World Cinema Series 19 February: Satansbraten / Satanís Brew
||Satansbraten / Satanís Brew
||19 February 2013 (Tuesday), 7.30pm
||National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
93 Stamford Road
FREE for SFS Members or Reel Card holders. Get your free ticket by flashing your membership card at the SFS desk at the theatre entrance. You may ask for up to 2 more tickets for your guests if you hold a SFS Reel membership card. Non-members may sign up at the SFS desk -- we will issue membership on the spot. Free seating.
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1976 / Germany / 112 min / 35mm / Rating R21 (Nudity)
In German with English subtitles
Fassbinder once described his films as different components of a house, “some are the cellars, others the walls, still others the windows.” If the filmic world constructed by Fassbinder resembles a well-built living space, then Satansbraten has to be its uninhabited and awkwardly located corner. Or if we would like to retain an architectural soundness to the house of Fassbinder, then the film has to be seen as a putrefying household object thrown through a window from the inside.
The film was made at a turbulent time when his stock company had disbanded and the high-profile trial of the Baader-Meinhof Group who had orchestrated a series of revolutionary terrorist bombings in Germany was in effect. In this context, Satansbraten is a minor yet shattering experimental feat which saw Fassbinder veering towards what has become a curiosity within his body of work – a rare, unhinged and blatant attempt at screwball comedy propelled by grotesque and absurd humour. While his most well known films express a melancholic yet optimistic portrait of humanity, in Satansbraten, he commits himself to nihilistic abandon.
Walter Kranz is not your usual troubled poet. Shrouded by creative stagnancy, debts, and most importantly, encouraged by a disproportionately large ego, Kranz shuffles through a series of identity crises as he manipulates his relationships with a madhouse entourage of family, friends, prostitutes, and real and hired admirers alike in a bid to realise his sexual appetite and delusional desire for fame. In his degenerate antics which gradually expose a masochistic core within a sadistic front, Kranz is much like an extreme version of Dostoevsky’s unnamed anti-hero in Notes from the Underground. But Kranz’s ramblings are far more extravagant than his counterpart’s. He spews his madness and subjects others to it and is devoid of an existential consciousness despite suffering its acute symptoms.
Despite its rough edges, the anarchic impulses of Satansbraten seem like a celebratory revolt against the solidification of self and identity through a relentless unleashing of desires. Fassbinder makes the point by opening the film with a quote by the French writer, playwright and actor Antonin Artaud on the cosmic and godly possibilities of thinking in inhuman terms. However, it becomes apparent that the sardonic display of Kranz’s life and actions are submerged in petty bourgeois subjectivity, fuelled by the logic of an emerging capitalism and the persistent shadow of fascism which in turn inhibit a fulfilment of his desires.
Artaud’s promise lies as an inherent possibility, if only Kranz could reroute his unbounded libidinal desires. However, in Satansbraten, revolutionary energy becomes a farce as it wastefully circulates within a freak show. It is Fassbinder’s determined utilisation of Bretchian detachment as a spectatorial device that enables us to view, through a window, this unholy brew of blocked and sublimated desires which fearlessly illustrate the neuroses of modern society.