The Fassbinder Bender, Part 2
A casual observer watches “The American Soldier”
Film noir is one of my favorite genres, so it’s fun to watch Rainer Werner Fassbinder tackle it in The American Soldier (1970) — a film that’s part homage, part satire, and maybe tries to say something. I don’t know.
In Fassbinder’s mind, pulp involves shadows cast by Venetian blinds, crooked cops, and a titular antihero with a terrific American Eagle-beak nose and a trilby hat that he wears indoors and out.
Ricky von Rezzori (Karl Scheydt) returns to Germany after serving with the American army in the Vietnam War (it was loud.) His mother (Eva Ingeborg Scholz) and incestuous brother (Kurt Raab) live in Munich with a pinball machine and a piano. Ricky’s point-man, Franz Walsh (Fassbinder), sets him up with contract killings for a group of crooked policemen who can’t bring villains to justice by legal means.
He finishes off an underworld gypsy named Tony El-Quitano (Ulli Lommel), but first lets the man strip in front of him.
Then there’s the moll: Police send Rosa von Praunheim (Elge Sorbas) to spy on Ricky. She confesses this to a cop who loves her. He, in turn, contracts Ricky to kill her. Everybody dies in the end, and the film closes with a ridiculous, incestuous, homoerotic slow-mo that I’ll not describe further. I think my college roommate would have tried to pay homage to it in a student film, if given the chance.
I’ll let David Blakeslee take it from here:
Don’t let this plot recap give you any false impressions. The American Soldier isn’t so much about story-telling or conveying any kind of poignant message or socio-political commentary. Fassbinder’s film… is about impression and attitude, provoking our emotions through alarming images of casual sex and brutality (often in close juxtaposition) in scenes that draw upon the iconography and well-established tropes of classic film noir — just taking some of those scenes further in explicit depiction of what was implied than earlier standards of censorship and decorum had allowed.
Memorable provocative scenes of Fassbinder’s nihilism exist throughout. Consider the way people walk past a hotel maid who commits seppuku without lifting a finger or shrugging a shoulder.
At heart, though, the film is satirical. The hats, the overcoats, the high lighting — the ridiculous parting shot. It all stabs at American cinema — its idealism and heroes during a sickening foreign war.
As a sidebar, I’ve started looking for Fassbinder’s black leather jacket the same way people might look for Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo in every film.