Jul 3, 2016

Rheingold




For obvious reasons relating to wartime guilt, the cultural colonization of their nation by the U.S.A. and its allies, and the virtual worldwide demonization of their history and culture, a good percentage of the West German filmmakers of the post-WWII era had a rather contentious relationship with their national identity and culture, as if it was something to be ashamed of or apologetic about. Indeed, from the malignantly melancholy melodramas and Hollywood genre obsessions of Rainer Werner Fassbinder to the celluloid existential crises of Wim Wenders to the oftentimes sterile and annoyingly contrived leftwing literary adaptations of Volker Schlöndorff to the populist Marxist cheerleading and hagiographic feminist bitch biopics of Margarethe von Trotta to the insufferably banal commie docs of half-Hindu Harun Farocki to the pathologically pedantic intellectual cinematic experiments of Alexander Kluge to the absurdly aesthetically decadent high-camp escapism of Werner Schroeter, the filmmakers of the New German Cinema movement that lasted from the late-1960s to early-1980s seemed more interested in negating and/or condemning their ancestral cultural than actually building upon it. In fact, even Hans-Jürgen Syberberg—a staunch Wagnerite and the most consciously Teutonic and conservative of Germans filmmakers from his era—succumbed to some of the cultural decadence of his zeitgeist as reflected in his utilization of the techniques of kraut commie Brecht and the aesthetic excesses of Queen Schroeter. Undoubtedly, the contempt, loathing, and/or fear that many of these filmmakers had for their nation and culture is probably most apparent in regard to the relative popularity of the ‘anti-Heimat’ films, which were socially scathing cinematic works that cynically mocked the once popular ‘Heimatfilm’ subgenre of the late-1940s through 1970s. Oftentimes viewed by leftists as a continuation of the films of the Third Reich and the proto-Nazi mountain/‘Bergfilme’ films of the 1920s through early 1930s, the Heimat films were shamelessly wholesome and sentimental movies set in rural settings that emphasized the value and importance of love, friendship, family, and country living, thus it should be no surprise that such cinematic works were considered to be loathsome by a degenerate generation of politically radicalized filmmakers who blamed their parents and grandparents for the legacy of Uncle Adolf. Needless to say, any filmmaker that dared to display any sort of affinity for the kraut countryside and a distinctly Germanic way of life was bound to be ostracized, or at least such was more or less the case for underrated Swiss German auteur Niklaus Schilling (Der Westen leuchtet aka The Lite Trap, Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies aka The Expulsion from Paradise), who just passed away in early May 2016 at the age of 72 as a nearly completely forgotten filmmaker whose films are even somewhat hard to come by in Germany. 



 While Edgar Reitz undoubtedly brought new and much needed life to the genre with his singularly epic ‘post-Heitmatfilm’ Heimat trilogy, Schilling dared to declare from the very beginning that he loved the land, soil, and people, or as he stated in his controversial 1977 essay, “Cinema, Melodrama, and the World of Emotion” in regard to what he believed constituted true Teutonic cinema, “One can say that the special qualities of German film are its countryside, its regions, the soil, and perhaps its people in general. And likewise its myths. A ‘German world of feelings’ if you will, which can be an almost ideal cinematic subject. In this sense, the German films of the thirties, forties, and fifties have more to do with cinema than the films of the sixties and seventies. And our surroundings have lost nothing of their mythologies at all; and these are of interest to me.” Indeed, like fellow Swiss auteur Daniel Schmid—a staunch and vocal anti-leftist whose debut feature Heute nacht oder nie (1972) aka Tonight or Never satirized the German 68er-Bewegung student movement and whose Lauren Hutton vehicle Hécate (1982) is an adaptation of a novel by frog fascist Paul Morand—Schilling was a true rebel auteur that never debased himself to the level of virtue signaling, robotic left-wing political sermonizing, or adapting the mostly disposable novels of trendy quasi-commie writers like Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass. In fact, Schilling seemed to reject adapting popular novels altogether as demonstrated by his remark, “Once again we find among us a particularly fatal tendency not to trust the power of the filmic medium, but rather to construct films from the most classical literary sources possible in order to escape the danger of having to work with images and in that way to tell our own stories.” In one of his greatest films, Rheingold (1978) aka Rhinegold, the underrated auteur would prove that you do not even need much of a storyline or plot, let alone a lame and ethno-masochistic Marxist-Freudian subtext, to sire a completely captivating, hypnotic, and haunting piece of true Teutonic celluloid poetry of the strangely tragically transcendental sort.  As subtly and hauntingly melancholic as it is elegantly erotic, Schilling's film is ultimately a great and quintessentially Germanic example of the artistic medium of cinema being utilized in a fashion that no other medium can.



