Mar 13, 2013


 As probably anyone who regularly reads this site knows, I have a general apathy towards Westerns of most persuasions, so any film that I do happen to like from this absurdly anachronistic and outmoded genre tends to be of the convention-exterminating, cowboy-less, and aesthetically antagonistic, acid and/or arthouse sort and the West German, psychedelic Western Deadlock (1970) directed by Roland Klick (Supermarkt, White Star) is certainly not the sort of cowboys and Indians movie your slaphappy grandpappy watched to get inspired to kill krauts during the Second World War. With endorsement from surrealist Acid Western master Alejandro Jodorowsky, who stated, “DEADLOCK is fantastic. A bizarre, glowing film,” it has the backing of a man who essentially raped and deconstructed the genre, but unlike El Topo (1970), Klick’s film is not shrouded in esoteric symbolism and messianic-like self-glorification. As a filmmaker who once vehemently stated, “We’re not supposed to make films like Alexander Kluge for the fine people in the ivory tower!” and someone who was disdained in his homeland by fellow filmmakers and film critics due to his intrinsically action-packed and anti-intellectual works, Klick was striving for something more ‘subconscious’ (his admitted initial approach when creating a film) and adventurous with his films and Deadlock does just that, but with a completely corrupted, counter-culture flare as if directed by a German working-class Donald Cammell. Although ostensibly set in Mexico on the border of California, Deadlock was actually filmed in Negev Desert, Israel during the chaotic aftermath of the Six-Day War in a rather rare case where a film set was a virtual battlefield, which Klick described as follows, “DEADLOCK...was one big incredible adventure. There had just been a war…They were still there, barrels pointed! Jordan was over here, Israel was over there…The mountains were full of cannons. And right between all that, in no man’s land, was our shooting location…We were really shooting right between two fronts! The whole venture..also because there wasn’t much incredible adventure…I think this power really translated to the adventure onscreen. It’s a film of its own!” And, indeed, love it or loathe, Deadlock permeates an all-powerful, transcendental atmosphere that is somewhere in between Arcadia and the apocalypse as if Werner Herzog were attempting to remake Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (1972) as a Western, but decided to drop all the Thelemic/Crowleyite imagery and replaced it with a sun-washed babe named Mascha Rabben in a border-less abyss of desert decay. Featuring a highly complementary musical score by early krautrock group Can, Deadlock is a völkisch work of the psychedelic anarchist sort that proves that at least one kraut auteur was able to more than competently adopt the Western genre in an Aryan acidhead form, thereupon making Roland Klick the virtual Fidus of post-WWII Teutonic filmmaking, yet with an agile spirit no less impressive than Austrian adventurist auteur Luis Trenker.  A particularly penetrating piece of 'scorched earth' celluloid, Deadlock lets the viewer know that sometimes sun-worship can blur one's vision and mind, and can even cause sadism-stirring sunburn. Needless to say, John Wayne and John Ford would find themselves in hell (if they aren’t already there) were they to view Klick’s Deadlock – a positively potent post-totenkopf ‘trip’ ironically set in the Hebraic holy land. 

