Aug 18, 2014

Blutiger Freitag

Although few people will admit it, especially pretentious ‘socially conscious’ cinephiles (aka armchair neo-Marxists who blow their loads to the films of Godard and Straub), sometimes totally trashy exploitation films tell you more about a zeitgeist than the most critically revered and ostensibly intellectually sophisticated of arthouse works. Indeed, when it comes to films of the 1970s depicting the far-left terrorism that almost threw West Germany into a civil war, I think that the curious Kraut-Guido co-production Blutiger Freitag (1972) aka Bloody Friday aka Violent Offender aka Freies Geleit oder die Geiseln sterben exudes a less biased and more accurate depiction of the spirit of the times than most of the works directed by the likes of celebrated leftist auteur filmmakers like Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta, and Alexander Kluge. Co-directed by Austrian-born actor turned Aryan exploitation hack Rolf Olsen—a jack of all celluloid trades who had directed virtually every type of trash film, including crap kraut comedies, softcore ‘report’ flicks, racially insensitive mondo movies, and even children’s films—Bloody Friday is vaguely socio-politically conscious filmic filth of the exquisitely exploitative sort that is like the comsymp agitprop piece The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975) as directed by the asshole bastard son of Alfred Vohrer (one of the main directors of the Edgar Wallace franchise by Rialto) and some goombah exploitation hack like Umberto Lenzi. Indeed, tastelessly exploiting popular issues in West German during the 1970s like the far-left terrorism of the Red Army Faction/Baader-Meinhof Gang, so-called ‘xenophobia’ (especially in regard to the “Gastarbeiter” aka “guest worker” phenomenon), latent Nazism, and capital punishment in regard to terrorists, Olsen’s film ultimately takes a refreshingly cynical approach to issues that filmmakers associated with German New Cinema took deadly serious. Featuring rampant anti-Guido sentiment, gratuitous canine killings, toddlers carrying around live hand grenades, psychopathic criminals complaining about hemorrhoid problems, frigid bull-dykes in suit jackets who suffer mental breakdowns after being carnally manhandled by macho men, bank robbers robbing wussy multicultural American GIs, small-time capitalist whore venders peddling hotdogs at crime scenes, everyday citizens calling for the gassing of criminals, and psychedelic montages juxtaposing images of hairy pussies and slaughtered animals, Bloody Friday may not be up to par with the sardonic insanity of Fassbinder’s black comedy crime flick The Third Generation (1979) aka Die dritte Generation, but it is certainly a wild and wicked, as well as slightly artful and oftentimes hilarious, celluloid ride with a busted moral compass that makes a marvelous mockery of national tragedy. 

 Prisoner Heinz Klett (played by Raimund Harmstorf, who is best known for playing the Nietzschean villain Wolf Larsen in the German 1971 Jack London adaption Der Seewolf aka The Seawolf) is a psychopathic career criminal of the neo-Viking sort with long hair and a beard who looks like he walked off the set of Klaus Lemke’s kraut cult classic Rocker (1972) who manages to escape from a Munich court house after brutally beating two elderly cops in a bathroom. Indeed, after complaining to the old cops, “Look, do I shit here or in court?,” Heinz is allowed to enter a bathroom stall where he manages to receive a handgun via a window with the help of his criminal compatriots Luigi Belloni (Gianni Macchia) and Stevo (Totò Mignone).  After exiting the stall, Heinz waves his weapons at the elderly cops and a struggle breaks out that leaves both old lawmen beaten to a bloody pulp. While Heinz and Luigi manage to escape from the court house unscathed, their comrade Stevo is caught and taken into custody. Luigi is a Gastarbeiter from Italy who works at a gas station where he constantly faces anti-Guido sentiment from rude asshole krauts with bad attitudes, but he does not care too much because he is engaged to a rather beauteous blonde Aryan babe named Helen aka Heidi Hofbauer (played by Christine Böhm, who would later star in Jacques Demy’s 1979 romantic period piece Lady Oscar), not to mention the fact that he thinks he is about to get rich via a planned bank robbery. Due to her goombah boyfriend, Helen faces persecution from some of her co-workers, with one complaining, “I tell you it’s that Italian. When Helen met him that’s when her big problems started.” To the bitchy co-worker’s credit, Helen is involved in a bank robbery plot with her fiancé Luigi and hotheaded lunatic Heinz, who is the untermensch ‘mastermind’ of the plan. When Helen’s AWOL fugitive soldier brother Christian (portrayed by actor/singer Amadeus August, who is best known for playing the protagonist of the 1971 French-German swashbuckler TV series Quentin Durward)—a reasonably morally pristine young man who just happened to accidentally kill one of his commanders—shows up to see his lovely little sister, Heinz attempts to coerce him into getting involved in the bank robbery after starting a fist fight with the man and realizing he is pretty tough and can be put to good use. Luigi also attempts some goombah smooth-talking on Christian, arguing regarding their dubious economic future, “Where else are we going to get rich, in Italia?! Or spending a lifetime making chocolates in Germania?! In America where the niggers and whites are fighting?! They say heaven helps those that help themselves.” While Christian initially declines, he eventually decides to join up after his sister reveals that she is pregnant and that she needs all the financial help she can get, as one can hardly raise a family with her lover Luigi's undignified job as a gas station attendant. Of course, little does Christian realize that he, his sister, and the rest of the conspirators will die like rabid dogs. 

