Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|The Niklashausen Journey|
Actors: Peter Berling, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Michael Fengler, Michael Gordon (II)
Director: Michael Fengler
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Special Interests, Television
In the 15th Century, Hans Böhm, a shepherd, claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary. He began preaching and gathered around him thousands of disciples who believed him to be the New Messiah. He was arrested and bur... more »
Ambitious but uneven early Fassbinder film
J. Clark | metro New York City | 01/07/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In The Nicklashausen Journey, Fassbinder co-writes and co-directs with Michael Fengler an avant-garde film about Hans Boehm, an historical shepherd who in 1476 claimed that the Virgin Mary called him to foment a holy war against the "decadent" church and upper classes. To compare the political and sexual turmoil of feudal Germany with that of the modern world, Fassbinder stridently mixes medieval elements (including some costumes, settings, and music) with those from other time periods, including the Russian Revolution (Boehm sings a hymn about Lenin to his followers) and postwar Germany. Although some people find this film a witty and acerbic critique of the Sixties' revolt against the status quo, I found it only sporadically effective, despite a handful of intriguing scenes. The DVD, made from the best surviving archival materials, is of fair quality; the considerable grain is inherent in the 16mm format in which it was shot.Fassbinder wanted to use anachronism, like his early idol Brecht, to create an aesthetic/political distance in which the audience could analyze current society. But instead of regularly achieving that lofty aim, too often a scene will make its political - and ironic - point, then continue on, and on, in the same vein. This also occurs visually. Fassbinder and his frequent cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann create some striking images, including a running motif of having characters blend into ominous shadows, even as they spout slogans from Socialism 101 - expressing ideology while simultaneously undercutting it. But again, he uses the same strategy repeatedly. The first few times it is compelling; subsequently I felt more "alienation" than "effect."Fortunately, there are some scenes in which Fassbinder successfully embodies his theme, namely that there are deep flaws in human nature, both past and present, which engender revolution but which ultimately lead to disenchantment and defeat. Especially effective are those moments which explore a character in isolation. Look at how Fassbinder presents the Black Monk, his own character (although he is not listed in the film's credits). Sometimes the monk - decked out in jeans and a hip leather jacket - eggs on Boehm and his followers with incendiary screeds about The Revolution. But when we see him alone, or talking with just one or two other characters, he is deflated, like a puppet whose strings can only be jerked into life by rhetoric and an audience. And who can forget the Countess Magarethe (Margit Carstensen, soon to play the lead in Fassbinder's extraordinary Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), writhing and falling all over her bedroom, screaming with desire for Boehm.Despite my reservations, this ambitious but uneven film is worth seeing for people interested in Fassbinder and political cinema. And it should spark many lively debates about the too many topics it tries to encompass, from religion to revolution, socialism to cinema, and gender roles to the limits of art and society."
Not his best, but still interesting to fans.
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I love Fassbinder, but if you are looking for an introduction to his body of work this is definitely not the place to start. The story is based on that of a 15th century shepherd who was burned at the stake for claiming he saw the virgin Mary. Fassbinder updates it by adding large doses of Marxist theory (and I do mean large as 90 percent of the film is just people preaching Marxish ideas) and by blurring the lines between past and present (It features both 15th century aristocrats and hippies).The film ultimately does offer a somewhat interesting look at the nature of revolution and "messiah syndrome," equating marxism with religion and suggesting the characters' marxists beliefs, while in opposition to the oppressive ideology of the upper classes, will itself ultimately become ideology and be just as oppressive as what they were originally fighting. I couldn't help but think of German Marxist critic Bertolt Brecht's idea that theater/film should be deliberately artificial, episodic, and, in a sense, uninteresting as to jar the viewer into revolutionary mindset. If this is what Fassbinder was trying to do he succeeded, as the film ultimately becomes way too preachy (the short running time seems much longer) and while it does have many innovative and interesting segments (the cinematography is interesting as always, but it seems less polished than other collaborations with Lohmann) alot of the scenes end up coming off as amateurish and pretentious (I found my self laughing at several points, but I couldn't tell if the audience was meant to laugh or not. At times it seems like a parody of a bad art film).
The DVD is by far the worst of the otherwise incredibly good "Fassbinder collection" DVDs from Wellspring. While the transfer isn't that bad, the film itself is very grainy and somewhat damaged (yet as this was shot in 1970 for TV you really can't fault it too much). It is an interesting example of early Fassbinder (before his transition to more melodramatic themes), but in all I do not think this will have much to interest non-fans of Fassbinder. Yet RWF at his worst is still better than 90 percent modern mainstream movies. However, if you are looking for an introduction to RWF, I would reccomend you start with any other of his films currently on dvd before this one. (2.5 out of 5)"