Mar 31, 2013


While typically best known for being one of the most talented actors in the German-speaking world, even if he has aged horrifically over the past couple decades, Austrian actor Paulus Manker (Benny’s Video, Brother of Sleep) is also an audacious auteur filmmaker who has directed some of the most immaculately assembled, if not acutely aberrant, Austrian films of the post-WWII era. Learning the craft of filmmaking by working with some of the most pathologically provocative and nihilistic filmmakers from his homeland, including Michael Haneke (Time of the Wolf, Funny Games) and Franz Novotny (Exit... But No Panic, Die Ausgesperrten aka The Excluded), Manker started his directing career with the completely unclassifiable and totally chilling yet suavely stylized post-industrial ‘horror-thriller’ Schmutz aka (1987) Dirt – a uniquely uncompromising and absurdly ambitious film that would earn a number of awards at festivals, including "Prize for the best director" and "Special recommendation for the soundtrack" at the 1987 Flanders International Film Festival Ghent, and would even be adapted into a book written by German writer Thorsten Becker, yet I doubt any novel could capture the fiercely foreboding and enthralling yet equally alienating atmosphere of the film. Centering around a humorless security guard who takes his unglamorous job watching over an abandoned paper mill a little too seriously and who experiences a brutal break with sanity after losing said job, Schmutz is like a nihilistic adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924) aka Der letzte Mann for the post-WWII generation with its pomo post-industrial setting and irreparably lost protagonist, so it should be no surprise that Manker’s former collaborators Novotny (who came up with the “idea” and “treatment”) and Haneke (who wrote some of the dialogue) also contributed to the film as writers. For all those individuals who have worked at a job with a dreary dildo of a dude who treats every aspect of his work as if the fate of the world depends on it and brown-nosing the boss like a pathological shit-eater at what is nothing more than a dead-end job fit for a masochistic monkey, Schmutz makes for a horrifyingly ‘postmodern human, all too postmodern human’ work about a dispiriting dystopian world where a true ‘purpose’ in life is nowhere to be found.  Featuring a super seductive synth-driven score by Swiss synthpop group Yello, Schmutz is probably the mostly readily digestible work ever made about the slow but steady mental disintegration of a maniac child killer.

 Herr Joseph Schmutz (Fritz Schediwy, who played the Nietzsche-quoting, dipsomaniac criminal Willy in Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) directed by R.W. Fassbinder) is an undeniably remarkable man whose life is about to change rather dramatically as a result of his new false sense of ‘self-worth’ after being hired to work at a monstrously sized abandoned paper factory as a meager security guard. As his seemingly megalomaniac of a boss (Hans-Michael Rehberg) tells him in a sinister fashion regarding his patrolling job, “Keep in mind, whatever the person in front of you is doing, whether he’s a trespasser or stray, child or criminal, he is in the wrong. He should not be where he is if you are standing opposite him. What do the peoples of the world call an invader into their territories?...Enemy.” A creepy kiss ass of the miserable middle-aged sort, Schmutz does not only go on the defensive against trespassers, but also his fellow security guard comrades as a traitor of the worst kind. Immediately upon first working with a goofy new security guard named Fux (Siggi Schwientek), Schmutz gives gruff to comrade in a rather ridiculously monotone manner as if he were an asexual automaton. Indeed, Fux offers Schmutz on-the-job free booze and babes, but the ungrateful fellow reacts with irrational rage like a tyrannical toddler who has an unhealthy devotion to his mommy. When Schmutz discovers Fux’s collection of porno magazines, the shuddersome and seemingly sexually sterile security guard cuts all the faces of women out from the pages of the mags and makes a collection of them and, for whatever curious reason, keeps them hidden in a drawer. When the bossman discovers Fux sleeping on the job in an inebriated state with two equally drunk, foxy ladies, the new employee has a gun pulled on him and is inevitably fired, thus leaving psycho Schmutz to work by his lonesome and to further stew in his own delusions and get in touch with his impending insanity. A victim of television, Schmutz suffers from sexual displacement and derives sexual pleasure via soap bars due to a television commercial he saw of two naked ladies in an intangible paradise advertising the wonders of sexy soap suds. Being the lone Führer of the post-industrial wasteland he guards with his rather worthless life, Schmutz begins attempting to murder any person that may have the misfortune of passing by the vicinity of where he works. After his boss breaks the bad news that his company no longer has a security contract with the owners of the decrepit paper factory, Schmutz loses his cool and venomously shouts at his boss, “You were entrusted with leadership! You can’t just simply elevate people and destroy them!” so he is naturally fired, but the screwy security guard stays at his job post, drawing up elaborate security plans and maliciously murdering anyone that crosses his pernicious path. 