 To get the appropriate intimidating weapons and ammunition to rob a bank, Heinz and his motley crew of lumpenprole misfits first rob a group of American GIs, thus accidentally resulting in one unlucky yank’s death. While pigheaded degenerate Heinz believes that his bank robbery scheme is immaculate, he ultimately fails to take a number of considerations in mind, though he has some marginally clever ideas, like attempting to frame bourgeois-bred far-left terrorist for the crimes, remarking to Luigi, “We gotta get hold of one of those supped up sports cars. We gotta make it look like the job is the Baader-Meinhof Gang.” Indeed, as a true gutter-dwelling proletarian without a cent to his name, Heinz knows that the Baader bunch are just a bunch of failed bourgeois pretty boy and girl pansies who cannot match his majesty in terms of raw working-class criminality. When the Heinz and his crew eventually get around to robbing the bank, they are in for quite a surprise when the alarm is sounded and ‘safety grills’ cover the windows and doors, thus locking the crooks and their hostages inside the building. Of course, the group takes all the bank patrons hostage, including a hot yet annoying and moronically morally self-righteous chick named Marie Lotzmann (played by Gila von Weitershausen, who previously appeared in Louis Malle’s 1971 flick Murmur of the Heart as a prostitute), who happens to be the daughter of a wealthy grocery store owner. Naturally, Heinz decides to jack-up the ransom from a mere $500,000 to $1 million after learning that his hot hostage's daddy is a rather rich dude. Naturally, the hostage situation sires a media frenzy of sorts, with newscasters, hotdog venders, opportunistic politicians and police officers, and bored everyday citizens all taking advantage of the dire situation in their own different yet equally parasitic ways. Meanwhile, as Christian begins to develop a quasi-romantic relationship with sermonizing rich bitch Marie, Heinz is getting drunk on liquor and attempting to get his hostages drunk with him. Of course, things go wrong for the group when a small boy accidentally gets a hold of one of Christian’s grenades and pulls out the pin, as a cop dives on the explosive shortly after and is brutally killed as a result of the explosive detonating on his stomach.  While the dead cop's actions were rather nonsensical (there was no real reason for him to throw himself on the grenade, as no one was around him when it exploded), the media portrays the officer as a righteous martyr who saved the lives of countless people.  After one of the female hostages dies unexpectedly as a result of a stress-induced heart attack, the gang decides to to let the children and old men go, but naturally the young and sexy hostages must stay, so dashing twink Christian provides them with his company as a way to protect them from his compatriots, especially deranged dipsomaniac Heinz. 

