Jul 22, 2013

White Star

According to mainstream cultural critic/film historian Peter Biskind in his classic Hollywood Babylon-esque book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1998), cinematic counter-culture auteur/actor Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, The Last Movie) was snorting about three grams of cocaine, chugging around 30 cans of beer, as well as mixing it with marijuana and Cuba libres, at the height of his deranging drug addiction, which certainly had a somewhat artistically fruitful (he starred in a number of great foreign/cult flicks) yet mentally and economically draining effect on his career. During around the time of his most excessive drug debauchery, Hopper starred in two Germans films, The American Friend (1977) aka Der amerikanische Freund directed by Wim(p) Wenders and the relatively forgotten kraut cult flick White Star (1983) directed by Roland Klick, which has the dubious distinction of being the last film the coke and alcohol-addled actor starred in before he disappeared into the Mexican desert in a high post-hippie haze, was arrested, and finally entered rehab, where he would arguably emerge stronger than ever, subsequently delivering masterful performances in Tim Hunter's River's Edge (1986) and David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986). Partially artistically sabotaged by Hopper’s coke-inspired incessant tardiness, decidedly debilitating drug withdraw, consistent forgetting/botching of dialogue, and all-around belligerent behavior as a real-life “tortured maniac” playing a cinematic “tortured maniac,” White Star as an unfinished, finished product was ultimately summed up by director/producer Roland Klick as follows, “The film has many great scenes, but its compactness creates too much pressure because we only shot all the big scenes. But other scenes belong in there as well.” Unfortunately, Hopper’s highs and lows were not the only thing that corrupted Klick’s artistic vision as B-movie carny huckster producer Roger Corman—a man know for butchering films, including nonsensically adding scenes from one unrelated and adding them to another and committing a sort of shameless cinematic plagiarism—unfortunately bought the U.S. distributions rights for White Star, cut over twenty minutes of footage, inexplicably added concert scenes of the punk band TSOL from Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia (1984), dubbed some of Hopper’s dialogue, and re-titled the film Let It Rock. Aside from turning White Star into an aesthetic and thematic hatchet job that is barely recognizable from what Klick originally released with his German cut, Corman somehow managed to change Hopper’s character from being a sleazy music manager into a reporter investigating the punk rock scene. Luckily the original cut of White Star, which was shot in English and features a virtually all-American cast despite being set in Berlin, was released in Germany on DVD by filmgalerie 451, but, rather unfortunately, those few Americans who have seen Klick’s flick have only seen it as the careless celluloid abortion know as Let It Rock. Originally intended to be a relatively decent sized budget production starring a number of big stars, including Jane Birkin, White Star would ultimately only feature Hopper, as well as horror/cult veteran David Hess (The Last House on the Left, Hitch-Hike), and a supporting cast of literal GIs from the U.S Army theater from Berlin, thus making for a culturally mongrelized celluloid work that, although undeniably entertaining, lacks the power of kraut lone-wolf auteur Roland Klick’s previous feature-length efforts Bübchen (1968), Deadlock (1970), and Supermarkt (1974) and would ultimately mark the unofficial end of the filmmaker's career as one of Germany's rare 'masculine' and arthouse-antagonistic filmmakers. 

