Jan 17, 2014
Personally, I have always considered Dutch-German auteur Wim Wenders (The American Friend, Until the End of the World) a deracinated dork of the hopelessly Americanized sort in comparison to top German New Cinema filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Schroeter, Werner Herzog, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Herbert Achternbusch, and Helma Sanders-Brahms, and I see it as no coincidence that out of all his kraut cinematic compatriots, he was the one who was most ‘successful’ at making the transition from the Fatherland to Hollywood, even if he has not directed a decent film in at least two decades. Of course, as he demonstrated with his film Kings of the Road (1976) aka Im Lauf der Zeit where a character states, “The Yanks have colonized our subconscious,” Wenders was all too aware of he and his fellow countrymen’s precarious predicament as serious celluloid artists in an age of international Hollywood hegemony, but that does not excuse the fact that most of his films positively personify derogatory ‘p’ words like ‘pretentious’ and ‘plodding.’ Indeed, my biggest beef with Wim(p) Wenders it that most of his films are about as impassioned as a vasectomy. To be quite honest, I have yet to dig through Wenders’ entire oeuvre as I have already seen enough to know that he is a one-note wonder who takes existential crisis to ungodly extremes of aesthetic impotence and brazen banality, with my recent viewing of his feature Summer in the City (1970)—a superlatively sterile and static student film that the director quite symbolically dedicated to The Kinks—only further discouraged me. Yesterday, I managed to find the patience to watch what is regarded as one of Wenders’ most important German films, The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty (1972) aka Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter aka The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, and indeed while as slow as the director’s most pathologically plodding works, it also happens to be one of his rare unrivaled masterpieces. Adapted from the 1970 novel of the same German name written by Slovenian-Austrian writer/playwright/filmmaker Peter Handke (Die linkshändige Frau aka The Left-Handed Woman, The Absence) in what would be the first of a couple successful collaborations between the novelist and director that would eventually sire Wings of Desire (1987) aka Der Himmel über Berlin, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a so-called ‘detective’ story without any real detective about a wackjob soccer goalie of the deranged dickheaded sort who misses blocking a penalty kick, heads to Vienna, stalks and has sex with a movie theater cashier, senselessly strangles to death said cashier for no discernible reason, and gets on a bus and goes into hiding in plain sight in his childhood hometown as he ostensibly waits for the police to arrest him. The closest Wenders ever came to directing an ‘anti-Heimat,’ The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick depicts Austrian/Germanic rural life as a degenerative and primitive way of living on the brink of extinction, yet city life is portrayed in no more of a flattering light manner. Unquestionably Wenders’ most dark, dreary, and distinctly Teutonic cinematic work, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a decidedly Weltschmerz-rattled psychodrama without much actual drama about a corpse of an ancient nation that no longer has a ‘Heimat.’
Joseph Bloch (Arthur Brauss) is a professional soccer goalie, but he seems rather apathetic while playing the game, so it comes as no shock to the viewer at the beginning of The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick that he is ejected from the field after being scored on. Seemingly unaffected by the situation, blockhead Bloch heads to the seedy side of Vienna and indulges in rather underwhelming forms of hedonism. Eventually, Bloch goes to the movies and seems enticed by the cashier (Erika Pluhar), but he won’t make his move on her until later. Not long after, Bloch heeds to a soccer themed sports bar and tells a girl he is semi-flirting with that the former ex-owner was a Austrian national forward who moved to America, joined a non-league American team, disappeared, and was last found living in a trailer in Tucson, Arizona, thus demonstrating what Wenders/Handke thinks about the American dream. In between getting mugged and being beaten without putting up a fight, Bloch goes back to the movie theater and flirts with the cashier once again. After watching the movie, Bloch lurks outside the theater and waits for the cashier to get off work, ultimately following her on a bus back to her apartment. The cashier does not seem at all disturbed by this and invites Bloch in her apartment and the two have sex and the goalkeeper spends the night. The next day, Bloch learns the girl's name is Gloria and the two strangers continue to small talk as she gets ready for work. Hoping to get lucky before she goes to work, Gloria begins to undress and wraps a rope that was around her waist around Bloch’s neck in a provocative fashion, but he seems hardly aroused, at least sexually. Unfortunately for Gloria, Bloch does not seem the least bit turned on and decides to strangle the sweet young lady to death instead with the same rope she wrapped around his neck. Hiding in plain sight, Bloch decides to go to the movie theater one more time and ultimately gets in a physical altercation with an older male employee. Not long after, a cop arrives and questions Bloch about his unruly behavior, but the goalie is a good bullshitter and manages to convince the cop of his innocence.
