Oct 25, 2014

The Moor's Head

I am quite proud to say that, although I like some of his films like Funny Games (1997) and The White Ribbon (2007), I am certainly no Michael Haneke fanboy, which is largely due to the fact that I cannot stand the man, who resembles a sort of sneering Judaic left-wing intellectual in spite of his apparent Teutonic blue blood. Indeed, whenever I see a Haneke film, I can practically imagine him jerking off to himself while sitting in front of a mirror in his ivory tower like some nihilistic narcissus while fantasizing about the audience members he aesthetically assaulted with his obscenely self-conscious and largely self-congratulatory works. This of course is no fantasy of my own, but demonstrated by Haneke's own remarks and actions, like how he once bragged that audience members were horrified by a scene from his debut feature The Seventh Continent (1989) aka Der siebente Kontinent where the doomed family flushes all of their money down the toilet. While the director speaks of the “emotional glaciation” of the post-WWII Occident and whatnot, it seems like he is merely projecting his personality and view of the world. Naturally, when I discovered that someone else had adapted a screenplay penned by Haneke, I could not help but wonder if such a work would lack the director’s proverbial wagging finger. Indeed, Der Kopf des Mohren (1995) aka The Moor’s Head is Haneke as interpreted by fellow Austrian, actor/auteur Paulus Manker who, as far as I am concerned, has directed nothing but unsung masterpieces, including the post-industrial nightmare Schmutz (1987) aka Dirt, as well as the truly unclassifiable Weininger's Last Night (1990) aka Weiningers Nacht, which he also starred in. Based on the tragic life and genius philosophy of so-called self-loathing Jew Otto Weininger—a troubled young genius who committed suicide (interestingly, in the same house where Beethoven died) shortly after releasing his magnum opus Geschlecht und Charakter (1903) aka Sex and Character, which argued that all people are ‘bisexual’ (aka a mixture of male and the female character traits) to varying degrees and that the archetypal Jew is innately feminine and thus lacks a moral compass and true sense of individuality (soul)—Weininger’s Last Night is one of the true contemporary masterpieces of Austrian cinema and a work that Manker, who is half-Jewish (his father was the Viennese Jewish theatre and TV director Gustav Manker), put himself into completely (on top of playing Weininger in the stage adaptation of Joshua Sobol’s original play, Manker also played the suicidal Semite philosopher in Ildikó Enyedi’s My 20th Century (1989) aka Az én XX. Századom). Unquestionably, The Moor’s Head seems more like a work that Manker did to help out his buddy Haneke (who apparently wanted to direct it himself but for whatever reason couldn’t) than a deep personal project, yet it is a ‘lost classic’ of sorts that would most certainly develop a cult following in the United States if it had better exposure. A work of suburban metaphysical horror in the spirit of Haneke’s own The Seventh Continent meets Todd Hayne’s Safe (1995) and Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter (2011), The Moor’s Head begins as a seemingly banal bourgeois drama and delightfully degenerates into a fiercely foreboding horror show about a successful family man who, upon hearing about a toxic gas leak accident at a nearby factory, becomes deleteriously psychologically perturbed and ultimately a threat to his family as he begins preparing for an imaginary apocalypse of sorts.

 Afrocentrics will be delighted to know that the eponymous Moorhead of Manker’s film is a reference to a gigantic painting of a big-lipped and spook-eyed negress, which is located at a ruined lot where the protagonist, Georg Hartmann (played by Viennese actor Gert Voss, who just died a couple months back), is having a nice home built for his loving family. Georg is a seemingly happy-go-lucky physicist that lives in an Austrian suburb and works hard at a testing lab and has a wife, Anna (German New Cinema star Angela Winkler, of countless classics like The Tin Drum (1979), as well as Haneke’s 1992 flick Benny’s Video), as well as three kids, including a teenage daughter and prepubescent boy and girl. Everything seems to be running smoothly in Georg’s life until he hears a radio broadcast at work that a “terrible accident” has occurred at a nearby plant in Wiesing involving a gas explosion. While his coworkers couldn't care less that some poor fellow was exposed to hazardous gasses, Georg becomes quite unnerved by the news and almost immediately hallucinates seeing the assumed corpse of the man that perished in the accident. While taking a bath with a rubber duck, Georg also hallucinates seeing blood dripping from his wife’s arms. Anna does not become aware of Georg’s mental illness until he sells their lot with the Moorhead to buy a ruined country home that he plans to revamp into an ostensible ‘paradise.’ When Anna questions Georg’s sanity after he shows her the country home and recommends that he see a psychiatrist, he smacks her so hard that she falls to the floor and suffers a bloody nose. Afterward, Georg explains that he wanted to move to the country to get away from the “chaos” of the city and then goes on to describe the emigration and suicide rates in Austria. While Georg manages to make up with Anna during their rendezvous in the countryside and he even agrees to attempt to buy back the Moorhead house, the scientist’s sanity has only begun to wane all the more. 