 If there is anything that most of the filmmakers of the New German Cinema collectively had in common, it was their seemingly complete and utter ignorance and/or disdain for classic ancient German myths, legends, and fairytales, which are important because they are an insightful reflection of the Aryan ‘Volksgeist’ (aka “Spirit of the People”) and oftentimes tell more about the character of a people than mere historical facts can. Unquestionably the genius of Schilling’s Rheingold is that it manages to create a seemingly seamless unholy marriage between both myth and machine as well as ancestral Heimat and cosmopolitan industrialization in a rather unique cinematic work that hints at this in its very title, which naturally has multiple meanings. Deriving its name from both the Trans-Europe Express (TEE) train of the same name that operated between Hoek van Holland (near Rotterdam) and Geneva, Switzerland from 1928 to 1987 and the Richard Wagner opera Das Rheingold (1869) that it was named after, Schilling’s sort of decidedly dark Heimat-film-on-tracks depicts the final hours of a both physically and spiritually fatally wounded beauteous woman who has decided to let herself die after being stabbed by her jealous diplomat husband upon discovering that she is carrying on a lurid love affair with an old school mate. Indeed, largely devoid of a contrived plot and traditional character development, Rheingold depicts the fairly slow but fitting death of a near middle-aged blonde beauty that seems to have finally realized that she has wasted her life by marrying a man that she did not love simply because he was wealthy and successful. Seeming to take subtle inspiration from Wagner’s Wolfram von Eschenbach adaptation Parsifal (1882) and the character King of the Grail Knights Amfortas’ perennial wound, the heroine portrayed by Schilling regular Elke Haltaufderheide ultimately succumbs to an injury that seems to be merely an extension of an internal wound that has long troubled her seemingly forsaken soul, hence her decidedly deleterious extramarital excesses.  A sort of cultivated dark romance for cynical crypto-traditionalists and anti-modernists that is big on atmosphere and low on filler and pointless chattering, Schilling's virtual Ragnarök-of-the-heart ultimately reminds the viewer that sometimes love conquers all in a most tragically inconvenient fashion, especially if you're a woman with archaic instincts that compel you to marry a man simply because he is a good provider and later discover that no amount of material wealth compares to the feeling of being with a man who can turn your pussy into a virtual raging waterfall with a mere provocative glance.



 Undoubtedly, like many modern day Western woman, Rheingold heroine Elisabeth has denied herself love, affection, and sexual satisfaction for greed and material security, which ultimately led to an ever growing wound in her soul, or to quote Carl Jung in regard to his interpretation of the Parsifal myth and the tendency of people to ignore one aspect of their (sub)conscious for the benefit of another, “The breakdown of the harmonious cooperation of psychic forces in instinctive life is like an ever open and never healing wound, a veritable Amfortas' wound, because the differentiation of one function among several inevitably leads to the hypertrophy of the one and the neglect and atrophy of the others.” As depicted in flashbacks, the film's exceedingly elegant heroine lived a stagnant married life of loveless sexual repression until one day when she randomly bumped into a grade school sweetheart named Wolfgang by happenstance while riding on a train that he works on. Of course, as a professionally emasculated man that makes a living as a lowly waiter on a train, the heroine’s true love can hardly provide her with the lavish lifestyle and quality of life that she is used to and thus the female protagonist even ends up having to pay the hotel bill when they are on their extramarital weekend getaways, thereupon causing an internal conflict in her soul that she eventually resolves in the most senselessly of tragic fashions.

