Thursday, July 14, 2011

Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981)

Walerian Borowczyk's Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981) stands as one of his crowning achievements in his career: playful, transgressive, subversive, erotic, and beautiful, inside and outside of the film: Borowczyk attempted a ruse at a skeptical public: the authors of Immoral Tales write, “At one time Borowczyk stated that he had based his film on the original Stevenson manuscript--which was supposed to have been destroyed by Stevenson’s wife because of its sexual content. He claimed to have discovered a copy in the Bodleian library in Oxford. He confessed later, to film critic Tony Crawley, that this was all just a stunt, but still maintained that his version was truer to Stevenson’s conception than any of the earlier films. Dr. Jekyll wants to be Mr. Hyde; he uses the transformation as a way of letting his unspoken desires have free reign.” (Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies: 1956-1984, by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin’s Griffin Press, New York: 1995, p.226) Borowczyk even had the help of novelist and collaborator, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, who writes in his preface to Borowczyk Cineaste Onirique, “Walerian Borowczyk a-t-il vraiment retrouvé, à Londres, quelques vestiges de la version initiale, ce n’est pas impossible.” (Collection La Vue, Paris, France: 1981, p.7) This stunt by Borowczyk, by its appearance, seems a just a joke, played for the fun of playing a joke. I suppose he needed to play one somewhere, somehow, as there is little intentional humor in Docteur Jekyll despite its playful nature. Docteur Jekyll et les femmes is an ambient film, designed to be disorienting. To accompany Borowczyk’s impressive visuals, composer Bernard Parmegiani creates a dissonant score which effectively haunts the film and creates its own moods. As a composer of images, few compare to Walerian Borowczyk. Often his compositions are compared to still paintings in their striking quality. Borowczyk did the set design for Docteur Jekyll et les femmes, and unsurprisingly, the film has myriad beautiful set-pieces. Of specific interest, however, is Borowczyk’s use of point of view with his camerawork in Docteur Jekyll. Borowczyk effectively mixes the subjective and the objective point of view with his camera in both subtle and overt fashion. This style becomes its most affecting (enhanced by Parmegiani’s score) as the film reaches its climax. Let’s start at the beginning first.

Doctor Jekyll (Udo Kier) is engaged to be married to Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro). To celebrate this engagement, a party is being held at the Jekyll home. In attendance are Jekyll’s mother and Osbourne’s mother (no fathers?), an eccentric general (Patrick Magee) and his indulgent daughter, a reverend (Clément Harari), and Jekyll’s long-time friend and academic rival, Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon), amongst others. In the film’s meticulous first-act sequence, following a murder on London’s streets, the guests arrive in staggered fashion to the party. As each arrives, he or she signs a commemorative guest book. Of course, this is classic character exposition, but Borowczyk concludes his first act effectively--the last, late guest to arrive, in a darkened foyer, is Edward Hyde. His signature more than announces his arrival: it begins the second act of terror as he has his way with the party guests.

The underlying theme of Borowczyk’s take on Stevenson’s story is personified in the relationship between Jekyll and Lanyon. Jekyll is an advocate of transcendental medicine while Lanyon is an empiricist. Lanyon sees life as limited by what is perceived by human senses. Jekyll intends to prove during this evening’s events that there are senses and awareness beyond the scope of human perception. This awareness can be achieved and realized.

The philosophical theme of Docteur Jekyll isn’t belabored with dialogue: it comes only as dinner conversation. Borowczyk’s visual style is the real commentary. Think of the classic, “objective” film style: wide frames (often used as establishing shots), medium shots (primarily focuses on character action), and close-ups (which focus on characters’ faces and highlight emotion). Now think of the subjective shot. This camera positioning is to substitute for the point of view of another character. The subjective composition is designed to be unique, so what is shown in the frame is to expose something about who is doing the seeing in as much as it is about what is being shown. The framing of a subjective shot differs from the classic, “objective” style: off-kilter framing is typical and handheld work of the camera is frequent. What is so interesting about Docteur Jekyll et les femmes is that it is composed primarily of subjective shots. At first glance, I thought that Borowczyk’s style was arbitrary framing, but that thought gave way with subsequent viewings. The reason that I thought the style was arbitrary was that there were myriad shots composed as if they were glances around corners, through doorways, and down hallways. There was an overtly voyeuristic quality to these sequences, yet there was no character to reference these subjective shots. In one sequence, for example, Jekyll has handed his last will and testament to his lawyer in which he disposes all of his property to Edward Hyde. The scene is covered with primarily one composition of Kier standing in his laboratory with the camera from behind a door’s threshold and partially obscured from a corner. This is clearly not a shot from the point of view of Edward Hyde, lurking in the darkness, as the viewer is “looking” at Hyde in his form as Jekyll. This is a subjective shot with no character reference: a subjective shot from no character, subjectivity beyond a human perception...very nice.

