Apr 8, 2014

A Degree of Murder




Undoubtedly, statuesque German-Italian junky model/actress Anita Pallenberg (Barbarella, Dillinger Is Dead aka Dillinger è morto) is one of the most, if not the most, deadly groupie/muses of counter-culture generation, as a wild and wanton woman whose child and lovers/ex-lovers randomly died from tragic and oftentimes dubious circumstances, including her 17-year-old male concubine Scott Cantrell, who shot himself in the head with a gun owned by Keith Richards (the model's lover at the time) in what some suspect was a game of Russian roulette gone awry and which resulted in the bad girl being arrested for manslaughter (which she was ultimately cleared of). Before her loved ones started dropping dead under rather bizarre circumstances, Pallenberg starred in the somewhat strangely prophetic kraut counter-culture work Mord und Totschlag (1968) aka A Degree of Murder where she plays a moronic anti-heroine who ‘accidentally’ kills her boyfriend and subsequently cuckolds two equally moronic men (who can now be seen as stand-ins for Brian Jones and Keith Richards) into helping her dispose of her belated beau’s dead body. The second feature directed by Volker Schlöndorff (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, The Tin Drum) following his award-winning Robert Musil adaptation Young Törless (1966), A Degree of Murder was spoken highly of in a 1974 interview with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which the authors of Volker Schlondorff's Cinema : Adaptation, Politics, and the Movie-Appropriate (2002) speculated was for the following reasons: “Given his sense of rebellion, the young Fassbinder probably liked how A Degree of Murder broke with the past. Schlöndorff used the success of Young Törless as a springboard to introduce, with his second film, a new element of pop culture visual splashiness into the German film.” A big hit upon its release among Swinging Sixties types, which is largely due to the fact that the Rolling Stones founder/Pallenberg's-then-boyfriend Brian Jones composed a shockingly good original soundtrack for the film that would be the sole solo album of the tragic musician’s career (though Jimmy Page and various other musicians would also play on the album), A Degree of Murder has essentially fallen into the ash heap of celluloid history, which largely has to do with the fact that neither the film nor soundtrack have ever been released in any official home media formats. For better or worse, a work heavily influenced by auteur Schlöndorff’s experience work during the early 1960s as an assistant director on films directed by top directors of the French New Wave (Louis Malle gave him his first job and he would go on to work with Alain Resnais and Jean-Pierre Melville), A Degree of Murder is indubitably one of the most important and revolutionary works of early German New Cinema as a sort of Teutonic counter-culture take on François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) meets Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part (1964) aka Band of Outsiders, albeit much more nihilistic and pessimistic as a work that wallows in the pathological alienation of post-WWII Germany. 




 Munich-based waitress Jean (Anita Pallenberg) is not exactly the most intelligent girl in the world and her vapid personality, apathetic attitude, and annoying ditzy yet bitchy demeanor do not exactly her help case in terms of being a woman that men would want to be around, yet she is reasonably beautiful and statuesque in appearance, so she has no problem attracting men, especially of the passive cuckold sort. One day, Jean’s ex-boyfriend Günther (Hans Peter Hallwachs) shows up to her apartment to collect his personal belongings and while the dumb dame initially refuses him entry, she eventually lets him in after he appeals to her narcissism regarding the perfume she is wearing. A reasonable fellow, Günther wants to have sex with Jean one more time before they leave each other’s live forever, but the erratic ex-girlfriend disagrees. Annoyed at Jean’s refusal to partake in breakup sex, Günther begins to get physical and the little lady pulls out a revolver, which the ex-boyfriend ironically gave to her for her birthday, and points it at her ex-beau. While Jean finally calms down, Günther becomes enraged that she would try to pull on a gun at him, so he attempts to hurl a wine bottle at her and she logically returns fire with a bullet. A self-absorbed bitch that only cares about herself and her already dubious reputation, Jean refuses wounded Günther’s pleas to take him to the hospital and she even yells at him for making noise that the neighbors might hear. After Jean halfheartedly claims her innocence by stating, “I didn’t really mean to do it, honestly” and acting pseudo-maternally by saying, “Come on, I’ll put you to bed” as opposed to taking her critically wounded ex to the hospital like a normal person, Günther naturally drops dead. Although she is borderline half-retarded, Jean is at least wise enough to know not to call 911 at this point and instead opts for playing female fatale. Indeed, Jean gets all dolled up, puts on a pair of sunglasses to ostensibly hide her identity, and goes to a local bar where she meets a dude named Hans (Werner Enke) who she offers $500 to “do something easy” (aka help dispose the body of Günther). Although a bit hesitant at first, Hans is ultimately convinced after Jean attempts to flatter him, stating BS to him like, “The minute I saw you come in, I said to myself, '
That is a man you can depend on'.” After going back to the waitress’ apartment, Jean and Hans have naughty sex next to Günther’s bloody corpse. Since they do not have a driver to transport the corpse in, Hans borrows a car from his work and recruits his friend Fritz (Manfred Fischbeck) to drive.



