Jul 18, 2014
While truly subversive kraut cinema essentially went kaput with the tragic, if not predictable, death of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and, in turn, German New Cinema in general, in 1982, a handful of Teutonic filmmakers have attempted to keep up the struggle for truly aesthetically and thematically subversive celluloid that does not bend over for the culture-distorters of Hollywood. Indeed, aside from figures like the late, great scatological multi-media Renaissance man Christoph Schlingensief (Mutters Maske, The German Chainsaw Massacre) and Berlin-based blond underground beast Jörg Buttgereit of NEKRomantik (1987) sub-fame, there are not too many Fritzes nowadays who have been pushing the bounds of cinematic sanity, though a certain punk-spirited filmmaker named Romuald Karmakar (Die Nacht singt ihre Lieder aka Nightsongs, Das Himmler Projekt aka The Himmler Project) directed a film about an infamous real-life serial killer named Fritz Haarmann aka “Vampire of Hanover”—a meta-sadistic sodomite with an unquenchable thirst for twink flesh who buggered and butchered no less than 27 of what he described as “joy boys” between 1918 and 1924, though he claimed to have murdered “somewhere between 50 and 70” victims—that, although reasonably subversive in many regards, managed to receive a reasonable amount of commercial and critical prestige upon its initial release nearly two decades ago. Based on the story of a cannibalistic cocksucker that has inspired no less than two masterpieces of German cinema, including Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and Ulli Lommel’s Fassbinder-produced The Tenderness of Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe starring and penned by Kurt Raab, The Deathmaker aka Der Totmacher is a truly Teutonic work directed by a contemporary subversive kraut auteur who, whether intentionally or not, ultimately pays tribute to his cinematic heritage with another film about Herr Haarmann. Released on dvd in the United States under the title Monte Hellman presents The Deathmaker (notably, director Karmakar directed a short fanboy-like doc on Hellman in 1988 entitled Hellman Rider), Karmakar's decidedly demented and even sometimes darkly humorous theatrical quasi-docudrama largely owes its potency to actor Götz George (Tatort, Schtonk!)—the son of great German silent era actor Heinrich George (Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Berlin-Alexanderplatz), who went on to star in a number of National Socialist classics directed by Veit Harlan like Jud Süß (1940) and Kolberg (1945), and was starved to death in a Soviet death camp—who plays the eponymous lead role as a whacky and even goofy gay serial killer who suffered from a major case of erotophonophilia and who, among other things, used to whack off the man-meat of young boys and flush them down his toilet. Indeed, a dialogue-heavy work that is based on the transcripts of the interrogation of sod serial killer Fritz Haarmann and mostly set in a single interrogation room that was directed by a fellow clearly influenced by Prussian conservative auteur Hans-Jürgen Syberberg as demonstrated by his experimental documentary The Himmler Project (2000) aka Das Himmler Projekt where German Manfred Zapatka actor spends about 3 hours reading a speech given by Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS) in 1943, The Deathmaker is certainly a work that will probably bore to death most mainstream serial killer movie fetishists who think Hannibal Lector is a cool dude and regard David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) as an unmitigated masterpiece, for Karmakar’s audaciously anti-climatic film demands audience participation as an intellectually playful, if not patently perverse, piece of aesthetically audacious celluloid that, in terms of aesthetics, falls somewhere in between the theatric techniques of philo-Semetic kraut commie poet/playwright Bertolt Brecht and the politically-charged works of Reinhard Hauff (Mathias Kneissl, Stammheim - Die Baader-Meinhof-Gruppe vor Gericht). As director Karmakar said himself about the film, The Deathmaker evokes “the motto of Immanuel Kant’s enlightenment,” as a morally and politically ambiguous work where both the pre-Nazi German state and the sodomite serial killer are simultaneously put on trial, with the filmgoer acting as a judge who must do the seemingly unthinkable by using their own mind and thinking for themselves when it comes to interpreting the dastardly deeds of Haarmann in the context of post-WWI/pre-Hitler Deustchland.
