Feb 5, 2013


Long before he became the decidedly dignified and dapper royal Teutonic queen of character acting, gay German actor Udo Kier (Suspiria, Melancholia) played a number of roles as rampantly heterosexual men in various European exploitation and horror flicks, including his daring debut performance in the feature-length Austrian/French/West German co-production Shameless (1968) aka Schamlos; a gritty yet sleekly stylized and aesthetically and thematically subversive black-and-white celluloid work about a young yet brutal career criminal who literally ran away from the circus as a teenager to become a star gang leader who will use any method of intimidation, no matter how savage and sadistic, for mere monetary gain. Directed by Eddy Saller (Torment of the Flesh, Liebe durch die Autotür) – a filmmaker who made a couple idiosyncratic exploitation films between the 1960s and early 1980s before working in a less prestigious filmmaking profession as a gaffer on big budget films like The NeverEnding Story (1984) directed by Wolfgang Petersen and Stalingrad (1993) directed by Joseph Vilsmaier – Shameless is a rare work of its zeitgeist that, unlike the popular völkisch and colorful Heimatfilme of that time, managed to depict the less delightful side of post-Nazi Austria. Similar to Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg’s portrayal of late-period Swinging London in the cult classic Performance (1970), Shameless quite shamelessly presents the positively putrid potpourri of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that permeated throughout metropolitan Austria (although featuring German license plates and whatnot, apparently it was actually filmed in Vienna) around the same time, including aesthetically abhorrent Viennese Aktionist action art, exotic strippers and prostitutes, speed-addicted homosexual gangsters, and a celebration of all things unhinged and anarchic in the urban Austrian bohemian underworld. Originally a male hustler by the dubious nickname “Dodo” who oftentimes dressed in drag and even was pimped out by his inseparable friend-in-sin Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Udo Kier certainly made for a curious choice for a callous yet charismatic violent crime-inclined gangster in Shameless, yet he still managed to deliver a dashing and distinguished performance in what is a rare exploitation flick of the late-1960s that actually goes beyond senseless and soulless celluloid excrement.

Alexander Pohlmann (Udo Kier) is a young man with a pretty pokerface who is always on the move and always making a move, at least ever since he retired from being a knife-thrower and trick-shot artist at his family’s circus at the youthful age of 15-years-old and went to the big city to try his loony libertine lot at murdering men twice his size and swindling small businesses for protection money in a most swinish manner. Needless to say, life as a mod-like street Viking is not an easy one as Pohlmann learns as he tries to kill his enemies before they kill him. Of course, Pohlmann is a professional at what he does and he never thinks twice about ruining a man’s life, as long as it comes at the right price. His life is also full of sexy and ‘saucy chicks,’ but things change when Pohlmann gets romantically involved with a conspiring stripper and seductress named Annabella (Marina Paal); the flesh-flaunting femme fatale daughter of an extremely wealthy Sicilian tropical fruit dealer named Guido Romanelli (Vladimir Medar) who is “hot like an emptied MP” and “extra class” in bed, which the high-ranking hoodlum assumes is due to her exotic Mediterranean roots. An extremely popular girl among rich hotshots of the underworld, especially in the bedroom, Annabella apparently claims to be only in love with the youthful but powerful Pohlmann, which the gangster finds most suspicious but believes could be quite fruitful for him in the long run, but when the diva of degeneracy is found maliciously murdered under dubious circumstances, things take a turn for the worst in the wayward criminal world. Grieving and enraged by his daughter’s premature death at the hands of a calculating and cold-hearted killer, Romanelli approaches Pohlmann about catching the murderer, forcing him to confess, and eventually murdering him and making it look like a suicide, which the gangster agrees to do, but for a hefty monetary sum. Romanelli believes his daughter was killed by a funny fellow named Michael Hohenberg (Louis Soldan) and Pohlmann and his gangster compatriots put the man under judicious examining via criminal- run underground court style à la Fritz Lang’s M (1931), but being a drug-addicted homosexual with no love for the ladies, the extremely effete defendant seems hardly like the real culprit. A powerful criminal named Richard Kowalski (Rolf Eden) – a malevolent man so obsessed with Annabella that he had her watched 24/7 by his hired goons and even brutally beat her at one time during an argument – seems more like the real transgressor as a malefic man motivated by insane jealousy and uncontrollable rage. When it is finally revealed that Annabella started producing secret porn films of the many men she sold her voluptuous body to as an uniquely underhanded way to blackmail them, the true killer is finally revealed in an extra-climatic conclusion that is as superlatively surprising as it is salaciously shocking. Needless to say, a lot has changed in Germany/Austria since Uncle Adolf and his SA and SS boys rid the city of vice and human vermin only a couple decades before.

A merry yet macabre mix between a Germanic ‘Whodunnit?’ Giallo of sorts and a delectably debauched depiction of counter-culture and underground organized crime groups of that time, Shameless is a short but sweet and unabashedly exploitative (even if it does have a cautionary message tacked on at the beginning) yet expertly crafted exploitation work that owes just as much to German Expressionism and American b-grade film noir as it does to Italian Neorealism in terms of thematic and aesthetic influences. Indeed, I would be lying if I did not admit that this film had me on the edge of my seat throughout, which I certainly cannot say about lifeless arthouse gangster flicks like Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960) aka À bout de soufflé and Band of Outsiders (1964) aka Bande à part; emotionally feeble and socio-politically passé works that would unfortunately have an imperative influence on filmmakers of German New Cinema. It seems that Shameless director Eddy Saller, especially in regard to his directorial debut Die Geißel des Fleisches (1965) aka Torment of the Flesh, was a forerunner for anti-intellectual German auteur filmmakers like Klaus Lemke (48 Hours to Acapulco, Rocker) and Eckhart Schmidt (Der Fan, Alpha City) who focused on directing gritty, exciting, lecherous, and action-packed cinema that rejected the anti-climatic theories of kraut commie Bertolt Brecht. In the wildly wanton world of Shameless, morality is dead and so is god and country in an apocalyptic era where aberrant Vienna Aktionism, imported American rock ‘n’ roll, and completely corrupt criminal politicians hold sway. For fans of Udo Kier, Shameless is also a rare treat, especially considering he is the only actor who has had a career so varied as appearing in Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula (1974), R.W. Fassbinder’s The Third Generation (1979), Gábor Bódy’s Nárcisz és Psyché (1980), Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991), Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Christoph Schlingensief’s United Trash (1996) aka The Slit, Barb Wire (1996) starring Pamela Anderson, Michael Bay’s Armageddon (1998), and Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009), among over 200+ films, yet never before has the actor seemed so barbarous, brazen, and butch in a star role, which is a major achievement for a man who started out as a flesh-peddling drag queen, but then again, never before has an actor (Aryan or otherwise) been so suave and shameless. 

-Ty E

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