Dec 15, 2013

The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp

Undoubtedly, Jean-Marie Straub (Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach aka The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, L'inconsolable) is one of the most, if not the most, brazenly banal, anti-cinematic, and anti-German filmmakers who has ever lived. In fact, Straub once proudly and pretentiously boasted, “My films will be ever more uncinematic, because the films one sees are becoming more and more cinematic. The commercial cinema is getting more cinematic, which is to say, more and more pornographic.” Quite frankly, I have never had any interest in watching any of Straub and his wife/collaborator Danièle Huillet's films, but recently I decided to watch his short The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp (1968) aka The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp aka Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter simply because it features pre-famous Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Peer Raben, and various other Fassbinder superstars during their formative years. Indeed, while I have yet to see any of Straub’s other films, I doubt a single one of them is so flagrantly anti-Teutonic as The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp, which begins with a static shot of the following graffiti scrawled onto a wall: “Stupid old Germany. I hate it over here. I hope I can go soon.” Indeed, while proclaiming to be a French refugee and having a frog first name, Straub has an unmistakably Germanic surname (meaning “one with bushy or bristly hair” and “destroy or rob”) and thus his ethnic background is dubious at best, especially for a man who spent a good portion of his career directing films in West Germany for German audiences.  Not to get off topic, but I once had a girlfriend whose grandmother was German but she told everyone she was French because she spoke the language and grew up in the French-occupied area of Germany and was ashamed of her true heritage as a rather reluctant member of a defeated nation and I would not be surprised if Straub is of a similar background as he seems to hate krauts in a more personal way than the average pompous frog (after all, Straub was not the first German filmmaker to attempt to become French as demonstrated by Volker Schlöndorff's culturally confused career). As Straub once stated regarding cinema and his film The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp: “I don't believe in the cinema. Even when it’s Godard who says these things, it’s interesting and has meaning, but it gives me a stomach ache. I don't fetishize the cinema at all. I think of it as an instrument, a tool. I could say that the deconstruction one makes in THE BRIDEGROOM, THE ACTRESS, AND THE PIMP is interesting, but the whole film is the history, the story, of ahatred and that is all. The hatred is affirmed at the beginning, in the inscription on the wall: ‘Stupid old Germany. I hate it over here. I hope I can go soon’.” Indeed, as the director himself described it as “history, the story, of a hatred and that is all,” The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp might be a piece of anti-cinematic hatred, but a superlatively soulless, platitudinous post-structuralist one at that, that offers nothing but the halfhearted expression of a pedantic intellectual whose perennial animus is as sterile and impotent as his pseudo-convoluted celluloid art. 

 Although it is hard to discern by watching the film, The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp is about a middleclass actress named Lilith (Lilith Ungerer) whose posh pussy is peddled by her degenerate Aryan pimp/actor boyfriend (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who, indeed, was a pimp of sorts in real-life before becoming a filmmaker). After she meets an American negro named James (Jimmy Powell), Lilith falls in love and flees the parasitic brutality of her Bavarian pimp boyfriend. Naturally, Lilith and James proclaim their love by consolidating a miscegenation-based marriage. When Lilith and James arrive home after the Catholic wedding, pissed pimp Fassbinder is waiting for them, so the bride shoots him dead and everyone assumedly lives happily ever after. While featuring twelve different shots, The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp is essentially comprised of three seemingly disconnected segments: 1. A long and static tracking shot of the streets of Munich from the perspective of negro James (who the viewer never sees) driving around in his car as he watches prostitutes attempting to peddle their plush product (in a totally silent scene, though Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Ascension Oratorio” appears at the end). 2. A 10-minute single shot of Fassbinder’s micro-studio Antiteater (aka Anti-Theater) performing on stage (including appearances by Fassbinder, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Lilith Ungerer, Peer Raben, etc). 3. A scene of Lilith and James’ marriage and Lilith’s subsequent killing of her ex-boyfriend/pimp Fassbinder. Apparently, the theater segment of The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp was taken from a performance of Austrian Jew playwright Ferdinand Bruckner’s play Krankheit der Jugend (1929) aka Illness of Youth aka Sickness of Youth that Straub was asked to direct, but since the director do not like dialogue of the source material, he cut it down to about 10 minutes (opposed to original length, which was several hours). As Fassbinder revealed in an essay he wrote entitled Hanna Schygulla—Not a star, Just a Vulnerable Human Being Like the Rest of Us: Disorderly Thoughts about an Interesting Woman regarding Straub’s mutilation of Bruckner’s play: “Since Straub’s piece was going to be scarcely ten minutes long, however, and since small theater groups generally get the biggest runarounds from publishers when it comes to the production rights for the sort of plays that interest people like us, I decided to fill out the evening by writing a play of my own, my first…It was Katzelmacher,” thus enabling to novice auteur to write the script for what would ultimately be the filmmaker's second feature-length film and his first commercial and critical success.

