Feb 3, 2015

Blackwater Fever

Judging solely from his previous works, it seemed rather unlikely that somewhat unhinged Dutch avant-garde auteur Cyrus Frisch (Selfpity aka Zelfbeklag, Dazzle aka Oogverblindend) would grow out of his meta-cinematic postmodern posturing, pre-packaged nihilistic gimmicks, uniquely inconsistent anti-aesthetics, and undying infatuation for media attention, but with his experimental quasi-existentialist road trip flick Blackwater Fever (2008), it seemed that he had finally got out of his self-designated artistic ghetto and began carefully assembling his own sort of distinguished cinematic language, or at least something certainly resembling one. For his first feature Vergeef me (2001) Forgive Me, Frisch absurdly attempted (emphasis on: ‘attempted’) to criticize the moral bankruptcy of Reality-TV and talk shows by directing the ultimate filmic freak show featuring exceedingly emaciated gutter-dwelling drunks, wheelchair-bound Arab junkies, and violent wife-beating cripples doing what they did best for an adoring audience of bourgeois dorks.  Despite the fact that one of the anti-superstars of the film committed suicide as a direct result of the negative attention he received from the media after getting involved with Frisch's dubious antics, the filmmaker soldiered on without any regrets, confessing regarding the (non)actor's untimely death in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine: “Of course, I’m not really to blame for the death of Peter.”  Needless to say, Frisch had to at least attempt to try to top Forgive Me in terms of ostensible iconoclasm and carny-like showmanship if he wanted to stay relevant with the media and film critics, so he pulled off the stunt of filming his next feature Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan (2007) entirely on a cell-phone and even included a scene of himself in the film running down a public street naked, as if trying in vain to outdo the camcorder-based self-debasement of Hollywood teenage heartthrob turned junky trailer park auteur Giuseppe Andrews, who has never shied away from exposing his heart, soul, and his seemingly dirty dong for his homebrewed digital video creations. With Blackwater Fever, Frisch for once and all proved that he could make a carefully crafted experimental work that does not rely on mere shock value and is actually ‘cinematic’ enough to play in an actual movie theater. Following in the once-great tradition of existential road movies from the late-1960 to early-1980s like Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970), Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and the works of Wim Wenders (Kings of the Road, Paris, Texas), Frisch’s flick, not unlike French auteur Bruno Dumont’s modernist realist horror show Twentynine Palms (2003), is just as much a metaphysical journey as a physical one as a work that features a look at the great American open road from the unique and unconventional perspective of a highly critical and sometimes cockeyed European lens.  Indeed, when Frisch sees arid American deserts he does not think about cowboys and Indians or Breaking Bad, but towel-headed Islamic terrorists and starving members of the negroid race, thus reflecting the great disconnect between deracinated Western Europeans and intellectually unevolved and culturally-retarded white Americans.

 The almost dialogue-less (non)story of a dull young Dutch dude and his equally mentally vacant dame as they aimlessly drive a convertible from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (or what Frisch lovingly described as, “the western consumer paradise”) and somehow end up driving through the war-torn Middle East and Africa on the way after the male protagonist develops the very serious eponymous complication of malaria that causes red blood cells to explode in the bloodstream, the releasing of hemoglobin directly into the blood vessels and into the urine, and oftentimes kidney failure, Blackwater Fever is a sort of transcendental fever dream on overdrive that demonstrates in a shockingly aesthetically resplendent way what it must feel like to be an impotent ethno-masochistic white liberal who has been brainwashed into wanting to save all brown people of the world, but is far too decadent, spoiled, weak, and naïve to do anything at all. Indeed, despite featuring a protagonist who feels he is a “murderer” because he cannot save the lives of poor starving and disease-ridden black Africans, Frisch’s flick is ironically probably the first film production in film history where the lead actor and various crew members decided to quit the project before it actually wrapped shooting because they felt that the director had exploited impoverished negroes, thus reflecting the unhinged and hilariously hyper hypocritical nature of the filmmaker who, somewhat admirably, seems to be willing to go to any extreme to get his desired effect in terms of artistic expression. Of course, as a member of the same people that tamed and civilized what would later be called South Africa, Frisch was merely unwittingly following in a great Dutch tradition when he made the film.  After all, I am sure that the starving Africans that appear in the film were able to get a nice meal or two in payment for their admittedly grotesque and even horrifying Jodorowsky-esque performances.

