Jun 5, 2014
Being a child of his time, German auteur Volker Schlöndorff (Baal, The Tin Drum) was more or less a supporter of far-left German terrorist groups and felt that West Germans were living under a sort of kraut McCarthyism and were plagued by American “Konsumterror,” which the director would go to great pains to depict in his hit Hollywood-like agitprop flick The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or: How Violence Develops and Where it Can Lead (1975) aka Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann. Co-directed/co-written by Schlöndorff’s then-wife Margarethe von Trotta (Rosa Luxemburg, Rosenstrasse) and based on the 1974 anti-propaganda propaganda novel of the same name (a work that Schlöndorff once described as being, “not really a novel, almost like a pamphlet”) written by Nobel prize winner Heinrich Böll (an ex-Wehrmacht soldier who became a sort of father figure for the far-left 68er-Bewegung student movement), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is typically considered the first big hit/crossover flick of German New Cinema, thereupon demonstrating how many young Teutons sympathized with radical far-left terrorism during the 1970s. A sort of arthouse political crime thriller without the thrills and any serious discussion of politics, the film essentially follows a naïve, frigid, and even bitchy young broad whose life is turned upside down after she has a one-night stand with a supposedly violent bank-robbing terrorist and subsequently becomes the object of police and media scrutiny. Unlike Fassbinder’s two feature films on the same subject, Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (1975) and The Third Generation (1970), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum makes no attempts to criticize the terrorists themselves, but instead features a superlatively superficial and one-dimensional attack on the West German police and media, as well as the supposed patriarchy (indeed, virtually every male character in the film, aside from the terrorist, is depicted as a crypto-fascist pig). In fact, the film makes no attempts to pretend it is even remotely objective, as it concludes with the following disclaimer that was also featured at the beginning of Böll’s source novel: “The characters and action in this story are purely fictitious. Should the description of certain journalistic practices result in a resemblance to the practices of Bild-Zeitung, such resemblance is neither intentional, nor fortuitous, but unavoidable,” with Bild-Zeitung being a popular German tabloid newspaper comparable to the National Enquirer in terms of trashiness (but also USA Today in terms of circulation) that is notable for featuring photos of topless women. In a survey conducted in 1971 by the Allensbach Institute of Public Opinion, it was revealed that one out of every twenty West German citizens agreed that they would be willing to commit a major crime by harboring a far-left terrorist fugitive (i.e. Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin, etc.) for the night. In protestant northern Germany, the figure was even higher with one out of every ten citizens agreeing that they would hide a terrorist in their home, thus demonstrating the seemingly unbelievable amount of Germans who saw members of the Baader-Meinhof gang and related groups as heroes. In fact, in September 1976 auteur Schlöndorff was rightfully described as a “Baader-Meinhof-Sympathisant” in the Axel Springer (a sort of West German William Randolph Hearst, who owned Bild-Zeitung and was hated by the German left) flagship daily Die Welt, so it should be no surprise that when the director’s Böll adaptation was released, it was described by Die Welt film critic Hans Habe as follows: “Schlöndorff’s Katharina Blum-Film belongs to the most evil propaganda reels of the present. . . .A leftist Jew Süss.” Personally, I consider Habe's remark an insult to Veit Harlan’s 1940 National Socialist melodrama, as The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum is not even remotely as nuanced or thoughtful as the Nazi propaganda flick (after all, unlike the cops/journalists in Schlöndorff's film, Jew Süss at least has some likeable traits), but is instead, a mostly mindless neo-Bolshevik political thriller with vomit-worthy feminist overtones that acts as a virtual prototype for contemporary Hollywood political thrillers and action films, so it should be no surprise that the film was shot by German cinematographer Jost Vacano (Total Recall, Starship Troopers).
