Presiding over the society that Fassbinder creates and mocks in The Niklashausen Journey, is the local bishop, played by Kurt Raab. The bishop lives and works in an absurdly rococo room, around which lounge half naked boys, the slumped sloven of a woman, and other inactive beings who partake of various slow and unspecified pursuits on the floor. For both Fassbinder and Kurt Raab (both homosexual and also lovers off and on until the inevitable split) filmmaking was about total vision, and Kurt Raab’s real skill outside acting, was dressing sets, which he did for many of the films.
Although it is not explicitly stated anywhere on the print or even on IMDB, it appears that the narrator’s voice in Effi Briest is that of Ulli Lommel – even though narrator is a role that has turned out to be very important to Fassbinder in his films. Lommel’s reading style, like his acting method, was partially unique, and certainly recognisable; except for here; and if that is Fassbinder reading the narrator’s part in the earlier sections of the film, then I am without doubt Monkey Onkel.
Mark of the Devil (1970) was very much an Adrian Hoven production, certainly in its early form, in which was called The Witchhunter Doctor Dracula. The film was written by Hoven, who also wanted to star in it and produce, although his financial backers were keen to get somebody from England to direct it, and employed Michael Armstrong who created the script that remains. Mark of the Devil is an unsung gem of European horror however, even despite the horrific aspects of its production. Not only is the music memorable but once scene, the torture scenes in Mark of the Devil are never forgotten. You are warned!
Kurt Raab is in a panic; he’s sweating cold and his eyes dart from side to side. He’s worried, he’s mad, and he’s under pressure. He can’t get money from his publisher; he might have to murder somebody for it. His hair is flicking up like Adolf Hitler’s hair and he is just as paranoid as the fuhrer.
Despite being one of the strongest of the anti-theater crew, Ulli Lommel sometimes looks the least comfortable in Fassbinder productions. Of course, as a director, Fassbinder can use that as a strength, so when Lommel (playing Aufnahmeleiter Korbinian in Beware of a Holy Whore, 1971) strides proudly in, seeming straighter than everyone in the room, he is marching gleefully into being shouted down, and before he has even had a chance to deliver his first line, he has been called a stupid cow.
Succubus (1968) is not entertainment; it is purely of historical interest. Many things you might associate with the late 1960s are here; LSD, spontaneous promiscuity; and far-out film making. Indeed this film might have the longest dream sequences you may ever see, and as for a story? There is one yes but it is secondary to the word association, lascivious female body-waggling, and Buffon haircuts. And of course the dancing midget; it would be nothing without the dancing midget.
‘You know very well you can’t smoke in a department store’ This is the extent of Kurt Raab's dialogue in Love is Colder than Death, making his appearance another short, rude and dismissive Fassbinder role. Fassbinder did like to present these cameos to his freinds, who were of course also his stars. One truly brave aspect of Fassbinder's movies is that everybody got a crack of the whip; that's the way it looks. Everybody in the Fassbinder collective however has films in which they star, and they all have films in which they play a minor role.
I sometimes wonder where Ulli Lommel learned to direct, but I suppose I will never know for sure. His films seem split into two styles, a frantic quick-cut and overlay style... and these interspersed with featureless dialogues, in which actors seem to be improvising. Either that or he casts poor actors.
Either Jess Franco had no idea what he was doing when he made films like Kiss Me Monster (Küss mich, Monster) which stars and was produced by Adrian Hoven, which is unlikely given his output; or else he wilfully ignores conventions and was and still is not frightened of making films that people will accordingly label as bad, terrible, awful. Depending on your mood and your knowledge of convention, and your tolerance for these conventions being broken, there is a high chance that at some point you will stand up and shout ‘this is NONSENSE!’ when watching a Franco production: And yet lots of us like nonsense.
It is typical of a Fassbinder film that all would muck in when called upon to do so, and this it appears would operate on several tiers. Therefore, when it came to dubbing Effi Briest, and when - we must presume - that Hark Bohm was no longer available, the job fell to Kurt Raab. Perhaps Raab was at hand, and was cheaper, but it would have been unlikely that he could have been first choice. Raab’s voice is smooth and always slides along from word to word, whereas Bohm’s own voice, more meancing and quiet, would have been better for the role of Apotheker Gieshübler.
