Mar 7, 2013

Alpha City

 Aside from possibly the killer and kitschy, kraftwerk-esque teen ‘horror’ flick Der Fan (1982) aka The Fan aka Trance, Alpha City (1985) aka ALPHACITY - ABGERECHNET WIRD NACHTS is undoubtedly anti-Neuer Deutscher Film/anti-intellectual German auteur Eckhart Schmidt’s most popular and commercially successful work. Although set in seedy and synthesizer-driven Berlin of some ostensible near-future, Schmidt himself has described Alpha City as being not a “Berlin movie,” as even Berliners had no idea where the film was set when it first premiered. In fact, very little about Alpha City is distinctly “German” aside from the musical score because despite being a 100% Teutonic production and its rather passionate romanticism, as the film was shot without sound and later dubbed in both English and German during post-production. A film about two men who fall in love with the same woman, one American and the other German, Alpha City also goes against expectations in that the American character (Al Corley, who being quite a popular New Wave musician in Europe at that time, also contributed to a good portion of the film’s musical score) looks totally Nordic and German, while the Berlin woman (Isabelle Willer) and her crazy kraut male lover (Claude-Oliver Rudolph) look totally Mediterranean as if they were the stars of some c-grade giallo flick from the same era. A traditional and no bullshit kind of guy, Schmidt created a very literal title for “Alpha City” as it is about two very different types of Alpha males who agree that the kraut metropolis is not big enough for the both of them, so the two duel it out with one another until one (or possibly both) of them is dead. As Hans Schifferle, the editor of the popular German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, wrote in his article Cinema of Passion: A Portrait of Eckhart Schmidt, “Alexander Kluge once gave us a wonderful characterization of Schmidt’s film themes: referring to his wild love films, Kluge said that desire might be called a refined cannibalism. But Schmidt does not only have one theme: above all, he has a specific way of looking at the world, entering into the finest details. His style, with its tendency toward the extreme and an attractive desire for speculation, is characterized by a preference for ritual, style and ceremony over crude, theatrical “psychologizing“. He attempts to discover the secret from the surface, to recognize the truth in a moment.” Indeed, while Alpha City might be a convention-driven neo-noirish postmodern “Western” minus the cowboys and Indians and set in a New Wave, semi-futuristic sort of dystopian Deutschland, Schmidt does not share a trait typical of his Hollywood influences of pandering to his audience by opting for including a contrived optimism with a neatly packaged happy ending. Indeed, Alpha City could be described as a neo-romantic work, but one where coldblooded killers, prostitutes, and mentally defective piano players are hopelessly trying to consummate love in a wildly wanton world of innate destruction, moral corruption, and all-around cultural chaos. 

 Opening with footage of ghetto anarchist and piano player Frank (Claude-Oliver Rudolph) – a tall, dark, and handsome man with grotesque scars all over his chest – performing cunnilingus on a relatively bitchy prostitute named Raphaela (Isabelle Willer), Alpha City immediately establishes a mood of lechery over love and the female overpowering the male. A woman that makes her living peddling her flesh to perverts of the mostly posh and powerful sort a number of times a night, Raphaela does not seem like the sort of woman who is looking for a permanent beau, but Frank is about to try and change that or at least die trying. Described as a ‘man-eater’ by those that know her, Raphaela does not even bother to consummate coitus with Frank after her lily is lovingly licked until she reaches orgasm via the man that loves her. Despite (and probably because of) her lack of carnal reciprocation, Frank decides to follow Raphaela’s every ass-shaking move around the city and when he sees her in another man’s car, the perturbed proletarian piano player smashes it to pieces. After demanding that Raphaela get out of the car, an American gang leader (Al Corley, who aside from being a New Wave musician, is probably best known as the first actor to play Steven Carrington on the 1980s soap opera Dynasty) and his goons show up to see what all the commotion is about, thus ushering in the beginning of a brutal and bizarre love triangle that will end in belligerent and brazen bloodshed and bereavement. A lover and a fighter, Frank the tank manages to beat up and strike fear in virtually every high dollar John that has a ‘date’ with ravishing Raphaela, but one man, the American; a stoic yet bloodthirsty blond beast who has no problem murdering a couple dozen people in a night for mere monetary gain, manages to impress and undress the flesh-peddling femme fatale and, naturally, penetrates both her body and soul.  Frank, on the other hand, tells her himself, “I said I love you…I’d kill for you,” and indeed he would, but he also has no problem smacking Raphaela around when she runs her mouth too much, which she seems to rather enjoy, so it seems the American is dead wrong when he tells her she is, "not a masochist." As someone who admits, “I haven’t seen daylight in over two years,” Raphaela might be a bit delirious in her belief that she loves two men; one being a dilettante piano player who plays debauched clubs and illegal gambling halls and knows how to hit a woman and another who is a suave, albeit psychopathic, fellow who makes who makes a killing literally killing. Although enemies, there is a certain amount of respect between Frank and the American, as both seem to acknowledge one another’s “alpha” status in a world of banal beta bitches, but as they both agree, “There's not enough room for the two of us…there’s just no room,” thus a duel ensues at the fiery finale of Alpha City – one of only a handful of “New Romanticist” themed films with actual balls – where the two angst-addled anti-heroes and outlaws of love symbolically battle it out at the Berlin Olympiastadion; the site of the 1936 National Socialist Summer Olympics in a scene that Schmidt described as being shot from the "Führer perspective" (where Uncle Adolf sat and enjoyed the show). 

 As prostitute Raphaela states while standing on the roof of a Mercedes-Benz building, which was also featured prominently in an iconic scene from the West German cult classic Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (1981) directed by Uli Edel, with her freaky boy toy Frank, “Sometimes, I have this feeling that everybody down there, that all of them are working for me,” and, indeed, in a certain sense she is right. At the mere shake of her ass or accentuation of her ‘naughty bits,’ Raphaela can put any man under her spell, including two intrinsically individualistic Alpha types who answer to no one but themselves, at least until a certain saucy and sensual lady enters their lives and changes it forever. Indeed, Alpha City – a seductive yet savage cinematic work directed by a proudly untamed auteur who once famously admittedly, ”I would rather film a naked girl than a discussion of problems“ – is the sort of film both estrogen-deprived feminists and testosterone-deprived “pick-up artists” love to hate as it exaggerates the true source of ‘women’s power’ to the point of being quite preposterous yet positively penetrating, hence one of the film’s greatest appeals: its unwavering celebration of outmoded archetypes. A modern day Western/film noir hybrid for those that cannot stomach mute cowboys seeming to suffer from constipation and maniac midget gangsters with Yiddish NYC accents, as well as those who prefer sythnpop over cockrock, Alpha City is no movie masterpiece, but it tells a rather timeless tale in a stylish, new dark romanticist sort of way. While his other hit cult films Der Fan (1982) and Loft (1985) are rather original in their shocking pseudo-arthouse aberrancy, Alpha City borrows aesthetic ingredients from both of these films, but tries to tell a rather conventional, albeit completely corrupted, cinematic love story that concludes in a less than comforting manner that reminds one why Hollywood is run by odious and ostentatious optimism-peddlers as opposed to actual humanbeings. Of course, with unintentionally hilarious one-liners like, “I’ve always wanted to shoot the piano player” and “I didn’t murder him. I just helped him to commit suicide,” among countless other curious quotes, Alpha City proves that America was not the only place where rampant materialism sired absurdist melodramatics in movies, but unlike eternal juvenile John Hughes, Eckhart Schmidt had no problem admitting he had testicles and tireless Teutonic ones at that! 

-Ty E

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