Not unlike Germany as a whole, the forlorn female protagonist is torn by her natural instincts and the demands of an industrialized modern society that is—for better or worse—constantly evolving at a rate that surely eclipses both emotional and social evolution, or as German philosopher wrote in his fairly brief book Man and Technology: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (1931) regarding the precarious nature of technology and its relation to man, “The unique fact about human technics, on the contrary, is that it is independent of the life of the human genus. It is the one instance in all the history of life in which the individual frees himself from the compulsion of the genus. One has to mediate long upon this thought if one is to grasp its immense implications. Technics in man's life is conscious, arbitrary, alterable, personal, inventive. It is learned and improved. Man has become the creator of his tactics of living—that is his grandeur and his doom. And the inner form of this creativeness we call culture—to be cultured, to cultivate, to suffer from culture. The man's creations are the expression of this being in personal form.” It should be noted that the most eccentric and socially retarded character in the entire film is an inventor. Indeed, the cultural schizophrenia of modern technologically advanced Germany is probably best symbolically underscored in a scenario were a kindly old grandfather tells his granddaughter the German myth of Lorelei as they pass the River Rhine steep slate rock of the same name whilst riding in a state-of-the-art first-class-only Trans Europ Express train that was named after a Wagner play that, according to George Bernard Shaw in his book The Perfect Wagnerite (1898), is a critique of industrial society.



 Not unlike with the locomotive and young loony Vietnam War vet portrayed by Dennis Hopper in Henry Jaglom’s Tracks (1977), the titular train in Rheingold oftentimes feels like a metaphor for the mental racing and overall disintegration of the heroine, who recalls via vivid flashbacks the good and bad of her fairly tragic life as a woman that married the wrong man and eventually fell in love with another. Seemingly following in the footsteps of his Swiss compatriot Daniel’s Schmid’s underrated masterpiece La Paloma (1974) where Ingrid Caven’s character slowly wastes away in aesthetically decadent von Sternberg-esque style while married to a pathetic wealthy man she loathes and longing for the unreliable yet sexually potent man that she secretly loves, Schilling’s film features the ultimate female suicide in terms of the preposterously passive yet undeniably fitting way in which the heroine dies. In fact, although she never says it outright, it almost seems as if the heroine believes that the fatal stab wound that she received from her hapless husband is the single one thing of true value that he did for, thus highlighting the sort of hopelessly lovelorn pandemonium that plagues the character. A blonde barren beauty whose biological clock seems to be more or less busted, the female protagonist probably realizes that she has no real future and will be forced to live the rest of her days as a childless creature in perpetual physical decay who will never feel the sense of security of knowing that she will die a happy old woman with children and grandchildren sitting beside her bed. After all, women tend to marry men that they do not love so that they will have a good provider for their children, yet the film's heroine has not even taken advantage of that important maternal benefit.

A truly Teutonic piece of cinema that engulfs the viewer in the most darkly romantic corners of the German soul, the film even dares to make references to National Socialist era cinema. Indeed, the heroine’s mother is portrayed by Alice Treff, who previously appeared in the Nazi era rail transport romcom Ein Zug fährt ab (1942) directed by Johannes Meyer and starring Ferdinand ‘Jud Süß’ Marian. Undoubtedly, by comparing Rheingold with its predecessor Ein Zug fährt ab, one gets a pretty good idea as to how forsaken the German soul has become since the Second World War. A sort of modernistic equivalent to Kristina Söderbaum’s characters in her husband Veit Harlan’s Nazi era films like Opfergang (1944), the heroine ultimately commits a sort of quasi-nihilistic form of sacrifice where nothing is gained and everyone loses. 



