Jun 29, 2015

In the Basement

After directing a series of more accessible narrative features, including Import/Export (2007) and the highly celebrated 2012 Paradise trilogy, Viennese auteur Ulrich Seidl decided to return to his more cinéma-vérité oriented roots with the delightfully debasing and quaintly stylized 80-minute quasi-documentary Im Keller (2014) aka In the Basement, which has been advertised as “A Film Essay” and was made over a five year period where the auteur searched all over Austria for his country's most ‘cinema worthy’ basement environments. Undoubtedly, with the Josef Fritzl scandal that emerged in April 2008 where a seemingly normal Austrian old fart was revealed to have kept his own adult daughter imprisoned in a secret corridor in his basement for 24 years and regularly raped her in a seemingly unreal real-life horror scenario that resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage, it is no surprise that Seidl would direct a film about spending time in the most conspicuously quirky and peculiarly personalized of arcane Austrian lairs. It should be noted that in his official statement on his personal website, Seidl wrote regarding the film, “The basement in Austria is a place of free time and the private sphere. Many Austrians spend more time in the basement of their home than in their living room, which often is only for show. In the basement they actually indulge their needs, their hobbies, passions and obsessions. But in our unconscious, the basement is also a place of darkness, a place of fear, a place of human abysses.”  For those familiar with Seidl’s somewhat singular oeuvre, In the Basement has more or less the same laid-back, free flowing and ostensibly structureless structure as the filmmaker’s early classic Tierische Liebe (1995) aka Animal Love, albeit it focuses on the basements of eccentric people as opposed to the pets of eccentric people. Of course, just as Animal Love does not solely focus on people getting down and dirty with their beloved doggies, In the Basement is also set in places that transcend the damp, dark, and dirty abysses in the subject's homes. As someone that lived in a windowless basement room for a number of years and did many things down there that most people would not do in any place, Seidl’s work had a somewhat more personal resonance for me than any of his other works, though, in terms of domestic absurdity, I do not think I can compare with most of the things the aberrant Austrians do in their secret cellars in the film. Indeed, as I personally discovered, the basement can be a calming and soothing place where one can lose themselves and forget the world exists, but too much time down there can be highly psychologically deleterious as most of the subjects of In the Basement insightfully, if seemingly unwittingly, demonstrate. Featuring a soft-spoken so-called gun nut of the philosophically Weiningerian and opera singing sort, a suburban tuba-playing Hitlerite of the dipsomaniac sort who fantasizes about living in Austria’s glorious past from the relative comfort of his meticulously decorated mensch-cave, an elderly reborn doll pseudo-mom who keeps a number creepy rubber babies hidden in boxes around her cluttered basement, a rather repulsive female masochist who has a tendency towards getting her husbands stabbed or imprisoned after sustaining one too many brutal beatings, a grotesque fat and bald male slave who regularly has heavy weights applied to his testicles by his equally repugnant mistress-cum-wife while washing dishing and doing other emasculating wifely duties, and a couple more subjects that truly make one wonder if Austria would have been better off if their most infamous prodigal son Uncle Adolf had won the Second World War and erased anti-Aryan figures like Freud from history, Seidl’s deranging doc is another almost perniciously potent remainder why the auteur describes himself as a, “director, scriptwriter, producer, voyeur, misanthrope, cynic, social pornographer, blackguard, provocateur, pessimist, and humanist,” on his personal website. 

