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June 25, 2015

Der TodesKing

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Jörg Buttgereit - 1990
Cult Epics BD Region A

There's a scene in Der TodesKing where a young woman is reading aloud from a book, more or less, to a little girl sitting next to her. I wish I knew the source of the passage read because it seems even more appropriate, and timely, at this moment. I'm roughly paraphrasing here but the essence is that there are people who, considering their lives meaningless, hope to give their lives meaning by suicide, or suicidal acts that will bring some attention, and therefore meaning, to their lives. The title translates as "The Death King", an entity that makes people want to kill themselves. The film is composed of seven vignettes, one for each day of the week, bridged by footage of a decomposing body.

There is a history of artists who have depicted death. And as exploitive as Der TodesKing may seem in writing about certain scenes, there is a serious intent behind some of the moments that are clearly designed to be shocking. These moments may briefly bring to mind Takashi Miike and John Waters, but Buttgereit, more than any filmmaker I can think of, appears to be obsessed with death of the unnatural kind, whether by choice or circumstance.

There is one scene that manages to be both appalling and hilarious at the same time, where you might find yourself laughing while covering, even partially, your eyes. A young goes to a video store, one that has a big poster for Nekromantik. We are able to scan some of the titles available, including Citizen Kane, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Ms. 45. The young man takes home a film similar to Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S., about a female Nazi officer named Vera. In the film-within-the film, Vera supervises the, um, shall we say, extreme circumcision using a hedge clipper. We see the surgery in close-up, in its sepia glory. The young man watching the movie is interrupted by his girl friend, home with groceries. He shoots her in the head. Punching out the photo of the girl's mother, he takes the frame and places it over the part of the wall splattered with blood and bits of brain. It's gross and funny, and seems to encapsulate whatever Buttgereit might want to say about art and violence.

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Buttgereit also has his restrained side, as in a scene composed of shots taken on a bridge known for the high number of people who have leapt to their death. The names of several people, their ages and occupations, are superimposed a montage, a study of of the bridge from its highest points. There is also one visually dazzling moment that should be credited to producer-cinematographer Manfred Jelinski, with the camera making a series of 360 degree pans around the apartment of Hermann Kopp, with Kopp in various stages of preparation for his suicide, and in a different part of the small studio each time the camera catches him. Also, Buttgereit replies to Jean-Luc Godard's famous adage by presenting a girl and a gun, actually two guns, and a camera harnessed to her, allowing her to shoot bullets and film simultaneously.

Also included here is a commentary track by Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkichen, a documentary on the making of Der TodesKing which shows how the disintegrating corpse was created, a documentary, Corpse Fucking Art - about the Nekromantik films. Additionally, the superb soundtrack, not unlike the music played by the Kronos Quartet at their peak, is an extra bonus.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 25, 2015 09:36 AM