 A young American killer named Kid (kraut cult actor Marquard Bohm of Rote Sonne (1970) aka Red Sun and Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)) with a bullet in his arm lies dying in a barren and arid Mexican desert with a total population of three people. He and his comrade Anthony “The Old Killer” Sunshine (Scotsman Anthony Dawson of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) and Dr. No (1962)) carried out a robbery that earned them a million dollars cash, but while making a would-be-great escape, Kid was shot in the arm and he believes his callous co-conspirator may have done the shooting, thus he fled to a depopulated desert via train-hopping where he believed no one would possibly look for him, but rather unfortunately, someone does find him during a moment of complete and utter vulnerability. While lying unconscious, Kid is discovered by a goofy guido-like fellow named Charles “The Rat” Dump (German-Italian actor Mario Adorf of The Tin Drum (1979) aka Die Blechtromme and Fassbinder’s Lola (1981)) who noticed the young man’s Mauser (the same model used to build Han Solo's blaster in Star Wars) and briefcase full of tons of cash. Mr. Dump is about to smash Kid’s skull in with a boulder and take the money and run, but the lanky, longhaired youth begins to move and the potential murderer has second thoughts. Dump – a rather pathetic and cowardly dolt with somewhat of a kind, albeit crude and corrupted, heart – takes the Kid back to his shack-like home. Dump conspires how he can take over the cash, but as a blatantly broken man who makes the baseless claim that he is in charge of the law of the land as a representative of the “North American Mining Company,” which is clearly dead as the desert soil, he is clearly no match for the Kid, nor his pernicious partner Sunshine. A ‘poor man’s Clint Eastwood,’ albeit more gritty and ugly, Sunshine is a stoic sadist who is looking for the Kid, so he can get the cash, but the lad and his new partner Mr. Dump are waiting for an inevitable showdown with a rather unpredictable outcome where one winner takes all. Dump may be the master of his derelict desert domain, but he also has a sexually repressed and belligerently bitchy old lady named Corinna (Betty Segal) – an erratic ex-prostitute with saddlebags for thighs that no one wants to screw anymore, hence her perverse proclivity towards flashing her grotesque racks of spoiled meat at Kid – and their salacious and super sensitive yet seemingly stupid spawn, a stunningly statuesque daughter named Jessy (Mascha Rabben) who is a naughty nymphomaniac that roams around his humble abode like a dog in heat. Dump’s personal dump of a home used to be an “Oasis in the Desert” with a wild whorehouse stock full of tasty meat and sand-side gambling, but the only thing left now is a couple dreary and dilapidated buildings and signs that constitute a desert ghetto and seem like a degenerate, ghost town version of Madame Kate’s pussy-peddling enterprise in East of Eden (1955) directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean. When Sunshine finally shows up, he tries to get doofus Dump to lure the Kid into a treacherous trap, but the tables are inevitably turned as the ex-pimp does not know how to keep his ‘cool’ and makes a number of failed attempts at coldheartedly killing and conning the old killer, which will ultimately cost him his life in the end.  Naturally, jackass Dump is no match for the two robbers as he has the decided disposition of a hyper-horny donkey with rabies. While Sunshine meticulously tortures Dump in a variety of ways, including using him for target practice and chasing him with his own beaten up truck, the Kid gets ready to make his move for the money in a battle between old school ‘cool’ and new school ‘cool.’ In Deadlock, the will to power and the struggle for survival go hand in a world of abject isolation of both the physical and psychological kind. 

 An aggressive ‘lone wolf’ at aesthetic civil war with the arthouse auteur filmmakers of New German Cinema, Roland Klick offered cinematic works that did not bore nor patronize the proletarian viewer, but instead offered instinctual, anti-intellectual cinema with hearty meat and bones that made stylish celluloid art and social controversy palatable for the masses, without making any artistic compromises in the process. In the documentary Das Kino des Roland Klick (1997) aka The Cinema of Roland Klick, Klick stated the following in regard to the perceived lack of 'German' character of his films, “And now the question would be: What is German? Why do films look German?...In essence, films look German for the following reason: They don’t take the risk of the unknown, of the unexplained, hence: of the magical, which is constructed by the imagination. They have the tendency to over-explain every element. Not only verbally, but also visually…I choose these locations subconsciously, at first…I’m a big fan of secrets.” And indeed, Deadlock is steeped with an innate mystifying character from the bloody beginning to the even bloodier end. A marvelously metaphysical work, although of the nihilistic and nefarious sort, Deadlock brings a soul to a badly beaten-to-death genre that, quite ironically, was only able to obtain artistic merit when it was imported to a foreign continent, with Klick’s Western being one of the furthest away in spirit from the likes of Irish-American propagandist John Ford. While borrowing thematic and aesthetic attributes from Spaghetti Westerns by dirty dago auteurs like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci, Deadlock is its own beast and a blond one at that, dancing in the face of death and embracing human darkness, heart and soul, in the bitter yet ultimately stoical end. While Klick has been besmirched and condemned by his fellow countrymen for the perceived lack of ‘German’ character of his films, I would argue that Deadlock more than assertively permeates the forlorn Faustian spirit of the 6th Army (Wehrmacht) Stalingrad, but especially the Afrika Korps, as a rare work of post-WWII Teutonic cinema with an uncompromising masculinity and testicular fortitude of a seasoned soldier as opposed to the accepted defeat of an effete ‘auteur’ sitting in an ivory tower.  Most importantly, at least philosophically speaking, Deadlock is not a work that meekly wallows in pity, defeat, and forgiveness, but, on the contrary, is a renegade piece of relentless and poetic celluloid barbarism and Teutonic irrationalism that reminds the viewer to "never forgot" that life is a war and those not strong enough or willing enough to accept it are better off dead.

 -Ty E

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