Nov 5, 2013

Bremen Freedom

Out of all the 40+ films German New Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed over the less than two decades he was active before his tragic yet undoubtedly inevitable death via drug overdose, the filmmaker’s minimalistic TV-plays, which he made sporadically throughout his career and include Das Kaffeehaus (1970) aka The Coffee House, Bremer Freiheit (1972) aka Bremen Freedom, Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht (1975) aka Like a Bird on a Wire, and Frauen in New York (1977) aka Women in New York, are the most neglected and hard-to-find works to find today, with not a single one of these films ever being released in the United States in any form for whatever reason. Most of these films are probably far too aesthetically theatrical and  minimalistic, blatantly low-budget, and primitively directed to interest the layman Fassbinder fan, so it is quite doubtful whether they will ever be released in any home format, yet luckily all of these films are available to those who know where to look for them. My favorite of these uniquely understated and aesthetically revolutionary TV-plays is Bremen Freedom (1972) aka Bremer Freiheit: Frau Geesche Gottfried - Ein bürgerliches Trauerspiel aka Bremen Coffee starring Margit Carstensen (Satan's Brew, Possession). Indeed, while sassy little blonde bombshell Hanna Schygulla was Fassbinder’s main and most iconic diva, the slender and statuesque Margit Carstensen was arguably the most eclectically talented actress the German auteur ever worked with, with her performance in Bremen Freedom being one of the greatest and most disturbingly passionate yet simultaneously humorous performances she ever gave as a curious counterpoint to her role as the masochistic lead of Martha (1974). Based on the 1971 play of the same name written by Fassbinder himself specifically for Margit Carstensen, Bremen Freedom is an audaciously anti-bourgeois 'period piece' rather loosely inspired by the life and time of German female serial killer Gesche Margarethe Gottfried who, not unlike most female mass murderers, passive aggressively used poison as her weapon of choice, ultimately killing 15 people, including her parents, her two husbands, her fiancé and even her children, via arsenic in Bremen and Hanover between 1813 and 1827, thus resulting in her public beheading. In Fassbinder's quasi-Brechtian Bremen Freedom, one never sees said beheading, but instead enters the macabre mind of a crafty bitch who sees coldblooded coffee murders as a form of liberation and utilizes her domestic wifely duties as a malevolent means to carry out such callous cappuccino-flavored carnage.

 Oftentimes falsely described as a feminist film, Bremen Freedom is indeed innately iconoclastic, depicting Gottfried in a somewhat sympathetic, if not critical, light by presenting her as a fierce femme fatale fighter of the kraut bourgeois patriarchy, yet the work ultimately depicts her murderous act of ‘female liberation’ as futile and even lunatic, as she never reaches the sort of existential solace and personal freedom that she was hoping for when she started lacing her loved one's coffee and tea with arsenic. Although Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (1975) was the first major work where Fassbinder proved he was no blind philistine propagandist for the far-left as a work that received heavy criticism from Marxists, feminists and other degenerate middle-class rabble due to its unflattering depiction of the German Communist Party and ‘bourgeois anti-bourgeois’ armchair revolutionaries, Bremen Freedom proved the self-described “Romantic Anarchist” (a statement he made three months before his untimely death) was no meek pawn of Kluge and company, but a staunch equal opportunity offender who offered some of the most unwaveringly scathing and biting criticism of his degenerate generation. Featuring aesthetically rebellious sets that are all but totally empty aside from a couple pieces of antique furniture and mirrors, and soothing scenes of the ocean, harbor, and a hellish inferno projected in the background in what seems to be an archaic yet nonetheless aesthetically pleasing form of Chroma key compositing (aka blue screen), Bremen Freedom is a revolutionary work that Danish auteur Lars von Trier must have studied religiously in preparation for his mainstream anti-American avant-garde works Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005) as a minimalistic work about a lonely lady who only discovers more loneliness whilst in the company of others. 