As masterful, meticulous, and playful Borowczyk’s film appears, according Howard Vernon, who plays Dr. Lanyon, perhaps it was more chaotic on the set:

“I can remember a German actor named Udo Kier in this picture. He was also very nice but became quite angry during filming because Walerian had to finish the picture earlier than planned. He had some money problems and so many, many nice and important scenes had to be cancelled. He also cancelled a very interesting scene with me. I played a doctor who does an autopsy on a young murdered girl...[Vernon’s response edited by me for “spoilers” here]...Borowczyk was very much in love with the leading actress, Marina Pierro, an Italian girl.” (European Trash Cinema, Vol. 2., No. 5, ed. Craig Ledbetter, Kingwood, TX: 1992, p.42)

Vernon’s final statement is a truly an understatement. Any casual or cursory stroll through Borowczyk’s cinema involving Marina Pierro will instantly see his worship for the actress. As Fanny Osbourne, her character is objectified as Jekyll’s fatal flaw: as much as Jekyll wants to merge his old self completely into his new self as Hyde, the only vestige of his old life which he wishes to keep is his love for Fanny. The film’s most famous sequence comes from Fanny’s point of view, where she witnesses Jekyll’s transformation. It’s a low-key sequence in terms of action but it’s hypnotic in its rendition, with appropriate dim lighting, Parmegiani’s score perfectly punctuating the action at key moments, and its languid pace. The transformation sequence perfectly sets up Fanny’s later decision in the final act where the film escalates to its violent and chaotic conclusion. The compositions of Pierro in the third act, especially, are marvelous. Haunting and beautiful.

I would be remiss to not add how nasty Docteur Jekyll et les femmes is. There are few filmmakers that I can think of who love to upset and disturb conservative viewers more than Borowczyk. In terms of erotic content and flesh display, Docteur Jekyll pales to other Borowczyk cinema (although quite erotic sequences are included). The lack of erotic sequences may make Docteur Jekyll more accessible to conservative viewers, as erotic sequences tend to divide and disturb those viewers more than violent scenes. While Docteur Jekyll has more grisly aftermath scenes of victims than of scenes of graphic violence, they are, in my opinion, equally affecting. So prospective viewers are forewarned. I have never watched Docteur Jekyll et les femmes just once. When I view the film, I have to watch it again. It’s a mesmerizing experience, as it’s just one of those films which takes everything that we hold dear in our culture and turns them on its head. Playful and perverse, beautiful and disturbing, creative and innovative: that’s Docteur Jekyll et les femmes and Walerian Borowczyk cinema.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Il Decameron (1971)

The Decameron (1971) was the first in a trilogy of films by Pier Paolo Pasolini, all three based on classical works of literature, borne each from different cultures. The Decameron is adapted from the work by Giovanni Boccaccio; and in his own words, Pasolini relates his desire to make the trilogy of films:

"But more than one 'ideological' element is hidden in these three films I have made. The main one is the nostalgia for the past era which sought to recreate on the me [making the Trilogy] represents an entry into the most mysterious inner workings of the artistic process, an experiment with the ontology of narration, an attempt to engage with the process of rendering a film filmic, the kind of film one saw as a child." (573)

Nostalgia and narration, perhaps linked together:

