Jul 4, 2014
When one thinks of feminist filmmakers associated with German New Cinema, they typically think of frigid hags like Margarethe von Trotta (Rosa Luxemburg, Rosenstrasse) and Helke Sander (Der subjektive Faktor, BeFreier und BeFreite) who seem to think that making their actresses seem as homely and emotionless as possible somehow makes them seem more ‘intelligent’ and ‘liberated,’ but Ula Stöckl (Popp and Mingel, A Woman with Responsibilities) not only made feature films before both of these women, but also had no problem depicting women as both beautiful and naturally feminine. A cofounder of the of the Verband der Filmarbeiterinnen (Association of Women Film Workers) who was taught by top GNC auteur filmmakers like Edgar Reitz and Alexander Kluge, she would go on to direct what she herself described as “the first women's film in West Germany.” Indeed, Stöckl’s The Cat Has Nine Lives (1968) aka Neun Leben hat die Katze is a rare ‘poetic’ feminist flick without all the empty political slogans and bargain bin misandry. Innately feminine in character but featuring alluring enough women and direction to appeal to male cinephiles, Stöckl’s film has more in common with the works of Czech avant-garde auteur Věra Chytilová than that of the mostly aesthetically sterile and petty propaganda-laden kraut feminist flicks that would follow it. Unlike von Trotta, Stöckl flirts with both male and female viewers alike, even if The Cat Has Nine Lives is a rather ‘girly’ film focusing on the romantic troubles of a group of eclectic friends who all come from some particular form of ‘female trouble,’ or as the auteur stated in a 1984 interview with Marc Silberman of Jump Cut: “In NEUN LEBEN HAT DIE KATZE I chose the characters as types: the not-yet-married professional woman, the recent divorcee confused about her future, the career woman, the deceived wife and the ultimate dream woman — a legendary Circe. In this film the women seem to be sleeping because each thinks only of herself and that she has an advantage over the other. Each one thinks she has a recipe for happiness, or that being unhappy is her own fault because she's too dumb to be happy. In other words, these women cannot see their anxieties as having something to do with the society in which they live. They exhibit a lack of knowledge about how one could behave differently.” Ironically, the film ultimately reveals that women have an innate incapacity for unity and solidarity because they are far too self-absorbed and delusional. Quite shockingly, instead of just blaming men for all the problems that women have, Stöckl’s work demonstrates that, in many ways, members of the so-called ‘fairer sex’ are their own worst enemies. Indeed, as the film reveals, women hate nothing more than to encounter a woman who is more beautiful than they are. If you ever wanted to know why it would be an absolute catastrophe if women were ever to rule the world, just checkout The Cat Has Nine Lives.
If The Cat Has Nine Lives features anyone resembling a main character, it is recently divorced French would-be-free-spirit/proto-hippie Anne/Marianne (played by Kristine De Loup, who would later star in a couple small roles in later period Fassbinder flicks like Berlin Alexanderplatz and Lili Marleen), who is slowly but surely giving herself a lobotomy via women’s lib lunacy. Although she would never admit it, Anne is jealous of her friend Magdalena, who is more or less happily married to her hubby Stefan (Jürgen Arndt), even if he is always trying to get in other women’s panties. Indeed, while a guest diner at the husband and wife’s home, Anne is in such a bitchy mood that she has the gall to ask Stefan whether or not he loves his wife, even going so far as to insinuate that he is in love with her and their other female friends Gabriele (Heidi Stroh, who appeared in Mario Bava’s 1964 masterpiece Blood and Black Lace) and Circe. To Anne’s credit, Stefan does freely confess that he is in love with both Katharina and his faithful wife. Stefan also has no problem admitting, “There’s nothing we can do, our eroticism is patriarchal.”
When Anne and her best friend Katharina are together they enjoy saying crude things to each other like, “A cow pissing in a tub is rib-busting but also disgusting. So… Is that bad?,” but they also get rather serious about their trouble with men. Anne has come from France to stay with Katharina and her seemingly sexless journalist friend, who is easily the most uninteresting character in the entire film. Undoubtedly, the more sophisticated of the two women is Katharina, but she is aging fast and seems to be afraid of marriage. When Katharina complains, “I always approach things through my feelings. I haven’t got the manual skills, the scientific know-how to get something going,” her boyfriend uses the opportunity to ask her to marry him, stating, “Well, maybe you haven’t got your confidence for studying things, but rather from the human angles, for instance from marriage, it doesn’t have to be a formal marriage, but maybe a relation that gives you security, a certain,” but she naturally turns him down. Like many beautiful women, Gabriele, who is a singer by trade, oftentimes faces hatred from her fellow women, complaining to her friends, “Women hate me…right off. Almost always. It’s usually hate at first sight. Then, when they see I am different, laugh and act natural, they like me,” but she has rather high standards when it comes to men, stating of her ideal lover, “An extraordinary one. He must be extraordinary…don’t laugh…I’ve always thought if Jesus had loved women, I’d have liked to love him.” When it comes down to it, although all of these women are friends, they are really only concerned with their own desires and needs and are thus losing a true sense of solidarity with their sisters.