 Heroine Elisabeth Drossbach (Elke Haltaufderheide of Schilling’s Nachtschatten (1972) aka Nightshade and Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)) is like a wilted rose as woman that, although still quite beautiful and elegant, is long past her physical prime and who radiates a distinctly feminine brand of Weltschmerz. Married to a small and considerably unattractive workaholic German diplomat named Karl-Heinz Drossbach (Gunther Malzacher of Franz Seitz’s Abelard (1977)) who she not only does not love but who also refuses to sexually satisfy her (as depicted in flashback scenes, the heroine was oftentimes forced to masturbate before starting an extramarital affair), Elisabeth did not think twice about initiating a hot and steamy love affair with an old friend from her childhood named Wolfgang Friedrichs (Rüdiger Kirschstein of Volker Schlöndorff’s Coup de grâce (1976)) after randomly bumping into him on the Rheingold train.  As Elisabeth confesses to Wolfgang upon initially bumping into him, she even thought of him earlier that morning even though they have no seen each other in what seems to be decades.  Needless to say, Wolfgang is impressed with Elisabeth's quite glowing pulchritude and he even seems to sense that she is desperate to jump onto his cock.  Rather unfortunately, Wolfgang is hardly a wealthy man as he works as a lowly waiter on the train, thus Elisabeth seems a little bit hesitant about leaving her banal yet powerful and successful hubby for a guy that hands little girls cans of soda for a living. In fact, as the viewer soon learns while watching the film, Elisabeth plans to move to New York City with her husband for his job and she is only riding the Rheingold one more last time just so that she can say a proper farewell to Wolfgang, who naturally wants her to divorce her husband. Quite unfortunately, cuckold Karl-Heinz decides to randomly show up on the train to confront Elisabeth and her lover, thus leading to totally tragic consequences for all involved. 



 Before boarding the Rheingold, Elisabeth says goodbye to her mother who gives her a present for her husband that will inevitably lead to her daughter's death. The present is a gold envelope opener with Karl-Heinz's initials engraved on it and it acts as a sort of Wagnerian symbol for their loveless marriage, so it is only natural that Elisabeth is ultimately fatally wounded with it. Indeed, after Karl-Heinz catches Elisabeth flirting with Wolfgang in one of the train cars, a certain foreboding unease hits the air as the kraut cuckold is confronted face-to-face with the shamelessly audacious lies and flagrant extramarital indiscretions of his wife and the striking arrogance of her lover. After Karl-Heinz accuses Wolfgang of sleeping with his wife, the lowly waiter mocks the diplomat by proposing they head to a round table in Geneva to negotiate a contract detailing sharing the use of Elisabeth's spunkpot based on different regions of the world. While Karl-Heinz is undoubtedly a terribly boring fellow who seems to care about his work more than his wife’s cunt, Wolfgang is an arrogant asshole of sorts who seems to derive a certain sadistic pleasure from the fact that he is banging a much more successful man’s wanton wife.

After the unhappily married couple finally goes to their own private train car, Elisabeth gives Karl-Heinz the present from her mother and he less than sincerely remarks, “I’m pleased.”  Of course, Elisabeth tries in vain to get her husband to ignore the fact that he just caught hanging out with her lover by pretending to be happy to see him, but she does not realize that there is not much you can do to the calm murderous jealously of a scorned husband, even if you are a highly manipulative woman that knows the power of feminine touch. When Elisabeth almost immediately begins ignoring him after giving him the present by daring to begin reading some trashy tabloid magazine, Wolfgang becomes visibly agitated and begins eyeing his nice and shiny new golden envelope opener, which seems to be practically begging him to pick it up and use it as it shimmers glowingly in the sunlight. When the train drives under a bridge and the train car briefly becomes dark, Wolfgang ceases the opportunity to grab the envelope opener and then brutally stabs his wife in the stomach in what seems to be a desperate attempt to avenge his cuckold status. After the single stabbing, Karl-Heinz exits the train car in a swift fashion and gets off the train at the next stop without anyone noticing his murderous behavior. From there, Elisabeth passively awaits death while recalling the most poignant moments of her life, especially in relation to her homicidal husband and lifelong love obsession Wolfgang.  As becomes quite clear to the viewer as they watch the film, Elisabeth is a woman with strong and insatiable erotic desires and even when she is dying, she cannot help but fondly reminisce about being sexually serviced by Wolfgang in both exotic and less than exotic settings that range from scenic country fields to a post-industrial wasteland near an aesthetically monstrous Bayer factory.



