Cody K. | Jamokidence, Rhode Island, USA | 03/07/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's like a George Romero prequel to "Mandingo". Wretched and lurid, "Whity"'s a movie that could only have been made in the early years of the seventies, when Paul Morrisey's Warhol films were running in art houses alongside whacked-out gems like "Pink Flamingos" and "Eraserhead". Fassbinder had made (or would soon make) "Love is Colder than Death", "Katzelmacher", "Gods of the Plague" and "Beware of a Holy Whore" by this time, all replete with bizarre touches imported from his Antitheater stage productions.
None of these reach -- or even reach for -- the level of bizarrerie in "Whity". Beginning with the choice of American b-actor Ron Randell as patriarch Ben Nicolson, "Whity" feels like a vicious lampoon of American TV western shows like "Gunsmoke" and a stinging satire on the western genre in general, with its patriotic depictions of the Great American Struggle to Tame the West using God, guns, and gumption. The Nicolson family in "Whity" is as depraved as the Maxwell family in "Mandingo" could ever dream of being. Miss Kitty on "Gunsmoke", for all her Wild West pizazz, never pranced around a saloon crooning what are basically demented art songs the way Hanna Schygulla does in "Whity". And for all Ken Norton's Mede puts up with in "Mandingo", he's never given the burden of a simmering self-loathing that undercuts his rage at every turn.
"Whity" isn't always helped by the way it heaps on grotesqueries, from the ghoulish pancake makeup of the white folks -- sometimes rather greenish, actually -- or the coal-black masque of Elaine Baker as Whity's housemaid mother, Marpessa, a caricature who sings a garbled version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic while fixing dinner. Even Whity himself, though largely spared the clownish makeup of the others, is given white lips. Gunther Kaufmann -- at his most gorgeous here, apart from the lips -- is, like Mede, a kind of a noble savage and the object of both desire and revulsion. The relentless camp qualities of the film turn everyone involved into caricatures of the archetypes of the Western film and TV genre, resulting in an often annoying and seriously flawed film that's acceptable only when viewed in the context of Fassbinder's career to that point. Viewed by any standards other than the stagy, subversive meta-situation that Fassbinder gives it, "Whity" sucks. But it's exactly the strange uniqueness that Fassbinder's vision presents that makes it worth watching."