Aug 23, 2015
Just as it had influenced a influenced a number of New German Cinema filmmakers and their early films, including Alexander Kluge with his debut feature Abschied von gestern (1966) aka Yesterday Girl and Rainer Werner Fassbinder with his debut feature Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (1969) aka Love is Colder Than Death, the French New Wave would have a crucial influence on the New York City underground, especially the No Wave Cinema movement. Indeed, the movement’s founder was arguably Israeli-born auteur Amos Poe (Subway Riders, Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole) who early works Night Lunch (1975) and The Blank Generation (1976) were more or less punk rock homemovies starring then-unknown musicians ranging from the Ramones to Richard Hell to Blondie and whose first narrative feature Unmade Beds (1976) was the sort of À bout de soufflé (1960) aka Breathless of the No Wave scene, with the art fag protagonist absurdly believing that he is Jean-Paul Belmondo's character from Godard's flick (in fact, when the film was released on DVD by Eclectic DVD Distribution, it featured the tagline, “Godard's BREATHLESS re-made by the avatar of the “New” New Wave!”). Of course, not unlike Kluge and Fassbinder, Poe did not really become an intriguing filmmaker until he began to dispose of his fetish for the frog filmmakers of La Nouvelle Vague. In fact, with his second narrative feature The Foreigner (1978) starring French-born auteur Eric Mitchell (Kidnapped, Underground U.S.A.), Poe virtually single-handedly gave birth to the No Wave movement, or as the film’s female lead Patti Astor—an underground actress turned gallery owner whose real-life promotion of urban negro culture is reflected in Charlie Ahearn’s proto-hip-hop flick Wild Style (1983)—stated in the documentary Blank City (2010) directed by Céline Danhier, “You really have to give Amos Poe the credit for starting the next independent film movement after Andy Warhol.” Even Poe himself credits the film as inspiring all of his compatriots in the NYC underground as revealed by his remarks in Blank City, but more importantly said compatriots have also said the same thing. While para-punk auteur Scott B (Black Box, Vortex) said of the flick, “THE FOREIGNER was very fast, very tough and really there in the moment,” alpha-hipster Jim Jarmusch was even more generous when he stated, “One of my favorite films, that actually encouraged me to make films, was Amos Poe’s THE FOREIGNER. When I saw that, in 1978 or so, I got really inspired because he had made a feature film for about $5,000. It was so loose and raw, so close to the idea of the music of the late Seventies - so-called punk music where musicianship wasn’t important, virtuosity wasn’t the main criterion, it was ”I have something I want to express.” It’s a very loose story about a guy, played by Eric Mitchell, who’s being chased most of the film. He has real short hair, bleached blond, and there’s a great scene where he’s walking down an alley and he walks by Debbie Harry, who plays a hooker; she’s really gorgeous and she has a cigarette and she says, “You got a light, blondie?” I haven’t seen it in years, but it really gave me a lot of energy. It was my favorite New York punk movie - I hate to use that kind of label - of that period.”
Somewhat ironically, despite being directed by a Hebraic hipster that was born in Tel Aviv, The Foreigner, not unlike Poe’s subsequent feature Subway Riders (1981), owes a great deal of its style and aesthetic potency to its Austrian-born Germanic assistant director, associate DP, and editor Johanna Heer, who went on to shoot important European cult works like Hungarian auteur Gábor Bódy’s epic punk swansong Kutya éji dala (1983) aka The Dog's Night Song and the kaleidoscopic kraut flick Decoder (1984) directed by Muscha and featuring various drug-addled cult figures like Christiane Felscherinow, FM Einheit, a pre-tranny Genesis P-Orridge, and even William S. Burroughs. Not unlike Subway Riders and Decoder, The Foreigner features a sort of highly stylized low-budget neo-Expressionist aesthetic with Warholian undertones. Luckily, the Aryan influences do not end there, as the film is about a nihilistic European blond beast that comes to NYC as a sort of disgraced terrorist agent to get away from his continental compatriots, but ultimately finds himself alone recording himself reading Hermann Hesse in his hotel room and suffering from a decidedly debilitating case of Weltschmerz. A sort of neo-Expressionistic punk anti-noir (or ‘no noir’) with vague horror elements where perennial loneliness, malignant paranoia, collective social autism, senseless nihilistic violence, and sexual and romantic dysfunction are the name of the game, Poe’s film is like a cryptically Teutonized No Wave equivalent to Godard’s Alphaville (1965), albeit starring a frog in an American film as opposed to a American in a frog film, meets Hesse's novel Steppenwolf (1927) and Albert Camus' novel The Stranger (1942) with a tad bit of metaphysical influence from The Rebel (1951). While probably not a masterpiece of any sort outside of the mostly mediocre No Wave realm, The Foreigner is a goldmine for fans of punk as a work that features the members of the proto-psychobilly group The Cramps giving the film’s lead a sadomasochistic beating that is nothing if not fetishistic, among various other distinctly memorable moments that demonstrate what true cult cinema is all about. Also, the musical score by Czech-American musician Ivan Král (who previously co-directed The Blank Generation with Poe) is actually quite good and certainly infinitely superior to the sort of degenerate pseudo-avant-garde jazz that plagues much of Poe’s films and No Wave cinema in general.