Of course, considering that it was made in the late-1960s, The Cat Has Nine Lives features an obligatory 68er-Bewegung anti-Vietnam war protest scene, which includes a bunch of ethno-masochistic krauts carrying around Martin Luther King, Jr. signs and screaming about imaginary Nazis. While Anne, who is certainly no student, goes to the German student protest because she proclaims that she wants to help, “to create a world revolution,” she really uses the opportunity to cavort with a young kraut named Manfred that has caught her fancy. While Manfred seems to fall in love with Anne almost instantly, he later comes to the realization that, “having been waiting so long for a woman like Anne, when the time finally comes, you are only very tired.” Meanwhile, the Journalist gets in an argument with a daycare center employee about the pros and cons of childhood masturbation. While the Journalist believes that, “auto-eroticism makes you more independent of your partner,” the daycare teacher more soundly responds, “A child that is told it can masturbate freely, I would say…the damage done is as great as… the confusion that it causes is as great as the effect of repressive upbringing,” with the scene concluding in a controversial manner by featuring a group of completely nude pre-kindergarten boys and girls more or less humping pillows. Meanwhile, towards the end of the film, two of the friends discuss the arrival of Circe, who is apparently so beautiful and such a “wonderful, strange woman” that she can do whatever she likes whenever she likes and could get away with “blowing up the Eiffel Tower” if she wanted to. It is also learned in that end that Stefan has been cheating on his wife with one of her friends. Indeed, Stefan is such a sly devil that he visits his wife’s friend at the hospital when she is sick so he can prey on her during a moment of weakness, even going so far as to feel up her titties while she is on a hospital bed. Of course, Anne hates Stefan and states of him, “Stefan ought to dream that all women have vaginas on their foreheads….then he could run around the world, going bang, bang, bang…” In the end, Anne goes back to Frogland and concludes that she is “so sad.”
Undoubtedly, if there is one single line from The Cat Has Nine Lives that sums up the entire aesthetic essence of the film, it is “Beauty always makes me sad.” While noted for being, “feminist before feminism,” Stöckl’s film would most certainly offend the repugnant aesthetic sensibilities of many contemporary feminists with proud ‘fattitudes’ because not only does the film feature not a single unattractive nor overweight dyke, but it also portrays men as people with weaknesses and dreams just like women. While the film was clearly directed by someone with a strong feminine sensibility, the cinematographer also does much credit for the film’s orgasmic aesthetics. Indeed, shot by one of the greatest cinematographers of German New Cinema, Dietrich Lohmann, who largely earned his reputation by shooting virtually all of Fassbinder’s early films and also worked with Volker Schlöndorff, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Robert van Ackeren, Helma Sanders-Brahms, Edgar Reitz, and Peter Lilienthal, The Cat Has Nine Lives is certainly a work that owes a great deal of its lyricism and celluloid poetry to its cameraman, as a work that is not big on plot or storyline, but flows together almost immaculately like a river. Virtually totally unseen when it was originally released in 1968 because the film’s distributor, which originally secured 600 cinema dates, went out of business, The Cat Has Nine Lives is a rather rare example of filmic feminism that rises above the level of Andrea Dworkin’s feces in terms of charm and pulchritude. Indeed, Stöckl’s film is not a prosaic political pamphlet written in cinematic form, but an honest attempt by a woman to examine why so many Fräuleins were unhappy during her zeitgeist. In its incessant commentary on German tradition and strikingly splendid depictions of pastoral (anti)romance(s), The Cat Has Nine Lives is very likely the first and last ‘feminist Heimat’ flick ever made, thus making it an important and imperative piece of Teutonic cinema history. Featuring the use of marionettes that prefigures Syberberg, bizarre silent flashback scenes of a young girl witnessing the mutilation of farm animals by her farmer father, highly sensual scenes of female nudity directed by a woman that would actually appeal to a man, and reasonably realistic female characters that act neither like ciphers nor rocket scientists, The Cat Has Nine Lives is certainly one of the more overlooked works of German New Cinema and I say that as a staunch anti-feminist.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 2:36 AM
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