 Notably, in keeping in tradition with his singular dedication to meta-exploitative hyper-hyperrealism, Frisch had originally intended to shoot at an actual real-life food distribution camp in the Horn of Africa, but some pesky NGOs thwarted the filmmaker’s ambitious plans to capture real negro suffering—certainly something that whites, especially those of the privileged and educated sort, cannot seem to get enough of nowadays—so he had to step it down a notch and created his own makeshift Sudanese Dinka ‘village’ in Namibia where he cast fairly sick, hungry, and deformed locals to play the parts for a scene at the end of the film that some viewers might describe as ‘poverty porn.’ As Frisch once stated regarding the nameless and childishly self-absorbed yet largely apathetic McWorld-minded protagonist played by Roeland Fernhout (Robert Jan Westdijk’s Siberia, Martin Koolhoven’s Suzy Q) and his ignorance towards human suffering, “This character has the feeling that he’s not really there. He’s driving through a civil war in Africa, but he might as well be watching MTV. I think it’s very important to zoom in on the reality we live in nowadays.” Luckily for self-flagellating whites, bleeding heart leftist wimps, and pedantic Adorno fan-boys, by the end of Blackwater Fever, Fernhout’s rampantly metrosexual and comfortably-numb Hawaiian-shirt-adorned character will be crying like a little ball-less bitch while holding a black baby in what one might describe as an allegory for the absurdity, impotency, and hopelessness of contemporary European xenophiliac altruism. Indeed, Frisch might have intended to make a film that panders to the racially and culturally suicidal lemmings and automatons in academia and the media, as well as the so-called non-profit organizations that probably give the filmmaker funding, but what he ultimately unwittingly sired is a visceral and unintentionally honest depiction of the all-consuming nihilism of spiritually and culturally retarded modern European man who, with nothing left to conquer and thus nothing left to live for, has ultimately decided to interpret Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “The White Man's Burden” as a call to self-exterminating altruism via the ostensibly completely selfless devotion to ending the perennial struggle of billions of starving illiterate ‘people of color’ in the world. 

 Although the protagonist only says a couple words during the entire film, Blackwater Fever begins with Roeland Fernhout narrating the following words: “And now…images flow through my head that I can’t get rid of anymore. When I look at myself, in the mirror…I see a man who watches others perish. I have the guts to look but not to do anything. I don’t pick up the phone to call the police. I don’t open the window to scream. When I look in the mirror…I see a murderer.” Fernhout sees a murderer in the mirror as he suffers from a totally transcendental form of patently pathetic post-colonial ‘white guilt’ which he obtains after contracting blackwater fever while driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and somehow ending up in the arid wastelands of the Middle East and Africa. It is so hot outside that you can see the heat rise off the asphalt, but that does not seem to affect the protagonist, who is not much more than a posturing cipher with a fancy convertible, chic shades, and a hot token girlfriend who likes getting fucked on top of her seemingly half-braindead beau’s car. Throughout most of the film, Fernhout does nothing but drive and drive as if to reflect the perennial nothingness of his consistently stagnant life of western luxury, but after contracting a bad case of blackwater fever he begins to see what he initially thinks are mirages that eventually become too potent for him to ignore, thus ultimately giving him a new perception of life and humanity in general.  Although initially a mindless consumer and materialist, Fernhout eventually develops the distinctly European vice of deeply devout humanism of the social justice warrior sort.

