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.
The former style which makes up about half of each Ulli Lommel film can really make a viewer queasy, and can be hard to bear. Grainy film, shaky camera, overlays, quick cuts and semi- spooky images; it can feel like you are watching a promotional trailer for 90 minutes, and that ain’t good for the head.
This quick cut and mash leaves the improvised looking scenes to carry the detail of the story, and set up killings. When Ulli Lommel directs his improvised scenes, I am thinking of his theatre days in the 1960s and 70s and I expect he is thinking of a few of the lessons he learned them too. Except when Fassbinder asked two actors (and sometimes they weren’t even actors) to play a scene – say: ‘you are a couple; he is vain and doesn’t care about her; and she has had enough,’ – the results were always so incredible that Fassbinder could film them as first and only takes.
With Ulli Lommel asking these same questions of American actors, who may have no experience of theatre and certainly no experience of the freedoms of flower-powered revolutionary Germany, the results of improvisation are catastrophic.
There is something of intense note in this film by Lommel however, and it is the portrayal of Fassbinder. The character of The Writer (referred to throughout as ‘Fat Fuck’) and played by Jon E. Nimitz, simply is Fassbinder.
We can tell this from the posture and the smoking; because Nimitz smokes exactly in the same way that Fassbinder smoked, and like Fassbinder, he smokes in every camera shot. If this wasn’t evidence enough, we can also see the Jon E. Nimitz is recalling several very typical and distinctive Fassbinder speech mannerisms — the repeated sigh, and the reverse sigh (a kind of sucking) — both of which feature in Nimitz’ speech, and with precisely the same timing as used by RWF hisself.
Think of this what you will; but those who know Fassbinder will be convinced. It’s a valid acting technique (and it really pays here as Nimitz is clearly the only actor receiving any decent coaching in this; he’s the only one that is any good at all) – and without any more explicit references, it is pretty effective too.
Nimitz deserves credit, moreso than the director Ulli Lommel. Nimitz is at least making an effort here to do something, and put in a good shift and generate a performance interesting to the viewer s. It makes the difference.
Reviews of this film are not kind. My favourite comment was: “Lommel’s movies, like this one, were all made to confuse unobservant people in video stores to rent them thinking they're something else”; and it is kind of true. Lommel’s films are indeed the ones that are on the horror channels when you are flicking through; at least that is what they look like. Sadly it isn’t the direction that is really wrong with them, but the stories. Lommel’s stories whether they are his or not, never build, and so they never climax, and so they never retain interest.
Curse of the Zodiac is a perfect example in which the same scene is repeated about 8 times, like this; young couple have an argument; he leaves, isolating her; the Zodiac comes and gets her. How many more times!?
Lommel’s way of making this grow in excitement as a director is to show a tiny bit more of the killer’s face each time; but of course it is not enough I will put in a good vote for Nimitz however, and his ace Fassbinder impression; it made my morning