"Never was cultural analysis more wed to everyday life, nor more self-revelatory; Pasolini found himself in everything, and everything flowed back to his selfhood. For him, the ancient playwright codified human realities, those deep-seated characteristics of man that predate politics. These are tied to the 'uterine experience'--to Susanna, to whom all loyalty went--and were 'irrational,' the material of dreams and poetry. Fighting for the place of the irrational in politics (that is, in rationality) was fighting for himself and for her, for his commitment to her and thus his most profound identity. But he was going to fight without losing what the ancient Greeks called sophrosyne (self-control).
"He was never to abandon this theme. The mysterious visitor in Teorema is this irrational god, this Dionysius of the post-Revolution. The Trilogy (1971-1974) based in fable appealed to him because what he called 'archaic' societies--those societies preliterate, preindustrial, without sexual inhibition or class manipulation--had the wisdom (not to be confused with science or progress) to give the Eumenides their due. The worlds of the Decameron and Canterbury Tales and Thousand and One Nights had not lost touch with the irrational, not fallen into 'conventionality, conformism, standardization,' which he saw growing at an alarming rate in Italy in the summer of 1960. That they existed only in his creation hardly mattered: If the artist cannot create, God-like, what distinguishes him from other men?" (370,371) Pasolini appears as Giotto, an artist painting a fresco upon a cathedral’s wall, during the second half of The Decameron. His appearances, interestingly, segue the episodes of the second half of the film and also serve as commentary. The three-act structure of the traditional narrative for film, which to some viewers wholly defines “film,” is dispensed. The non-classical style of filming, with its photography by Tonino Delli Colli, is far from arbitrary but doesn’t necessarily seem organic. The energy derived from the locations, the performers, and their ancient stories create The Decameron, indisputably, into an affecting and enduring work of art.

Two of the most famous episodes from The Decameron are its best and are easily contrastable. In the first episode of the two that appear, at a villa, a family is celebrating over dinner. The young daughter of the household is confronted in the forest by a young male guest who proclaims his love for her and his desire to be with her. She shares the same feelings yet does not know any possible way that the two can be together. The young man plans a scheme: he tells the young lady to sleep on her balcony during the evening where he will visit her. The young woman tells her mother that she desires to sleep outside, so that she can hear the nightingales sing while she sleeps. The parents agree, and the young woman is visited by her lover. The two spend the night together, and in the morning, the father awakens to find his daughter with the young man. He awakens his wife, and the two conspire to arrange a beneficial wedding between the two young lovers. Of course, the threat of death to the young man is a strong inducement to the wedding. The father and the mother awaken the young couple and deliver their proposal to the young man. Without hesitation, he accepts the proposal unequivocally and will marry the young woman. In the later sequence, three brothers share a home with their sister. One morning, one of the brothers sees a young man leave their sister’s bedroom. The three brothers ask their sister’s lover to accompany them on a walk into the countryside. They murder their sister’s lover and bury him in the field. The lover appears to the young sister in a dream and reveals the whereabouts of his corpse. The next morning, accompanied by her maid, she finds her lover’s body. Unable to move his body, the maid helps the young woman remove his head, and she takes it home, washes it, and places it in a large pot. The pot is covered in basil and rose water and placed on the window sill of her bedroom. In their most comfortable categories, here is comedy, ending in marriage, and here is tragedy, ending in death, respectively. If there is any consistency in Pasolini’s visual style in The Decameron, then it is with powerful use of the close-up on his performers. Uncannily, Pasolini is able to capture (and/or generate) such unforced emotion from his participants. Like his character of Giotto, who finds inspiration for his religious fresco from the faces of the populace, Pasolini sees in his performers’ expressions genuine emotion. The life and energy that Pasolini wanted to capture of a people of his youth (or for a people that never really existed) are translated through The Decameron. It is easy to see that Pasolini’s attempts at “filmic purity” are an attempt at trying to capture something essential in humanity. A bold endeavor, indeed, and at the present moment, I believe that Pasolini comes very close to succeeding.

The Canterbury Tales (1972) would follow The Decameron and it shows a more confident Pasolini. The Canterbury Tales is also a lot more playful and certainly more willful than The Decameron. There is an innocence to the style of The Decameron which only enhances its impact. A personal favorite. All parenthetical notations which follow quotes are citations to pages from Pasolini Requiem by Barth David Schwarz, Pantheon Books, New York: 1992.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jeunes filles impudiques (1973)

Jeunes filles impudiques (1973) is a very shy piece of erotica."Lionel [Wallmann]," says director Jean Rollin, "obliged me to put some sex scenes in Requiem...during that dungeon sequence. I told him that I wasn't too fond of that kind of thing, and he answered: 'But you do that kind of thing very well. If we make an entire film like that, I bet it would be successful. You may not like it, but you know how to do it.'" ¶ I said, 'Okay, I'll do it, but I won't invest any of my own money to do it.' Well, he raised the money, we made the film [Jeunes filles impudiques], and he was right. The two sex films I made, this one and Tout le monde il en a deux (1974) were very successful.” (Virgins and Vampires, editied by Peter Blumenstock, Crippled Publishing, Germany: 1997, p. 148)