 In between ejaculating on the stomach of his equally cipher-like girlfriend (played by Ellen Ten Damme, who previously starred in Frisch’s Forgive Me), Fernhout begins seeing towel-headed Muslim terrorists executing prisoners while he is driving through the desert, though he initially ignores these unsettling visions. When Fernhout decides to leave the highway and drive off-road through the desert, he runs into a dead corpse covered with a cloak, but after looking at it for a second or two, he doesn’t seemed too impressed and keeps on driving. After suffering from a completely crippling bout of fever-induced shivering that involves him rolling around in a fetal position on the desert ground, Fernhout swings his girlfriend in the air while a rotten corpse sits in the foreground, as if to highlight his apathy towards human suffering or something. When a group of negro terrorists rape his girlfriend, Fernhout does not even seem to notice, even after his lover manages to escape from her savages rapists, runs up to him in vain for protection, and ultimately has her brains blown out right in front of his decidedly disinterested boyfriend. It is only when Fernhout stumbles upon a corpse-like tribe of totally naked starving, deformed, and/or diseased dying African negroes that Fernhout seems to pull his head out of his ass for the first time in his life and takes note of his surroundings.  Indeed, Fernhout is somehow more concerned with the fates of random black tribesmen than that of his own girlfriend. While Fernhout simply cries hysterically while looking a hunchback negress and dehydrated corpse, among other barely human misbegotten creatures, he eventually has a epiphany of sorts upon finding and cradling a black baby, which he steals(!) from the refugee camp and then runs away with, as if he wants to be like Madonna and start a collection of third world Hominid accessories that he can show off to the paparazzi. 

 As Olaf Möller wrote in his article entitled ‘Things Fall Apart: The Unflinching Cinema of Dutch Provocateur Cyrus Frisch’ featured in the March/April 2010 issue of Film Comment regarding the manipulative tactics that the Blackwater Fever director utilized for shooting the final scene of the film: “When Frisch was barred from shooting this scene in an actual refugee camp, he built a set, filled it with emaciated extras, and then sent in his star unforewarned. The look of horror on Fernhout's face is real – the actor broke down, weeping uncontrollably. He fled the set and subsequently professed his hatred toward Frisch for subjecting him to the ordeal.” While I think very little of the intellects of most actors and appreciate it when filmmakers go the extra mile to make a truly audacious cinematic work, I think Frisch is more of a socially autistic sadistic exploiter than the selfless and altruistic humanist crusader that he has attempted to portrayed himself as. Ultimately, Frisch seems no more sincere about his would-be-holy mission to save starving and dying untermenschen than when superlatively spoiled Hollywood superstars that live in virtual fantasy worlds like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt walk down the red carpet and show off their latest living dark-skinned acquisitions from sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, Blackwater Fever is not an allegory for the spiritual transformation of a spoiled self-absorbed westerner into a humanist freedom-fighter as Frisch intended, but an accidental allegory for how seventy years of Americanization, Hollywoodization, and philo-Semitic xenophile-based reeducation has deracinated Europeans and whites in general and transformed them into soulless automaton-like slaves who have been carefully programmed like a rabid Pavlovian dog to care more about a rotting negro corpse in some faraway African desert wasteland than seeing their girlfriend gang-raped and executed by a militia of bloodlusting and rape-hungry Mandingo Islamists right before his very eyes.  Call me crazy, but if I was forced to choose between sparing the life of my girlfriend or the lives of millions of third worlders, I would not think twice about picking the former and I certainly cannot under the mentality of people that would choose otherwise.  While I would normally be annoyed by a film featuring such a shamelessly and pathetically ethno-masochistic conclusion, Frisch—an auteur that seems to suffer from sort of mental illness on the autism spectrum as reflected by his almost childlike intrigue in regard to real-life human misery and suffering—managed to a assemble a film that, in spite of its intended message, ultimately succeeds in doing something that is infinitely more interesting by potently expressing the sheer and utter deadness of the Nordic soul, as well as the pathetic level that Faustian man has reduced himself to, as the world's foremost conqueror turned world's foremost cuckold and self-appointed adoptive parent of the entire untermenschen.  Surely, I would have had more respect for the protagonist of Blackwater Fever if he had either killed himself at the end of the film instead of deciding to devote his life to a starving spade babe.  Unquestionably the most ambitious, original, atmospheric, and strangely pleasantly paced road movie since American Guido hero Vincent Gallo's predictably condemned The Brown Bunny (2003), Frisch's experimental cinematic trip is a rare contemporary European flick that, for better or worse, actually manages to capture the particularly troubling spirit of its foredoomed zeitgeist.  If space aliens ever came to earth and wondered why the white man helped to pave the way for his own extinction, they can just watch Blackwater Fever and examine the warped psyche of the film's less than heroic slave-morality-ridden hero, who epitomizes everything that is sick, pathetic, and absurd about the post-WWII European mind.

-Ty E

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