The year is 1924 and a somewhat uptight and rather humorless psychology professor named Dr. Ernst Schultze (Jürgen Hentsch) has been summoned to Göttingen to interview and interrogate Hanover-based cannibalistic sodomite serial killer Fritz Haarmann (Götz George) to see if the clearly crazed criminal is mentally fit enough to stand trial for the murder, postmortem molestation, mutilation, and cannibalization of some 27 young boys and twinks between 1918 and 1924. Due to his background as a police informant, Haarmann has not only gained infamy for maliciously murdering countless young and desperate boys on the fringes of society, but also because he was unwittingly protected by the police while he was at the height of his homo-style homicide campaign, thereupon siring an international scandal that has shaken all of depression era kraut society to the already semi-decayed core. Upon first interviewing Haarmann, Dr. Schultze attempts to gauge the killer’s intelligence and educational background and comes to the realization that he is dealing with someone who seems to be borderline retarded and semi-autistic, as it takes the tastelessly charming killer forever to figure how many 100 marks one needs to have 1,000 marks, thus demonstrating his pathetic sub-elementary-school-level education. Indeed, Haarmann himself even admits that the military did not want him because he was listed as an “invalid” (in fact, he was imprisoned around the time that World War I began). Like a lot of homos, Haarmann resents and fears his father, stating regarding his old man, “Even as a little boy I had to work. That’s why I couldn’t stand him! And he always yelled at me, “You scaredy-pants!” I couldn’t help shitting my pants. I didn’t want to!” When Dr. Schultze attempts to get the sick yet strangely happy-go-lucky literal maneater to confess that he is a cannibalistic murder by asking him what sort of meat he uses when making bouillon soup (of course, the secret ingredient is Aryan boy beef), Haarmann evades the question, but it does not take him long to act like a belligerent braggart who takes great pleasure in describing his defiling and dismemberment of various “joy boys.” In fact, Haarmann gets so comfortable while talking with the psychologist that he begins hitting on a discernibly shaken Stenographer (Pierre Franckh), who is responsible for transcribing all of the interviews. Indeed, while massaging a piece of paper as if it is a man’s bare body, Haarmann stares fiendishly at the noticeably unnerved Stenographer and even attempts to flirt with him in a rather vulgar fashion, but his low IQ and lack of cultivation makes him seem like a pathetic, if not pernicious, fool.
As Haarmann explains while laughing in a rather jovial fashion, he cut his victims’ stomachs open with a knife and let their bowels fall out. Aside from selling their mensch meat on the black market, the cannibalistic colon-choker found a variety of disturbingly creative ways to dispose of his victim's body parts, including throwing fingers into a local river (when asked by young boys what he was doing, Haarmann said he was “feeding the fish”) and flushing genitals down toilets, but not before cutting them into 3 or 4 pieces, which the killer painstakingly describes as a somewhat hard thing to do due the squishy nature of guy gristles. While not exactly a genius, Haarmann has a rather humorous sense of humor, especially when he rhetorically asks regarding the Professor, “…he knows everything, but keeps asking?,” after getting annoyed with Dr. Schultze’s pedantic persona and insufferably sterile academic arrogance. When one of Haarmann’s escaped victims, Fürsorgezögling Kress (Marek Harloff), swings by the interrogation room to identify the serial killer, the ‘Butcher of Hanover’ denies knowing him because the boy, who apparently has a major case of scabies, denies they partook in mutual masturbation, as the killer always engaged in this aberrant act with his joy boys. Although having a fiancée that he apparently occasionally had sex with, Haarmann’s true love is a young degenerate named Hans Grans, who sold the possessions of his boy toy’s victims on the black market, and when Dr. Schultze proposes that the boyfriend should be executed for his dubious involvement in the murders, the saddened serial killer comes to his defense by stating, “he’s still young and careless.” In fact, Haarmann even momentarily cries when describing the ostensible ‘innocence’ of his breechloader beau. When asked by the Professor if he has any last requests, Haarmann replies, “A nice cheese sandwich, a nice cup of coffee…and a nice cigar. When we’ve finished our coffee, we can go. But don’t touch. They should say that Fritz Haarmann…went to the scaffold…with colossal, fearless, military courage! Then I’ll give a little speech.” Towards the end of their interview, Haarmann attempts to talk the Professor into releasing a book based on their interview sessions, declaring, “This book’ll make you a millionare! You’ll see. When the trial comes up it’ll be a hit. Even in 100 years!” Additionally, the opportunistic lust killer also declares that the Stenographer should also get a “suit” for “working so hard” on transcribing the interrogation and that his boyfriend Hans should get “a few marks, too,” for helping with 'solving' the murders. Before their last interview session concludes, Haarmann breaks down and declares that he wants to get to know his executioner because he firmly believes that the hangman, “mustn’t get in contact with commies.” While sobbing like a little baby, the severely sullen serial killer also asks Dr. Schultze in a rather desperate fashion, “But you will come back before my head’s chopped off?,” to which the Professor replies, “Yes, I will come back.” Indeed, in the end, it seems that Haarmann has managed to even charm Dr. Schultze, though the quite putridly pedantic Professor would never actually admit it.