 After wrapping up the corpse in a fancy rug and getting past a nosey neighbor sporting a traditional Bavarian hat, Fritz drives Jean, Hans, and Günther’s deteriorating body to the country but, of course, on the way, their car breaks down. After reaching a gas station and getting their car fixed, A Degree of Murders turns into an anti-Heimat/road trip hybrid of sorts. Ultimately, the ménage à trios dumps Günther’s corpse at a road construction site on the Autobahn and Jean says, “so long” to her dead boy toy. After dropping the dead dude, the three hapless proto-hippies hang out at Fritz’s aunt’s country home. After talking with a good-humored hillbilly he knows and seeing a farmer finger picking wax out of his ears while riding on his tractor, city boy Fritz complains regarding his kinfolk, “I’ll never understand how they stand it here…get fat and work and sleep.” On their way back to Munich, Hans throws the murder weapon out the window of the car and the three degenerates subsequently almost get in a car crash after Fritz tailgates a dump truck full of gravel. In the process of almost dying via car crash, their windshield is partly knocked out and they bump into another car on the road in the process, thereupon causing scratch on some anally retentive snob’s car. Of course, Fritz pulls off the road and he confronts the bourgeois family whose car they barely grazed and pays them for their troubles. Jean gets in a bitch fight with the posh woman in the car, who states, “You should have children but your kind will do anything to avoid it,” to which the murderess replies, “with a face like that you’re lucky you even found a man.” After Fritz smashes out the rest of the car windshield, Hans has a hissy fit and the two get into a sissy fight involving smacking and, in the pointless skirmish, they lose the money Jean has given them for helping to dispose of the corpse, thereupon being accessories to murder for nothing. Of course, Hans and Fritz soon make up and agree regarding their philosophy to life, “Just keep on going…live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse.” When the three get back to Munich, they stop by Jean’s place first and say their goodbyes. Although Jean tells Fritz that she has feelings for him, he is not interested and gives the following excuse, “Yeah, you’re alright too, but there’s no point in it. I’m kind of restless, you know? I’ve gotta’ keep trying something different.” In the end, A Degree of Murder concludes with Jean smiling like a ditz at a bar while flirting with ugly losers, along with a darkly humorous shot of a crane carrying Günther’s bullet-ridden body. 




 Although auteur Volker Schlöndorff would describe A Degree of Murder as being influenced by “American action movies of the thirties,” albeit with “no great dramatic conflicts,” the film is ultimately a multi-genre-convention-breaking work of intentionally lackluster celluloid hipsterdom, or as the director himself stated regarding his intent, “I was interested in the discontinuity. At first, there is a murder, then there's laughing again. The basic idea is the surprise assault against traditional biases. There no longer is a five-week mourning period.” Indeed, like many early French New Wave flicks and the early films of Fassbinder, A Degree of Murder feels like a playful piece of cinephile dilettantism directed by a then-semi-subversive auteur who had yet to become the Hollywoodized artisan that his later superlatively superficial and intolerably formulaic works would demonstrate. Although certainly no masterpiece, A Degree of Murder is easily one of Schlöndorff’s most iconoclastic works, though Baal (1970) certainly goes a bit further in terms of cinematic experimentation and anarchistic themes. Aside from inspiring Fassbinder, A Degree of Murder—with its ‘alienation nation’ themes, crude counter-culture aesthetics, and deconstruction of the genre—would go on to inspire a number of German filmmakers, most notably Klaus Lemke (48 Stunden bis Acapulco aka 48 Hours to Acapulco, Paul) and Rudolf Thome’s cult flicks Detektive (1969) and Rote Sonne (1970) aka Red Sun, as well as possibly Eckhart Schmidt's first feature Jet Generation - Wie Mädchen heute Männer lieben (1968), which was released the same year.  In its damning depiction of everyday Germans throwing the corpses of their loved ones away as if they were rancid maggot-infested trash, A Degree of Murder also brings to mind lone-wolf auteur Roland Klick's early masterpiece aka Bübchen (1968) aka Der kleine Vampir aka The Little Vampire. Of course, A Degree of Murder would also sire a much more famous and superior British brother film entitled Performance (1970) co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg which, on top of featuring Anita Pallenberg as a wild and wanton woman who manipulates men with her flesh, also features members of the Rolling Stones, albeit this time Mick Jagger (who was apparently screwing Keith Richard’s girlfriend Pallenberg at the time, thus aborting what was originally suppose to be a soundtrack by all the members of The Rolling Stones). While I would argue that Performance is the ultimate counter-culture flick and a cinematic masterpiece of sorts, A Degree of Murder is more of a nice little celluloid novelty and footnote of German cinema history, though I must admit that I much preferred Brian Jones’ score to the one created by Jagger from Cammell’s dark masterpiece. 



