Oct 12, 2013

Veruschka (1971)

 Long before every homely ho and hussy in America was going to Mardi Gras festivals and having their terrible tits airbrushed, and Hollywood actresses like Rebecca Romijn-Stamos got pseudo-naked in the form of wearing nothing but makeup and minor prosthetics in films like X-Men (2000) and its sequels, Prussian countess and prototypical supermodel “Veruschka” (aka Vera Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort aka Veruschka von Lehndorff)—a rare statuesque model/actress of intelligence and artistic talent who actually did all her own creative work during her fashion shoots (she once quipped she wanted to be more than “just an attractive coat stand”), including her makeup and hair, as well as having involvement in the editorial process of said photo shoots—had completely revolutionized and monopolized nude body art/body paint of the seemingly quasi-pagan sort (she often camouflaged herself in natural settings, taking the form of rocks, trees, etc.) with iconic photos being featured everywhere from Vogue to Playboy Magazine. The first international superstar who since the 1960s onwards appeared on over 800 magazine covers, Veruschka did not always live the sweet life, even if she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, as her father Heinrich Ahasverus Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort was a member of the July 20 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler who was sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof (“People’s Court”) and executed via hanging on on 4 September 1944 for his role in conspiracy, thus forcing the young countess and the rest of her family to live in labor camps for the rest of the war, and ultimately leaving the Prussian blueblood family homeless. In the patently personal psychedelic arthouse film Veruschka (1971) aka Veruschka - poesia di una donna aka Veruschka: Poetry of a Woman—a morbidly melancholy yet keenly kaleidoscopic cinematic work penned by the damaged diva herself—one is not only exposed to a rather physically vulnerable Veruschka who is incessantly unclad aside from body painting in a variety of atmospheric nature settings (a couple of the scenes were apparently shot in Kenya during a photo shoot with Peter Beard), but also to the tragic heart and soul of the naughty Nordic countess, who is visited by a prepubescent child doppelganger that acts as a sort of striking symbol of her tragic childhood, a childhood that she seemingly never recovered from. Despite being considering one of the most gorgeous women in the world, Veruschka was a victim of bullying as a teen due to the fact she was 6’1″ at the mere age of 14 and would eventually sprout to a towering 6’4″ (though some report she is actually 6’3″) and this internal woundedness and paradoxical need to be seen yet hidden is quite apparent in many of her portraits, but especially the film Veruschka, a quasi-esoteric allegorical biography of surreal sadness and stunning self-loathing. Featuring the telling Susan Sontag quote, “…the desire to hide, to be camouflaged, to escape human appearance, to be an animal, an object, not a person, the desire to punish the self, to dissolve the self into the world, to be striped naked, to petrify the body, to become only matter…” (Fragments of an Aesthetic of Melancholy) on her present official website (http://www.veruschka.net/), Veruschka could have practically used the quote from the lesbian Jewess as a sort of philosophical synopsis of the film Veruschka, a film directed by Italian photographer Franco Rubartelli, who was also the longtime lover of the damaged diva. Featuring an iconic score by Italian maestro Ennio Morricone that is now better remembered than the actual film despite sounding like the sort of music featured in a vintage Summer's Eve douche commerical, Veruschka is cinematic female exquisiteness in its most existentially lugubrious yet sensually surreal form. 

 Tall Aryaness Veruschka is on a road trip with her middle-aged Italian agent/boyfriend (Luigi Pistilli) across the rural Italian countryside and despite the stunning scenery and being with a man that ostensibly loves her and vice versa, she cannot seem to shake her all-consuming melancholy and existential misery. At the beginning of their road trip, Veruschka asks her boyfriend, “how do you think this journey of ours might end?,” which is a question she will ultimately regret asking by the film's strangely tragic yet ethereal conclusion. Early on in the film, Veruschka has an eerie premonition of her future when, after seeing and waving to a young boy on his motorcycle with his father, she later passes the boy and his father laying dead on the highway after a tragic car wreck. On the way, the lovers pick up a Christ-like hitchhiker and Veruschka’s boyfriend dubiously remarks, “maybe it’s our chance to have a threesome” as if he is some sort of active cuckold who enjoys seeing swarthy hippie types hump his hot girlfriend. The hitchhiker admits to Veruschka that he does not like her boyfriend because “he’s someone who knows too well what he wants” as he is a Guido beatnik of sorts who believes in “being one” with the “Sun God” and “Mother Earth,” among other things. Not surprisingly, the two lovers soon part ways with the hitchhiker and Veruschka begins to regret going on the road trip with her boyfriend, inevitably coming to the conclusion that their lackluster relationship has fallen apart. Meanwhile, Veruschka, who is constantly dreaming and daydreaming (hence, the semi-surreal essence of the film), less than fondly reminisces about how her proud aristocratic German mother, who looks like a grumpy Guido diva with terminal cancer, warns her about leaving home, telling her, “You’ll be like a tree taken away from the forest. Your roots will be crying….Poor girl. Your body will be dismembered and torn into pieces,” but, quite naturally, she did the opposite, seeking her fortune and fame around the world.