Geesche Gottfried (Margit Carstensen) is a virtual slave in her own household as a hysterical and highstrung yet intelligent lady who must literally wait on hand and knee for her pig of a patriarchal and majorly misogynistic husband Johann Gerhard Miltenberger (played by Ulli Lommel as a sort of ‘bourgeois Svengali’ figure). For the first couple of minutes of Bremen Freedom, one does not even see Geesche’s face, but merely her legs and feet as she scampers wildly to appease her husband as an exceedingly annoying baby cries off-screen in the background. Johann has his wife running around the house like a diner waitress for coffee, newspapers, and schnapps, and when he can no longer think of a petty task for Geesche to do, he gets his sadistic kicks from belittling her as if she was a handicapped child. When Geesche, who is clearly sexually repressed, proclaims to her husband, “I want to sleep with you,” he slaps her to the ground and demands her to say “I’m hot for you” as if she is a dog. Seeing no way out of the situation, Geesche poisons Johann’s coffee and before he dies, a bloody rash appears across his face that resembles the sort of hokey monster makeup one would expect to see in one of Ulli Lommel’s recent direct-to-DVD zombie flicks. When Johann croaks via death-by-coffee, Geesche decides to give superlatively soulless and sentimental institutional bourgeois love another chance and gets with a boorish ape-like man named Michael Gottfried (Wolfgang Schenck, who would later play a similar role in Fassbinder's Effi Briest (1974)), who seems caring and respectable at first, yet ultimately proves he is no less petty and dictatorial than her first husband. Among other things, Michael hates the fact that Geesche has children from her previous marriage, stating, “I need a wife with whom I can have children on my own. I cannot bear to see another man’s children in the house.” When the two get into a heated argument about the status of the torrid relationship, Michael states to Geesche,“Look at yourself, how hard you are. A real woman would now be lying on the floor completely shattered and crying bitterly,” as if he is shocked by her rather flat affect in the face of heated heartbreak, despite the fact that he started a romantic relationship with her shortly after her first husband Johann mysteriously dropped dead. When Michael and Geesche get married, the gorilla-like groom dies on the altar, fittingly leaving the bride to spend her honeymoon with a corpse. When announcing the deaths of both husbands, children, and parents to her crippled soldier brother Johann (Fritz Schediwy), Geesche does not express even the most remote remorse nor sorrow, even going on a proto-feminist tangent that irks her bro, hysterically stating, “I shall live my life as I wish. To live one’s own life, Johann, that ought to be everybody’s aim. And a woman is a human being, even if there are too few men and women who are already aware of it.”  Naturally, Geesche also poisons her brother Johann as he had the gall to mock her for her psychosis-ridden feminist spiel. Indeed, Geesche ultimately lives her life the way she wishes as a psychotic serial killer, but it does not last long. After her friend Luisa Mauer (Hanna Schygulla) hints at the fact she knows she is a killer, Geesche poisons her female companion and even lets her know know that she has laced her beverage with arsenic before she croaks, but shortly after Fassbinder shows up and reveals that he went to a criminal court and found poison in the coffee. When Fassbinder asks Geesche why she poisoned him, she responds with, “Now I shall die” as if she is relieved by the fact she has a date with a guillotine, thus confirming she will never ever again have to the suffer the absolutely hellish burden of being a bourgeois housewife. 

 While not actually depicted in the Brechtian (and thus anticlimactic) Bremen Freedom, the real-life Gesche Gottfried was beheaded in 1831 in what was the last public execution in the Northern German city of Bremen. Indeed, while it is rather dubious whether or not she was really a feminist freedom fighter of sorts, one must admit that being publically executed in a rather brutal manner is as far away as one can get from being a simple domestic petite-bourgeois housewife. More than anything, Bremen Freedom depicts Gesche as a tragic and misguided figure with a slave-morality in the Nietzschean sense who ironically utilized her servant duties as an ostensibly humble housewife who serves her husband coffee as a warped means to liberate herself from her figurative shackles, eventually becoming even more boldly and maliciously homicidal when the toxic spiked hot stuff did not give her the sense of freedom she expected it would, thus leading to her own predictable (and arguably self-consciously desired) self-destruction, somewhat ironically ‘dying like a man’ in the end. Undoubtedly, like many contemporary feminists, the more Gesche sought liberalization via murderous mocha, the more it became apparent that said liberalization was merely an intangible ideal and utopian dream that turned the once-humble housewife into a psychosis-plagued neurotic of the fatally fanatical sort who lives to kill and spout stupid slogans (“well-behaved women seldom make history” certainly comes to mind in this context!) After all, Gesche Gottfried did, indeed, make history and in a manner with which few other women can compare. Aside from Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe directed by Ulli Lommell, which the auteur merely produced and had a small acting role in, Bremen Freedom stands out as Fassbinder’s sole serial killer flick, yet when it comes down to it, the simplistically yet suavely stylized TV-play is really a black comedy of the dry, witty, and severely social critical sort that spares no one, not least of all female ‘progressives.’ While conspicuously criticizing the old kraut middleclass order, Bremen Freedom more importantly attacks the new order, especially the so-called ‘women’s liberation movement,’ utilizing Gesche Gottfried as a symbol of irrational female rebellion whose macabre methods not only cannibalistically destroyed her entire extended family, but also destroyed herself as a little lady who is nothing if not her own worst enemy.  As hinted at by Fassbinder in a scene in Bremen Freedom where Geesche asks for sex from her husband in a most groveling manner (only to be rebuffed and thrown to the ground), the murders possibly could have been avoided had the female anti-hero not become so frigid and sexually repressed, but such sentiments might offend the good taste of a humungous Hebraic feminist whale like Andrea Dworkin. Like Fassbinder's later more popular works, especially The Stationmaster's Wife (1977) aka Bolwieser and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), Bremen Freedom cruelly demonstrates there was a hefty price women had to pay for female emancipation, namely the loss of their souls and potential soulmates.

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

"Bre-girl Freedom ! ! !".

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In the early 70`s Ger-girl-y had the best colour TV system in the world, SECAM, better than PAL and much better than NTSC, "Bre-girl Freedom" must`ve looked marvellous when it was first shown 41 years ago, its just such a shame that it was made by one of the most loathsome faggots who ever lived.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Fassbinder looked like a walrus, a faggot walrus ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I`ve said it before and i`ll say it again: I want to bugger Hanna Schygulla (as the bird was on Christmas Day 1961, her 18th birthday, not as the dirty old slag is now obviously).