Jul 10, 2014

Sunset Motel




Undoubtedly, one of the most depressing things for a cinephile to witness is the decline in quality of one of their favorite director’s work with age. Indeed, even the great master auteur filmmakers like Fritz Lang, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ingmar Bergman had a noticeable enfeeblement in terms of their artistic prowess as they got older. Of course, somewhat less artistically inclined directors seem even more susceptible to artistic decrepitude, with German cult auteur Eckhart Schmidt (Der Fan aka Trance, Alpha City) being a prime example of ‘auteur senility.’ While Schmidt was easily one of the greatest, if not most hated and critically reviled, kraut cult filmmakers of the 1980s, by the 1990s his work began to rapidly decline, with E.T.A. Hoffmanns Der Sandmann (1993) aka The Sandman being his last truly ‘great,’ artistically ambitious, and notable work. Indeed, while Schmidt’s first documentary, Douglas Sirk: Über Stars (1980), was made at time when he was still in his prime, nowadays the only thing he really does is direct cheapo featurette documentaries about various Hollywood filmmakers and historical figures, including Otto Preminger, Jerry Lewis, Federico Fellini, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis (whose daughter Alexandra Curtis starred in the German filmmaker's underrated macabre surrealist masterpiece Das Gold der Liebe (1983) aka The Gold of Love), and his buddy Uli Edel, among countless others. Indeed, like wonderful weirdo David Lynch (whose work seems to have influenced Schmidt), the indubitably underrated Der Fan director has completely embraced the radically repellant and glaringly artless medium of digital video, hence his peculiar proclivity towards directing about half a dozen micro docs each year since the late-1990s. In 2003, he directed his last ‘official’ feature, Sunset Motel, and announced that he no longer has any intention of directing feature films, so now he only directs documentaries and takes sub-erotic photos of marginally attractive American chicks, which is no surprise considering he is the same mensch who once stated in 1968 during the same year he announced his arrival in the cinema world with his salacious debut feature, Jet Generation - Wie Mädchen heute Männer lieben (1968), that, “I would rather film a naked girl than a discussion of problems.” Admittedly, when I first saw screenshots from Sunset Motel, I was disappointed and even a tad bit shocked, as the digital video aesthetic surely resembles that of third rate pornography, yet Schmidt must be an alchemist of sorts as he somehow almost managed to turn digital diarrhea into moody and broody cinematic gold. Dubiously dedicated to suicidal Guido commie poet/novelist Cesare Pavese and featuring cameo appearances from popular American novelists Hubert Selby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream) and Janet Fitch (White Oleander, Paint It Black), Sunset Motel is a dark and disconcerting romance set in iconic sunny Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood about a young and relatively innocent waitress who falls hopelessly in love with an impenetrable and nauseatingly narcissistic novelist who ultimately makes his lover want to end her short life due to his sadistic mind games. Indeed, like Schmidt’s greatest works, this minimalistic little movie that wallows in love for classic Hollywood is a ruthless work that reminds the viewer of the close link between true love and death. 




Raoul (played by producer Sean Costello, who produced the repugnant sentimentalist black power flick Night Catches Us (2010)) is a seemingly half-autistic novelist who keeps avoiding a cute blonde named Laura (Joanna Canton of the Convent (2000) and countless horrendous TV shows) who works at a café in Sunset Plaza and lives in the Saharan Motel on Sunset Boulevard. After Laura spots Raoul voyeuristically gazing at her while swimming in a pool, she finally gets the novelist to verbally communicate with her, though he soon attempts to get out of the situation by stuttering, “I think I made a...mistake,” like the ball-less coward that he is.  While Raoul is an innate introvert and seemingly half-autistic, he is also rather arrogant, and his future love interest Laura will ultimately be a tragic victim of a rather fragile ego.  Despite being a supposed writer, Raoul does not have much to say, so Laura does all the talking by describing her love for Chinese food and how she would love to see a colorized version of her favorite romantic comedy, Roman Holiday (1953) starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. As she explains, Laura loves the film because she fantasizes about being a, “princess for a day,” as it would be a stark contrast to her current life as a barely-getting-by wage-slave.  Laura also absurdly describes Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) as an “Italian movie.” Of course, Laura and Raoul’s mostly one-sided conversation inevitably leads to passionate sex, though even intimate coitus is not enough to save the novelist from his social retardation. Indeed, after making seemingly passionate love, Laura says, “I wanna see you again” and Raoul merely says “sure” and leaves abruptly, as if he is scared his new lover might have cooties or something. After bumping into a random chick who describes how happy she is because she is three months pregnant with her husband’s child, Laura begins contemplating her dubious future with Raoul, who she soon spots walking around with some random Latina, thus demonstrating that he is probably not a very faithful mensch.



