Dec 25, 2013

The Child I Never Was

Great German serial killer films are certainly a dime of dozen. From German Expressionism with Fritz Lang’s M (1931) to German New Cinema with The Tenderness of Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe directed by Ulli Lommel and produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder to the post-German New Cinema no-budget underground with Jörg Buttgereit’s Schramm (1994), it seems that krautland is king when it comes to fiercely fucked yet audaciously artful flicks about psychopathic killers of the insanely idiosyncratic sort. Of course, one of the reasons for such a prevalence of these films in Deutschland is due to the fact that Germany had a serial killer problem after the First World World (in fact, the childkiller of Lang’s M is a composite of a number of real-life killers, including Peter Kürten, Fritz Haarmann, Carl Großmann, etc.). Indeed, social and economic chaos made post-WWI Weimar Germany the perfect playground of perversity for both budding and refined serial killers alike. Of course the Second World War, which was even more deleterious than the First World War, also spawned a number of notable deranged psychopathic killers with an aberrant affinity for bloodlust, with kraut queer child killer Jürgen Bartsch—a foul fiend of a fellow who used to carry around the mutilated corpses of his child victims in plain public view via a suitcase (aka ‘children’s coffin’) of sorts and rather enjoyed fiddling with the naked and dismembered corpses of his kid victims in a secret cave hideout—being arguably the most creepily pathetic of these ice-cold killers. Born Karl-Heinz Sadrozinski in 1946 as the bastard son of a mother who died of tuberculosis shortly after his birth, Bartsch spent his first couple months being cared for by a group of nurses and was eventually adopted at eleven months of age by a butcher and his wife from Langenberg (today Velbert-Langenberg). With a wacked-out adoptive mother who suffered from OCD who would not little her little boy play with other children and who was forced to attend a sexually-repressive Catholic boarding school, bastard Bartsch was already a crazed cocksucker killer by 1961 at the mere age of 15 and would ultimately kill and dismember four boys between the ages 8 and 13 until he was caught and arrested in 1966 when his fifth would-be-victim managed to escape. As depicted in the German flick The Child I Never Was (2002) aka Ein Leben lang kurze Hosen tragen directed by Kai S. Pieck (Isola, Ricky: Three's a Crowd), the Bartsch case is notable due to the fact that it was the first trial in German jurisdiction history where psycho-social factors (i.e. the killer’s warped childhood) came into play when handing down the decidedly deranged defendant’s sentence. In the partially fictionalized biopic The Child I Never Was—a quasi-docudrama/melodrama hybrid utilizing the serial killer's own letters and essays (Bartsch spent some time while institutionalized documenting his tragic childhood, fears, passions, perversions, etc.)—Bartsch’s troubling teenage years, malevolent mutilation-based homoerotic murders, and post-trial confessions are depicted in strenuous and even sickening detail. In other words, The Child I Never Was is a terribly dark and uniquely ugly film about a terribly dark and uniquely ugly individual whose crappy childhood, overbearing pseudo-mother, and cock-blocking Catholic upbringing helped mold him into a pernicious poof pervert with a pathological case of Peter Pan syndrome. 

