Dec 2, 2013

Angels with Burnt Wings

Probably best remembered today for his holocaust-themed but hardly Hebraic (the film cleverly uses fascism as a metaphor to speak out against Soviet communism) Czechoslovak New Wave flick The Fifth Horseman is Fear (1964) aka A pátý jezdec je starch, Czech auteur Zbyněk Brynych (Suburban Romance aka Žižkovská romance, Transport z raje aka Transport from Paradise) is certainly less known for enjoying an equally interesting, if not artistically less serious, filmmaking career in West Germany, which rather unfortunately concluded with the filmmaker becoming a TV hack of sorts, but he managed to direct a number of culturally pessimistic kraut flicks in between, with Angels with Burnt Wings (1970) aka Engel, die ihre Flügel verbrennen aka Angels Who Burn Their Wings being arguably the greatest of these relatively forgotten high-brow quasi-exploitation works. A sort of anti-consumerist/anti-capitalist/anti-media satire disguised as a decidedly degenerate jet-set-themed psychedelic exploitation flick, Angels with Burnt Wings is paradoxically seductively yet sickeningly saturated with “Swinging 70's” aesthetic repugnancy as a curious celluloid work that really knows how to polish a posh Teutonic turd. Centering around a bad bourgeois boy with some sort of now-prominent personality disorder who is quite jealous of his rich whore of a mother’s extramarital lovers, so much so that he beats one of them to death in a ritzy apartment complex thus spurring a search by the police for the culprit and an absurd narcissism-fueled media frenzy around said apartment complex, Angels with Burnt Wings seems like a kraut softcore flick upon a superficial glance, but it is really a truly dark and culturally damning work depicting a pseudo-zany zeitgeist of soulless self-worship, hedonism for hedonism’s sake, and fucked alienated families with a complete and utter incapacity for communicating with one another. Featuring an array of screwed up characters in fancy ass 1970s wardrobes who do whatever the hell they want whenever the hell they want and never think of the consequences until it is far too late, Angels with Burnt Wings is a celluloid work just as socially conscious and culturally critical as German New Cinema arthouse flicks by the likes of Fassbinder, Wenders, and Schlöndorff, albeit made palatable for the most ADHD-ridden of philistines. Featuring a then-hip soundtrack by Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra (in fact, the film derives its title from their song “Angels Who Burn Their Wings”) that is probably better known today than the film itself (Hollywood hack George Clooney would later use three Peter Thomas songs for his directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)), Angels with Burnt Wings is a seemingly unserious film about decadent and deracinated Teutons who live by the wanton Weltanschauung of “la dolce vita” and ultimately pay for the inevitable consequences of their lives of  lascivious leisure and luxury, thus concluding in a terribly tragic manner that shocks the viewer back into reality like a heart attack in a cinematic work far from the masturbation aid that some less discerning viewers might assume it is by looking at mere screenshots. 

 It is night but the South German city of Munich is brightly lit up and terribly troubled 16-year-old bourgeois boy Robert Susmeit (Jan Koester) is tailing the luxury car of his rich whore of a mother Hilde (Nadja Tiller) and her latest lover on his moped, ultimately leading him to a fancy yet aesthetically sterile flophouse inhabited by busybody bitches, old maids, and lonely and horny women starved for attention. Naturally, Hilde Susmeit screws her latest boy toy as soon as they arrive at the hotel, and the young male whore decides to go for a swim not long afterward so as to assumedly wash off the fresh cougar juices covering his body, which proves to be a major mistake as his femme fatale fuck buddy’s son, Robert, is waiting for him at the pool. Before he knows it, Hilde’s lover is brutally beaten to death with a hose by Robert as soon as he attempts to climb out of the pool, thus leaving his dead body floating in the water for some unfortunate individual to find. Unbeknownst to Robert, a beauteous blonde girl about the same age as him, Moni Dingeldey (Susanne Uhlen), was playing ‘Peeping Tom’ at the pool and witnessed the murder. Instead of being repulsed by the grizzly crime of passion like most people would, Moni—the daughter of a rich businessman’s widow (a woman described as “a rather merry widow,” thus hinting she had something to do with her husband’s death)—decides that renegade wackjob Robert is her soul mate and hides him in her mother’s lavish apartment, ordering the crazed boy room service and whatever else he may desire as the two sit around and listen to horrendous Hebraic folk music by Leonard Cohen. Meanwhile, the body of Hilde’s lover is finally discovered, thus erupting into a media scandal of sorts and the arrival of police detectives. As it turns out, a young and dashing college student named Mr. Kirr (Jochen Busse) has rented his apartment, which is packed with pornography, out to Hilde as a special place to bring her various young hunk boyfriends. Realizing that her son Robert is responsible for the killing, Hilde calls in her cuckold of a husband, Herr Bertram Susmeit (Werner Kreindl), to the apartment complex to look for their missing misfit son. In the process, Bertram learns his wife is a no good whore who has been screwing countless men while subletting Mr. Kirr’s apartment, so he gives her a good slap across the face, but sadistic Hilde merely laughs at his weakness, thus 'hinting' at why the Susmeit family, especially son Robert, is so irreparably screwed up. 