Eventually, Bloch hops on a bus and flees to his rural hometown where his ex-girlfriend Hertha Gabler (Kai Fischer) runs a quaint and mostly vacant inn. Bloch and Gabler get chummy again, though they never rekindle their past relationship as the former seems to have nil interest in sex, let alone romance. When Gabler mentions that Bloch seems extra fidgety and cannot spend a second without standing up or sitting down and fiddling with things, he merely ignores her remark. Meanwhile, a mute child is found dead floating in a lake and a swarthy gypsy is arrested, but it is eventually discovered the death was the result of a tragic accident. Undeniably, the small village is degenerating as demonstrated by an old man’s remark to Bloch that the local children can only speak in monosyllables and are nothing short of illiterate. Bloch spends most of his time reading newspapers so he can follow both his soccer career and the investigation of unsolved murder he committed. When an almost immaculate criminal sketch of Bloch appears in the newspaper, none of the locals seem to put two and two together, even though they confess to also reading the daily paper. In the end, Bloch watches a local soccer game and chats with a fellow spectator, eventually asking the man, “Have you ever tried keeping your eye on the goalie and not the forwards?” to which the man explains how hard it is to do. In a rather metaphorical scene, Bloch then explains,“It’s very hard to keep your eyes away from the ball. It takes a terrific effort. You see the goalie running backwards and forwards…bending over left and right…shouting at the backs. Usually you only notice him when the ball is shot at the goal. It’s funny…watching the goalie running around without the ball,” thus demonstrating all things are a matter of perspective and that when one is able to master seeing something from an unconventional perspective, things become quite clear that others might not be able to discern while looking at something in the more traditional fashion. Indeed, all of Bloch’s friends had all the warning signs that he was was the killer, including a sketch of him in the local newspaper and constant acts of violence he would exhibit in public (i.e. starting fights, throwing an ashtray in a man' face, etc.), but they lacked the perspective to see what was right in front of their eyes. And, indeed, in the end, none of the police detectives ever consider that the killer might be ‘hiding’ in plain sight in his hometown, just as Gloria never considered that Bloch might be a predator as a strange individual who went to the effort to stalk her all the way to her apartment.
Indeed, the viewer certainly pays close attention to the Goalkeeper throughout the entirety of The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, but one must ultimately watch the film from the same cockeyed perspective as one paying attention to a goalie during an actual soccer game if they want to get anything out of the film. That being said, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a film that demands repeated viewings. As someone who spent about a decade during my childhood playing a forward on various soccer teams, I can certainly attest that goalies were typically the most peculiar players on the team (indeed, I remember on more than one occasion getting into a fight with a goalie), just as drummers always seem to be the most odd and introverted members of bands. Like a kicker in football, the goalkeeper is like a lone soldier with a totally detached perspective from all the other players whose position is pretty much totally independent from the rest of the team. Considering I cannot think of a single other sports-themed movie I like, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick now holds the number one spot for my favorite sports flick. Undoubtedly, I never would have expected that Wim Wenders of all filmmakers would have directed not only my favorite ‘soccer flick,’ but a rather dark and foreboding one at that manages to capture the complete and utter vapidness of post-Hitlerite Vienna. Indeed, as much as I tend to disagree with most of his reviews, Vincent Canby of The New York Times was certainly on point when he wrote about the film, “Since "The Goalie's Anxiety" was first shown in New York, Mr. Wenders has been represented by two later films seen at the New York Film Festival, "Alice in the Cities" and "Kings of the Road," but because neither has had the force and cool beauty of this film, I would assume he needs a collaborator of Mr. Handke's discipline and intellectual enthusiasm.”
I have yet to see another Wenders flick that is so penetrating, yet at the same time so distinctly Teutonic, as The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick certainly ranks as one of the most idiosyncratic yet decidedly disturbing anti-Heimat films ever made, which I think largely has to do with the talents of writer Handke. Quite notably, Handke once wrote a piece criticizing Herbert Achternbusch (The Last Hole, Servus Bayern aka Bye-Bye Bavaria!)—a filmmaker/novelist largely unknown outside of the German-speaking world who Werner Herzog once described as the “most Bavarian filmmaker” and who has essentially spent his entire life making absurdist Southern kraut anti-Heimat films—in which he wrote: “Achternbusch ought to know better than any other writer. Why then does he content himself with fantasies taken from the pages of the local paper? The result: slavish – or in Achternbusch’s case, simulating slavish – adherence to the culture cliché that nobody can be represented as an individual anymore, that we have all become damaged, perforated foils for anything and everything already illustrated and pictured: formless beings, ventriloquist existences. Does Achternbusch offer more than merely rhetorical, literally ‘sub’-cultural challenge to the world of the newspaper . . . ? Or are his travesties of plastic mythologies a kind of resistance?” Indeed, while the anti-Heimat films of Achternbusch, Volker Schlöndorff, R.W. Fassbinder, Peter Fleischmann, and Werner Herzog typically go to great pains to present a rather unflattering depiction of rural life, most of these films feature a certain mythology, magic, and kultur in regard to village life, yet The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick features none of that as a work that depicts the hinterland as a rotting corpse plagued by death and banality. Anti-Heimat meets Hitchcock with nods to Howard Hawks (the goalie goes to see Red Line 7000 (1965) starring James Caan), The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is post-Hitler/post- Aktionist at its most unsettling and dispiriting as a sort of spiritual celluloid brother film to Fassbinder’s Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970), albeit all the more draining, as well as a celluloid prototype from the more glacial works of Austrian auteur Michael Haneke, except more authentic and less pretentious. Probably the only film directed by Wenders that provides evidence that the filmmaker is more than the pompous wimp that the late great Christoph Schlingensief oftentimes parodied him as, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is undoubtedly one of the most original and important works of German New Cinema.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:00 AM
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