The Foreigners somewhat fittingly begins on Halloween 1977 with angst-ridden antihero ‘Max Menace’ (No Wave auteur Eric Mitchell with his hair dyed bleach blond)—a moody and broody European spy/terrorist of the seemingly innately inept sort that looks like the morbidly depressed loser grandson of Laurence Olivier—arriving in NYC via airplane in a slightly tacky all-white suit and walking through an airport in a scene juxtaposed with increasingly ominous ambient noise that hints that the character is about to enter a sort of metaphysical pandemonium that he will probably not survive. When Max is picked up by a taxi, he answers virtually everyone of the driver’s questions with a simple robotic “yes,” as if he is plagued by paranoia and would prefer not to giveaway personal details. Max wants to go to Manhattan, but when the taxi driver asks him the specific location he is headed to, he curiously replies, “Just drive.” Unbeknownst to Max, the taxi driver, who is dressed like a leather-fag, is actually an operative of a dubious unnamed group of druggy punks led by a faggy fellow named ‘King Bag’ aka ‘Shake’ (painter Duncan Hannah, who played the lead role in Poe's first feature Unmade Beds) that wants to hunt down the lead for an unexplained reason. Of course, it is also unexplained as to why he has flown to NYC or what he plans to do there, but it seems pretty obvious from the beginning that he will be dead by the end in an unfriendly city where social alienation is a way of life and where sensitive souls have no chance of surviving. Not long after arriving in the shitty east coast city, Max meets a kraut contact on a beach (German photographer Klaus Mettig) who tells him when he asks if he can still help him, “Well, I tell you, for the moment it is practically impossible. The police and the underground are constantly harassing us. I’m not in such a hot position either, but I’ll give you the name of a friend that might help you, but be careful.” As Max will soon discover, he is majorly fucked as he is ultimately led on a merry-go-round of abject neglect and apathy where each contact he encounters proves to be more worthless than the last, not to mention the fact that a motley crew of deranged punk rock dope fiends are attempting to hunt him down.
Max may be a murderous spy of sorts, but he gets a kick out of watching punk docs while lying around the seedy hotel room he is renting. Indeed, after watching a performance of “Fan Club” by UK punk band The Damned on a tiny black-and-white TV, Max listens to a narrator hilariously stating, “It is a rare punk performance that doesn’t wind up with someone hurt or something destroyed, usually for no discernible reason. At this performance by The Damned, fans were having such fun crashing into each other that they ripped off the ceiling and the electrical wiring. It was the totally mindless action of which punk rockers seemed inordinately proud. They can’t do anything else…they can destroy. They count it an accomplishment.” The narrator of the doc also says something about punks that epitomizes the senselessly nihilistic psyches of Shake, describing them as follows, “What seems to worry the British is not that punk rock fans have rejected the older generation’s values, but that they have rejected all values. They are anti-everything. They will tell you at the drop of a safety pin that they have no future and that society offers them nothing.” As for Max, he is not so much “anti-everything” as he is just disillusioned with the world in general and everyone he encounters. If Max was not a misanthrope before, his time in NYC will certainly lead him to believing that a nuclear apocalypse might be exactly what humanity needs.
Unbeknownst to Max, an East Asian femme fatale in a skintight all-black leather outfit named ‘Doll’ (Anya Phillips of James Nares’ Rome 78’ (1978)) has paid a big bosomed broad named Fili Harlow (Patti Astor of Mitchell’s Underground U.S.A. (1980) and Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988)) five grand to follow him and everything he does and make sure he does not leave town. Meanwhile, Shake declares to his punk minions in regard to the eponymous protagonist, “The foreigner is for the birds. We’re going to snip…snip his head off.” As a bunch of bongo-playing pansies who wish they were James Dean and like to play with electric powerdrills, light off firecrackers that they have fastened to their butt-tight denim jeans, and say absurdly retarded pseudo-poetic things like, “…his clenched asshole warned me,” Shake’s sickeningly dress-conscious leather-clad sub-beta-males minions seem like a said excuse for a hermetic collective of assassins, but of course that is largely one of the things that largely gives the film its inordinately charming character and pathologically offbeat essence. As for Max, when he goes to see the contact that the kraut on the beach gave him, he discovers the fellow does not speak of word of English. When he goes to see another contact (Ronny Stefan) outside of a gay bar, he is rudely asked, “What do you think I am…the Salvation Army?,” told “I can’t help you,” and warned, “Watch your ass.” Likewise, upon meeting another contact sporting an absurd cowboy hat named ‘Mr. Kool’ (the film’s cinematographer Chirine El Khadem, who was also the DP of Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982)) at the sight of the World Trader Center buildings, he is told “You’re on your own.” Naturally, virtually everyone else Max encounters tells him the same thing, so he begins to accept that he is a lone urban existentialist Euro-cowboy trapped in a city full of bloodthirsty assassins, schizophrenic fashion victims, babbling philistines, rabid mercenaries, cunt-chic femme fatales, and other various sorts of highly deleterious undesirables that are native to NYC.