 For anyone to describe The Child I Never Was as an ‘enjoyable film’ would be nothing short of a puffery-plagued lie (or as sign of sexual sadism on the part of the viewer), though it is by no means a bad film, just a rather disheartening and thematically disgusting one. Aesthetically cold and sterile and thematically deadly serious and morbidly melancholy, The Child I Never Was is a film about a born bastard loser that was destined for infamy. Melodramatically depicting the life of Teutonic twink teen serial killer Jürgen Bartsch during his killer coming-of-age years, as well as his equally lonely prison years in the somewhat aesthetically sterile form of a docudrama-like tape confession, The Child I Never Was is the patently pathetic celluloid tale of a fucked fellow who would enter this world in a misbegotten manner and would leave in no less a ‘tragic’ fashion. As Jürgen Bartsch (Tobias Schenke) tells a camera at the beginning of the film, “During these six years in prison, things have been great with my parents. Maybe it’s because I’m a good boy now. The way I was at 9 or 10, maybe… I can’t imagine being apart from my parents. I also can’t imagine my parents dying. That’s a completely unbearable idea. I really like my parents. I’m happy when they come to visit me. Mind you, to be honest, 15 minutes is enough, you know?,” but as one learns while The Child I Never Was progresses, the demented boy's 'love' for his family is no more genuine than his halfhearted attempt at becoming a heterosexual via his failed teenage experiences with Essen-based female prostitutes at the age of 17 and post-arrest marriage to a naive nurse. The virtual slave of his exceedingly overbearing adoptive mother Getrud Bartsch (Ulrike Bliefert) for most of his short and sad life, Jürgen was not allowed to play with other kids as a child and if he got dirt on the rug, his pseudo-mommy would not think twice about calling him “a piece of shit” and slapping him around. As for Jürgen’s butcher adoptive father Gerhard (Walter Gontermann), the meathead of a man apparently never displayed a single inkling of emotion towards his adopted son until it was revealed that he was adopted. Of course, Jürgen’s biggest problem was that he was a closeted homo of the Catholic-reared sort and that he was so terribly desperate for little boy ass that he was literally willing to kill just to get it. With the peculiar boyish charm of a sort of kraut Leopold and Loeb, Jürgen would lure younger boys that looked quite similar to himself (i.e. dark/swarthy hair, small, scrawny, pedomorphic, etc.) with the promise of money/goodies, murder them inside his secret cave hideout, and fondle their dead corpses. After attempting to molest a friend who managed to getaway and tell his parents, Jürgen’s father Gerhard found out and quite naturally became concerned, even contacting social services about the incident, but apparently the ‘progressive’ West German government felt there was nothing to worry about. Of course, Jürgen eventually got bored with merely orally pleasuring the genitals of the dead boys, so he began cutting his victim’s body open and fiddling with their guts for maximum orgasmic excitement. Living with the subconscious desire to be caught for his actions as he confessed in his writings, Jürgen was eventually caught after making the mistaking of leaving a lit candle for his fifth and final would-be-victim, who managed to escape using the candle flame to burn off the rope that the pedo-killer bound him with. Apparently, Jürgen left the boy to watch television with his parents and planned to skin his victim alive when he got back, which certainly demonstrates the domesticated depravity of his mind and the schizophrenic double-life he led before he was caught.

 While The Child I Never Was concludes pseudo-farcically on a strangely light note with Jürgen Bartsch doing a childish magic trick (or what he calls a “phenomenal trick”), the real-life sodomite serial killer disappeared from the world in 1976 in a strikingly fitting manner when he was only 29 years old. After marrying a nurse in a feeble and insincere attempt to ‘reintegrate himself into society,’ Bartsch opted for having voluntary castration (probably a procedure more pedophiles/serial killers should have!) in the hope he would not have to spend the rest of his life in a mental institution, but fate was not in his favor as he ultimately died on the operating table after an unskilled (and probably unsympathetic) nurse gave him an overdose of Halothane (inhalational general anesthetic). Undoubtedly, in its attempt to portray Jürgen Bartsch as patently pitiable being whose aberrant actions were not surprising considering his unhinged upbringing as an unwanted post-WWII bastard, The Child I Never Was is a total anti-titillating and emotionally terrorizing cinematic success as a sort of melodramatic kraut equivalent to the harrowing HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996). Additionally, the actor that played the young Bartsch, Sebastian Urzendowsky, was a perfect match in terms of appearance and essence. Like the real Bartsch (whose real birth surname was Sadrozinski), actor Urzendowsky is a pedomorphic fellow of the swarthy yet pale sort who, at least judging by his surname, is also a German of Polish ancestry. In that sense, The Child I Never Was also makes for a great piece of accidental anti-Polack propaganda as a work the features the most unflattering depiction of an ethnic Pole since the National Socialist propaganda flick Feuertaufe (1940) aka Baptism of Fire directed by Hans Bertram. Of course, in terms of Teutonic serial killer flicks, The Child I Never Was, not unlike Der Totmacher (1995) aka The Deathmaker directed by Romuald Karmakar, may be one of the better more recent works of the subgenre, but it is certainly not up to par with timeless works like Fritz Lang’s M, The Devil Strikes at Night (1957) aka Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam directed by Teutonic Israelite Robert Siodmak, and The Tenderness of Wolves. After failing to think of a Xmas-themed movie to view/review and remembering Kai S. Pieck’s serial killer flick had a deathly dreary Christmas dinner scene between Jürgen Bartsch and his maniac mommy, I decided that re-watching The Child I Never Was today would probably make for a ‘memorable’ tribute to J.C.'s birthday. Needless to say, The Child I Never Was managed to ruin any Christmas spirit I did have and if that’s not a good enough recommendation for a serial killer flick, I don’t know what is. 

-Ty E

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