 As he tends to do throughout the entire film, Veruschka boyfriend’s berates her because he does not “get her” and her wild and oftentimes whimsical idiosyncrasies. More than anyone else, Veruschka dreams of her prepubescent child self as if trying to get in touch with a part of her self she lost long ago. Veruschka also recalls the “fond banalities” of a once-great love affair she had with a young and handsome Aryan man named Michael, who makes the viewer wonder why she would be now dating a super swarthy and equally arrogant hightalian twice her age, as if she only started to date him to further her career, thus throwing her into complete and utter misery in the process. Of course, it is later revealed that Veruschka ran away with her present boyfriend to get away from her mother and ex-boyfriend Michael.  Veruschka displays her Aryan arrogance in a scene when should proudly proclaims regarding her home, “In this house there are German things which a foreigner could never understand!,” thus expressing the supermodel's own disillusionment with her Prussian aristocratic ancestry. Veruschka’s boyfriend also sees things in an exceedingly delusional manner, proudly proclaiming he saved his trophy lady love from suicide and various vices. Indeed, as revealed in a psychedelic psychosexual flashback, Veruschka got involved with some acidhead hippies and hallucinated that she was making love to herself. Being a supermodel, Veruschka also discusses the minor misery of her trade, which includes painful reproductions of her face by doctors, later morbidly stating regarding three statue replicas of her head, “Its’ me…guillotined three times” as if fantasizing about her own death, which she does quite often. After sadly discussing how she denied herself a baby, Veruschka explains how she ‘killed’ a bunch of baby dolls on the beach, only to feel remorse and recollect all the doll parts she had previously dismembered, eventually symbolically burying them, in the sand, realizing that she has ‘buried herself’ in the process as a supermodel whose career came at the spiritually hefty price of her individuality and personal dignity. In a paradoxically hopeful yet completely hopeless attempt to ‘fix’ herself and figuratively ‘pick up’ the pieces of her childhood, Veruschka goes on to repair and rebuild a number of grotesque baby dolls that resembled those drawn by degenerate German surrealist artist Hans Bellmer and those that would that would later be fetishized by German arthouse-splatter auteur Marian Dora (Cannibal, The Angels' Melancholy aka Melancholie der Engel). In the end, Veruschka inadvertedly (or not) causes her and her boyfriend’s death in a car accident after attempting to let a bird go free she has in a cage and the film concludes with Veruschka’s child doppelganger prancing around happily and with the quote,“FREE…Letting her go forever into her imaginary world from which she would never return again. And I hope, I hope…,” which will assuredly haunt most viewers (myself included!)

 Indeed, in the end, Veruschka was finally “FREE” as her and her photographer boyfriend, director Franco Rubartelli, broke up in 1971 shortly after Veruschka was released, which is not a surprise since the boyfriend character in the film is a constant source of misery for the superstar protagonist who, among other things, complains of her mature Mediterranean man's impotency and bourgeois attitude toward life. Interestingly and rather fittingly considering the morose essence of Veruschka, the actor who played Veruschka’s boyfriend, Luigi Pistilli (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Twitch of the Death Nerve), committed suicide in 1996 via hanging after a show of Terence Rattigan's Tosca that he starred in had been critically panned, thus throwing the actor into a deleterious depression, which was further compounded by his bad public breakup with Italian singer/actress Milva. If nothing else aside from being one of the most aesthetically pleasing pieces of post-WWII female Prussian aristocratic angst ever made, Veruschka also deconstructs and ultimately exterminates any preconceptions one might have about a gorgeous international superstar as the film portrays Veruschka, who quite notably penned the script (making her, at least in my opinion, the true 'auteur' of the film), as a super suicidal chick in abject misery who longs for nothing more than the freedom of childhood, namely her own childhood before her father was executed by Uncle Adolf in a botched assassination attempt that could have totally changed the course of history. 

 Undoubtedly, it would be a bit of stretch to describe Veruschka as an endlessly engrossing film because it is far too dispiriting and artsy fartsy to appeal to the layman filmgoer, yet it is ultimately important due to its singular depiction of the sad soul of a superstar, even if it somewhat paradoxically mystifies her in the process. Aesthetically, Veruschka seems to have gone on to influence works ranging from the forgotten cult flick Garden of Death (1974) aka The Gardener starring Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro (who could easily be mistaken for Veruschka's shorter brother) as a man who turns into a tree and The Guardian (1990) directed by William Friedkin in its depiction of a human morphing into trees and whatnot. It should also be noted that Veruschka (1971) is not the only filmed called and starring Veruschka, as a German documentary entitled Veruschka - Die Inszenierung (m)eines Körpers (2005) aka Veruschka: A Life for the Camera co-directed by Paul Morrissey (Blood For Dracula, Forty Deuce) and Bernd Böhm was somewhat recently released about the now-elderly superstar's life. An unpretentious woman who had the gall to besmirch her own untouchable legacy of beauty by getting involved in unflattering drag king yet fiercely frolicsome antics, including dressing as commie chink Chairman Mao for a photo shoot based on a concept by Salvador Dalí and even portraying Oscar Wilde's iconic literary anti-hero Dorian Gray in mischling Ulrike Ottinger’s dangerously dandy dystopian sci-fi epic Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse (1984) aka Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press, Veruschka is not only one of the most famous supermodels to live, but also one of the most strikingly strange, thus Veruschka is mandatory viewing for anyone interested in digging into her hermetic heart or who wants to see probably the most anti-erotic film ever made featuring an incessantly nude international supermodel. 

-Ty E

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