Jeunes filles impudiques is shy in two ways. One, the film was made during a liminal period in cinema, not just in France but elsewhere. Pornography was not yet legal in France, although it would be at the time his Les demoniaques (1973) opened in her theatres. (Virgins and Vampires, p.149) Erotic cinema, prior to the legalization of pornography, had a clear boundary. How far filmmakers were willing to push their content, in terms of explicitness, towards that boundary, varied. Cultures were changing in their attitudes towards depictions of sex, and hence, perhaps, producer Lionel Wallman’s desire to enter into the sex-film market was a direct result of these cultural changes. The second way that Jeunes filles impudiques is shy, Jean Rollin explains: “It’s strange, but it was more embarrassing for me to shoot my first softcore film, Tout le monde...; I walked off the set one day because I couldn’t direct phony lovemaking. When it became real, I had no problem at all. I really don’t know why. Maybe because in softcore films, the only person revealing his obsession is the director, because he has to call the shots while the actors simply do as they are told. In porno, both the actor and the director are in the same position. One reveals his obsession, and the actors live them out, so there is nothing to be ashamed of.” (Virgins and Vampires, p.148)

Jeunes filles impudiques is about Monica (Joëlle Coeur) and Jackie (Gilda Arancio), two friends who are making a camping trek through the countryside. The two, while wandering, come upon a maison, and from all appearances, it is empty. They decide to spend the night there. A jewel thief (Willy Braque), however, is using the maison as a hideout. When Monica discovers the jewel thief, all three spend the night together, and in the morning, Monica and Jackie leave. The jewel thief’s two associates (Marie Hélène Règne and Pierre Julien) arrive to split the stolen jewelry, and it is revealed that the loot is gone. The trio decides that either Monica or Jackie must have taken the loot, and they go off to find them.

The story of Jeunes filles impudiques plays out like an adolescent detective story. (Interestingly, in Immoral Tales in a footnote, Jacques Orth is revealed as “[t]he sex-film maker Jack Regis, who had also written the script for Rollin’s pseudonymous sex film Jeunes filles impudiques (1972) (Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies, Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin’s Griffin Press, New York: 1995, pp.158, 176); whereas in a filmography, compiled by Mark Brusinak with Peter Blumenstock, Christian Kessler, and Lucas Balbo in European Trash Cinema Volume 2, Number 8, Nathalie Perry is the credited screenwriter. (edited by Craig Ledbetter, Kingwood, TX: 1993, p.27)) The kindest way to describe the story is to say a youthful energy and curiosity wisp the tale along; while one could also describe the film as tediously episodic and tenuously linked. Take your pick.
Jeunes filles impudiques is a curiosity in Rollin’s curious filmography, of interest for the charismatic presence of Joëlle Coeur and a look into how Rollin would broach the sex-film genre. As to the latter, the first sex scene is revelatory, as is a later scene (which would contain repeated imagery from Rollin’s other cinema.) When Coeur and Arancio arrive at the maison, they find the bedroom upstairs. At a leisurely pace, the two fold down the bed and put slipcovers over the pillows. The two get into bed after undressing and begin cuddling and kissing. The scene never really changes in its energy. Rollin then pans from an ecstatic look from Arancio to a shot near the floor (a finishing or climatic shot, rather than a transition). The scene resumes again, and the sheets are definitely off of the actresses. The flesh is much more on display, and the writhing is pronounced. Seeing the sex scene in two parts, like this, is as if the first wasn’t satisfactory and the second was perfunctory. In a humorous final shot to the scene, Coeur stands at the bedroom door while the camera sits in the hallway. Coeur’s Monica slams the door upon the camera, as if a third scene will play out but not for the viewer. In the film’s best visual sequence, a gazebo is located somewhere near the maison. The gazebo is covered with stained-glass windows of varying colors (which Rollin plays with in a voyeuristic sequence later with Marie Hélène Règne). After Braque’s jewel thief captures Monica and Jackie, Jackie is the first to be interrogated. She is located to the gazebo and bound by her wrists to the ceiling. This is clearly an exploitative scene. Little questioning is done, as Braque takes a small whip to Jackie. Arancio’s nudity is focal as is the kinky bit with the bondage and the whipping. These images do not last long. Rollin cuts to the camera’s point of view, substituting for Jackie‘s. Marie Hélène Règne circles her victim as the camera makes a circular pan. Her ultimate act of torture is trimming Jackie’s hair with scissors. However, the scene concludes with a nasty act by Règne, but it just appears as perfunctory exploitation fare.

