Michael Konig appears in the distance, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Niklashausen Journey (1970).  He's among a group presumably listening to some revolutionary preaching, the sort that is unfortunately very easy to switch off from. He is monotonously beating a drum while the camera moves at a snail’s pace towards what are to begin with stick figures outside a kirk, at the top of a double set of stairs. It isn’t a terribly well composed shot, and it is quite some time before we become aware of Konig’s stunning hair – a show stealing mane if ever there was one – and very reminiscent of many of the rock stars of the age. It’s time to switch off if you are anything other than a Fassbinder die-hard.

 

‘No one shall escape bloody retribution,’ warns Konig – although he is so distant it is impossible at this stage to see that it is him who is speaking – and it is just the kind of revolutionary talk Europe had been hearing a lot of, on and off since the early Middle Ages. You don’t get it so much nowadays – not even on the internet – proving that as people we must either be happy with our oppressors at last – or have given up.

Certainly in the 1960s there were high hopes for actual revolution; and certainly in Germany in the 1970s, bloody retribution became the unfortunate trademark of at least one infamous revolutionary group. Actually, the talk is vacuous, and it has been pointed out that this is a problem in this film – that once the point has been made, we have to sit through many more minutes of re-iteration. Certainly it is not that pleasant waiting for this scene to finish; one is aware at the speed the camera is zooming in at (very slowly) and one is aware how long it still has to go (very far).

Constantly however – and this is a real Fassbinder constant – we have to ask ourselves what is being said. That this call for bloody revolution segues into a hymn to the Virgin is strange; but this forms the basis for the story on which Niklashausen Journey is taken – that of shepherd Hans Bohm, who in March 1476, declared that the Virgin had appeared to him, gathered 30,000 disciples in Niklashauser, and raised revolutionary demands in the favour of the people.

Oddly enough I don’t think Michael König is up for the long Marxist lessons that his character has to deliver in the film. You don’t get so much of it in films these days, but at one time it was quite popular, even expected in some areas. And it must have been hard to do, as an actor.

What Michael König loses out on here is character; as an actor he isn’t given much chance to develop in this department, because all the polemic falls on him. Still however, the artistic merit flows thick and fast, and Michael König’s genius is in holding it together, leading the way and being someone so wholly pure and innocent that he is hard not to follow.

Die Niklashauser Fart (1970) Gallery

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