 When Heinz’s gang finally has the ransom money delivered to them by the police, they make their getaway to a secret hideout and bring two of the female hostages, Marie and a lipstick lesbian named Dagmar Neuss (Daniela Giordano), with them as insurance. When a cop catches the gang picking up Helen at their hangout, Luigi is severely crippled after being bitten by a police dog and thus the cop and canine are subsequently murdered by the crew as retribution. When the gang finally gets to their main hideout in the Bavarian woods, everything begins to fall apart, especially after Heinz murders dyke Dagmar after she insults his sexual performance after voluntarily agreeing to having wild sex with him. Indeed, the late night carnal session is so nightmarish for gynocentric gal Dagmar that she has psychedelic hallucinations of bushy vaginas and bloody slaughtered cattle in a gorgeously grotesque montage that is easily the most artsy fartsy and visually striking scene of Bloody Friday. When Christian learns that Heinz has killed the lipstick lesbian, he becomes enraged and smashes a piece of firewood over the gang leader's rather thick skull, which ignites a scuffle between Luigi and Helen that results in the former’s accidental death via firearm. Indeed, things get so tragic for the gang that Helen unwittingly kills her goombah baby-daddy. The next day, borderline-good-guy Christian saves rich girl Marie’s life by letting her go, even though he never actually got the opportunity to make love with her. Not long after that, a virtual army of police blitzkrieg the gang's hideout and immediately shoot pregnant Helen dead, so her brother Christian naturally flips out and begins unloading ammo on pigs, but he is soon shot down as well. While Heinz lasts the longest, he is also gunned down in a glaze of (in)glory, ironically collapsing on the ransom money that he risked his life to earn. In the end, the film concludes in a contrived pseudo-moralistic manner with the following Napoleon Bonaparte quote: “Crime is as contagious as the pest. No one can commit one without having to pay for it…” 

At the very beginning of Bloody Friday, an inter-title appears warning the viewer: “The events in this film are based on actual facts. For obvious reasons, certain details and names have been changed but not in any endeavor to distort the truth.” In the sense that is based on a true story, largely revolves around a darkly humorous media-circus-plagued bank robbery, and features goofy Guido villains, Olsen's film is like the Dog Day Afternoon (1975) of crime-oriented krautsploitation flicks (somewhat shockingly, Olsen's film actually predates the Sidney Lumet flick by 3 years). Of course, despite being ostensibly based on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the film is innately exploitive any way you look at it, yet it is ultimately more effective than a film like The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, as it shows that the criminals are just as moronic as the cops and that the masses, like virtually all masses, don't know shit about anything (though it is pretty hilarious when an elderly man calls for the gassing a killers). Indeed, despite its concluding Napoleon quote, Bloody Friday is nasty unadulterated celluloid nihilism that laughs in the face of the troubled Teutonic zeitgeist that it so degenerately depicts. Unlike most Euro-exploitation flick, the film is also vaguely ‘artsy’ at points and even features some arthouse stars, including ditzy dame Renate Roland, who got her start playing the negligent teenage babysitter in Roland Klick’s Bübchen (1968) and would later appear in Fassbinder’s TV mini-series Eight Hours are Not a Day (1972-1973). Speaking of Fassbinder, Olsen's film strangely covers a number of the same major themes and forms of allegorical imagery that would that alpha German New Cinema auteur would incorporate in his films, including the proletarian crime world (i.e. Love Is Colder Than Death, The American Soldier), terrorism (i.e. Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven, The Third Generation), lesbian-based misandry (i.e. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), xenophobia (i.e. Katzelmacher, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), capitalism-inspired working-class rage and resentment (i.e. I Only Want You to Love Me), and slaughterhouses (i.e. In a Year of 13 Moons). 

 For whatever reason, gay American actor Lee Payant—a man whose greatest claim to fame was dubbing the eponymous role of the 1960s TV serial The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe in English and being the long-term boyfriend of black American actor/musician Gordon Heath—was responsible for directing part of the English cut of the film, though the exploitation flick does not feature any overt homoerotic content.  Somewhat notably, there is a scene or two in Bloody Friday where the camera hovers over Heinz’s tight leather pants to emphasize the size of his man-meat, as if to demonstrate that he has both literally and figuratively big balls, but also possibly to appeal the poof sensibility of pansy co-director Payant (who would never direct another film). Indeed, Heinz exudes rampant heterosexuality of the majorly macho yet dangerously violent sort in a somewhat cliche and stereotypical fashion that is not atypical of the ultra-macho antagonists of Tennessee Williams’ plays.  Indeed, like the characters in Williams' work (i.e. Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire), Heinz is a character that is both condemned and cryptically glorified due to his boorish and even bestial masculinity.  Unquestionably, Bloody Friday is a rare German action-crime flick that dares to depict true Viking-esque all-balls masculinity in a patently politically incorrect fashion, and for that reason alone makes it more exciting than anything that has ever been directed by the likes of von Trotta and Kluge.  An aesthetically pernicious piece of reasonably polished yet rather visceral psychotronic kraut cinema, Bloody Friday is not only proof that Aryans can make good exploitation films, but also that there can sometimes be a 'healthy' and highly entertaining median between pure cinematic trash and socially conscious auteur cinema.

-Ty E

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