 When the two quasi-lovers have sex for a second time, Raoul leaves immediately afterwards in a ridiculously rude fashion, thereupon causing Laura to cry hysterically. As a sort of patently paranoid passive-aggressive pansy lunatic, Raoul begins accusing Laura of being a loose slut after she confesses she was not a virgin before they met, thus causing the little lady to once again break down in tears. Indeed, while Laura has had sex in the past, it was only with her former fiancé. While a total prick, Raoul more or less eventually realizes that he is treating Laura unfairly, so he goes to his elderly ex-junky buddy Hubert Selby Jr. for advice. Ultimately, gutter sage Selby tells the novelist that “taking joy in somebody’s else’s success” brings happiness and that he must be accepting of change if he ever wants to be truly content with what life has to offer. Although Selby’s words initially have a positive effect on Raoul, the sickeningly self-centered man soon disappoints Laura in a variety of ways. After describing how her greatest fantasy is to live on a boat with Raoul and travel around the world whilst having tons of sex on said boat, Laura manages to talk her ‘boyfriend’ into visiting Zuma Beach with her, as one of her favorite movies, From Here to Eternity (1953) starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, was shot there. Upon arriving at the beach, Raoul vehemently refuses to join Laura for some fun in the sun because he claims that he, “has to write.” Internally wounded, Laura assumes her non-relationship with Raoul is over and goes on a date with another man. When Laura gets back from her date, she finds a very angry Raoul waiting for her on the same bed in which the two have spent their most magical moments together. Of course, paranoid wack job Raoul accuses Laura of cheating on him and even goes so far as to accuse her of using him as a “sex machine.” When Laura attempts to tell Raoul that she loves him, the nasty novelist hatefully states like a true blue asshole, “I’m leaving and I’m never, ever, ever coming back here ever.” Of course, Raoul later comes back, but Laura is nowhere to be found. When Raoul asks a young Mexican hotel clerk where the girl in Room 228 is, he states with a rather flat affect, “She doesn’t live here anymore. She’s dead. She committed suicide.”




 A minimalistic motel room melodrama of the rather understated sort, Sunset Motel is almost anti-Schmidtian in its essence as it emphasizes nuanced Sirkian drama over gratuitous sex and violence. Indeed, while the director’s cult hit Die Story (1984) features a rather bloody and gratuitous suicide scene of a completely naked man and woman with slit wrists laying in a bathtub full of their own blood, Sunset Motel does not even depict the protagonist’s self-slaughter at all, as if Schmidt had too much respect for the character to depict her in such an undignified position. Indeed, in terms of dramaturgy, the film is shockingly effective, as Laura seems like a wounded angel that is practically begging to be saved by her manipulative boyfriend Raoul, who will ultimately inspire violent thoughts in any heterosexual red-blooded American male. While I would have preferred for Schmidt to have ended his long and rather uneven filmmaking career by doing another Richard Wagner or E.T.A. Hoffmanns adaptation (indeed, aside from directing Der Sandmann, he shot a uniquely kitschy adaptation of Wagner’s 1876 four cycle opera Der Ring des Nibelungen aka The Ring of the Nibelung on video), Sunset Motel is a work that, for better or worse, has a special place in the filmmaker's oeuvre. Certainly, Sunset Motel features the sort of wicked “refined cannibalism” that German New Cinema father figure Alexander Kluge spoke of when describing the wild love themes that have become a signature of the director’s work. While Schmidt claimed that Sunset Motel would be his last feature, he has directed a number of trashy ‘erotic’ flicks since then under the pseudonym “Raoul Sternberg” (derived from the names of two of his favorite directors, Raoul Walsh and Josef von Sternberg). I watched the trailer for one of these films, Hollywood Fling - Diary of a Serial Killer (2010), and I can certainly see why Schmidt chose to use a pseudonym for this work, as it seems like an aesthetically abhorrent abomination as a no-budget piece of horror-porn digital defecation featuring gangster rap music and bestial black chicks with decidedly disgusting fake tits. While Sunset Motel is not quite up to par with Schmidt’s extremely addictive idiosyncratic cult hits from the 1980s like Der Fan, The Gold of Love, Die Story, Loft, and Alpha City, it is surely the director’s most valiant attempt at a true modernist melodrama that painfully demonstrates why love kills. With that being said, it seems only natural that Schmidt would conclude his feature filmmaking career with a film where the leading lady kills herself.



-Ty E

7 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Joanna Canton (as the bird was in 1996 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Jennifer Croissant said...

I liked the scene from 1:16 to 1:23 where they went 7 minutes without a cut, it must`ve been very challenging for the actors.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Diza Diaz (as the bird was in 1995 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Eckhart Schmidt was born on Halloween night 1938, i think hes a much better film-maker than Fassbinder simply because Schmidt is rampagingly heterosexual where-as Fassbinder was a loathsome faggot.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, Uncle Adolf would be approving of all but two of the Ger-girl team, the black geezer and the geezer who looks like a gypsy (although i think the Furher might even forgive them if they lift the trophy on Sunday night). The other nine players are all from the highest grade Aryan stock and are all rampagingly heterosexual as well, another major plus and bonus obviously. They would`ve all graced the Wehrmacht circa 1941, you should feel very pleased with yourself Ty E my old mucker.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Joanna looks a bit like Debbie Gib-daughter.

Scott Is NOT A Professional said...

Funny thing. I used to live no more than 15 minutes down Sunset from the Saharan, and one particularly memorable night of partying ended up in a room there, with one of those "aspiring actresses" so common to Hollywood, of course. Now, the Saharan is known more for alleged problems with druggies and bed bugs, but I digress.

I might just have to check this picture out. See if it brings back any wild memories.