Posts Tagged With: Nazi

The Keep (1983)

Do Nazis (Tangerine) dream? An SS jeep battalion, led by Captain Klaus Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow), drives through misty mountains—a Leone-size close-up of Woermann’s eyes (shutting, opening, shutting, opening) connects the fog of the subconscious with the fog of the (super)natural world. A Romanian village materializes—a mother rushes to pull her young daughter out of the conquerers’ path—and the vehicles roll up to a stone citadel that seems torn from an UFA super-production (and points the way toward Sokurov’s hauntingly somnolent Führer bastion in Moloch). As both Woermann and a wizened caretaker note, this edifice appears built not to withstand an attack from without, but within. Nickel crosses line the walls. It’s only a matter of a time before some National Socialist mincemeat (who see the glowing baubles as silver) unleash a maniacal demon. He’s basically Frank from the four years-hence Hellraiser, a red-eyed soul-sucker who kills to strengthen his body, which is shaped at its peak like a steroidal samurai. The dragon’s Siegfried is Glaeken Trismegestus (Scott Glenn), who journeys from Greece to do ’80s-optical battle with his nemesis and play tantric-sex Mesmer to Eva Cusa (Alberta Watson), daughter of the mad, mad Jewish scientist (Ian McKellan) who is brought in by replacement Nazi Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) to uncover the keep’s secrets. The story is complicated, yet wispy—it hardly matters (a good thing). The dialogue is functional and, as in writer-director Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, barely distinguishable over the ambience. (Another eccentric sound mix or poor materials provided to Netflix Instant? At least it’s in widescreen.)

It may sound like I hate…I actually love. This is visionary work—call it maudit if you wish, but there’s beauty in the breakdown. I was with it from the start, but it was the extended pullback from the demon’s first victim (flying over, over, over the cavernous interior of the keep) that sent those tell-tale shivers up my spine, the kind that signal greatness even among myriad flaws. The can’t-kill-this-performance overacting by almost all the male leads (Prochnow’s exit speech is some kind of bad?/good? apotheosis, as is the entirety of McKellan’s role—the “love what you’ve done with your hair” scene from X2 in aeternum) are dwarfed by the visual schema: The way the monster, shrouded in vapor, tenderly carries a nearly-raped Eva back to her father. How McKellan—formerly wheelchair-bound, now miraculously healed—stands triumphantly into backlight (power occludes all humanity, political-moral affiliations be damned). How Byrne’s Kaempffer meets his end: forced to consider the burned visages of his own soldiers—the Nazi horror turned back on its purveyor. And then there’s Mann’s woman: for most of the running time, Watson’s a damsel in decade-of-excess-hairdo distress. She almost laughably falls into Glaeken’s arms (only the spellbinding imagery, by Excalibur DP Alex Thomson, puts it across). And then she suddenly mutates into the movie’s soul—granted the final freeze-frame, looking back toward the man she’s lost, like Cotillard in Public Enemies (“Bye, bye blackbird”), Gong in Miami Vice (“This was too good to last”). Whether this was entirely Mann’s decision—an alternate ending is reported to exist in which the lovers are reunited—is unknown. He’s rumored to intensely dislike the film, and it’s certainly the queer duck of his oeuvre. Would that we all could quack with such oddball brilliance.

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Ministry of Fear (1944)

When the clock struck twelve for Cinderella, the fantasy was over. In Fritz Lang’s world, that’s just the start of the adventure. The fairy tale allusion is surely intentional, and certainly Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) must feel like he’s waking up from a (dark) dream: Imprisoned in an asylum for mercy-killing his sick wife, he promises upon release to lead a quiet, uneventful life. First, though, he wants to hear, see and be around people (constantly, this espionage tale feels as if it is grasping at, striving for the humanity that its Nazi villains would quash without a second thought). London is the destination, but first there’s a stopover at a county fair where Neale inadvertently procures a pastry with a secret baked inside. A faux-blind hitman attacks while the SS blitzes a nearby munitions factory. One of them doesn’t walk away. From there it’s a pulp pileup: a lithe psychic (introduced, single shot, as both shadowed devil and hallowed angel), an Expressionist seance (the spirit of Mabuse is present), Dan Duryea (flaunting tailor’s shears like Carradine the kitchen knife in Kill Bill). There’s even a knock at modern art when a Picasso-like graphic reveals itself as a doorbell—but where, exactly, do you press? (Is this caustic bit of satire Lang’s? Source novelist Graham Greene’s? Another’s barb?) An old-biddy patriot’s group and an antique bookshop (“Sometimes I loathe people who like to read”) each front for more sinister goings-on, and there’s something off (or is there?) about Carla (Marjorie Reynolds), the Austrian gal who falls for Neale. No one is fully in the moral right: Neale wonders if killing his wife was the right thing. The blonde femme gets the weightiest challenge (“You wouldn’t shoot your brother, Carla?”). Well of course she would—this is WWII, but it’s also planet Earth. Lang has no illusions of angelic or demonic purity. Everyone’s a mess of contradictions, and even a happy ending can be corrupted by a seemingly harmless (and hilarious) utterance—let them not eat cake. Wrapped up in that punchline, of course, is an all-too-real horror: how easily history becomes an ephemeral jest.

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