 Fritz Lang might like lurking in dark corners like his famous filmmaker namesake, but I sincerely doubt that he has a negative view of technology as depicted in Metropolis (1927). Herr Lang owns and operates a state of the art underground shooting ranging where, in between operatic singing sessions and rants about how he would have been good at singing the “great in-between roles” in operas, he plays a sort of unsimulated version of the old school NES game Duck Hunt that involves shooting projected images of men with real loaded weapons. As expressed by his strangely eloquently delivered monologue, “A man is always young and trim. For him time stands still. Meanwhile his wife will age. Pointless to express outrage or mourn her youth or shed tears, in truth. For what’s left of her days as she helplessly decays while he, with vigor blessed, beats on his heroic chest. He feels again his vigor grow, his manhood stiffens down below. Whenever a lass he spies, a superman, he feels with pride since ere the world began its highest principle is man,” Lang has probably spent some time reading Nietzsche and tragic Jewish Viennese philosopher Otto Weininger’s magnum opus Geschlecht und Charakter (1903) aka Sex and Character. Of course, Lang’s friends are no less ‘politically incorrect’ as demonstrated one man’s remark regarding the dubious loyalties of an Austrian-born Turk, “He says, ‘I’m Austrian.’ I go, ‘Sure, but at the European Cup you scream ‘Turkiye, Turkiye!’ He says, ‘Yeah, I’m Austrian, but I’m Turkish.’ You see? But he’s more Turkish. Even if he was born here.” The man also complains of, “100,000 Turkish malcontents screw our girls if they’re blondes in miniskirts” and his fat friend concurs, adding, “And they proudly declare, ‘We’re fucking your women!’ As men that agree that Muslims have historically raped the women of their enemies as a form of psychological warfare and make their own women sport burkas because they are “Jealous, insecure men,” it is easy to see why these guys would hang at Lang’s shooting range, as they seem to expect a race war of sorts, especially with the growth of illegal immigration and rape in Austria.  Although Austrians, Lang's friends are merely echoing the thoughts that most honest and normal white men in the West have.  While Seidl's own political views are dubious at best (he contributed a segment to the largely worthless anti-Jörg Haider agitprop piece Zur Lage: Österreich in sechs Kapiteln (2002) aka State of the Nation: Austria in Six Chapters), he dares to depict Austrian society at it's least sanitized, thus making him a sort of heir to Pier Paolo Pasolini, albeit without the gay gaze.

 While Josef Ochs—a man that shares the same exact name as an infamous SS-Obersturmführer who was involved in the deportation gypsies and was present in the Berlin Führerbunker during the last dark days of Hitler—does not talk candidly about the Muslim menace like Lang and his comrades, his basement is a sort of lavishly decorated National Socialist shrine that features various framed portraits of Uncle Adolf, a couple models dressed in different uniforms from the Third Reich era, and various other forms of Nazi memorabilia that are probably quite hard to come by in the contemporary Aryan world due to the strict anti-Nazi laws. Of course, Ochs does not just love the Führer, as he also has framed portraits of Richard Wagner, his patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and various other important Germanic historical figures hanging on his garage wall that demonstrate that he has deep Austro-Teutonic roots and feels like he is part of rich and deep culture and tradition that goes back many centuries. For nearly two decades, Ochs has been taking yearly pilgrimages to Germany to visit the Führer’s headquarters at the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden and, as a result, the Stasi-esque kraut police (which he accidentally describes as, “The Gestapo”) have put him on a watch list, or so he complains in a half-annoyed/half-joyous fashion. On top of his Führer fetish, Ochs is a hardcore tuba player that plays in a brass band with his comrades, who he regularly drinks with in his quaint Nazi dungeon where they discuss the good old days when one could be prideful of being Austrian and taking part in Germanic cultural traditions without being labelled a “Nazi” by some emasculated brainwashed cultural cuckold or sapless ethno-masochistic xenophile. As some might assume considering he is an old dude that spends a lot of time hanging out with his friends in his basement, Ochs is also a self-confessed alcoholic, with the subject revealing regarding his daily drinking schedule, “I do like my drink. It goes hand in hand with playing. It’s a given. A morning break drink. Before that, three spritzers just so I can talk. Then, with the morning break drink, 10 spritzers. And afterwards a few shots, because everything’s gone so well. But I’m predisposed because my whole family drinks.” Indeed, if there ever was a greater plague to the Aryan people than the ideas of Hebraic culture-distorters like Marx and Freud and their intellectual spawn, it is alcohol. 

