Jan 12, 2014
Undoubtedly, even most Fassbinder fanatics fans will agree that Pioneers in Ingolstadt (1971) aka Pioniere in Ingolstadt is not the Bavarian enfant terrible auteur filmmaker’s greatest film. In fact, Fassbinder himself thought it was an artistic failure and listed it as one of “The Most Disappointing” films of German New Cinema in a ‘Hitlist of German Films’ he compiled for a West German film magazine in 1981 just one year before he overdosed on a corrosive narcotic cocktail. Admittedly, when I first saw Pioneers in Ingolstadt about a decade ago or so, I was shocked by how bad it was and thought it was totally unwatchable, innately incoherent, and nothing short of an abject failure from a budding auteur who was still experimenting as a young filmmaker in his formative years, yet the film has strangely grown on me since then, or so I discovered with a recent and rather reluctant re-watching of the work. Based on the controversial 1926 play (or “comedy in 14 Scenes”) of the same name written by Bavarian proto-feminist Marieluise Fleißer (1901-1974)—a naive Catholic educated protégé of kraut commie Bertolt Brecht—Fassbinder's Pioneers of Ingolstadt was ultimately an important work in the sense that it helped revive the name and work of the source writer, who also had a heavily influence on Bavarian absurdist auteur Herbert Achternbusch. Written in collaboration Brecht, the play was inspired by autobiographical anecdotes from the playwright’s life and would ultimately cause her so much personal trouble that she apparently never fully recovered from the experience. Due to its frank depiction of sex and supposed sexism in small Teutonic towns, Pioneers in Ingolstadt caused a major scandal when it first premiered at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin in 1929, thus inspiring National Socialist scorn, the condemnation of the film by the Ingolstadt mayor (who attacked the playwright for “dirtying her own nest”), and Fleißer’s own father becoming so angry that he threw her out of the family home, among other things.
Of course, Fassbinder’s filmic adaptation is much more radical, pessimistic, and misanthropic than the source material as an avant-garde work that depicts a young virginal gal going from being an idealistic sweetheart who is looking to fall in love to morally degenerating into a wild and wanton whore who quite literally spreads her legs for any man that passes her salacious gaze. A decidedly damning depiction of a group of German soldiers (or ‘pioneers’) who come to a small Bavarian village build a bridge, only to sexually debase and humiliate every young and desperate Fräulein in town, Pioneers in Ingolstadt is a sort of avant-garde anti-Heimat film that portrays rural Germania as a cryptically decadent place where most women conspire to drop their panties for even the most boorish of soldiers. Although originally intending to update the play and feature the pioneers wearing contemporary West German army uniforms, Fassbinder decided to make Pioneers in Ingolstadt a strangely anachronistic work where the soldiers sport shabby Wehrmacht uniforms, including swastika insignia (though, for whatever reason, only a couple of the men sport the sacred swastika), yet when one (portrayed by Fassbinder’s black Bavarian boy toy Günther Kaufmann) of the soldiers is black (!) for some inexplicable reason. A marvelous mess of a movie that is infinitely more interesting and provocative than an anti-Heimat classic like Hunting Scenes from Bavaria (1969) aka Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern directed by Peter Fleischmann, Pioneers in Ingolstadt is classic Fassbinder in the sense that it features a rather idiosyncratic critique of Germany that does not simply wallow in far-left clichés like so many other related works of the zeitgeist.