When not attempting in vain to get help from worthless weirdos around the city, Max enjoys lying around his hotel room and listening to tape recordings he has made of himself. Indeed, Max seems particularly forlorn upon listening to a tape of himself somberly reciting, “When we dream that we dream, we’re beginning to wake-up. Bourgeoisie civilization and all of its inanities are always a great joke. The dead…the dead do not discriminate. A coward cannot be free. A coward cannot lose. A coward cannot win. A coward cannot be. Each one carries the remains of his birth, slime and eggshells, with him to the end. That’s Hermann Hesse.” On the same recording, Max can also be heard bitching things like “every time I think I’ve found someone, they die” and “I’m only driven by eternal defeat,” so it almost seems like he would not mind being assassinated and that his trip to NYC is really a form of unconscious suicide. Certainly, if nothing else, it seems that Max has listened to the Sex Pistols song “No Future” one too many times. When Max takes a ride on a ferry during one particularly sunny November day, he receives an old school shoeshine and is eventually approached by an annoyingly extroverted dame of the discernibly dubious sort named ‘Zazu Weather’ (French TV actress Terens Séverine) who talks him into going to a bar with her and eventually going back to her apartment with her where she ultimately makes him her personal prisoner. The first blatant sign that Zazu might he unhinged is when she complains, “White socks. I never like anything white. I hate it. It disgusts me” and then compliments Max on being filthy and recommends that he not take a bath, but then immediately goes on to complain about how she hates anything that is dirty or filthy and then demands that he take a bath. Not only does Zazu lock Max in her apartment, but she also deprives him of food for two days and ties him to a chair in a manner that makes him seem like the masochistic partner in a stereotypical game of BDSM. Luckily, Zazu is eventually killed while she is playfully eating a sandwich on her bed by a faceless assassin who shoots her about a dozen times. Naturally, Max celebrates Zazu’s death by freeing himself from the chair he is tied to and finishing the sandwich that was in the bat-shit crazy broad’s hand while she was getting shot. Unfortunately for Max, despite managing to escape from the wrath of Zazu, he is no less safe on the streets.
While walking down the street, a prostitute named ‘Dee Trik’ (Deborah Harry of Blondie) humorously asks Max, “Hey, Blondie. Have a cigarette?” and of course the protagonist obliges the beauteous street slut. After lighting her a cigarette, Ms. Trik repays Max by singing him a somber take on the German-language song “Bilbao Song” from Bertolt Brecht's and Kurt Weill's three-act commie musical comedy Happy End (1929) and then tells him “Thanks soldier.” Not surprisingly, Max’s brief yet solacing encounter with Dee Trik is probably the happiest moment the character has during the entire film, as everything goes drastically downhill from there as the protagonist is immersed in a deluge of visceral street violence. Indeed, shortly after his encounter with the pseudo-blonde streetwalker, Max is brutally beaten by the members of The Cramps in the bathroom of CBGBs while the band the Erasers plays on stage. Indeed, The Cramps singer Lux Interior even cuts off Max's shirt and then slices up his chest in a somewhat fetishistic fashion. Meanwhile, while looking for Max, who she has been stalking for most of the film, Harlow is knocked out by a faceless person after suffering the shock of discovering her Asiatic friend Doll dead. When Harlow wakes up, she discovers that Doll’s corpse has mysteriously disappeared and immediately goes looking for Max. Upon arriving at Max’s hotel room, Harlow warns him by shouting to him outside his door, “You’re in big trouble, baby […] Don’t move until I comeback. I’m the only one that can get you out of here alive.” Of course, considering all the pain and suffering he has experienced at the hands of various nefarious ghetto-dwelling New Yorkers, Max hardly trusts Harlow and fails to take heed of her warning. In the end, Max is chased by a car as someone shoots at him while Harlow tries in vain to get to him before it is too late. Rather fittingly, Max is eventually shot in the back multiple times by Shake’s goons while running through Battery Park. Upon collapsing from his wounds, Max grabs onto a fence and stares at the Statue of Liberty in a ending that might be described as quasi-poetically anti-American.
