Jul 27, 2014
While Rainer Werner Fassbinder—the ‘heart’ of German New Cinema—was not exactly a rampantly heterosexual geezer, he was a fan of many rampantly heterosexual films and filmmakers, both from his native Germany and Hollywood, as his early pre-Sirkian film noir/gangster flicks testify. Indeed, when interviewed by Hella Schlumberger in April 1978 for the German version of Playboy regarding, “people making films that you would have liked to make yourself,” Fassbinder named Klaus Lemke and his film 48 Stunden bis Acapulco (1967) aka 48 Hours to Acapulco—a rampantly heterosexual piece of celluloid if there ever was one—as one among only a handful of then-contemporary kraut films for which he displayed serious respect. A sort of Martin Scorsese of Deutschland, albeit more gritty, nihilistic, and taking a more raw realist approach, Lemke is best known for his reluctant love letter to the Hamburg underworld, Rocker (1972), but he has also directed a number of realist crime flicks starring mostly non-actors that anticipate the Dogme 95, with his work Paul (1974) aka Ein Tag ist manchmal das ganze Leben aka Paul - Geschichte eines Ausgestoßenen undoubtedly being one of his more notable cinematic works. Mostly revolving around a tastelessly charming kraut ex-con/small-time gangster who has just got out of prison and who spends most of his time aimlessly walking around drunk, insulting people in an exceedingly boisterously boorish manner, and hitting on used-up strippers/hookers who sport trashy wigs, one might describe Lemke’s little film as a realistic kraut comedy of the nihilistic post-WWII sort. Like his celluloid compatriots Eckhart Schmidt, Rudolf Thome, Roger Fritz, and Max Zihlmann of the ‘Neue Münchner Gruppe’ aka New Munich Group—an all but totally forgotten film movement that,somewhat unlike German New Cinema, sought to entertain and was daringly anti-intellectual in its essence—Lemke was more interested in cool criminals than feminist and neo-Marxist agitprop, even if the eponymous antihero of Paul is about as sensible as a gay autistic negro on crack. Like a Teutonic Mean Streets (1973) drunk off Paul Morrissey’s Flesh (1968), Lemke’s film is a rare crime flick that is as absurdly funny as it is just plain absurd. Filmed mostly around St. Pauli—a sleazy spot infamous for being Nordic Hamburg’s red-light district—and featuring authentic pimps and prostitutes as extras, Paul undoubtedly radiates a certain authentic grit and grime that most crime flicks lack. Indeed, a sort of anti-noir work where the male antihero is a ‘homme fatale’ who actually poses a discernible threat to female characters and not the other way around, Lemke’s 75-minute pernicious celluloid party seems like the hastily assembled and scatter-brained product of a raging dipsomaniac who has never seen a crime or film noir flick, as a truly anarchic work that breaks all the rules and conventions of its genre and them some.
After staying in the slammer for seven long years, auburn-haired Paul (played by ex-sailor Paul Lyss) is finally released and greeted outside the prison by his uncouth criminal crony Jimmy (played by Lemke regular Jimmy Braker) and a couple seemingly dim and marginally attractive whores. After telling Jimmy that he looks like he is getting fat, Paul and his friends head back to an apartment and celebrate the jailbird’s release by getting wasted and discussing various whores of all sorts. Indeed, after Paul explains how one of his ex-cellmates had a blowup sex doll that he did not bother to blow up even though he would blow it, he also describes his decided distaste for Bangkok hookers, as he believes they are no taller than chickens. While the two old friends seem to be getting along rather splendidly at first, Paul can sense there is something not quite right about Jimmy, so he smacks around the two prostitutes to see if they know anything and learns that his friend wants to murder him because he owes him $250,000 marks (which is assumedly from whatever crime/robbery Paul committed to get sentenced to prison in the first place), but he has already blown all the money. When Jimmy sneaks in Paul’s room with a handgun, the eponymous antihero bashes his friend over the head with a chair and runs away. With nowhere to really run or hide, Paul gets drunk and randomly shows up at the lavish home of a pretentious and seemingly impotent art dealer named Friedhelm aka ‘Frank’ Murnau (Friedhelm Lehmann), who is having an art show at his place featuring a live Jamaican band. On top of confusing Frank with Jimmy even though the two men look nothing alike, Paul, who seems more or less demonically possessed, causes a major scene at the degenerate art show by screaming at the all-black band to stop playing, insulting every single guest, and comparing all the paintings at the gallery to drawings he created when he was seven years old. Indeed, on top of obnoxiously asking Frank, “What kind of guy is that, is that a homo?,” Paul leaves the party while yelling, “Mob…Riff Raff…Idiots…Abnormal,” at all the startled partygoers. Of course, being a belligerent drunk, Paul soon goes right back to the party and attacks Frank, who is a posh pansy and barely fights back, even though the gangster felon is destroying his home and hitting on his beauteous wife.
