Jul 28, 2014
While he is nearly forgotten today despite the fact he has been directing films for nearly half a century and virtually totally unknown outside his Teutonic homeland, German auteur Klaus Lemke (Arabian Nights, Die Ratte) was a major early influence on the filmmakers of German New Cinema, especially a very young Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose early avant-garde gangster trilogy—Love is Colder than Death (1969), Gods of the Plague (1970), and The American Soldier (1970)—was heavily influenced by his countryman’s gangster flicks, namely his super stylish cult hit 48 Stunden bis Acapulco (1967) aka 48 Hours to Acapulco aka Time for Action. Indeed, aside from naming Lemke’s 48 Hours to Acapulco as a film he would have liked to have directed in an interview featured in the April 1978 issue of the German version of Playboy, the auteur once stated regarding his appreciation for the film: “The heroes behave like gangsters, but at the same time as they imagine gangsters would behave. The Hollywood stereotype comes through: but Lemke has attempted not to imitate them.” In Fassbinder’s debut feature Love is Colder than Death—a work where the characters are more or less crude parodies of their favorite characters from old Hollywood movies—the quasi-poser gangster played by Ulli Lommel stylizes himself after Alain Delon’s character from Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967), thus demonstrating Lemke’s meta-cinematic influence on the figurative heart of German New Cinema. Of course, Lemke was not a figure of GNC, but the lesser known movement called the New Munich Group (‘Neue Münchner Gruppe’), which also included similarly anti-intellectual, film noir-obsessed auteur filmmakers like Eckhart Schmidt, Rudolf Thome, and Roger Fritz. Made before Lemke fully developed his gritty realist cinéma vérité-like aesthetic with his Hamburg-based nihilistic crime masterpieces like Rocker (1972) and Paul (1974), 48 Hours to Acapulco is a blatantly genre-conscious black-and-white noir pastiche piece featuring jet-set aesthetic influences and a then-‘hip’ soundtrack featuring Cher, Johnny Rivers, The Ventures, and a degenerate jazz cover of “Hey Joe” in a German film that seems as deracinated as they come, yet the work’s post-WWII Weltschmerz does not betray its obvious Germanic origins. Although sometimes similarly ironic like Lemke’s comrade Rudolf Thome’s absurdist pomo-noir piece Detektive (1969), 48 Hours to Acapulco does not merely utilize cynicism and offbeat humor to obfuscate its innate pain and apathy towards life. Shot by auteur Niklaus Schilling (Nachtschatten aka Nightshade, Rheingold), who was also the cinematographer for Detektive and would go on to become one of the most unjustly forgotten filmmakers of German cinema, Lemke’s early minor masterpiece is an exotic international kraut film noir that trades in shadows and urban turf for the sun and surf as a work partly set in Rome and Acapulco, Mexico, yet it is also as metaphysically tortured and hopeless as crime flicks come, as an allegorical work where a Bavarian gangster attempts to play industrial espionage and finds himself in a losing battle with an American industrialist.
Gangster Frank Murnau (played by German actor/producer Dieter Geissler, who later produced blockbuster works like The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999)) has been hired by his boss Gruner (Alexander Kerst) to deliver 500,000 marks to a fellow named Cameron (Roland Carey) in Rome for some dubious documents, but having that much cold hard cash gives the career criminal some bad ideas. While Frank is sent with his boss’ reasonably attractive daughter Laura (played by Christiane Krüger, the daughter of popular German movie star Hardy Krüger), who he is carrying on a sexual affair with, his true love is a femme fatale named Monika (Monika Zinnenberg), who ultimately cons the con into changing his plans with her conniving cunt. Indeed, the first thing Frank does upon checking out a hotel with Laura is call Monika, who knows an American industrialist that wants to buy the documents he is supposed to give Cameron for $500,000. The night before heading to meet with Cameron in Rome, Frank makes passionate love to Laura, but he makes the major mistake of calling her “Monika” during sex. When the two arrive at Cameron’s scenic beachside flat, Laura has sex with the buyer on the beach after the half-assed conman falls asleep on an outside patio. When Cameron finally asks the Munich criminal for the money, Frank says he does not have it and an anticlimactic fight breaks out where the latter is beaten like a bitch. Of course, Frank came to the exchange ready with a handgun and shoots and kills Cameron while laying on the ground while all beaten up and bloody. After killing Cameron and robbing him of the documents, Frank confesses to Laura that he loves Monika and that he is flying out to Acapulco to be with her. Despite being betrayed by Frank, Laura lies and tells her father that “everything’s ok” regarding what happened with the disastrous transaction.