 One thing that really distinguishes Rheingold from many German films of its era is that virtually all the characters look strikingly Aryan in appearance, especially the women and children, thus confirming that Schilling was a true rebel of his era and not a slave to political correctness like so many contemporary German filmmakers (indeed, although just speculation on my part, but I am pretty confident that contemporary mainstream German actors like Daniel Brühl, Franka Potente, and Moritz Bleibtreu probably owe at least part of their popularity due to their somewhat racially ambiguous phenotypes). Not long after she is stabbed, Elisabeth is joined by a young blonde girl and her grandfather, who somewhat resembles literary Übermensch Ernst Jünger and who seems to have a great understanding of German mythology and folklore, including the Rhine folk story of Lorelei, which obsessed a number of German artists throughout history ranging from tragic Romantic composer Robert Schumann to German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine to Surrealist painter Edgar Ende. While there are various versions of the Lorelei myth that attempt to explain its strange perennial murmuring, the most famous is probably the story of a lovelorn young maiden who drowns herself in the River Rhine and is condemned to the horrendous fate of becoming a siren that unwittingly lures nearby men with her singing and beauty and ultimately causes them to crash onto the rocks. Undoubtedly, Elisabeth is a Lorelei of sorts as an accursed stunning beauty who caught the attention of a rich and powerful man that would ultimately not return his love and compel him to attempt murder.  Notably, Elisabeth opts to exit the train car before the grandfather finishes telling the Lorelei story, as if she cannot bear to acknowledge that ancient folklore relates to her own tragic story.



 Not long after stabbing his wifey and exiting the train, Karl-Heinz’s conscience catches up with him and he decides to chase the Rheingold via taxi in the hope of saving Elisabeth from a very probable death. Meanwhile, spends her last dying day switching from train car to train car. While in one of these cars, the bleeding heroine encounters an eccentric astrologist who offers her candy and declares after examining her astrological signs, “Your talent lies in handling your imagination. This is how you should cope with your dangers […] You are, so to speak, courted in a way. You are able to be happy, but time and again you compromise your happiness by passionate emotions.” While Elisabeth daydreams and responds to virtually nothing he says, the astrologist adds, “You have an extraordinary power of attraction and special artistic talent. Your relationships are mostly fateful. This also means that you’re emotionally… well.” Before exiting the car to return to her own, Elisabeth reveals that she was listening after all by stating to the astrologist, “What you say is true. You applied a lot of effort.” When Elisabeth gets back to her car, the little blonde girl notices that she is hemorrhaging but says nothing, as if she has an intuitive understanding that the heroine wants to die. While Wolfgang gives Elisabeth painkillers and attempts to coerce her into visiting a hospital in Freiburg im Breisgau, she refuses to, henceforth more or less confirming that she wants to die. Although he clearly enjoys fucking her and rubbing it in her cuckold husband’s face, Wolfgang does not seem to truly love Elisabeth in the same fashion that she loves him, hence why the heroine probably ultimately chooses death over a divorce. While Wolfgang seems sincere when he states to her, “We’ve always been in love, even in school. You sat in front of me, with your long golden hair. And your kisses that I imagined,” he does not seem be as serious as Elisabeth, hence why he probably fails to save her in the end. 