 When Georg opts to stay home while his family goes on vacation in Italy, he takes the opportunity to turn the fancy family apartment into a sort of post-apocalyptic sanctuary equipped with an indoor garden, a virtual jungle with living birds, bunny rabbits, and baby chickens. While turning his flat into an ostensibly indomitable fortress, George actively feeds his paranoia and insanity by listening to the news and becomes especially intrigued by a broadcast about a crazed Chechnyan who committed self-immolation in Moscow. Meanwhile, wife Anna attempts to contact Georg, even sending him a telegram urging him to call her back, but he ignores it. Georg also begins recording his phone calls and whatnot as keepsakes. On the handful of occasions that Georg opts to venture out in public, he takes a hint from the Japanese and sports a protective mask over his face, so as not to acquire whatever imaginary virus might be out there. When an elderly busybody makes the mistake of routinely spying on what Georg is doing, he stabs her in the eye via a keyhole. Whatever became of the nosey old fart is anyone’s guess, but she surely got what was coming to her. 

 Naturally, when Anna and the children arrive back from their trip to Italy, they are quite taken aback by what old Georg boy has done to the apartment. While Georg’s preadolescent son Jakob (Manuel Löffler) is amazed by the garden apartment, his wife Anna is not nearly as happy and tells her husband that she feels like she is trapped in a “nightmare.” As someone who believes his wife only cares about irreverent things, Georg believes that it is she and not he who is the one that is acting delusional. When Jakob hurts his foot and Anna attempts to take him and the rest of the children away, Georg stops her by brutally beating her in front of the kids. When Anna becomes so disturbed by the realization that she and her children have become imprisoned by her husband, she becomes hyper hysterical and vomits. That night, Georg hears Anna running through the apartment, so to stop her he bashes her over the head and instantly kills her. Determined to finish the job, Georg also violently kills all the livestock and slaughters his two young children with a kitchen knife and attempts to frame his wife for the killings by planting said kitchen knife in her cold dead hand. Of course, seeing as he is a schizophrenic of sorts, Georg only imagined the killings and is soon taken away to the loony bin after his wife calls the authorities, but not before he slices his own face up. In the end, the film closes with a quote by Enlightenment era German philosopher/poet Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. 

 As depicted in the documentary Celluloid Horror (2004), Canadian cineaste and journalist Kier-La Janisse (author of the 2012 FAB Press release House of Psychotic Women) has done her part in promoting The Moor’s Head by having it screened at her film festival CineMuerte aka ‘Cinema of Death’—Canada’s first and only international horror film festival—alongside works by Jörg Buttgereit, Jean Rollin, and Buddy Giovinazzo, among various others. Aside from that, it seems that Manker’s film is destined to incinerate in the celluloid dustbin of history like so many other great German-language films. While I do not want to sound like some proud uncultivated philistine, I have to admit that I believe that what separates The Moor’s Head from Haneke’s oeuvre, is a certain sense of humanity that the Funny Games director seems to lack, as if he is above (and/or is too ill-equipped at) demonstrating empathy for his characters and audience. In other words, one does not get the impression while watching The Moor’s Head that Manker thinks he is better than his characters and that he does not suffer from the narcissistic delusion that his shit does not smell. While nearly two decades old, the film has only become all the more horrifying and pertinent, especially considering the rise of survivalist and ‘prepper’ types who think that the apocalypse is just around the corner. Indeed, considering the current state of the West, especially the United States, we can probably expect to see a number of Georg Hartmanns cropping up. The greatest Austrian ‘arthouse horror’ flick since Gerald Kargl’s Angst (1983) aka Schizophrenia, The Moor’s Head is a great reminder of the true artistic potential of the horror genre as opposed to mind-numbingly retarded ‘supernatural horror,’ the totally tedious ‘torture porn’ of psychopathic Zionist frat boy Eli Roth, and related celluloid swill that Hollywood incessantly defecates out to remind the world that America has no culture. While probably not an intention of the director, The Moor’s Head also depicts a culturally and spiritually repressed technocratic zeitgeist where rapid Americanization and a lack of a spiritual ‘Heimat’ drive people crazy, hence why the lead character has an undying atavistic urge to live a simple life without cars and cities and attempts to move his family to the country (and when that fails, he brings the country to his apartment!). Of course, as Haneke demonstrated with his film The White Ribbon, the country is an evil place that spawns violent proto-Nazi children. 

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Oh that gorgeous little Heather O`Rourke look-a-like from "The Seventh Continent", what a stunning little darlin` she was.

Jennifer Croissant said...

Just a minor quibble Ty E, it gets on my nerves when you use the word "whatnot" in these reveiws, it is a rather idiotic and pathetic little word and i`d prefer it if you`d stop using it OK, cheers.