Joëlle Coeur was a painter who was suggested to Rollin for the role of Monica by a mutual friend. (Immoral Tales, p.150). She also stars in Tout le monde and Les demoniaques. Coeur is amazingly beautiful, and it is quite evident that Rollin was completely taken with her charisma. In several scenes, it appears as if she is just doing what she wants, and Rollin has no problem with that. Her absence is felt when she is not on screen.

I am certainly glad that I was able to see Jeunes filles impudiques in an English-language version via the DVD released by Redemption. It ultimately comes off as uninspired straight sex film, although there is Rollin’s sweet sensibility and shyness carrying the film. Jeunes filles impudiques is ultimately of interest to Rollin’s fans and is definitely worth a peek.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011)

The younger brother and I had a steak dinner via the stove top, as it was a hundred degrees outside, far too hot to do the holiday-grilling routine. After dinner, he had an espresso, and I settled in with a mug of coffee. I asked him if he wanted to watch a movie, maybe something off of Video on Demand, and he did. I perused the selection and narrowed my picks. I asked him to finalize my pick by choosing one to watch. Here is how I presented them:

1. Did he want to watch a Norwegian movie about trolls?

2. How about a German zombie flick? Or, it could be a viral-outbreak flick?

3. Did he want to see a Quarantine sequel sans Ms. Jennifer Carpenter? Maybe set on an airplane?

4. Sucker Punch. I heard it sucked and I've only seen one Zack Snyder film.

"Let's watch Sucker Punch," he said. So we did.

Within the first few minutes of Sucker Punch, I quickly realized that at thirty-six years old, I am three times older than its target audience. I had heard the Eurythmics song during its original incarnation as a child in the eighties, heard the Manson redux, and am certain that at least once more I will hear it again redone before I die. When I heard "Army of Me," I thought Tank Girl? And again later, was that the song from The Craft that played over its credits? From time to time, my brother paused the film, appropriately via the XBOX controller, and we bullshitted about movies.

Above all else, I value imagery in cinema. One striking composition can become memorable while a string of them can create lasting memories. At some point, those images become affecting, and the story that they tell can touch strong emotions and evoke deep thought. Likewise, cinema can just be beautiful scenes flickering along--that's cool, too.

Sucker Punch has narration, has emotion, and has a story. In order for me to grasp any of the mentioned three, I am going to have to watch Sucker Punch, again. Sucker Punch is a "theatre" movie. You're definitely looking at it.

During Dave Chappelle's brilliant run on Comedy Central on his sketch show, he had a skit where he presented a scene of himself entering into a laundry mat with a sack of dirty clothes over his shoulder. He sat down his laundry and said hello to an elderly woman folding her clothes. That was it, the whole scene, mundane and boring. Chappelle then presented the same scene again to his audience. This time Chappelle strolled into the laundry mat in slow-motion with an accompanying beat as the soundtrack. A wind machine blew his attire around, and the elderly woman folding her clothes appeared as a young woman, dancing to the soundtrack. Persuasively, Chappelle proved slow motion made everything look very cool.

Who doesn't love the scene of a snowy Japanese temple with a courtyard, imposing mountains looming over its walls while soothing soft light emits from candles within?
Whether it's Meiko Kaji, Lucy Liu, or Emily Browning in the frame, this imagery is a cinematic battle arena. It's live-action anime and gatling-gun crazy. Around the time dragons appeared within Sucker Punch, however, I was ready to watch something else or nothing at all. I flippantly told my brother that I would have loved this film when I was twelve.

"What movies did you love when you were twelve?" asked my brother. That espresso must have been jet fuel, because he was really alert.

