Let’s not sugar-coat things: this year has been an emotional rollercoaster for many people, feeling fragile, trapped in bleak circumstances, seeking refuge through larger than life personalities and other enhancements, only to be further let down by the limitations within these sources as well. So we’re going to close this calendar with one last dive into that maelstrom, with two rarely-screened movies featuring German teenage girls, stirring new wave music, and no happy endings. Maybe your neighbors will be watching “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” but at the New Beverly on Sunday, December 31st, we’re closing out 2017 with some New Year’s Rockin’ Angst!
R (Bodo Steiger) is one of the most adored rock stars in the country, but nobody adores him more than Simone (Désirée Nosbusch). Her walls are covered with his photos, her ears are constantly filled with his music, her letters are always going out in the mail. She’s retreated from school, friends, and family, all in the singular pursuit of direct communion with her idol, with increasingly conspiratorial notions as to why they have yet to connect. When perseverance and fate finally bring them together, Simone may learn the grim lesson of never meeting an idol, but R will learn an even grimmer lesson about what happens to fallen idols, in the 1982 psychodrama Der Fan.
Writer/director Eckhardt Schmidt first came up with the idea for Der Fan during his stint publishing a music magazine called Die Sau, where he wrote it as a fictional diary of a teenager obsessed with a hit TV music program. As he described, “All pop music tries to conquer the audience with affection. And the fans believe it. They come and say: ‘OK, on the radio and TV you said you love me, here I am.’ But the star can’t live up to that promise.” Schmidt also used this kind of relationship to ponder how movements such as National Socialism come to power, elaborating, “I was asking the question: ‘Who is actually guilty?’ Did Hitler summon the Germans or did the Germans seek Hitler?…Where does the blame lie? Der Fan asks that question as well. Who is guilty? Is [the pop star] guilty because he chose her, played with her carelessly? Or was that desire always inside her and just needed him to bring it to life?”
Bodo Steiger, embodying the aloof R, was a member of New Wave band Rheingold, which provided the songs and score for the film. Two of the songs – “Fluss” and “Fan Fan Fanatisch” – were rerecorded in English for the band’s sole U.S. album on Capitol’s Harvest label, released in 1982 on the heels of Harvest’s breakout artist Duran Duran. Luxembourg native Désirée Nosbusch, playing the title role, later appeared in Paolo & Vittorio Taviani’s Good Morning Babylon and an episode of HBO’s horror series “The Hitchhiker” under the name Desiree Becker. After making this film, Nosbusch would continue to have associations with pop music, emceeing the Eurovision Song Contest (where she spoke in multiple languages), and recording a duet with Falco, “Kann es Liebe sein? (Can It Be Love?),” both in 1984.
While an English-dubbed version was prepared (which is what we will be screening), Der Fan initially did not receive a U.S. release; for years, bootleg tapes circulated under its export title Trance. Over time, it has become a favorite of many stateside avant-garde artists: the band Tearist performed a live score to the film for a screening in 2012, and for the film’s 35th anniversary this year, filmmaker Jacqueline Castel has been presenting screenings in Brooklyn and San Francisco in advance of ours.
Christiane Felscherinow (Natja Brunckhorst) has already been coping with a dour home life by faking her way into adult night clubs and casual drug consumption. At a David Bowie concert, she meets Babsi (Christiane Reichelt), who turns her on to heroin. She also falls in love with Detlev (Thomas Haustein), who turns her on to petty crime and hustling to feed their mutual habits. And now, she’s just turned 14. It’s the kinetic, harrowing, and still-shocking true story of Christiane F., from 1981.
The real Christiane Felscherinow drew the world’s attention when, after testifying in a 1978 trial against a Berlin sex predator, two reporters from Stern magazine recorded months of interviews with her and her life on the streets, then published them in a ghostwritten first-person account called Christiane F. – We Children of Bahnhof Zoo in 1979, which became a best-seller. (“Bahnhof Zoo” referred to the train station where she and her friends frequently dosed at and worked scams to obtain drugs.) Her notoriety led to encounters with author Patricia Highsmith and an artistic/romantic relationship with Einstürzende Neubauten member Alexander Hacke, but she was never able to end her substance abuse problems. In 2013, a second autobiography, My Second Life, was published, and in interviews to promote the book, she stated, “I never wanted to give [drugs] up. I didn’t know anything else…I hope [this sequel] scares people away from taking drugs more than my first book. I’m quite sure it will. It describes how much pain I’ve had in my life.” Many of the friends and supporting characters from her original account have long since perished from addiction and related causes, though some have survived to the present.
Director Uli Edel came to the project two weeks prior to principal photography, after original helmer Roland Klick came to irreconcilable differences with the producer. Almost all of the primary cast were regualar school-attending teenagers with no previous acting experience, with extras in the train station and dance club scenes comprised of real junkies and street folk living in the neighborhoods. Star Natja Brunckhorst has continued to act sporadically, appearing in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle with Brad Davis and Tom Tykwer’s The Princess and the Warrior with Franka Potente. Most of the supporting cast did not continue acting; Thomas Haustein, however, has now become a social worker in Germany specializing in drug addiction. Roger Corman would initially acquire the U.S. rights to the film, as well as the film deposed director Klick made instead, the rock music drama White Star aka Let It Rock with Dennis Hopper and David Hess.
Many viewers have been drawn to Christiane F. because of the involvement of David Bowie, who performs as himself and provides several songs on the soundtrack. Felscherinow wrote of first shooting heroin during one of his Berlin concerts in the late ‘70s, and the event was restaged for the film; however, due to his touring schedule, his performance was shot in New York City at the Hurrah Club with Brunckhorst and a reduced cast and flown over to appear in the scene. For the German premiere, Bowie took Felscherinow to the event via grand limousine. “I thought David Bowie was going to be the star of my movie, but it was all about me,” she recalled in 2013.
So if 2017 made your hopes drop, then spend this last night of a tumultuous year with two tour-de-force tune-filled dramas before you watch the ball drop! It’s our way of making sure 2018 will start on a high for everyone in our extended New Beverly family!