 Undoubtedly, The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp only begins to make slight narrative sense in the final third segment when one realizes that Lilith and the Pimp were also in the second segment of the film as characters performing in the play and that the play is merely a play-within-a-film. Of course, The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp feels exactly like what it is; a decidedly disjointed piece of petty dilettante celluloid deconstructionism of the aesthetically degenerate and innately inane sort. As for Straub’s reason for employing the segment in the film, it was for cryptic softcore agitprop reasons, or as he stated himself: “Then there is the play, which contains the characters that place themselves against the inscription from Mao printed on the back wall. That says, “Even if the arch reactionaries are still, today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow...” Again it’s hidden, you can't read it. The enemy is flexible, anyway. And in front of all this is a very precise spectacle. It’s not only a parody of bourgeois theater. The characters who appear later are within it, and the class struggle begins to appear within it.” Not surprisingly but rather absurdly nonetheless, Straub has stated that negro James is the real protagonist of The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp, even though he does not actually appear in the film until the last couple of minutes. As to the point of the film, Straub offered the following insights: “The film is a look entirely at Western decadence. And finally there is the gunshot of the girl (sic) who has married the black and who doesn't even hesitate to shoot, because her hatred liberates her, or rather, it liberates itself. One sees clearly at the end of the film that there is a liberated Utopia, but the girl (sic) is burned. She is burned by her hatred.” Indeed, a find it rather ironic that Straub—a man himself that seems burnt by hatred—would describe The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp as a film about ‘Western Decadence’ when it is about an Aryan woman who marries an American negro and kills her Aryan (but admittedly degenerate) boyfriend, as nothing would be more taboo for a girl from a formerly racially proud National Socialist to do than marry a man not only from an Allied nation, but a black untermensch as well. Of course, Fassbinder would later portray a similar scenario in his masterpiece The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) where the eponymous female protagonist marries an American negro soldier, only to kill him when her assumed-dead German husband returns home. As Thomas Elsaesser wrote in his book New German Cinema: A History (1989), “With some justification, Fassbinder’s Katzelmacher has been compared to the Straubs’ films, especially in its starkly geometrical conception of scenic and dramatic space. The similarity may only be superficial, and Straub has had little sympathy for Fassbinder’s subsequent work,” thus one might assume that the cataclysmic negro-Aryan marriage in The Marriage of Maria Braun might have been a celluloid “fuck you” to Straub. After all, Fassbinder would later go on to describe his Straub-esque work Katzelmacher (1969) aka Cock Artist as one of “The Most Digusting” films on German New Cinema in a ‘Hitlist of Germans Films’ he wrote in 1981.

 Indeed, like with the films of Godard and other far-leftist French New Wavers, Fassbinder would only become a master auteur after disposing of Marxist ‘avant-garde’ influences like Straub and becoming heavily influenced by the kaleidoscopic melodramas of Danish-German auteur Douglas Sirk. The fact that Straub would go on to hate Fassbinder’s films only confirms this. Of course, history has proven who the greater auteur is, as while very few people have seen the films of Jean-Marie Straub and his wife/collaborator Danièle Huillet outside of old Marxist cinephiles (aka the new European bourgeoisie), Fassbinder has gone on to be regarded as not only the greatest and most famous filmmaker of German New Cinema, but post-WWII Teutonic cinema in general. Indeed, just when I thought no filmmaker could be more pretentious and plodding of an auteur than Frankfurt School lawyer-turned-filmmaker Alexander Kluge, I discover the sorry cinematic sacrilege of Jean-Marie Straub; a man that even managed to make miscegenation-based murder and ethno-masochistic hatred seem boldly banal. Of course, in its platitude-ridden pomposity, The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. While I am about as far away from a proponent of Hollywood as cinephiles get, The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp is truly a work that makes me reconsider the value of culturally-cuckolded fanboy Quentin Tarantino's oeuvre. If you ever needed indisputable evidence that Neo-Spenglerian theorist Francis Parker Yockey was right when he wrote, “A moment's reflection shows that Liberalism is entirely negative. It is not a formative force, but always and only a disintegrating force” and “Liberalism can only be defined negatively. It is a mere critique, not a living idea,” just watch The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp and see how avant-garde neo-Bolshevik culture-distorting plays out cinematically. 

-Ty E

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