Die Hard. Rambo. Robocop. The Lost Boys. As we bullshitted further, with the explosions in the background, we talked about how the best escapist movies were about escaping. The underlying trauma and situation from where the young women from Sucker Punch are escaping, when you stop to think about it, is quite horrible. If their situation was presented in any other way, then I wouldn't be writing like this. Who wants to travel across country to see his wife to whom he is separated and decide whether or not to stay together? Killing a bunch of terrorists in a high rise fills the void. Who wants to revisit a country on whose soil a major conflict took place with a highly unfavorable outcome? Well, just one man, who fucking kicks everyone's ass by himself. Who wants to go to a quickie mart at eleven o'clock at night only to encounter an armed robbery? Anyone, because there's a badass cyborg roaming the city as law enforcement. Who wants to move to a new town and make new friends? How about meeting vampires?

Sucker Punch is in the same vein of the cinema of my youth. Somewhere, I'm certain, there is someone echoing my original sentiments about The Lost Boys: "Man, that was so fucking cool." Lost Boys has some serious subtext, too. When I got older that Rob Lowe poster made a lot more sense to me. Sucker Punch is cinema which belongs to someone else, just as The Lost Boys belongs to me.

Beyond any criticism of the film, already espoused by professional critics, Snyder's film is a little too serious for me. Sucker Punch could have taken at least a minute or two of its nearly two-hour runtime to loosen up and do something unexpected. I actually love the fact that Snyder made Sucker Punch so unabashedly. It's like a primer for a whole generation of filmmakers with new cinematic tools.

Anyway, this blog entry on Sucker Punch turned out to be more musing than substantive review or criticism. I enjoyed hanging out with my brother, having dinner on a holiday weekend, and bullshitting about movies. Quiet Cool needed to loosen up anyway. I also watched the Norwegian film about trolls. It was quite funny. Happy Fourth.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Kamikaze '89 (1982)

Kamikaze '89 (1982) is one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's last artistic endeavors. Subsequent to the release of his Lili Marteen (1981), Fassbinder was offered the lead role by producer Regina Ziegler who was developing the project for her husband, director Wolf Gremm. (175) Robert Katz, co-screenwriter of Kamikaze and author of Love is Colder Than Death: The Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, describes Gremm as the director who held the record for winning the German film critics' Sour Lemon award more than any other director. (175) The Sour Lemon is awarded to the director who made the "worst film of the year." (175) Fassbinder was not deterred by Gremm's reputation and accepted the part but would back out of the role when he read Gremm's script. (175, 176) Katz was subsequently hired as a screenwriter to rewrite Gremm's script "in order to broaden the film's appeal and tap the English-language market." (176) Katz suggested that the source material, from the novel Murder on the Thirty-first Floor by Swedish author, Per Wahloo, set in the 1960s, be "projected into the near future of the 80s." (175, 176) Juliane Lorenz suggested the title Kamikaze while Gremm added the "'89" to "connote the future." (176) (All parenthetical notations previous to this statement are citations to pages from of Love is Colder Than Death: The Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, by Robert Katz and Peter Berling, Jonathan Cape, London: 1987.)

Kamikaze '89, today, is little-seen and little-discussed. When the film is discussed, Fassbinder attracts the majority of the attention. Although it should be noted that Kamikaze's soundtrack by Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream has developed quite a cult following. Cinematographer, Xaver Schwarzenberger, who shot Berlin Alexanderplatz and Fassbinder's subsequent directorial efforts until his death, lensed Kamikaze; and Fassbinder regulars, such as Brigitte Mira, who appears in a small role, and Günther Kaufmann, who appears in a fairly substantial role, for example, fill the scenery. Above all, however, Kamikaze '89 is perhaps notable or notorious, even in its obscurity, for Fassbinder's attire. Director Wolf Gremm explains:

"When I plan a film, I often think in terms of animal images for the characters. In conceiving Kamikaze '89, I always had Fassbinder in mind as a leopard, but I never told him this. At the first costume fitting I showed him fifteen possible futuristic detective and police costumes of very different styles. It happened like this: He came in. I was smoking a cigar. I offered him a Camel cigarette. He looked over the costumes. I smiled. Then he looked at me and smiled too. He said, 'You like this leopard one.' And I said, 'Don't you?' And he said, 'Let me try it on.' He looked at himself in the mirror and said, 'I love me. Now I'm Lieutenant Jansen.' From this point on, we never had to discuss the style of the film." (Love is Colder Than Death, p.177)

