The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp (Jean-Marie Straub / West Germany, 1968):
(Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter)

A mysterious, structuralist burlesque and, following Godard's "fin du cinéma," a suggestion of a profound new beginning for the medium. Film history is the subject, and 25 minutes is all Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet need -- the hieroglyphs are graffiti on a wall ("Stupid old Germany"), an extended tracking shot from right to left constitutes the Dark Ages, the camera just recording the sidewalk of a Munich neighborhood past cars, gas stations, storefronts, and the occasional hooker, with Bach eventually filling the soundtrack. Vérité tawdriness gives way to theatricalized stasis, the camera now parked on the first row, at around a 30° angle, for a performance of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Anti-Theater abbreviation of Bruckner's Sickness of Youth. Fassbinder slouches tersely, Hanna Schygulla and Lilith Ungerer are the zonked muses, the performers are dwarfed by the stage -- a bald proscenium, with the entrance a jumbo door out of a dollhouse, Mao scrawled in the back, conversations boiled to abrupt declarations of theme ("The only way out: To get married. Deliberate social integration"). Sudden Hollywood action-scene editing, a protracted wedding, then pastoral vistas as another (or is it?) narrative is parachuted in: Straub and Huillet sample and mold raw material after raw material, each element emphasized for its uniqueness and woven into the larger fabric of radicalized progression. The interracial newlyweds (Ungerer and Jimmy Powell) drive home to find Fassbinder, her pimp, waiting inside to take her back to the streets; she disarms and coolly shoots him before reciting lines from St. John of the Cross to the idyllic nature outside her window. Filmic subversion can prompt political revolution, and transcendence -- film to Straub-Huillet remains an instrument of change and a tool of contemplation, their heightened, final track both caps the medium's baptism and crystallizes its purposes, sorting light from darkness. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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