 A synth-pop musician named Moody Mudinsky (Terrance Robay in his first and sole film role)—a mild mannered and unpretentious young man who has yet to be corrupted by the sex, drugs, and money typical of the music world—has just quit his band The Purple Rats and has gone solo, but he makes the mistake of teaming up with a has-been music producer named Kenneth Barlow (Dennis Hopper), an American, and the purported son of a WWII era American spy who acted as the touring manager of the Rolling Stones in the 1960s, but who has fallen to the dubious and groveling level of becoming an “ordained minister” in the so-called Sun City Unification Church and wants to make a comeback in the modern-day Tangerine Dream-flavored music world, despite his pathological propensity for living in the past. Moody is now Barlow’s ‘White Star,’ so it is only natural that the two will collaborate on a debut solo album entitled ‘White Star.’ Barlow is willing to use every and any dirty and degenerate trick to make his musician client a star and himself rich, and begins by paying his fucked and fiendish swarthy friend Frank (David Hess) to smash up a couple shop windows thereby creating a contrived punk riot at Moody’s debut solo show that ultimately wipes out four city blocks, but proves to also make for good publicity. Sticking to the age old truism “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” Barlow (who gets his own ass kicked in the process) has his faithful friend Frank stir another punk riot in a recording studio, hang up countless flyers around Berlin for an imaginary “White Star” concert tour and then destroys said flyers with red paint (with the painted threat "Kill Moody"), and stage an assassination against his star which ultimately gets an adoring fan killed. Moody’s negro friend George, who runs a fittingly titled recording studio called ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ confides to his honky pal that “Barlow sold you down the river...Your his White Star.” And indeed, as a squeaky clean ‘All-American’-like kraut with blond hair, blue eyes, and not a single dirty thought in his mind nor any sort of moral taint, Moody makes for the perfect prey for perennial bad boy Barlow, who himself admits, “I haven’t changed man…The times have changed…The fucking times have changed.” When he and Moody are late for a press announcement due to bad traffic, Barlow states the eloquent humanistic words, “God damn, what we need is a god damn good depression so these fuckers couldn’t afford fucking cars.” In no time, Barlow has defiled Moody’s mind and body with his superlatively shady business and publicity tactics to the point where the aspiring synth-pop star/musician finds himself pissing on a hospital floor during a press opportunity where he is really supposed to be cheering up the young girl who was accidentally shot as a result of his manager’s beauteously botched assassination attempt. Of course, the female fan with a bullet in her brain dies and so does Moody’s newly acquired popularity, thus he decides to finally tell bastard Barlow, “We gotta split up, you are killing me man,” which is certainly no exaggeration. In the end, Moody fails to “show them” he “can do it again” as a sleaze-bag who have may fit in the late-1960s drug dealer-like manager, but is certainly not the sort of man that should be managing rock-antagonistic synth-pop groups who play a more traditionally 'European' and non-Blues/American negro inspired style of music. 

 Much like Bloodbath (1979) aka The Sky Is Falling directed by Silvio Narizzano and Out of the Blue (1980), White Star is a sort of unromantic antidote to the druggy counter-culture swill Dennis Hopper played a major part in glorifying with his absurdly overrated directorial debut Easy Rider (1969). Unfortunately, unlike Bloodbath and Out of the Blue, the latter of which the actor also acted as the director of, White Star suffered severely from Hopper’s life-consuming cocaine addiction, or as director Roland Klick stated himself regarding the actor, “As we began, cocaine started to become an issue. He started to really flip out if he didn’t have any or couldn’t get any. He’d turn into this animal. And occasionally he’d turn up absent…We would wait all day for Hopper to show up for two hours in a state where we could shoot something…This time pressure led us to cut more quiet scenes of the film.” Of course, when it comes to the actual scenes where Hopper, hopped on coke, actually showed up to shoot and that are actually featured in White Star, no one would doubt for a second that the character he is 'playing' is a cracked conman who is long past his glory days and is now nothing more than an absurd walking-and-talking anachronism who would have probably been better off dying from an overdose during the late-1960s-early-1970s like many of his cocaine cowboy compatriots. If nothing else, White Star manages to demystify the supposed magic of rock n roll, as well as the entertainment industry in general, by portraying it as a conspicuously corrupt and monetary-motivated degenerate pseudo-dream-factory that has just as much a corrosive and debauching effect on its clients as it does to adoring music fans. While Hopper’s character Barlow incessantly describes his rather naïve client Moody as the “damn future,” his belligerent bullshit is routinely exposed by nauseatingly nostalgic statements he makes, like how his clients from the 1960s “were real stars. There were real stars.” Apparently describing White Star as, “The emotionally most demanding film I’ve ever made, and therefore the most dangerous one – for me,” Hopper was arrested in Mexico shortly after the film's production and finally went to rehab, where he would thankfully, unlike his character in Klick’s film, emerge victoriously from his debauched drug psychosis and ultimately give some of the greatest and most iconic performances of career in films like River’s Edge (1986), Blue Velvet (1986), and Paris Trout (1991), among various others. Unfortunately, director Roland Klick, who White Star star David Hess, himself an American Jew, once somewhat backhandedly described as being, “a dreamer inside a German – not an easy thing to be!,” never recovered from his experience with the Hopper vehicle and he would go on to become a for-hire American TV hack who, probably ashamed of how desperate his career had become, directed a number of TV movies for US network stations under a pseudonym that has yet to be revealed.  Still, for those that enjoy the Americanized punk and Kraftwerk-inspired films of German auteur Eckhart Schmidt like cinematic kraut cult classics like Der Fan (1982) aka Trance, Loft - Die neue Saat der Gewalt (1985), and Alpha City (1985) that portray a Berlin and a music scene that no longer exist, White Star makes for worthy enough way to waste 90 minutes or so because, after all, how could a very high Dennis Hopper, as well as a Svengali-like Hebrew like David Hess, in an American-fried Teutonic flick not be anything less than recklessly entertaining?!  In short, White Star is a decent enough celluloid high for Hopperheads, if not a slightly impure one.

-Ty E

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