 While looking deathly ill while lying in her train car, Elisabeth becomes acquainted with an eccentric inventor named Herbert Soskamp who claims to have “75 registered patents” and who proudly boasts he is leaving Germany for good for Switzerland because he believes that the Fatherland robbed him of both his wealth and dignity. In fact, the inventor is on the train illegally because he does not even have enough money to buy a ticket, so naturally he is quite grateful when Elisabeth ends up paying for him after a pesky ticket-taker catches him train-hopping. Despite her help, the inventor unwittingly manages to say things that would probably offend Elisabeth like how his sister randomly married a French man despite only having known him for a couple weeks because she was 34 and thus afraid she would be “left on the shelf.” Indeed, as far as the viewer can surmise, it seems that Elisabeth—a considerably introverted woman that seems completely immune to confessing, let alone expressing, her emotions—married for similarly dubious reasons. When Karl-Heinz finally manages to catch up with the train and enter Elisabeth’s car, he meekly remarks to the heroine, “I only want to see how you are. I am sorry,” but she wants nothing to do with him and declares while refusing to even look him in the face, “I want you to leave this compartment. I don’t know this man.” When Karl-Heinz complains to his wife, “I don’t understand you,” inventor Herbert gets agitated and attempts to protect Elisabeth by stating, “You heard it! The lady doesn’t want to be disturbed.” Of course, Karl-Heinz predictably exits the train car like a defeated little bitch, but then he gets angry, hunts down Wolfgang and sarcastically remarks, “My wife needs coffee again,” and then initiates a fairly pathetic beta-male brawl while his spouse spends her last moments in the company of an eccentric stranger. Meanwhile, while succumbing to her wound, Elisabeth remembers a magical moment when she and Wolfgang shared a dreamlike moment on a rowboat together. After nostalgically recalling her magical romantic rendezvous with Wolfgang in what the viewer assumes was the happiest moment of her entire life, Elisabeth finally croaks and then collapses onto the floor. Somewhat absurdly, the inventor is arrested for the murder while Karl-Heinz manages to get away via train, though he is clearly ridden with guilt and will probably live the rest of his pathetic life in abject misery. When Wolfgang sees Elisabeth’s corpse being hauled away on a stretcher at the next train station, he is too afraid to even approach her body and merely looks on from a distance.  Just as Elisabeth probably expected, both men ultimately failed her in the end, thereupon arguably justifying her decision to embrace death.



 I used to know a young man and woman that were very much in love with one another in a way like no other couple, as they were two very ‘idiosyncratic’ individuals that, despite being out of step with the rest of humanity, somehow managed to find each other. Unfortunately, these two lovers struggled with their relationship from almost the very beginning due to largely external reasons that were beyond their control, as if the entire world was rallying against them in a sort of quasi-Shakespearean fashion.  Of course, these lovers also had their own respective inner demons that made for a rather corrosive combo, as if their love was only rivaled by their combined mutual internal chaos. When the two eventually broke up after a long relationship where the love and sexual attraction never seemed to wane but the dysfunction and lack of trust only grew, the man never seemed to recover and began walking the world if he was a forsaken soul that was so detached from his surroundings that he did not even realize he was condemned to a figurative hell. Although the dynamic of the bizarre love triangle depicted in the film is quite different, I think Rheingold manages to successfully communicate a sense of hopeless and perennial lovesickness that is somewhat similar to what the young man I knew felt as a result of being in a desperately hopeless situation with a woman he probably still feels is his one true soul mate. Notably, in the handful of English language reviews I could find on Schilling’s film, the reviewers describe it as “pointless” and a “journey to nowhere,” but clearly they are missing the point as it is a positively poetic flick that is more about penetrating the viewer with almost intolerably overwhelming pangs of hopeless heartbreak and romantic desperation than telling a linear story with an easy-to-follow plot, not to mention the fact that it is a fairly enigmatic piece of cinema that derives much of its power from what it does not reveal to the viewer. Indeed, a transcendental Gothic tone poem made in an age when both love and spirituality oftentimes seem like an abject impossibility, Rheingold is indubitably one of the most forebodingly darkly romantic films that I have ever seen and I say that as someone that is typically incapable of empathizing with lovelorn heroines. 



 Unlike leftist crypto-agitprop pieces like Peter Fleischmann’s Hunting Scenes from Bavaria (1969) aka Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern and Volker Schlöndorff’s The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach (1971) aka Der plötzliche Reichtum der armen Leute von Kombach, Rheingold is a true anti-Heimat flick in the sense that, instead of merely mocking or satirizing the genre in a decidedly disrespectful manner, it inverts virtually all of the conventions of the genre to present a tragic Teutonic world where the Volksgeist has become schizophrenic, Liebesverzicht reigns, and the only thing that still exists of the old Germany is abandoned castles and ancient rocks that are more of interest to tourists than locals.  Indeed, instead of taking place in a small village where virtually everyone has known each other their entire lives, the film is set in a cosmopolitan piece of locomotive transportation full of strangers who have very little in common aside from having the luxury of having enough money to ride first-class.  It should also be noted that the people who have known each other the longest, heroine Elisabeth and her lover Wolfgang, find themselves in an irreconcilable situation that concludes with their eternal separation as opposed to their desired unity. Featuring brief and subtle moments of sentimental love in a seemingly spiritually accursed realm consumed by malignant melancholia, the film is the work of a true romantic who longs for love despite knowing it is virtual fantasy from a bygone era when men and women were still able to complement one another like a key in a lock.