Notably, in a January 1981 interview with BOMB Magazine, Amos Poe somewhat pretentiously stated regarding his film, “THE FOREIGNER remains a mystery to me now, a very cloudy space where questions are allowed to go. Say you call it a genre, where the typical film tells a story by giving certain facts. THE FOREIGNER tells a story by leaving out the facts, a cloudy space where ambiguity, most fears, and emotions exist. If the film is successful at all, in any sense, it’s only if that occurs, that type of mystery.” To Poe’s credit, the film's mystique does to some extent largely lie in its ambiguity and inexplicable foreboding atmosphere, but also its absurdity. Indeed, what is more absurd than a bunch of drug-addled hipster and punk degenerate portraying evil government agents and assassins who have been professionally trained to kill?! Of course, Poe’s film is a work that emphasizes preternatural and pleasantly grating style over substance. In terms of its idiosyncratic take on Godard and the French New Wave, The Foreigner is certainly comparable to the early works of Fassbinder, especially his black-and-white ‘Franz Walsch’ gangster trilogy that includes Love Is Colder Than Death (1969), Gods of the Plague (1970), and The American Soldier (1970). Interestingly, Fassbinder superstar turned auteur Ulli Lommel came to the United States in the late-1970s and directed Blank Generation (1980), which, aside from sharing the same name as Poe's second doc and depicting the same NYC music scene (among other things, Richard Hell appears in both films), also features imperative No Wave influence Andy Warhol. Poe would also pay tribute to Fassbinder at the end of Subway Riders during a climatic scene with a shot of a movie theater marquee advertising the Teutonic auteur's classic (anti)Wirtschaftswunder film The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) starring Hanna Schygulla. Notably, both Poe/No Wave scene and Fassbinder would be somewhat linked together in a less than ideal fashion when short moon-faced blonde divas Schygulla and Deborah Harry co-starred together (with Patti Astor) in the botched pseudo-quirky comedy Forever, Lulu (1987) directed by Israeli degenerate Amos Kollek, who was clearly influenced by both Warhol/Morrissey and the filmmakers of the NYC underground like fellow Israeli Poe.
Somewhat respectably, Poe would reveal in an interview with BOMB Magazine that he felt his film influenced many other works of the No Wave scene, stating, “I think the B’s intentionally or unintentionally copied THE FOREIGNER, in some of their films…there were a whole rash of films for a while about terrorists and kidnappings when that was in the news. Michael Oblowitz uses stereotypes and camera movements that are a lot like THE FOREIGNER‘s, except they’re cleaner.” Indeed, both Beth B and Scott B's oeuvre, as well as Oblowitz's early films like Minus Zero (1979) and King Blank (1983), feature various glaring aesthetic and thematic similarities with Poe's flick, albeit executed in a more sensational and, in turn, stupid and superficial way that would ultimately influence the filmmakers of the Cinema of Transgression movement, who also had a hard-on for Warhol yet had seemingly little interest in both the French New Wave and New German Cinema. While The Foreigner is certainly one of his best films, I believe that Poe did not reach his peak until his subsequent work Subway Riders, which highly benefited from featuring kaleidoscopic cinematography, cult character actors like Susan Tyrrell and John Waters superstar Cookie Mueller, and various idiosyncratic subplots. For a film that was shot guerilla-style in chronological order over the course of only eight days on a mere $5000 budget that the auteur procured via a phony car loan, Poe's gritty little ‘No Noir’ flick proves that a little bit of passion goes a long way when siring celluloid art. Interestingly, Poe is somewhat ambivalent of The Foreigner and his other early works being labelled ‘No Wave,’ or as the filmmaker stated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, “The thing about making an experimental film is having enough stuff and then just going with the accident," he said. "You can look back and say it was all 'No Wave. We certainly didn't have a name for it at the time. We didn't feel part of anything.” Admittedly, I can understand Poe's sentiment to a certain degree, as his film is far too ‘cinematic’ to be lumped in with the pseudo-avant-garde torture porn of Beth B and Scott B and glorified homemovies of Irish feminist Vivienne Dick, among various other examples. Ultimately, as a work that was shot at the World Trader Center buildings and various other iconic NYC landmarks, The Foreigner makes for a fitting film to watch on the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 attacks as a sort of modernist horror flick that, at least to some degree, does for the rotten Big Apple what Fritz Lang's M (1931) did for Weimar era Berlin. In the other hand, as a work that features European-Americans who express so-called ‘xenophobic’ sentiments against a curiously dressed European from the Old World, Poe's film will probably induce feelings of nostalgia in viewers who are not too keen on the fact that most American cities are degenerating into third world hellholes that would never produce real art or cinema movements, including those as minor as the No Wave.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 7:35 AM
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