The pioneers have come to the small Bavarian region of Ingolstadt and all the town folk are celebrating their arrival with a parade, especially the young lumpenprole debutantes of the town. While blonde babe Berta (Hanna Schygulla) is looking for love in the form of a true gentleman in uniform, her friend Alma (Irm Hermann) is a proud whore who knows how to get what she wants and will spread her legs for any man that gives her the proper attention. One calm night, Berta meets a soldier in a park named Karl (Harry Baer) and the two begin what the viewer assumes to be a classic romance, but things are not so simple and puritanical in the world of Pioneers of Ingolstadt. Meanwhile, while Alma is hunting for wild Wehrmacht cock, a third girl named Frieda (Carla Egerer) is sharing a dance with an uptight army sergeant (Klaus Löwitsch) who believes that being a sergeant makes him a “better person.” Ingolstadt is run by a pompous and pathologically misogynistic bald dude named Fritz Unertl (Walter Sedlmayr) and his handsome yet arrogant and seemingly autistic son Fabian (Rudolf Waldemar Brem), who hopes to make Berta—the family servant—his loyal girlfriend. Before long, Karl begins acting cold towards Berta and even stands her up on a date, ultimately sending his horny and tasteless negro friend Max (Günther Kaufmann) to meet her instead. While talking to himself in front of a mirror, fag boy Fabian declares, “I have a car, my dear Miss Berta. As of today, I own a car. Your love is mine forever” as if the fact his daddy bought him a new blue BMW means that she will instantly fall in love with him, which of course never happens. In between acting like the most pathetic ‘pickup artist’ in Bavaria, Fabian attempts to blackmail the Sergeant in a rather absurd and totally nonsensical manner. Fabian wants to blow up the bridge that the pioneers are building, but he has a change of heart when the Sergeant smacks him around like a little bitch for attempting to blackmail him. In the end, Karl coldly fucks and drops Berta (who ends up allowing multiple men to fuck her brains out in the park), the Sergeant is murdered by his merry men, the pioneers brutally beat Fabian and Fabian falls in love with Alma (who goes from being a vocal whore to a settled down bourgeois prude), and the viewer never knows what becomes of the bridge. Of course, the irony of Pioneers of Ingolstadt is that instead of bringing the people together by building the bridge, the pioneers wrecked havoc in the small Bavarian town and ruin a life or two in the process.
In its libertine-like depiction of a men as sexually potent pigs who are only interested in sex and women as either emotionally hysterical morons or quasi-psychopathic calculating gold diggers, Pioneers in Ingolstadt goes to great and even quasi-exploitative extremes to unequivocally prove that both sexes are innately incompatible yet paradoxically cannot live without one another, albeit for very different reasons. Of course, being a sexual outsider of the sadomasochistic sodomite sort, Fassbinder was not exactly the most prominent proponent of heterosexual monogamy and Pioneers in Ingolstadt certainly reflects that with a certain bitterness comparable to the gay gutter melodramas of mad misogynist Andy Milligan and the early films of Andy Warhol, albeit with a certain post-WWII anti-Heimat Teuton style. For fans of little blonde beastess Hanna Schygulla, Pioneers in Ingolstadt features the usually strong diva at her most desperate and self-sacrificial as a tragically naïve girl who is looking for love, but is conned into loveless sex and debasement. Concluding with Schygulla lying on the grown in a dress with both of her legs spread wide open after being sexually serviced by a couple virile soldiers, Pioneers in Ingolstadt somewhat strangely reminded me of one of the number of degenerate high school party horror stories that I heard about as a teenager where some young girl tried to get some guy's attention and got inebriated and taken advantage of instead.
Although Fassbinder played the eponymous lead in Volker Schlöndorff’s made-for-television of adaptation of Baal (1970), Pioneers in Ingolstadt would be the closest the auteur ever got to cinematically adapting the work of Bertolt Brecht and as the filmmaker's Danish friend Christian Braad Thomsen revealed in his comprehensive study Fassbinder: The Life And Work Of A Provocative Genius (2004) regarding Marieluise Fleißer: “Brecht himself had encouraged her to write Pioneers in Ingolstadt, because he was impressed by her ability to characterize a small-town provincial milieu in dialogue, whose apparent naivety contained sharp criticism. Fleißer was a dialectician; her solidarity was not false and her criticism not without love. This also fascinated Fassbinder. Just as Fleißer would hardly have managed to make her breakthrough without Brecht, so the young Fassbinder would hardly have started to write without Fleißer.” It should be noted that after scandal revolving around the 1929 premiere of her play, Fleißer parted ways with Brecht, got engaged to a right-wing poet, and even became a devout Catholic in her old age. Apparently, not unlike the girls in her play who fell prey to the sleazy soldiers, Fleißer was exploited by Brecht and would confess in an interview on her seventieth birthday, “Brecht destroyed something in me.” Indeed, considering the intentional soulless and intellectual masturbation of Brecht’s work, it is only fitting that Fassbinder would opt for adapting Fleißer instead because, like the filmmaker, her writings have a sort of rather uncommon empathy for her characters. In other words, whereas Brecht was a treacherous philo-Semitic communist scumbag who had a mostly deleterious effect on both German theatre and cinema with his anti-emotional Marxist puffery, Fleißer and Fassbinder were not afraid of emotions and gave a voice to the voiceless. Indeed, Pioneers in Ingolstadt might be an artistic failure, but it is much more interesting than any of the filmic Brecht adaptations that I have seen.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:06 PM
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