It is Feburary 5, 1975 and a military deserter turned terrorist named Ludwig Götten (Jürgen Prochnow of Das Boot (1981) and The English Patient (1996)) is on the run and being monitored 24/7 by the cops. While at her aunt Else Woltersheim’s (Regine Lutz) Mardi Gras party, a young divorced maid named Katharina Blum (played by Angela Winkler, who starred in a number of Schlöndorff and von Trotta’s films) meets and essentially falls in love with terrorist Ludwig at first sight. Needless to say, the two have a one-night stand and the next morning Katharina finds her apartment raided by the police, who are portrayed as a sort of moronic neo-Gestapo (one of the cops accidentally fires his weapon, which scares the shit out of the other cops). After her apartment is searched (they find “typically bourgeois literature” like shitty romance novels) and a female cop examines her naughty bits for potential hidden weapons, Katharina is taken into a police station for questioning where she faces the ‘brute’ verbal tactics of a superficially misogynistic anti-leftist cop named Kommissar Beizmenne (portrayed by perennial screen villain Mario Adorf). Like a naïve little girl who has just fallen in love for the first time, Katharina childishly refuses to talk to Beizmenne as if he is some sort of pestering stepfather she hates. A girl that is described as shy and introverted by his friends, Katharina is asked by Beizmenne why she, as someone with the nickname the “Nun,” would have a one-night stand with an outlaw terrorist, but she has no answers and demands that she be placed in a jail cell and, of course, the Kommissar is happy to oblige her. The first thing Katharina does upon entering the jail cell is cleaning what looks like feces and vomit off the toilet located in her little cage (this scene is totally pointless and seems to have been inserted in the film to ostensibly demonstrate how 'hellish' German prison cells are). Meanwhile, a superlatively sleazy ‘right-wing’ journalist named Werner Tötges (played by Dieter Laser of The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) fame) swoops by Katharina’s place with flowers and begins asking neighbors questions about the girl and soon learns that her father came back from WWII to die and her brother is in prison. From her employer Dr. Hubert Blorna (Heinz Bennent), it is revealed that Katharina is “stiff as a board” and is “too square and too shy” to allow someone to “pinch her ass.” It is also revealed that her ex-husband divorced her on grounds of desertion. Personally, I cannot see why any self-respecting mensch would tolerate her mousy bitch bullshit.
When Katharina is released from prison, she begins receiving pseudo-misogynistic prank calls asking about her “pussy” and threatening letters are also left at her front door by anonymous neighbors. After being asked to meet with her minister, Father Urbanus (Walter Gontermann), at his church, Katharina soon realizes it is a trap setup by her old admirer/lover, Alois Sträubleder (Karl Heinz Vosgerau)—a wealthy industrialist that is well into his 50s—who offers to help her, but she is not interested in his help, as she is hiding something that she does not want him to find out. In fact, Sträubleder’s only interest in helping Katharina is that he does not want his name connected to terrorism via Katharina, as he is a powerful man who cannot afford to have a bad reputation. When Svegnali-like yellow journalist Tötges sneaks into a hospital wearing doctor scrubs and bombards Katharina’s terminally ill mother with sensitive questions about her daughter, it ultimately causes the old woman to drop dead from from stress, with the grieving daughter later complaining to her mother’s doctor regarding the press, “These people are murderers. All of them! It’s their very business to rob innocent people of their honor, often to take their lives. Otherwise nobody would buy their papers.” To make things worse, Katharina begins receiving tons of hate mail with messages like, “where Stalin didn’t succeed, you won’t either” and “commie’s whore,” thus inspiring rage in the young lady that provokes her to wreck her own apartment.
Meanwhile, Alois Sträubleder confides in Dr. Blorna, who also happens to be his lawyer, and tells him that he believes that Katharina has given the key to his country home to terrorist Ludwig. Indeed, when they were lovers, Alois decided to give Katharina the key to his vacation house, not realizing she would eventually use it to harbor a terrorist hunk. Of course, the cops soon bust Ludwig at Alois’ country house and take him into custody. Afterwards, it is revealed that Ludwig is a deserter from the Bundeswehr (German military) who did not rob banks as was once suspected but helped himself to the pay of two military regiments and as Dr. Blorna tells Katharina; the young fugitive will probably serve 8 to 10 years in prison for his crimes. Against the wishes of her ex-lover/sugar daddy Sträubleder, Katharina decides to do an interview with her tormentor, journalist Tötges, as she claims that she wants to see what “such a guy looks like,” but she really has more pernicious plans. On the way to the interview, Katharina is attacked by various drunkards, who call her an “anarchist” and tell her that “she belongs in the gas chamber” (as if any post-WWII German would say such a thing in public), so naturally by the time she goes to Tötges’ apartment, she is exceedingly pissed and certainly ready to carry out the dastardly deed that she came there to commit. Upon arriving at the journalist’s messy apartment, Katharina is bombarded with absurd advice from Tötges, who tells her she is “the news” and she needs to “exploit that” so that she can profit monetarily. When Tötges attempts to get into Katharina panties by stating in a rather vulgar manner, “how about fucking for a start?,” the young unlady-like lady nonsensically kills him by unloading some bullets in his stomach. While being escorted to prison, Katharina bumps into her big bad boy toy Ludwig and the two try in vain to make out, but the big mean prison guards pull the lunatic lovers apart. In the end, the film concludes with an epilogue depicting journalist Tötges’ funeral where an ostensibly hypocritical speech is delivered about Freedom of the Press by the owner of the newspaper, Dr. Lüding (Achim Strietzel), who states: “The shots that killed Werner Toetges didn’t hit him alone. They were aimed at Freedom of the Press […] And these shots […] they strike us just as they struck him […] Freedom of the Press is the core of everything: well-being, social progress, democracy, pluralism, diversity of opinions – and whoever attacks The Paper attacks us all.”
