Jul 31, 2013

The Brutalisation of Franz Blum

Typically, a left-wing prison flick sounds like a rather revolting prospect as such works are typically created by idiotically idealistic do-gooder types sporting proverbial 'good guy' badges with a seemingly autistic understanding of human nature and who have no concept of reality nor the drastically culturally different people that they self-righteously profess to defend, yet somehow I managed to get into the quasi-commie kraut work Die Verrohung des Franz Blum (1974) aka The Brutalisation of Franz Blum directed by Reinhard Hauff, an auteur who has displayed his solidarity with left-wing activism and commie terrorists with critically acclaimed but not mostly forgetten works like Messer im Kopf (1978) aka Knife in the head and Stammheim - Die Baader-Meinhof-Gruppe vor Gericht (1986). Luckily with The Brutalisation of Franz Blum, Hauff had the help of real-life bank robber turned writer/actor Burkhard Driest (Cross of Iron, Querelle), who not only acted as the lead villain in the film, but penned the script based on his own experiences in prison, thus lending a certain visceral authenticity to the film that would escape bourgeois leftists activist types. Responsible for penning the unreleased Nazi-themed black comedy Son of Hitler (1978) starring Bud Cort and Peter Cushing and playing the pernicious gangster who belittles the title protagonist of Werner Herzog’s Stroszek (1977), to being accused (but vindicated) of rape in 1980 by German actress Monika Lundi, Driest is undoubtedly lived an interesting life in film and otherwise and his less than sensationalized depiction of prison life in The Brutalisation of Franz Blum seems to ring more true than most prison films. The story of a young man and educated bank employee who drove the getaway car in a bank robbery and who refused to name his co-conspirators, The Brutalisation of Franz Blum shows how a supposedly morally noble yet criminally inclined individual transforms into an authoritarian criminal mastermind as a result of his ‘brutalization’ via prison corruption, namely that revolving around his fellow inmates. A film that essentially makes the statement that prisons do not “reform criminals” (not shit!) but instead turns them into hard fascists who are willing to use every and any individual and/or underhanded scheme to get his way, The Brutalisation of Franz Blum, like many contemporary works of jailhouse cinema makes a mere critique, but like virtually all idealistic leftist works, offers no real solutions. Starring internationally acclaimed German actor Jürgen Prochnow of Das Boot (1981) and The Da Vinci Code (2006) in one his very first roles, The Brutalisation of Franz Blum is a raw reminder that one probably learns a great deal more about human nature from a prison sentence than from going to college to get impractical knowledge. 

 Franz Blum (Jürgen Prochnow) has made the mistake of being involved with a bank robbery that will ultimately result in him losing the best years of his life after he is given a prison sentence. During one of his first days in the slammer, Franz cries like a little bitch because he has a migraine and a lanky leftist lunatic intellectual named Bielich (Eike Gallwitz) gives him some aspirin to help. To express his gratitude to Bielich for being kind in an unkind place, Franz acts as a witness after Bielich is attacked by prison bully Walter 'Tiger' Kuul (writer Burkhard Driest), who is carrying on a gay relationship with a man named “Marie” (Lutz Mackensy). Being the undisputed alpha of the prison, Kuul naturally seeks revenge against Franz and beats him nearly an inch away from his life, which inspired the novice convict to make a failed attempt at suicide via slitting his wrists with his trusty razor. After learning that forming a gang can make one's time prison go much smoother, Franz, who joins up with a baker turned child molester named Goh (Karl-Heinz Merz), gets his own criminal enterprise running and in no time, he has countless minions who back him. Unfortunately, although he is not a genius, crazy Kuul is still undisputed Führer of the prison underworld. After drugging Kuul’s food via tranquilizers, Franz, who has given up being fair a long time ago, is able to get enough leverage to beat up his Neanderthal-like nemesis. By dealing tobacco, coffee, and other products at a lower rate, Franz soon becomes the king of the jail house, but he soon consolidates even more power after becoming in charge of the prison’s sports department. While Franz manages to get everyone on his side, Bielich finds his new behavior absolutely deplorable, that his methods are as “cynical as the system,” and threatens to tell everyone about his parasitical ways. To prove he is an equal opportunist and diehard democratic, Franz gives Bielich the platform to makes his plans, but the other inmates shout him down, stating things like, “what do you want weirdo?” Of course, Franz's ‘scheme’ works out as his prison underlings force Bielich, who has a heart condition, to run with them, which ultimately kills the noble anti-fascists. Ironically, Bielich dies in the same spot where Franz originally helped him after Kuul attacks him. Things get even more ironic when Franz is released from prison that same day for “good conduct,” thus making his efforts to become the dictator in the prison all in vain. 

 Beginning as a supposedly sensitive and noble man who is willing to help anyone in need, Franz transforms into a tyrannical dictator who utilizes seemingly unlimited conspiratorial tactics, including screwing over formers and even murder by proxy. Of course, anyone with a shred of common sense, aside from loony liberals, knows that prisons aren't designed to rehabilitate anyone, but are rather used to punish the individual and hopefully get them ‘scared straight’ enough after their sentence to quit committing crimes. Naturally, being a leftist, director Reinhard Hauff goes one step further by insinuating that prison turns convicts into ‘degenerate fascist cavemen’ who subscribe to irrationalism, brute force, and collectivism as a form of underworld self-rule. While I certainly would not want to have a stay at the Teutonic prison featured in The Brutalisation of Franz Blum, the prison life featured in the film is not much worse than a high school environment, except with a little bit more extortion, theft, violence, and other related uncivil behavior. Indeed, while the lead antagonist attempts to force Franz to give him a blowjob (he bites his cock instead) and he gets a good beating too, there is no rape, bodily dismemberment, successful suicides, nor gangster prison guards (though they take bribes), no situation featured in The Brutalisation of Franz Blum would have realistically change the protagonist from a “good guy” into a “bad guy” unless he already had such sadistic propensities inside of himself all along, hence his involvement in the bank robbery that landed him in prison in the first place. Undoubtedly, The Brutalisation of Franz Blum is not the HBO prison drama Oz (1997-2003) where nefarious neo-Nazi's rape white alcoholic lawyers and female prison guards begin steamy romances with cons. If anything, The Brutalisation of Franz Blum is interesting because it shows less barbaric prisons, especially those in Europe, during the early 1970s than prisons of today, which are multicultural sewers owned by private companies that train crooks and thieves to turn into murders and gay rapists. The fact that writer/actor Burkhard Driest was able to leave prison and become an esteemed writer and actor and able to be involved with The Brutalisation of Franz Blum without suffering an emotional breakdown just goes to show that director Reinhard Hauff is a neo-marxist pansy who would have probably benefited from a prison stay because, if nothing else, he would have at least developed some testicular fortitude and realized his message with The Brutalisation of Franz Blum is ultimately whiny at best and ridiculously redundant at worse. Jürgen Prochnow would later star in the film Die Konsequenz (1977) aka The Consequence directed by Wolfgang Petersen playing a pederast prison inmate who falls for a 15-year-old lad in a role radically more repulsive than the one he played in The Brutalisation of Franz Blum.  Needless to say, one could argue that getting softly sodomized by your elder gentleman lover could be a bit more brutal than getting the shit beat out of you. For the closest thing to a kraut equivalent to the rather underrated American cult prison flick Fortune and Men's Eyes (1971), The Brutalisation of Franz Blum is undoubtedly your best bet, minus the forced anal entry.

-Ty E

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