 While there are other subjects in the doc that certainly come close, masochistic lard ass Gerald ‘love slave’ Duchek and his proudly sadistic ‘mistress’/wife Alessa are probably the most innately repugnant individuals in the film, as their exceedingly sloppy and sub-homely physical appearances are only transcended by their seemingly senseless sexual habits, which seem to involve everything aside from actual sex. A totally bald and rather heavyset man who may lack hair on his head but is a virtual bear when it comes to the rest of his burly body, Gerald works security at a local fancy theater by day, but when he comes home he becomes a ‘love slave’ who is forced by his pink-haired Wal-Mart-esque wife to clean the entire house while completely unclad (sans various torture devices attached to his flaccid genitals) and crawling on all fours like the figurative swine that he is. When stoic she-beast Alessa urinates, she forces her anti-hunk hubby to lick her festering vag clean and he even thanks her for the orally odious opportunity. As Alessa candidly states regarding her S&M marriage with anti-gentleman Gerald, “I absolutely adore my love slave…And the opposite is also true: He worships me. It doesn’t affect our love – on the contrary. Only with total devotion and love can something like this work. If I don’t have absolute trust in this person…And similarly if he doesn’t have trust in me, his mistress, he can’t let go completely and can’t serve me 100%. It’s a huge sign of trust. Of course I’m aware that I’m responsible for everything here and that can only work if it’s based on absolute love.” When Gerald first began his relationship with Alessa, he was forced to always wear a chastity belt and was allowed nil form of sexual release, but now that their darkly obsessive romance has evolved he is allowed to masturbate when his proudly wicked wife gives him the get-go. While debauchery occurs all around the Duchek house, the basement, which has been transformed into a dungeon that puts any of the settings described in Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s classic S&M/BDSM novella Venus im Pelz (1870) aka Venus in Furs to abject shame, is where the real hardcore depravity occurs. On top of having a luxurious cabinet full of fancy strap-on dildos and butt-plugs that Alessa uses to peg and prod her beastly beloved's bunghole, the dungeon features a makeshift torture device where poor perennial cuck Gerard is lifted off of a table by his testicles, thus causing him to bring new meaning to the slang phrase ‘blue balls.’  While they are unquestionably grotesque people that do grotesque things, it is nothing short of undeniable that Gerald and Alessa are made for one another and seem to share a mutually loving and joyous romance where both of them are able to express their unfortunate sexual idiosyncrasies.

 Notably, spliced randomly throughout In the Basement is footage of an unnervingly eccentric old woman named Alfreda Klebinger, who is, among other things, the proud ‘mother’ of a number of lifelike vinyl dolls called ‘reborn dolls,’ which over the past couple of years or so have become a strange trend among certain lonely woman of the Occidental world who seem to have a maternal urge that they cannot fulfill because they are too old to have children or have some sort of other problem (it is believed the some women use reborn dolls a means of grieving a child that has died). Why Alfreda collects the dolls is never actually mentioned, but it is glaringly obvious that she is too damn old to get pregnant and have a baby of her own. For whatever reason, Alfreda keeps the dolls hidden in cardboard boxes around her basement. With her hubby, Alfreda has apparently traveled all around the world and while baby talking to one of her reborn dolls while pointing at a large world map, she states regarding India, “It was so filthy, he [her husband] didn’t like it either.” Like Alfreda, a rather rotund hunter named Manfred Ellinger that is featured prominently throughout doc has also done a lot of traveling around the world, though he has regulated most of his time to the Dark Continent to hunt exotic animals, which he proudly describes as managing to kill with a single shot and include mostly furry creatures like nyalas, waterbucks, kudus, white-tailed gnus, warthogs, jackals, and bonteboks, among countless others. Naturally, the taxidermied heads of Manfred’s prized kills have been mounted to his basement wall, which looks fairly absurd due to how many eclectic animal heads of varying sizes have been concentrated to one small area. Surely not the stereotype of the Hollywood-esque wasteful white expedition hunter, Manfred describes how he has personally eaten virtually all these animals, even getting his wife to make Wiener Schnitzel out of a warthog, though he admittedly refuses to dine on baboon. Undoubtedly, to some degree, Manfred reminds me of the expedition hunters that Austrian avant-garde auteur Peter Kubelka mocked in his classic experimental documentary short Unsere Afrikareise (1966) aka Our Trip to Africa, which almost certainly had to be a major influence on Seidl. 