 As someone who has worked with German New Cinema co-founder Alexander Kluge – a man whose first film, the experimental documentary short Brutalitat in Stein (1961) aka Brutality in Stone, attempted to depict National Socialist architecture as something frightfully superhuman that was used to apparently ‘dehumanize’ the individual due to its preposterous massiveness – in the past, Paulus Manker was certainly someone who was in touch with all-encompassing alienation caused by industrialization and bureaucracy as portrayed in Schmutz – a film that does for technocratic post-Nazi Austria what David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) did for the putrid post-industrial hellhole that is Philadelphia. Schmutz also gives a number of nods to classic works of German-language cinema, but the most obvious is a tribute to Fritz Lang’s M (1931). Like M, Schmutz features a scene where the calamitous kiddy killer’s shadow appears hovering over a little girl in a dress who is playing around, but Manker’s scenario is all the more disheartening and disturbing because the murderer is not motivated by an innate sexual perversion that he cannot control, but by slavishly doing a dubious duty for a job he no longer even has, thus making him more of a sad schlemiel of his environment as opposed to someone born with a broken brain. Manker also makes a number of allusions to Austria’s infamous Nazi past, which is especially obvious by the eagle emblem the security company Schmutz works for uses and is featured prominently on the guards’ hats as it looks strikingly similar to the one featured in the coat of arms of the Nazi Party, thus allegorically symbolizing the nation’s perennial connection to its naughty National Socialist past of blind allegiance to an authoritarian state that advocated violence against the individual, thus turning Austrian against Austrian and mensch against mensch.

 In another rather allegorical and acutely apocalyptic scene, Schmutz the putz, after being fired from his job, shoots a television ad featuring the Austrian flag, thus making it seem as if Uncle Adolf’s homeland is still in flames due to its infamous legacy, but like many scenarios featured in Schmutz, reality and virtual reality are nearly impossible to distinguish. The one thing that gives Schmutz any semblance of inner ‘humanity’ is his longing for ‘paradise’ (in the form of an old postcard of a tropical island he finds at the plant) and ‘romance’ (in the form of a soap bar and TV commercial), but neither of these things are organic objects, but rather, abstract ideas advertized by companies, thus one could easily argue that the super slayer of a security guard, not unlike the anti-heroes of Manker’s two other feature-length films Weiningers Nacht (1990) aka Weininger's Last Night and Der Kopf des Mohren (1995) aka The Moor’s Head is a victim of the postmodern condition, albeit one suffering from a rather extreme and hopeless case of the decidedly damned sort. In the end, Schmutz calls out to the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael as a fallen man whose spiritual descent and revolt against god has put him in league with the evil archangel Lucifer.  Indeed, no other race but Faustian man, European man, has managed to fall from the grace so hard and so fast with Schmutz being a meager member of this tradition.  As the same country that has sired Adolf Hitler, Viennese Actionism, and Peter Kern, it is no surprise that the totally talented Paulus Manker was able to churn out an auspicious celluloid work like Schmutz – a film that acts as an esoteric expression of the psychosis-ridden Austrian collective unconscious.  With epic Riefenstahl-esque camera angles in ostensible sardonic anti-tribute to Triumph of the Will (1935) aka Triumph des Willens and a postmodern pessimism in the tradition of his filmic gurus Michael Haneke and Franz Novotny, Manker's Schmutz is a seamlessly assembled hodgepodge of twentieth century Germanic cinema ingredients that has only become all the more relevant as the years have past in an age where it seems that every month there is an autistic shooter who has went on a rampage at a school or movie theater.

-Ty E 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shooters are not autistic, they`re strong-minded individuals that everyone else is secretly jealous of.