I wish that I could grab screenshots of Fassbinder in his leopard suit, but unfortunately Kamikaze '89 is only available on VHS in the U.S. (There is, however, a DVD released in Germany.) The leopard suit that Fassbinder wears throughout Kamikaze forms a part of an ensemble: his dashboard of his police vehicle is covered in the material; his exercise outfit with matching headband that he wears at the police club is also leopard skin; and even the handle of Jansen's revolver is covered with the soft material. According to Katz, Fassbinder liked the "phony leopard-skin" suit so much that he kept it and wore it from time to time in the remaining months of his life. (Love is Colder Than Death, p.178)

Germany. 1989. Society has solved all of its problems. For example, there is no unemployment and no pollution. Society runs like a machine with everything having its essential place. Mass-media is controlled by one powerful group, the Combine, who are located in a high-rise tower (which from the film appears that it can be seen from anywhere in the city.) One day, the group receives a bomb threat, and Police Lieutenant Jansen (Fassbinder) is dispatched to the Combine building to investigate. A note was sent to the Combine on particularly unique paper revealing the bomb's presence in the building. Jansen evacuates the building, and the bomb threat turns out to be false. Jansen's superior commands him to find the suspect behind the would-be bombing within four days.

In my view, knowing that Fassbinder would die soon after the completion of Kamikaze '89 (and prior to its release) gives the film a more tragic air. It is difficult to take any character seriously donning a leopard-skin suit, surrounded by neon motifs of the 1980s with accompanying colors such as hot pink and turquoise. The future, at least in cinema, is more palatable and hence believable when the color scheme is somber or dark, such as in Minority Report (2002). The costumes and set design of Kamikaze '89 are stimulating and are supposed to evoke feelings (echoing Ms. Lauper) of fun, but Fassbinder plays Jansen as a police officer floating through a completely mechanical and predictable society. Jansen holds a streak of forty-plus cases where he has successfully solved a crime. The successful completion of a case is the only thing that he has to look forward to. Jansen often tells the other characters "avoid asking unnecessary questions" or "avoid saying unnecessary statements": in his view, any attempts to be anything other than predictable is futile. The most popular show on television, pushed upon the masses by the Combine, is the Laughing Contest: twenty-four hours a day, a contest is shown where its participants laugh. The one standing last and still laughing wins. Demoralizing imagery just about everywhere in the city.

The traditional investigation with Kamikaze '89 isn't particularly viewer-friendly. Often my cinematically-trained mind passively watches the story, waiting for specific lines of dialogue or cues of dramatic music in order to recognize that a clue has been found or a breakthrough in the mystery has been had. For example, the paper upon which the note detailing the bomb threat is the second half of an award, handed out by the Combine to specific individuals. Hence, the paper is rare, since the award has only been given to about twenty-five people (a manageable list of suspects). Of importance is that the half of the letter was hand-torn and not cut with scissors. During a later scene, when Jansen is questioning the head of the Combine's nephew, who is now confessing to sending the letter, Jansen asks him where are the scissors that he used to cut the award in half. The nephew responds by saying that they are in his desk and that he has many pairs. Jansen, by this admission by the nephew, knows that his confession is false. No revelatory, contradicting dialogue comes from Jansen to impeach him; no dramatic music plays over this damning admission; and no cross-cut to an earlier scene as reminder come at all. I watched Kamikaze '89 several times over the past week, and it took me a while to identify this change in the investigation. Yes, I am that vegetative when I watch films. When Franco Nero appears near the end of Kamikaze '89, his character provides the most important information towards the plot and the investigation. However, despite Nero and Fassbinder giving very good performances, the impact and weight of Nero's dialogue are only really felt (and the viewer subsequently made aware) with subsequent viewings. I suppose Gremm wasn't that adept as a director.

One of the saddest scenes in Kamikaze '89 is Fassbinder alone in his apartment. He pulls a whitebread sandwich from the microwave and takes a bite. Its flavor must be quite disappointing according to his reaction. He leans against a table and eats the sandwich anyway. He arms himself with his camera (a futuristic police tool) and his gun and stares into space. Fassbinder looks like a bloated and fat drunk, dejected about what the future holds for him. The ending of the investigation is all that he has to look forward to, and his prospects are somewhat grim. There has to be something of value to carry him along. At the end of Kamikaze '89, Jansen stands alone, looking at the camera and laughing as the credits roll.