Unfortunately for Frank, his classically stunning and exceedingly dainty wife Jane (played by Munich model Sylvie Winters) practically falls in love with Paul at first sight. At cuckold Frank's request, Jane naively drives Paul to the jailhouse where the dashing criminal, who absurdly wants to be put back in prison, was recently imprisoned. While Paul demands, “I want back in..I want back in my cell,” to a guard at the jail, he is told that they do not run a homeless shelter, thus he must stay on the streets and face the wrath of his treacherous comrade Jimmy. After the gangster's failed attempt at having himself voluntarily imprisoned, Jane drives Paul to his favorite place in the world, the bar. While Jane is almost raped by one of Paul’s friends, the antihero goes to a super seedy strip club where he is given a lap-dance by a meta-loose lady with an atrocious gray wig who seems to have a rather fine time grinding her poontang against her prized patron's wang. Eventually, Herr Murnau and his wife find Paul again hanging out with his underworld comrades, so everyone, including Jimmy, heads back to the art dealer’s to get even more drunk in what is an ostensible utopian classless party between the rich and poor. While everyone is getting drunk at a dinner table, cuckold Frank, who is unquestionably jealous that his wife has such a strong infatuation with a common and rather uncultivated criminal like Paul, begins attacking his wife Jane. Naturally, Paul and his cronies don’t take too kindly to Frank’s violent behavior against his seemingly fragile statuesque wife, so everyone begins physically and verbally attacking him in his own house in a hyper hilarious scene of innately anarchic Teutonic slapstick absurdity. Indeed, even a prostitute verbally berates Frank by accusing him of being of an impotent show-off by remarking, “He wants to blow on his trumpet…play the exhibitionist with the big money, whoop it up…you know, he can’t get it up and now he…He’s not satisfied, he wants to play the king in front of his old lady. Sure, now she gets it, and then she has to fuck him. Dumb prick. He’s a pig, a pig!” When the party is over, Paul and Jimmy leave together, with the latter remarking regarding the experience, “That was great. Almost like in the old days.” Of course, Paul does not believe that Jimmy has gotten over his desire to liquidate him, so he coerces Jane to buy him an unregistered submachine Uzi from one of his con friends and begins looking for his treacherous friend around all the local bars. Jane attempts to stop Paul from ruining his life by murdering a mensch in cold blood, but he has already made up his mind. In the end, Paul not only kills Jimmy, but Jane as well as she unwittingly walks into the bar at the same time the angst-ridden antihero unloads his Israeli Uzi. Rather ironically, perennially cuckolded Frank begged for Paul to kill him only seconds before his wife is murdered. While Frank carries his wife away from the bar in a rather melancholy state as if he alone is responsible for her death, Paul walks out of the bar with a blank stare as if nothing has happened.
Judging by the almost exclusively unflattering pictures that I have seen of the filmmaker, auteur Klaus Lemke seems to be just as regularly inebriated by chemicals as the characters of his films and I am willing to bet that he was sometimes drunk and/or high when he directed his cinéma vérité-like gutter masterpiece of dipsomaniac delinquency, Paul. Apparently heavily influenced by the French New Wave, Lemke, not unlike Fassbinder, certainly seemed interested in playing with the conventions of old school Hollywood crime/film noir flicks just like Godard, but unlike Breathless (1960) aka À bout de soufflé, Paul thankfully does not feature a single phony frog pretending to pull off his best Humphrey Bogart impression. Indeed, when it comes down to it, Lemke’s film feels more influenced by the real-life lowlifes of St. Pauli than by other films, especially French New Wave works, which rarely seem gritty. Like Roland Klick’s Bübchen (1968), Lemke’s flick features a desperate and dispirited Deutschland where perennial drunkenness is a given and senseless nihilism and destruction reign in a corrupted nation that seems to have yet to get over the quasi-apocalyptic effects of the Second World War. Needless to say, Paul is not the sort of crime-fetishizing film like Scarface (1983) or Goodfellas (1990) that would inspire teenage negroes to rob and rape elderly white women, as the work seems like it could have been directed by the aberrant Aryan grandfather of Harmony Korine as a perniciously playful and curiously darkly comedic kraut crime equivalent to Gummo (1997) in terms of its uncompromising realism and real-life-like randomness. Interestingly, despite the fact that the eponymous antihero is portrayed as such a mindnumbingly moronic and innately irrational individual that he gets plastered, kills his friend, and accidentally kills his love interested, he is still portrayed in a more likeable light than art dealer Frank Murnau, whose surname I cannot decide is a tribute or anti-tribute to the great Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) aka Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror director F.W. Murnau (interestingly, Fassbinder previously included a character named Murnau in his (anti)crime flick The American Soldier (1970) aka Der amerikanische Soldat). Indeed, despite the lack of sophisticated socio-political subtext of Paul, it is more than clear while watching the film than the typical Alexander Kluge flick that there is seemingly nil future for anyone in the Fatherland, despite whatever class a person might belong to, be the person an impoverished prole or a cultured art fag with a raving trophy wife and trust fund.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:03 AM
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