeter’s Der Tod der Maria Malibran aka The Death of Maria Malibran and Tag der Idioten aka Day of the Idiots) makes the culturally insightful statement (people forget that like Hitler, Wagner was a rebel despite how he is perceived nowadays as an archaic racist), “Save me from these old women with their cream cakes and moneybags. I have belonged to youth and revolution since 1848. I succeeded against the philistines, with my own theatre and 6-hour performances, in forming a 19th century musical underground…Only when Niki de St. Phalle, Jim Dine, Werner Schroeter, Magdalena Montezuma and Ernst Fuchs produce the “The Ring” will I be free again.” Of course, Syberberg was the only one who made any serious attempt to make the 19th century rebel genius “free again” with, among various other films, his 255-minute epic Parsifal (1983) – an epic and aesthetically ‘Nazified’ postmodern adaptation of the composer’s opera with the Grail being represented by Bayreuth Theatre – but as the audacious extra-avant-garde auteur depicted in Hitler: A Film from Germany with Uncle Adolf's allegorical rise from Richard Wagner’s grave, it would be next to impossible to rehabilitate Ludwig II’s favorite artist, as well as any other element of pre-1933 German history, after the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945. As the man who metaphysically inspired Hitler, who wrote in his infamous autobiography "Mein Kampf," "At the age of twelve, I saw ... the first opera of my life, Lohengrin. In one instant I was addicted. My youthful enthusiasm for the Bayreuth Master knew no bounds," Richard Wagner’s legacy will forever be tainted by its association with its innate influence of National Socialism, despite the fact that his most loyal patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria – the “Perfect Wagnerite” who vehemently despised politics, nationalism, socialism and especially, “mass meetings of people” – funded the composer so he could create a complex, if not totally imaginary and mystical, utopia where realpolitik and real people were nowhere to be found as esoterically depicted in Syberberg’s Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King.
Indubitably, the most truly Teutonic filmmaker and artist of his generation and uniquely unabashedly so, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg was essentially the ideological adversary of far-left Frankfurt school auteur Alexander Kluge – one of 26 signatories to the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962, which marked the launch of the New German Cinema against ‘Papa’s Kino’ and the deep cultural traditions of the Fatherland, so it is no surprise that the Wagnerian auteur would write, “Yes, this land has become brutal and materialistic. Tolerance has degenerated into denunciation, and mediocrity into cultural conformity. Cinema is misunderstood as a practiced mass art, as the fast-food stand of show business—cinema as the smallest common multiple of the leisure industry. Why? For an entire generation, Germany’s children learned the statistics of Auschwitz, the virtues of revolution, no matter how misunderstood, from an admittedly puny German tradition without the courage of its convictions, which they promptly “demystified” as hero worship…An intrinsic morality was born (or what they regarded as one), the bulwark of a new rationality; for feelings and ideals lead to disaster, so they had been told.” Of course, whereas Alexander Kluge's films mark the height of sterile and soulless rationality and an intrinsic loathing of national identity as especially reflected by him and his fellow far-left filmic compatriots (including would-be-Frenchman Volker Schlöndorff and the master of melodramatic group psychotherapy Rainer Werner Fassbinder) omnibus film Germany in Autumn (1978) – an ethno-masochistic cinematic work Syberberg described as being, “without a concept…without aesthetic, metaphysical control and responsibility” – Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King announced the rebirth of German myths and irrationalism, or as the only “master of celluloid Gesamtkunstwerk” concluded himself upon completing in German trilogy, “If my films Ludwig, Requiem for a Virgin King and Karl May can be understood as positive mythologizings of history through the devices of cinema, and filtered through the intellectual controls of irony and pathos, for our glory and for use as a response to the reality of our days, what can we do with a historical subject like Hitler? That was the question from the very outset, before making this last film. This epitome of our deepest guilt and reflection of our vast grief and turning away from the face of a man such as we understand him, and nevertheless accepting here too the title as a motto for all three films of my trilogy: in search of paradise lost here as well?” Of course, Syberberg was the only filmmaker of his generation to truly face Hitler and the troubled history of his fractured Fatherland, so it should be no surprise that the most famous and successful director of German New Cinema, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, would list Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King as one of the “The Least Important” films of the movement in a 1981 “Hitlist of German Films” because while he merely ‘cinematically reacted’ to the more painful periods of Teutonic history with positively pessimistic, naked melodramas, but never went to the trouble of deciphering Aryans myths and their historical influence, the director of Hitler: A Film from Germany brazenly basked in it and accepted his fate as a child of Ludwig II, Richard Wagner, Karl May, and – last but not least – Adolf Hitler.
Of course, Syberberg would later write regarding the art of his anti-nationalistic nation that it is, "filthy and sick... in praise of cowardice and treason, of criminals, whores, of hate, ugliness, of lies and crimes and all that is unnatural." As for his reasoning, Syberberg revealed that not all Germans have passive, dead souls when he wrote, "The Jewish interpretation of the world followed upon the Christian, just as the Christian one followed Roman and Greek culture. So now Jewish analyses, images, definitions of art, science, sociology, literature, politics, the information media, dominate. Marx and Freud are the pillars that mark the road from East to West. Neither are imaginable without Jewishness. Their systems are defined by it. The axis USA-Israel guarantees the parameters. That is the way people think now, the way they feel, act and disseminate information. We live in the Jewish epoch of European cultural history. And we can only wait, at the pinnacle of our technological power, for our last judgment at the edge of the apocalypse…. So that's the way it looks, for all of us, suffocating in unprecedented technological prosperity, without spirit, without meaning... Those who want to have good careers go along with Jews and leftists [and] the race of superior men [Rasse der Herrenmenschen] has been seduced, the land of poets and thinkers has become the fat booty of corruption, of business, of lazy comfort." After all, in what other kind of sick, Semitic world would Roland Emmerich be the world's most famous German director and Steven Spielberg the most famous of all?! Something tells me that after watching clips from Spielberg's Lincoln (2012), the superstar of Shoah business has never seen Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King, but I guess one should not expect anything less from a man who has gotten rich on destroying national film industries, appealing to grade school children, and reinventing Occidental history where the Second World War resembles a story from Brothers Grimm fairy-tales. That being said, maybe Syberberg has exaggerated the death of German myths.