 In an interview with director Volker Schlöndorff, the filmmaker described his collaboration with Brian Jones on A Degree of Murder as follows: “When the editing was done, Brian came back to Munich and sat in the editing room with me as we discussed, just as with any other professional movie composer, where to put music and what kind of music. It was just the true story of a girl who accidentally kills her boyfriend with his own gun, but instead of going to the police she hires two men for a few hundred marks to drive the corpse to the country where they bury him in the construction site of an autobahn. No moral implications, no guilt trips. It's more like an outing on a beautiful autumn day. Brian's score then was to provide a reflection of those rather callous feelings, while somehow managing to hint that of course she was mourning her boyfriend's death.” Indeed, Jones’ score is undoubtedly one of the film’s greatest attributes as a combination of jubilant and upbeat instrumental jingles with a tinge of melancholy and dissonance thrown in good for measure, thus being quite reflective of its warped zeitgeist where peace and free love lingered on the outside but with a dark rotting heart at the center of things. A postmodern pastiche piece in the counter-culture spirit featuring Hitchcock’s dark humor (especially Rope (1948) and The Trouble with Harry (1955)), French Nouvelle Vague-inspired nods to Hollywood film noir/crime flicks, aesthetic and thematic influences from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), and small elements of the anti-Heimat films that would become trendy during the late-1960s/early-1970s (with director Schlöndorff directing a couple of these films, with the most ambitious being Der plötzliche Reichtum der armen Leute von Kombach (1971) aka The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach), A Degree of Murder was certainly upon its release, “in every respect the youngest of all Young German cinema films,” as it was once described by a film critic. Essentially one big mockery of counter-culture crud that was ironically made for said counter-culture crud, A Degree of Murder depicts a nation in the early stage of being on the brink of a cultural civil war, with the 68er-Bewegung student movement and later far-left groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang appearing after the film was released. Indeed, director Volker Schlöndorff may be a misguided leftist idealist but A Degree of Murder demonstrates that he understood the German youth of his age were morally retarded nincompoops who would nihilistically kill and gladly follow stupid chicks with nice tits to slaughterhouses. 



-Ty E

10 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I desperately want to perform literally every concievable and possible sex-act in the known universe on Anita Pallenberg (as the bird was in 1962 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

This just sounds like a modernized, hard-nosed, more cynical Kraut version of Fritz Langs (another Kraut bastard although he was at least heterosexual thankfully) 1944 cult item "The Wo-girl in the Window" with Edward G. Robin-daughter.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, you know you should never ever use words like "superior" or "masterpiece" to describe the quality of British made films, its absurd and a ludicrous contra-twat-tion in terms, "Perfor-girl-ce" is horse-shit just like literally every other film that has ever been produced in Britain in the last 125 years.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, have you noticed that when Anita Pallenberg was a young bird in the prime of her life her looks seemed to vary in quality from movie to movie (or from scene to scene or even shot to shot in any one specific movie), one minute she was stunning the next minute she was barely pretty, but i would`ve still loved to have poked her bum with my willy back in those days.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I think Mick Jagger has been heterosexual all his life (a very admirable quality obviously) but in every other way i`ve always thought he is a pile of shit.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The latest Muppet movie has faltered at the box-office because the American public are finally starting to see through that slimy limey British weasel Ricky Gervais, i wonder how they ever allowed themselves to be taken in by that worthless scum in the first place ?.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, i wish you wouldn`t use the word "indubitably" when you`re reveiwing films, it makes you sound like a rich, aristocratic, highbrow, eletist, British faggot.

jimmie t. murakami said...

This cant have been a Blu-Ray release, the picture quality of the stills is far to dodgy.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Just with regards to "Blow-Up": I want to bugger Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills as they were in 1964 and 1962 when they were 18, not as they are now obviously), such a shame they`re British slags though.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

And which chick had the nicest and most perfect tits of all ?...thats right...you guessed it...first time...Pauline Hickey at age 17 circa 1985 ! ! !.