Fassbinder films can be enjoyed on their own merit - or not, as the case may be. They can also after a while be viewed through the lens of the Fassbinder world, and if you have seen enough of them, this is inevitable, although it’s not the sort of thing that happens with a director like Ridley Scott. The difference is that Ridley Scott doesn’t populate his films with friends and lovers, and tell the stories of his and their lives; but this is how Fassbinder works, and it is all to the good.
If you want to see Adrian Hoven smouldering at his darkest, his most avuncular, here he is in Foxhole in Cairo from 1960. At 80 minutes it’s barely worth asking if it’s any good or not, but it’s not bad at all, especially if you like a bit of James Roberston Justice which many of us do. You also get to witness an early Michael Caine role, which is maybe why some people still track down this film. But the true afficionados are here for the black and white tones of a certain dashing young Austrian actor, turned film producer and director, Herr Adrian Hoven.
Kurt Raab (as Fred), here in Beware of a Holy Whore, wearing a ridiculous hairstyle, is struck high and dry on this endlessly boring movie shoot, with nothing better to do than drink all day and shout at the Italian hotel staff. I say Italian, because although Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) is set in Spain, it was shot in Italy; in fact it’s a super-lingual mix, even late at night when Raab (who has gone to bed and gets up again to re-join the drinking) bursts in on Lou Castel reflectively quoting the title of Fassbinder’s first film – in French – while David the soundman disagrees.
Frankly, all other directors should be jealous. The director’s mother in no less than 16 (?) of Fassbinder's films; and not just there but also secretary when need be. She is indeed ... holding it down, and in Mother Kusters, she plays secretary, and was also the director's secretary on set. An awesome mother and son combination.
The Thirteenth Floor (1999) starring Armin-Mueller Stahl is a science fiction crime thriller — basically a ‘tech noir’ — directed by Josef Rusnak. It’s part based on the novel Simulacron-3 (1964) by Daniel F. Galouye — part based because Simulacron-3 because Simulacron-3 is an early effort at describing virtual reality, something that had become vastly sophisticated by 1999 — that was the year of The Matrix after all. Armin Mueller-Stahl plays the inventor of the Virtual Reality system as well as character within it, alternating between a confidant patriarchal charm and a more confused and bumbling artisanal type. He is much better placed here than he would have been in The Matrix.
There is a lot of Jean-Luc Godard in The Niklashauser Journey – probably too much for the self-conscious French-Swiss director, who went into virtual retirement from cinema a few years into the 1970s, presumably feeling that his pioneering techniques were becoming too standard in the films of his contemporaries, and that video was the medium that needed him the most. The long dialogues and bizarrely dressed revolutionary groups on the edge of the woods featured in Weekend, are imitated here in The Niklashauser Journey; as are the sudden manifestations of people from other centuries.
There is depth to Fassbinder’s characters – he could not have made it any other way – but when the opportunity to play a character of real pedigree arises, his actors are up to the challenge. Is Hanna Schygulla Effi Briest? - she doesn’t look the age of the character, and sometimes the character’s naivety and innocence comes across as something much more playful – Schygulla being a much more knowing person herself. She loved the idea of playing the role, and really wanted to do it, and Fassbinder achieved what he did in Effi Briest by constraining her acting style to the fullest.
Stephen Norrington made a great film in Blade (1998); action, mood, horror and special effects. There is more to Blade than just the sum of its parts, but a vision in the use of the camera, which shakes and spins when Blade is fighting (very exciting) and also enters into hyperfast montage. There's a shower of blood, and there are vampiric hoardes, councils and politics, and at the heart of it, a plain tale of good versus evil, dressed up in leather, swordplay and the occasional wisecrack.
It’s not for me to say why Fassbinder and crew dubbed Margit Carstensen’s voice over Irm Hermann’s character in Effi Briest, but there is a fair amount of that going in this production. There is no doubt, however, that when Hermann opens her mouth, it is Carstensen that speaks, and I would only speculate on availability as the reason. To have made as many films as he did in the time he did, Fassbinder must have relied on whom he could get and when, and it looks like quite a few of the leads weren't available when it come to dubbing this epic.
The Fassbinder actors fall into two categories – those who loved him and whom he used in one manner or another – and those whom he respected and treated well. Hanna Schygulla, who most certainly fell into the latter category, was probably and consistently, the most talented actor that you’ll see in Fassbinder's films – talented in her abilities as an actor, and in her charm, look and presence. Fassbinder's Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Love is Colder Than Death) was for both of them, an auspicious debut.
