The American Soldier (Rainer Werner Fassbinder / West Germany, 1970):
(Der Amerikanische Soldat)

The title appears over an ersatz image, a process shot of the eponymous thug (Karl Scheydt), white-suited and white-fedoraed, driving through a chiaroscuro Munich. His date (Irm Hermann) asks if he's really American, cuz Americans "fuck fantastically"; his reply ("It all began in Germany") refers to the character's transplanted status, yet to Rainer Werner Fassbinder it also applies to the roots of the film noir genre, returned to the homeland after being introduced to Hollywood by another gang of Germanic wanderers (Lang, Siodmak, Wilder). Indeed, the phantoms of Old Germany are everywhere: Murnau's name is brought up as a mysterious force, a depressed Dietrich (Ingrid Craven) lip-synchs at a saloon called "The Lola Montes," the neighborhood the protagonist nostalgically visits looks an awful lot like the opening courtyard in M. The method is lingering noir tableaux (harsh lighting on agents and molls playing poker with porno cards), with film history connected to personal malaise connected to a society's deadening sense of dislocation. A procession of Alphaville drollery follows, with one particularly savory jibe: Marguarette von Trotta as a forlorn hotel maid leaning against a bed railing, plaintively pitching an outline for Ali: Fear Eats the Soul while Scheydt and some undercover skank shag on the mattress behind her. At the center is Fassbinder's version of Lemmy Caution, a deadpan brute back from a war ("How was Vietnam?" "Loud") and into a fractured family -- a pinball machine sits next to an old piano at home, where queer tensions are heightened by the estranged brother's (Kurt Raab) striking resemblance to Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo. The overcranked shootout nudges the lyrical violence of Bonnie and Clyde's celebrated shock-finale into socko grotesquerie, milking Peter Raben's narcotizing theme song ("Sooo much tenderness is in my head / Sooo much emptiness is in my bed") to the last satirical drop. With Elga Sorbas, Hark Bohm, Ulli Lommel, and Katrin Schaake. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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