Mar 24, 2014
The same year his cinematic compatriot Rainer Werner Fassbinder tragically dropped dead after taking a fatal drug cocktail, German auteur Wim Wenders (The American Friend, Until the End of the World) finally caught up to his friend in a sense by making a work in the meta-cinematic spirit of Beware of a Holy Whore (1971). Indeed, like Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore, Der Stand der Dinge (1982) aka The State of Things is a highly autobiographical work partly set in the Mediterranean about the physical and, especially metaphysical, drain that comes with being a filmmaker and dealing with all the many problems that can go wrong while making a film. While Beware of a Holy Whore depicted how the commune-like way of life had to turned to chaos where Fassbinder and his underlings were concerned, The State of Things was the result of Wenders’ less than ideal experience after coming to Hollywood and working on Hammett (1982) with Francis Ford Coppola, who ultimately took control and butchered the film (apparently, only about 30% of footage Wenders shot is featured in the completed version, with the rest being directed by ‘executive producer’ Coppola). In a rather interesting anecdote, Wenders tells in the documentary Fassbinder in Hollywood (2002), that apparently Fassbinder offered to beat the shit out of Francis Ford Coppola to avenge the Hollywood director’s aesthetic destruction of Hammett, but of course the Wings of Desire director made sure to hide his ‘American friend’ from his brazen Bavarian bud. Wenders also chronicled his nightmarish experience with Coppola in Reverse Angle (1982)—a short that documents the two filmmakers butting heads—but with The State of Things the filmmaker would ultimately have his revenge, not least of all because he decided to go back to Europa to shoot this work. Set in Portugal, The State of Things was shot with a good portion of the cast and crew of Raúl Ruiz’s arthouse horror flick The Territory (1981)—a production Wenders went to help out with after Coppola put the production of Hammett on hiatus after deciding the script needed to be rewritten. Shot by French cinematographer Henri Alekan who, among other things, was responsible for the phantasmagoric cinematography of Jean Cocteau’s masterpiece La Belle et la bête (1946) aka Beauty and the Beast, The State of Things is arguably Wenders’ most aesthetically accomplished black-and-white film, even if it is far from his best film. Essentially Wenders’ 8 ½, albeit infinitely more melancholy and anything but Fellini-esque, The State of Things is a noir-ish passive aggressive (and some might say defeatist) reminder that Hollywood is run by swarthy criminals in fancy suits.
A fictional filmmaker lovingly named after German expressionist master auteur F.W. Murnau, Friedrich Munro (Belgian actor Patrick Bauchau), is shooting a Corman-esque sci-fi film in black-and-white arthouse style entitled The Survivors in scenic Portugal and he has just been told by his elderly yet quick witted cameraman Joe Corby (legendary cult auteur Samuel Fuller) that they no longer have film stock left to shoot the film. On top of that, the film’s eccentric New Jersey-bred Jewish producer Gordon (Allen Garfield) has disappeared without a trace, thus forcing the film production into indefinite limbo. Friedrich is told by his script girl Kate (played by Warhol superstar Viva), who the director is also screwing, that regarding comforting the rest of his crew about the dubious future of the production, he should, “just sweet talk them the way you sweet talk me,” but it all proves to be in vain, as the production seems to hit a permanent standstill. With hysterical American queens, a pissed off screenwriter named Dennis (played by 'golden hippie' Paul Getty Jr., who was dubiously kidnapped in 1973 and had his ear cut off) who sunk $200,000 into the production, depressed French folks, and a drunken cinematographer with personal problems, Friedrich decides to go back to Los Angeles to find producer Gordon. When Friedrich attempts to ask his lawyer (played by cult director/producer Roger Corman), who also happens to be the producer's lawyer, about what sort of trouble Gordon is in and his whereabouts, he is met with hostility. Friedrich eventually manages to track Gordon down on Sunset Boulevard hiding in a Winnebago. With Gordon’s equally sleazy ‘chauffer’ Herbert (Monty Bane) at the wheel of the mobile home, the producer lets Friedrich know what happened to the production of their stillborn film on an aimless road trip that lasts from the late evening into dusk. As revealed during one of Gordon’s many hysterical rants, the producer borrowed the money for the film from the mafia and they were not happy to see they funded an artsy fartsy black-and-white film, or as he complains to Friedrich: “Black and white, black and white…you mother fucker! I ought to have my fucking head examined…Talking me into black and white! Who the fuck makes black and white now, huh? An ice cream parlor, that’s who makes black and white! Black and white.” Gordon confesses that he 'loved' the film, “but that’s irrelevant at this point my friend,” as he owes money to money-grubbing kosher killers who don't take kindly to people who don't pay back with a large amount of interest. In what is undoubtedly the most hilarious and telling scene of film and the relationship between German filmmakers and Hollywood producers in general, Gordon also states to Friedrich, “I’ll tell you, I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d be working with a German director, right. A Jew from Newark, New Jersey and a German picked up at the fucking Chateau Marmont. What the fuck are you and I doing with each other, huh?,” thus demonstrating the absurdity of monetary-minded Hebrews working with art-minded Aryan filmmakers in the first place, as if such a relationship could sire anything but something corrosive and/or ultimately aborted. When the Winnebago road trip is over and Friedrich is dropped off at his car, the producer and director hug one last time. While they are hugging, a mafia sniper shoots Gordon in back and Friedrich jumps back up and points his film camera at the phantom sniper as if it were a gun. Of course, Friedrich is also shot as well, with both director and producer literally dying for their art.
Despite being a small film made in the intermediate period when Hammett was in limbo, The State of Things went on to not only win the German Film Award in Gold for Cinematography and in Silver for Best Feature Film in 1983, but also the coveted ‘Golden Lion’ in 1982, which is the highest prize of the Venice Film Festival. Ultimately, with its iconic performance by legendary cult director Samuel Fuller, cameo by Roger Corman as a scumbag lawyer, typically bitchy performance by Warhol superstar Viva, and small performance as a camera operator by American underground filmmaker Robert Kramer, The State of Things is an anti-Hollywood cinephile’s wet dream, even if a rather negative one where the German auteur is killed by Jewish gangsters in the end. The fact that Wenders had the gall to portray both the producer and gangsters (who are never shown, but whose names, like ‘Stein’, are referenced) as Hebrews in The State of Things has given me a new sense of respect for the Teutonic existentialist auteur that I never had before. More disheartening than François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) and a virtually aesthetically contra work to Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979), The State of Things ultimately seems like Wenders' own personal take on Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore in terms of being a piece of self-reflexive meta-cinema, thus demonstrating the auteur had yet to lose his Teutonic roots, even if he had already been defiled by Coppola’s almost entirely negative influence. As Wenders once stated, “All my films…have as their underlying current the Americanization of Germany,” and indeed, in none of his films is this more clear than The State of Things. Of course, as Wenders’ filmic alter-ego Friedrich Munro of That States of Things states, “Remember, I’m at home nowhere…in no house, in no country,” thus demonstrating the German filmmaker’s undying sense of deracination in a increasingly American world. Indeed, it is no coincidence that The State of Things was released the same year Fassbinder died, which is oftentimes regarded by film critics as the year that German New Cinema and, in turn, German cinema in general, died. I hate to say it (or maybe I don't), but sometimes I wish it was Wenders that died instead of Fassbinder and I would certainly have more respect for the Paris, Texas director if he died in the same manner as Friedrich Munro in The State of Things.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:36 PM
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