Certainly the most tragic aspect of the film’s heroine is that, upon discovering real love after being married to a man she loathes, she cannot go on living as she probably cannot fathom being devoid of what she probably sees as being one of only a handful of things that makes life truly worth living. Another tragic element of the film is that, as hinted in flashback scenes from their childhood, the heroine and her beau would have probably gotten married at a young age had they lived in a different era, but pernicious social plagues like globalization, feminism, and urbanization, among things, probably got in the way at some point in their lives. Indeed, as depicted in the old school Heimat films, it was fairly normal in previous generations for people to marry individuals from the same village that they had known their entire lives, but of course absurd social phenomenons like movie stars have resulted in people, especially women, in developing delusional standards for men.  While the viewer never gets her complete story, one can only assume that heroine Elisabeth grew up with ridiculous standards for men after watching one too many Clark Gable and Gary Cooper flicks and thus prolonged marriage until it was too late while waiting in vain for an imaginary immaculate white knight to sweep her off her feet, thus causing her to a settle for a man she did not love out of desperation at a time when her fertility was dubious at best.  Of course, being a barren woman approaching middle-age that decided hypergamy was more important than love, respect, sexual attraction, and emotional compatibility, the heroine epitomizes the tragic creature that is the decidedly deracinated modern Occidental woman, who is too concerned with her personal comfort and social prestige to concern herself with the important ingredients that typically lead to happy and successful marriages. After all, it is no coincidence that marriages are at an all-time low in the Western world and that the majority of marriages end in divorce, as modern women, who have been brainwashed by feminism and stupid stories from childhood about how they deserve all deserve a white knight, expect too much from men yet give virtually nothing in return. Naturally, this also probably explains why that, despite having the highest standard of living in human history, unhappiness is at an all-time high among Western woman. Sadly, most women will probably never discover the true source of their general dissatisfaction with life, as it would require them to pull their heads out of their asses and confront the fact that everything they have been brainwashed with during their entire lives via Hollywood in is a sad little lie. 



 Featuring an elegant yet sometimes ominous and vaguely Wagnerian electronic score by Eberhard Schöner (Traumstadt aka Dream City, Ansichten eines Clowns aka The Clown), a mostly immaculate cast of authentically Aryan actors and actress, various references to true Teutonic folklore, and no ethno-masochistic allusions to the Nazi era or lame Adorno-approved leftist critiques, Rheingold was not surprisingly booed at its German premiere as it was probably consider too overtly Germanic and apolitical for the mostly New Left oriented kraut cinephiles of that time who probably did not want to be reminded that they have a cultural tradition that is worth preserving. Despite its pathetic debut, Fassbinder listed it as one of the ‘Most Beautiful’ films in all of New German Cinema in his 1981 ‘Hitlist of German Films.’ Notably, Fassbinder’s also placed Schilling at #8 in his list of ‘The Ten Most Important Directors in the New German Cinema,’ on top of listing the director’s feature Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies (1976) aka The Expulsion from Paradise as one of ‘The Best’ films of the entire era. Despite seeming to have little in common as filmmakers aside from their appreciation for melodrama and strong and oftentimes amorous divas, Schilling and Fassbinder apparently shared a somewhat similar view of German cinema in the context of German cinema history, or to quote Thomas Elsaesser in New German Cinema: A History (1989), “It is true that allusionism is part of a complex process whereby film-making assures itself of its own history, and the New German Cinema progressively did just that. This is evident when one considers the case of Fassbinder: the early gangster films, the 1950s Hollywood melodramas, his reworking of the UFA-Stil in LILI MARLEEN (1980) and VERONIKA VOSS (1982). It is also evident in his pastiches of so many other historic styles […] The career of Niklaus Schilling could serve as an example of a film-maker trying to inscribe himself in a tradition, via allusionism, of the German cinema’s own commercial history.”  Of course, history has less kind to Schilling, but then again he was not a savagely sadistic megalomaniacal queer that somehow managed to create forty feature length films, two television film series, four video productions, twenty-four stage plays and four radio plays, among various other artistic accomplishments, during a career spanning less than fifteen years before dying of a drug overdose before he even reached middle-age.