Winning the Deutscher Filmpreis (the highest and most prestigious film award) for “Best Feature Film,” “Best Direction,” and “Best Actor” at the 1996 German Film Awards, as well as earning star Götz George the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival and being chosen as Germany's official submission to the 69th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, The Deathmaker is by no means the typical small and soon forgotten arthouse vanity piece as its various prizes and seemingly unlikely American release certainly prove, thus demonstrating the German public has not been completely mentally colonized and lobotomized by the neo-vaudevillian real-life villains of cinematic vulgarity in Hollywood. Rather unfortunately, aside from a couple somewhat notable exceptions like Der Freie Wille (2006) aka The Free Will directed by Matthias Glasner, Ein Leben lang kurze Hosen tragen (2002) aka The Child I Never Was directed by Kai S. Pieck, a couple films directed by Oskar Roehler (Agnes and His Brothers, The Elementary Particles) and some of auteur Karmakar’s subsequent works, German cinema has not really evolved much since the release of The Deathmaker, especially when compared with the great masterworks of German New Cinema created during the 1970s and early 1980s by truly revolutionary auteur filmmakers like Fassbinder, Herzog, Syberberg, Schroeter, Sanders-Brahms, etc. It should be noted that The Deathmaker is also a work of metacinema that pays tongue-in-cheek tribute to the great Haarmann films of the past, as demonstrated by a random scene in the film where the boy-buggering butcher antihero narcissistically remarks, “Me, too, now! I’ve even made it into the movies! I’m in cinemas all over the world! China, Japan,” after the Professor expresses his doubts that the killer is a great man like Napoleon, thus demonstrating the nearly century-long obsession the cinema world and the general public has had with serial killers.
On top of somewhat subtly commenting on the fact that Haarmann was one of the first celebrity serial killers whose crimes were glorified, romanticized, and bastardized by the Weimar press (indeed, from Lang’s M to a best-selling 2007 Hanover Tourism Board calendar featuring a caricature of the killer, Haarmann has unquestionably been immortalized for his harrowing homo-cidal deeds), The Deathmaker also somewhat feebly and rather dubiously attempts to establish a link between Haarmann and National Socialism. Indeed, aside from mentioning the fact that the serial killer lived across the street from a Jewish temple, the eponymous antihero makes various seemingly nonsensical anti-communist and anti-Semitic statements throughout the film, especially during a scene where he states the following in a decidedly deranged fashion while absurdly comparing himself to Jesus Christ: “The Jews yelled, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Now they’re yelling at me like that. I never did them any harm, the communists. It must’ve been the same back then.” While not exactly glamorizing Haarmann in a manner comparable to Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), it should also be noted that he is easily the most interesting and likeable character in the entire film because, while Dr. Schultze acts like a humorless and self-righteous dick and the Stenographer is not much more than a skittish automaton-like cipher, the Lustmord-obsessed lunatic is a rather piteous and emotional fellow who clearly suffered his fair share of abuse and social alienation during his all-too-short life. Indeed, not unlike American aberrosexual Aryan serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who was a rather lonely fellow who confessed in various interviews that he ate his victims as a warped means to get close to them and “keep a part of them,” Fritz Haarmann was a pathetic figure who longed for acceptance and friendship (at one point in the film, he mentions that no one would be his friend because, “I used to shit my pants”), so it is only ironic that it was only when he serially raped, killed, and devoured young boys that he gained the grand reputation in society he so eagerly craved. Undoubtedly, auteur Romuald Karmakar’s greatest accomplishment with The Deathmaker is deconstructing the myth of Haarmann’s sinister legacy, as a work where one more or less gets to spend an evening with the beast himself. A sort of over-extended yet understated tribute to the underworld trial scene at the conclusion of Fritz Lang's M as directed by the bastard punk rocker son of Brecht, Hauff, and Syberberg, Karmakar’s wicked little wonder film is, quite unlike most of the plastically polished works that are defecated out of Deustchland nowadays by solely monetary-motivated studios, a rare piece of legitimate Teutonic kultur that ultimately proves that German cinema is not actually completely dead like one of Haarmann's tragic twink victim, but merely hibernating until a time comes when a more deserving audience is born. Of course, The Deathmaker is more of a condemnation of society than anything else, as it would be pure aesthetic blasphemy to create a classically beauteous work during our spiritually sick zeitgeist, hence why the film was set during the Weimar era.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:20 PM
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