 Of course, young Robert also finds himself following his father’s footsteps as a cuck junior of sorts after being taken in by scheming debutante Moni, who makes him her virtual slave with little to no effort. Meanwhile Mr. Kirr comes to the ½ correct conclusion that Hilde’s lover was the mystery man that was killed in the swimming pool and that her jealous husband did the killing, so he naturally blackmails the lecherous lady for sex, but suffers the ungodly shame of premature ejaculation after getting in bed with his high-class hussy of a tenant. As the film progresses, two detectives from the Criminal Investigation squad, a fellow that goes simply by ‘Superintendant’ (Siegfried Rauch) and his sidekick Gig (Karl-Otto Alberty), are led on a cat-and-mouse game by various inhabitants of the fancy flophouse, including histrionic sex-starved female artists and lonely old widowers. Like Kirr, the Superintendant also comes to the incorrect conclusion that Bertram Susmeit killed his wife Hilde’s lover, but the cuckolded hubby calmly retorts the cop’s claims by soundly stating, “Those… lovers of my wife, I never cared about them. I knew that she had them, I knew… that she went here with them, but… they didn’t interest me!,” which the officer instantly believes as no self-respecting man would make up such an unflattering lie.  On top of confessing that he is a cuck, Bertram reveals to the Superintendant that he assumes his wacked-out son, Robert, was the killer of his wife’s lover. Meanwhile, following her beau’s excellent example, Moni violently beats her mother’s latest boyfriend to death with a large wine bottle, which makes Robert's passion killing seem rather pansy-like by comparison. Eventually, all the inhabitants at the apartment complex learn of Robert and Moni’s crimes and get in self-righteous lynch mob mode, ganging up on the deranged youths, and calling them “murderers” and demanding to “quarter them.” Hated by everyone, destined for prison, and determined to remain soul mates forever, Robert and Moni run to the top roof of the apartment building and jump off with hand-in-hand, but being ‘angels with burnt wings,’ they merely fail to their premature deaths, thus callously concluding one merrily misanthropic movie. 

 In dreaming up a catchy headline to describe the inhabitants of the apartment complex featured in Angels with Burnt Wings, a journalist character named Andreas Stein (Wolfgang Völz) comes up with the more than fitting, if not severely sardonic, title ‘High-Society-Kindergarten,’ which is not only an apt description for the maniac metropolitan microcosm featured in the film, but the bourgeois Occident in general, with the occupying force of culture-less America being the rotten root of such culture-distorting degeneracy.  Indeed, aside from the Superintendant, there is not a single sympathetic or redeemable character in Angels with Burnt Wings, with even the two child murderers seeming more empathetic, human, and logical than the superlatively spoiled, self-centered, and hyper hedonistic middle-aged adults featured in the film. Certainly ahead of its time, if not glaringly outmoded aesthetically, Angels with Burnt Wings, if nothing else, totally demystifies garbage American mainstream cultural trends like ‘MILFS’ and ‘cougars’ because, as the film reveals, for every middle-aged beauty looking to fuck young bucks is a cuckolded husband and a deranged son and/or demented daughter. Featuring an uncredited Hitchcockian cameo from director Zbyněk Brynych as a random man in the hotel lobby, Angels with Burnt Wings is a rather brutal depiction of capitalist American-occupied Deutschland from a Slavic auteur who was no less sympathetic to the commie cultural cuckoldry that engulfed his own nation. With all the completely and utterly worthless Euro-sleaze exploitation flicks that have been getting lavish releases on dvd and Blu-ray, it is about time that Angels with Burnt Wings, as well as the two other German Brynych’s films released in 1970, O Happy Day (1970) aka Seventeen & Anxious aka Heiße Teens aus gutem Haus and Femmine Carnivore (1970) aka Die Weibchen, get a decent release. From morbid and melancholy Czech arthouse to kraut jet-set and psychedelic exploitation, Zbyněk Brynych was certainly a ‘chameleon auteur’ of sorts who successfully managed to transition from working in the repressed commie East to the decadent Americanized West, and there is probably no better and more accessible introduction to his singular cinematic oeuvre than Angels with Burnt Wings; a semi-sleazy temporary celluloid antidote to American cultural hegemony.

-Ty E

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