 Despite the fact that he was revered by easily the most important German filmmaker of his generation, not one of Schilling’s films is available in the United States and it was only last week not too long after the filmmaker’s that I finally got to see one of his films. While I could certainly find flaws in the film if I wanted to, I have no reservations about saying that Rheingold is, at the very least, a relatively timeless minor masterpiece and ‘lost classic’ of sorts that eclipse even Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) in terms of my favorite rail transport flicks. I also must confess that Schilling’s film makes the train scenes in Wim Wenders’ Falsche Bewegung (1975) aka Wrong Move and Der amerikanische Freund (1977) aka The American Friend seem sterile and insufferably cosmopolitan by comparison. I hate to get sentimental, but the film really affected me in the sense that it is a rare cinematic work with a female heroine that I felt like I truly understood on a visceral level and I say that as someone that typically has no problem writing off the majority of lovesick leading ladies.  A rare piece of New German Cinema era Germanic fatalism where a foredoomed beauty sacrifices herself for love after coming to terms with the abject hopeless of her lot in life, Rheingold is brutally beauteous and subtly erotic cinematic poetry that gives a hint of what German cinema might be like in general if the film industry was no full of deracinated dorks, ethno-masochists, nihilists, feminists, and other forms of materialistic rabble who have nothing to say.


 Undoubtedly, English auteur Ken Russell might as well have been describing German cinema of the 1970s when he complained in Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell (1991) regarding the degenerate and uniquely un-English state of English cinema, “We do live on a magic island, without doubt, but so far as British films are concerned there is precious little evidence of this. By and large, contemporary film-makers seem to revel in squalor, glorify ignorance and extol violence. There is another kind of life outside of this which many people in this country would like to celebrate, if only they were given the opportunity and not made to feel guilty about it. It is nothing to do with religion; it is to do with the spirit of the land in which we live, that elusive quality touched on by the music of VW [Ralph Vaughan Williams] and his contemporaries such as Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge and John Ireland: music expressing the majesty of nature, forgotten rituals, pagan goddesses and ancient heroes. All these scores are unashamedly romantic and shamefully neglected; and desperately outmoded according to the new barbarians whose mission is to tramp our heritage underfoot. Still, I agree that ours is not an age of heroes, though in his Seventh Symphony VW remembers some very gallant gentlemen who battled against tremendous odds to reach the South Pole and failed.”  Of course, post-WWII Deutschland is anything but heroic, yet a film like Rheingold reminds the viewer of the singular glory and deep dark roots of Teutonic mythology and kultur, thus making it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to indulge in true Teutonic culture.  As for the true power and importance of the melodramatic pathos of the film, Schilling probably said it best when he wrote, “Melodrama—what a strange concept: another cubbyhole in which one places scenes with crying men, childless, rich women, passionate love-hatreds, and setting suns.  It also is used as disapproving and disdainful response to a precisely choreographed attack on the world of emotions, something a cinematic film can do if it takes itself seriously.  It take it seriously and no doubt use these forms taken from the melodrama, because these forms likewise contain something that is specifically cinematic: an optical narrative structure which does not explain and edify—a way of dealing with emotions.” Considering that the titular train ended operation on May 30, 1987 after over 59 years of service, Rheingold can and should be seen by contemporary German filmmakers who dare to attempt to be the heirs of the greats like F.W. Murnau and even Schilling as a new fresh source of Teutonic mythology that can be utilized as inspiration for their own films.



-Ty E

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