Interestingly, despite the obsession that most of the filmmakers of German New Cinema had with radical far-left politics, Thomas Elsaesser—arguably the foremost scholar of the post-WWII German film movement and German film in general—would note in his comprehensive work New German Cinema: A History (1989) that The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum and films like it are pretty much worthless when it comes to understanding the political climate of the Fatherland at that time, or as the film scholar wrote himself: “For despite the prevalence of social issues, the New German Cinema is actually rather poor in sociological detail; very few films give a convincing idea of West Germany’s political reality or the workings of its social institutions. Even in the films of Schlöndorff, Hauff or Petersen (the most conventionally ‘realistic’ directors in the 1970s), one learns little about the political establishment. Schlöndorff’s THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLUM is not an illuminating film about the German press, any more than Hauff’s STAMMHEIM (1986) conveys a convincing picture of German judges and the legal profession.” In fact, in the featurette The Lost Honor of Heinrich Böll featured on the Criterion Collection dvd release of the film, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum co-director Margarethe von Trotta would go so far as describing the relationship between the eponymous female protagonist and yellow journalist Werner Tötges as being of a spiritual and wholly morally righteous nature, with the feminist filmmaker stating that the work depicts, “…Good and Evil in the religious sense…the journalist becomes the devil and she becomes a real Madonna and she has to fight the devil,” thus demonstrating that the film is nothing more than a pseudo-religious propaganda piece directed by two Marxist true believers who have no sense of objectivity and who suffered from the same sort of inverted and, dare I say, ethno-masochistic, morality that was typical of young Germans at that time. After all, even the National Socialists would not have gone so far as to make a propaganda piece where a young lady murders a journalist in cold blood because he depicted her negatively in a piece he wrote. Indeed, despite the fact that the film shows that the cops were right all along regarding Katharina Blum and her criminal behavior, the police are still depicted as loathsomely misogynistic fascist pigs that have nothing better to do than ruin a young lady’s promising love affair with a fugitive criminal. Indeed, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is a film that only political philistines, useful idiots, and devout disciples of Marx, Trotsky, Adorno and/or Böll will be able to appreciate, as a postmodern religious work that makes about as much sense as the resurrection of Christ (and Ms. Blum is certainly no Christ, nor is she the “Madonna” that von Trotta described her as). Rather absurdly, the film was remade in America under the title The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck (1984) by CBS as a TV movie starring Kris Kristofferson. Indeed, when it comes down to it, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum seems like a kraut Lifetime movie on Trotskyite steroids. One must also note that the work features Volker Schlöndorff at his most culturally and sexually cuckolded, as a beta-male who directed a misandry-plagued work for the emotional and monetary benefit of his then-wife. Of course, the film would jumpstart von Trotta’s singularly banal directing career, which would be plagued by exceedingly vapid and hopelessly formulaic Hollywood-like dramas glorifying man-hating feminists, RAF terrorists, anti-German Jewish commie revolutionaries, and miscegenating Aryan women. Indeed, if you want to see a good example of the sort of mass psychosis that young Germans suffered during the 1970s that would ultimately lead to the degenerate fatherless Fatherland that exists today as a result of these same young Germans becoming the actual establishment, checkout The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:47 PM
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