As Laura’s unwavering loyalty readily demonstrates, Frank probably should have stayed with his boss’s daughter, as Monika ultimately proves to be a true fatal female. Upon arriving in Acapulco, Frank is picked up by a fat, bold American gangster thug who remarks, “Soon you can’t spend your money nowhere anymore. Nothing against communism but if everybody can afford everything…Where’s the deeper meaning?” The obscenely ugly bald man takes Frank to the home of an elderly man named Mr. Wayne (played by real-life playboy/musician/night club owner Teddy Stauffer), who is the American industrialist that wants to buy the documents. Instead of the $500,000 Monika said he promised, Mr. Wayne only offers Frank $50,000 for the documents, so the German gangster makes the ultimatum, “$500,000…Do what you want to do?” and leaves. Upon leaving Mr. Wayne’s less than humble beachside abode, Frank drives away in ecstasy while loudly singing, “California, California, California!” as if he plans to start a new life on the American west coast, but he eventually stops at a Mexican bar, buys an entire bottle of Johnny Walker, and gets thoroughly inebriated. Upon meeting up with Monika, Frank confesses that he killed Cameron and when she asks him why he did such a foolish thing, he simply responds with, “because I love you.” Of course, Monika does not say “I love you,” but instead warns Frank, “Wayne is dangerous, take the money. I booked a seat for you on the next plane.” Of course, Frank refuses the insulting offer. When Frank and Monika are driving on a secluded desert road that night, a group of Mr. Wayne’s men run their car off the road. Of course, Monika has betrayed him. Ultimately, Frank is shot dead on a beach, though he pushes Monika away when she attempts to console him just before he receives a deadly bullet.
Interestingly, in the film Baader (2002) directed by Christopher Roth, West German far-left terrorist and Red Army Faction leader Andreas Baader is depicted as a gangster poser who was enamored with film noir/crime flicks and who took his girlfriend/collaborator Gudrun Ensslin to see Lemke’s 48 Hours to Acapulco on their first date together. Indeed, the antihero of Lemke’s film also certainly seems like a delusional moron who saw one too many gangster flicks that went way over his head, hence his rather predictable death in the end. As German film historian Thomas Elsaesser wrote in his book New German Cinema: A History (1989): “The reasons which made Fassbinder or Wenders approach traditional American genres are several […] For example, Lemke’s 48 HOURS TO ACAPULCO (1967) was an influence on Fassbinder, not so much in its subject (that of a small-time Munich crook caught up in an affair too big for him to handle), but because Lemke’s attitude to his characters was to become typical of Fassbinder’s. The secret was to take seriously the image the characters have of themselves, because the director is willing to recognize as ‘reality’ […] and an inner truth, what are merely the characters’ fantasies.” Of course, by making the characters of their films wannabe gangsters, Lemke and Fassbinder were revealing that they were fully aware that they could never be American and had no interest in fully appropriating an alien ‘culture.’ While 48 Hours to Acapulco was a cult hit and won the auteur a Bambi award, Lemke decided to take the hard road and instead of capitalizing on his newfound success, he moved to Hamburg to hang out with real-life criminals, including pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, and bikers, thus inspiring the complete transformation of the director’s entire aesthetic for the better and spawning realistic cult masterpieces like Rocker and Paul, which largely star real-life criminals and non-actors. Indeed, whereas 48 Hours to Acapulco is the product of a sort of proto-Tarantino fanboy in his semi-formative years, albeit less autistic, Lemke's Hamburg era works are the strikingly sincere expressions of a true guerilla auteur who has attempted to make next to no distinction between the real world and the cinematic world.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:57 AM
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