 Undoubtedly, Seidl’s doc is also notable for featuring the most morbidly obese yet happy hookers in cinema history since the ones that briefly appeared in David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990). One of these unpleasantly plump women, Cora Kitty, describes how she decided to become a professional pussy-peddler after getting fed up with having to be nice to nasty people while working in retail, which she absolutely loathed like any sane person would. The conspicuously corpulent prostitute makes no lie of the fact that she absolutely loves her job of selling her gash for cash as it gives her the distinguished opportunity of regularly meeting many different types of men, including guys with big and little cocks, as well as dudes that shoot mighty and miniscule loads. Cora Kitty is depicted engaging in a sort of pap smear-esque session of cunnilingus where her body is strapped into a gynecological device with a small and weasel-like weakling with a rather fitting pervert mustache who is apparently able to please many hookers, who apparently let him enter their meat-curtains for free because he has a special talent where he is able to bust a powerful load where his cum splashes over the gal's thoroughly used and abused vaginal walls, or as the creepy fellow explains himself in an autistic monotone fashion, “My potency lies in, as I discovered at some point, that I can shoot off a very powerful load of semen. With it I’ve left many women pretty amazed.”  Indeed, he may be a rather pathetic looking fellow, but the tiny mustached man certainly must have a special talent if he is able to get call-girls and bar-hogs to spread their legs for free.

 If there was one subject in In the Basement who rubbed me the wrong way the most, it is a self-described “masochist” named Fraud Sabine who is featured having heir ass and pussy lips whipped by a fairly old and racially Alpinish fellow named ‘Master Walter’ aka Walter Holzer who sports a prized pair of lederhosen while brutalizing the old broad's bum. Notably, the nearly elderly masochist, whose beat up body is far from a wonderland, goes on to describe how she stabbed her first husband because she got fed up with him regularly beating her and later she had another hubby imprisoned for four years after he got too rough with her. Somewhat curiously but not surprisingly considering her own background, Frau Sabine is a Caritas Internationalis aid worker who provides help to battered Catholic women. Undoubtedly, Sabine has an unhealthy fetish for exceedingly abusive men, but one cannot help but wonder if there is a little bit of closeted sadist in her in that she would stab one hubby and ruin the life of another. It seems that the masochist hooked up with Master Walter as a means to control her voracious appetite for pain in a more safe and controlled environment where deadly violence never comes into play.  Arguably, the most bizarre thing about Frau Sabine is that she seems like someone that could be an office manager at some sort of bureaucratic corporation, so it is not exactly a pleasure to see her unclad saggy derriere being whipped by Master Walter in a mostly lackluster fashion.  Notably, towards the end of the doc, while getting wasted with his brass band comrades, basement Führer Josef Ochs makes the hilarious official declaration while in an exceedingly inebriated state, “I am the Führer of this party.” Of course, the doc would not be complete without Mistress Alessa having her swinish love slave hung from his balls. As demonstrated by his ambiguously erect choad, pig Gerald most certainly wallows in the punishment. 