The great thing about taste is that it can be so various, meaning that if you have trouble with someone like Dario Argento, it doesn't matter, because he is still going to have a lot of fans who will be blind to your objections.
Both Karlheinz Böhm and Margit Carstensen appear in the first major ensemble scene of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven. They do so to demonstrate the fact that where you find the press, you’ll also find political parties. Simultaneously addressed, is the fact that where you find personal disaster among the public, the political parties are often there too.
In a chilly, half-built brick room in an unfinished house, two actors pace up and down, answering what seem like basic questions on the nature of revolution. This is beginning at the beginning, with some elementary Marxism, certainly and obviously in 1970 leading up to the question of why the revolutions of 1968 failed. Hannah Schygulla is one, Rainer Werner Fassbinder the next, it's 1970, and time for the Niklashausen Journey.
There's a lot of Agatha Christie that hasn't been filmed, and it's probably too late now for most of it. Her massive output is rarely great but always decent, if not good, explaining why she does well on the small screen but often not on the large.
When push comes to shove and Walter Kranz needs more money in Fassbinder's Satansbraten, he calls one of his fans, a woman called Andrée who has been writing to him for years. Andrée is the ultimate horror role for any Fassbinder actress; unattractive, vacillating and there to be abused, and Kranz is deeply excited at the possibility of another woman to prey upon, being the niggardly and selfish swine he is. It is even funny that Fassbinder spared Irm Hermann here and gave the part to Margit Carstensen, who only ever played beautiful people in all Fassbinder films.
Yes, look out for Barbara Lass, playing the Polnische Köchin, that is, the mysterious Polish kitchen helper in Effi Briest (1974) in frame with a chicken and in gypsy attire, cutting herbs with a tiny blade while humming something tuneless in a rather threatening kitchen scene. Because as if the cook wasn’t scary enough, the assistant is enough to demonstrate that Effi is going to be alienated if not murdered wherever she goes in her husband's world.
A fearsome set up: in 1854, 47 Apache warriors terrorise an area of America three times the size of Texas; they kill settlers of any age and both sexes, except boy children, whom they take with them to raise as warriors. Charlton Heston as Major Dundee sets out to reclaim three such boys. And that's not really his mission statement, which is that Apache should be taken or destroyed. Unfortunately the journey (ie the film) is insanely long, in a road movie cum western type of manner, so large sacle wanderings including battles with a French garrison in Mexico make this an epic trawl - 156 minutes, apparently mercifully cut to that from Peckinpah's own cut - a 4 hour 38 minute sore-bottom-fest.
Of all the cast in Satansbraten, Ulli Lommel may be the least natural comedian. Lommel plays a sharp-witted but never very concerned policeman, in typical coat and hat, and enters the film investigating the murder (or accidental killing) that Kranz has committed. Although Lommel doesn’t go for the grande guignol route that everyone else takes here, he still pulls off the deadpan comedy rather well, although I keep having the feeling when I’m watching Satansbraten that Ulli Lommel is corpsing, constantly.
Mario Adorf as Herr Schuckert is just the sort of guy who is always going to be thriving, whether it be war or peace. In wartime, one imagines, Schuckert was doubtless a hustler making good money on people’s misery – and now, in the post-war era he is a larger than life developer who has many shady local business interests, including a sizeable stable of prostitutes. When we first meet Schuckert , we can instantly see the extent of his success as he pisses next to the town’s mayor, one of his best clients.
Ulli Lommel’s entrance in Leibe ist Kalter als der Tod is just as striking as anything else in the film – his appearance is almost that of a photographic still, waiting tensely against a blank canvas. It was very much the style which Fassbinder took from the theatre, and he was probably born with it, as opposed to having learned it as a student.
B-movies are sometimes redeemed by astonishing casts, and Johnny Mnemonic is a great example; Dolph Lundgren appears as a psychotic Christian killer, probably the weakest role in the film as he overeggs it horribly; Dina Meyer, who has sadly never been A-list despite having been in Starship Troopers and numerous Saw films; Takeshi Kitano, whose acting credits fill entire websites devoted to his skill, looks and genius; Henry Rollins, a guy who just keeps getting work despite obvious flaws; Denis Akiyama, who looks like British comedian Michael Mackintyre; and how Barbara Sukowa ended up within this lot is anybody’s guess.