Jan 24, 2014

The End of the Rainbow (1979)

Before seemingly half-autistic American queer auteur Gus van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, Elephant) managed to coerce teenage heartthrobs River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves into playing down-and-out prick-peddlers with his pseudo-Shakespearean hustler flick My Own Private Idaho (1991), a totally unknown German TV director named Uwe Frießner (Baby, Der Drücker) directed a Teutonic teen hustler flick of the truly realist sort with mostly non-actors entitled The End of the Rainbow (1979) aka Das Ende des Regenbogens that depicted late-1970s Berlin as a post-industrial wasteland inhabited by forsaken human scavengers with nasty nihilistic attitudes. Indeed, sort of the real Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (1981) as a gritty 'kid leather' work that does not make the major mistake of sensationally wandering into exploitation territory, The End of the Rainbow managed to snag the film award in silver for “Outstanding Feature Film” (“Bester Spielfilm”) at the 1980 Deutscher Filmpreis (German Film Awards) and despite being a non-actor in his first film role, lead actor Thomas Kufahl won the film award in gold for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (“Beste darstellerische Leistung - Männliche Hauptrolle”). Despite its initial critical and commercial success, The End of the Rainbow—not unlike so many great German flicks of its era—is all but totally forgotten today as a work that, rather unfortunately, might be best described today as piece of kraut celluloid cultural debris. Directed by a seemingly cultivated fellow who studied geology, philosophy, and literature and worked as a roofer and deep sea fisherman before studying film at the German Film and Television Academy (DFFB) and becoming a marginally successful filmmaker, The End of the Rainbow is a genuine proletarian picture and not some sort of phony leftist filmic polemic disguised as sophisticated arthouse work. Dedicated to the wasted unlife of a born loser who committed suicide at the ripe age of 18 after “years of trying in vain to master his own life,” The End of the Rainbow is not a film that follows in the tradition of German New Cinema but has more aesthetically in common with pathologically gritty anti-intellectual/anti-arthouse works like Klaus Lemke’s Rocker (1972), Roland Klick’s Bübchen (1968) and Supermarkt (1974), and the ‘hard ghetto’ West German films of Iranian auteur Sohrab Shahid Saless (Reifezeit aka Time of Maturity, Tagebuch eines Liebenden aka Diary of a Lover). An ambitiously aimless cinéma vérité-like depiction of an aimless and equally snotty teen hustler rebel without a cause, The End of the Rainbow is a rare rent boy flick without a single scene of gratuitous sold sodomite sex, yet it still manages to be a visceral celluloid experience that gets to the bottom of a young fellow’s forlorn soul. 

 As depicted in the first couple minutes of The End of the Rainbow, long haired 17-year-old teen rebel Jimmi (Thomas Kufahl) makes a meager living peddling his prick and conning people out of their cash. Put in a youth home while just a still wee lad after his prole papa routinely brutally beat him, Jimmi graduated on to thieving from department stores at age 13 and breaking into cars and stealing car radios at the age of 15. Innately antisocial and no less self-destructive, Jimmi has a complete and utter incapacity for empathy and developing genuine relationships with other human beings despite the fact that he has older adult friends who support and encourage him to better his loser life. When not engaging in petty crime with his swarthy Turk-like twink friend Bernie (Henry Lutze), Jimmi takes sanctuary at the apartment of his ambiguously gay friend Dieter (played by Udo Samel of Reinhard Hauff’s Knife in the Head (1978) and Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent (1989)), his partner Monika (Sabine Beck-Baruth), and their mutual artist friend Jörg (Heinz Hoenig), who bares a striking resemblance to Bavarian filmmaker Herbert Achternbusch. On top of providing Jimmi with free food and shelter, Dieter tries in vain to get his young hustler friend to speak and dress properly and seek gainful employment opportunities, but the hapless hustler fails time and time again as he lacks the confidence, self-control, and common sense to do simple things that most people take for granted. Ostensibly gay-for-pay, Jimmi eventually begins a romantic relationship with an equally aimless and lazy Slavic teen named Gabi (Slavica Rankovic) who, among other things, is a drug addict (with valium being her choice high) who once made a failed attempt at suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of sleeping pills. Jimmi and Gabi’s relationship officially starts after the two get it on doggy style in an abandoned warehouse and the hustler romantically asks the little lady, “Are we a couple now?” as if that is the sole determinant for ushering in a love affair. Not long after, Jimmi manages to secure a real job doing menial labor at a small factory, thus his life actually begins to derive some meaning and security but it is only short-lived. After losing his job on his second day of work due to pathological laziness and complaining, Jimmi’s relationship with Gabi also begins to crumble as she is too high all the time to give a fuck. With the help of his less than loyal buddy Bernie, Jimmi goes to the apartment of Gabi’s grandmother (Johanna Karl-Lory) to steal some things, but things go wrong when granny catches them redhanded in the cowardly act of thievery. A quick witted fellow, Bernie punches granny in the face and assumedly kills her. In the end, Jimmi and Bernie run out of dead granny’s apartment with the stolen property. Ultimately, The End of the Rainbow concludes with the following depressing epilogue: “This film is dedicated to Andy. After years of trying in vain to master his own life, as an 18 year old, he decided to master at least his own death. With a carefully thought out plan, succeeding for the first time in his life after weeks of preparations, he ended his life between the 15th and the 18th of February 1976.” Indeed, Jimmi/Andy finally made it to the end of the teen rebel rainbow and what he found on the other side was a perennial void. 

 A work that, whether intentional or not, totally demystifies the retarded romance associated with teen rebellion, The End of the Rainbow acts as sort of strikingly somber celluloid antidote to pseudo-zany kiddy-criminal-saluting Hollywood youth rebellion flicks like Over the Edge (1979) starring Matt Dillon. Of course, while auteur Uwe Frießner was more discreet and subtle in handling such depictions, the protagonist of The End of the Rainbow is undoubtedly eroticized in a sort of semi-cryptic way like Dillon in Over the Edge, albeit in a more ‘tasteful’ fashion. In its depiction of ostensible ‘good guy’ Dieter as a fellow that helps antihero Jimmi but also wants to get in his pants (even though he never does, even if Jimmi does his damnedest to lead him on), The End of the Rainbow ultimately portrays a decidedly dismal and dejecting post-Wirtschaftswunder world where no one is innocent and where everyone can be bought and sold. Additionally, in its portrayal of an old woman being escorted off a train by the police for not having a ticket, The End of the Rainbow presents the German Federal Republic as a dreary dystopian nightmare of the nonsensically bureaucratic sort that, although managing to routinely bust normal citizens for petty indiscretions, cannot even manage to put a single dent in a major epidemic of teenage homelessness, drug addiction, and prostitution. Luckily, The End of the Rainbow does not pretend to offer any answers to said epidemics, but merely presents such nationally unflattering societal problems in a uniquely objective fashion without the glaring pain of a superlatively shallow leftist message. Indeed, in terms of its social realism, Frießner’s flick is like the ‘Bicycle Thieves (1948) aka Ladri di biciclette of German Queer Cinema,’ only all the more relevant and modern in its essence. Unlike similarly themed German films like Peter Kern’s Gossenkind (1992) aka Street Kid, The End of the Rainbow does not seem like it was directed by a depraved degenerate drooling over despoiled youth and is thus a work that transcends the ghettoized label of ‘queer cinema.’ Indeed, forget the heroin-packed David Bowie fan worship of Christiane F., The End of the Rainbow is the real Teutonic teen flesh-peddling deal and the sparingly used soundtrack is not bad either. 

-Ty E

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