 As can be expected in a so-called democratic modern European nation like Austria, In the Basement subject Josef Ochs was apparently facing being charged with ‘Wiederbetätigung’ (a supposed act of (re-)engagement in National Socialist activities) after the film was released as a result of the Nazi memorabilia he has in his suburban Führerbunker. To auteur Ulrich Seidl’s credit, he has pretty much only had good things to say about Herr Ochs, who would later complain that the director opted to focus especially on his Nazi regalia instead of the various portraits and memorabilia that he has in tribute to figures like Ludwig II and various Austrian noblemen (it should be noted that Ochs never actually makes any pro-Nazi statements). Although I have not gotten the chance to see it since I have yet to find a copy with English subtitles, there is a seemingly worthwhile documentary entitled Ulrich Seidl und die bösen Buben (2014) aka Ulrich Seidl: A Director at Work directed by Constantin Wulff that depicts the legendary ‘Seidl method’ as the filmmaker works on both In the Basement and the play Böse Buben/Fiese Männer for theatre. As Ochs’ remarks demonstrates, Seidl is by no means a ‘documentarian’ (which is a label that he himself thankfully rejects) in the conventional sense, as it is quite clear he stages and highly stylizes his cinematic scenarios, which most certainly depict real people doing what they love best, albeit from a highly subjective perspective where the filmmaker manages to add his own somewhat subtle and oftentimes cynical social criticism via the way he opts to direct and edit a particular scene. In that regard, Seidl is like an Aryan equivalent to conspicuously kosher confederate arthouse carny Harmony Korine, whose masterful directorial debut Gummo (1997) implemented a similarly highly stylized approach to documentary-like scenarios (of course, Korine's film also features a number of completely fictional scenarios).

 It should be noted that In the Basement features a couple scenes where Austrian teens do banal things in their basements like have less than chatty parties where they drink and smoke in a particularly passionless fashion like automatons who have seen one too many Hebraic Hollywood frat-boy scat-comedies. Indubitably, compared to their elders who love lurking in a cement abyss of the ‘ungeheuer,’ the teens seem to be totally lacking in character and individuality and are assumedly completely out of touch with their ‘Heimat,’ which one can only assume is the result of the deracination of Austria via Americanization.  After all, these kids not only have a glorious historical past, but also tons of great contemporary filmmakers to enjoy like Seidl, Michael Haneke, Michael Glawogger (RIP), Peter Kern, Paulus Manker (who surely needs to get back into the directing game), Markus Schleinzer (who undoubtedly made the ultimate Austrian basement feature with his debut Michael (2011)), avant-gardist Peter Tscherkassky, Gustav Deutsch, and various others who remind one that even a small European nation can have a more artistically important and intriguing film industry than the global cinema gatekeepers of Hollywood.  If there is anything that one can learn from In the Basement, it is that the Viennese Aktionists look like a bunch of hopelessly bourgeois art fag posers when compared to the basement-dwelling proles in Siedl's film who do what they do for the mere pleasure and not to make of spectacle of themselves. Indeed, Seidl might by a sort of distant cinematic descendant of Aktionist filmmaker Kurt Kren, but he seems to have long realized that there is more intrigue and idiosyncrasy among seemingly normal everyday people than narcissistic ‘artiste’ types who seek attention for attention's sake. If In the Basement gave me any insights into how unbelievable dungeon crimes as committed by sinister individuals like Josef Fritzl and Wolfgang Přiklopil could have occurred in Austria, it is probably the rampant social alienation that is caused by so-called democracy, capitalism, and multiculturalism, not to mention the fact that unity inspiring movements like nationalism and especially pan-Germanism have become quite taboo as a result of the defeat of the Third Reich during the Second World War.  Indeed, when it is illegal for a man to own a portrait of a national historical figure in his home, there probably has to be some sort of collective psychosis in that country.  While Fritzl pathetically attempted to blame his singularly sick behavior on the discipline he learned as a child during the Nazi era, his actions undoubtedly seem like those featured in a Weimar era newspaper or Fritz Lang flick.  Luckily, Austria still his fine folks like the Fritz Lang featured In the Basement.

-Ty E

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