SUPERMARKT (Roland Klick, 1974) from Spectacle Theater on Vimeo.
I was working a double on Sunday and a coworker was nice enough to let me slack off for 84 minutes to go around the corner to The Spectacle to see a movie I'd been waiting to see for a month now. I arrived when the lights were low and the previews were rolling, enough pale light flashed off the screen for me to recognize my friend standing in the isle. He informed me there were no more seats except in the front. We sat down and I immediately knew I was in trouble. The pixels for the trailers were the size of ice cubes. I could have reached up and grabbed a handful with my legs still touching my chair. I was hoping it was it was the trailer file, but the feature wasn't much better. Ice cubes again, now mostly black, swallowing ever subtle difference in color Jost Vacano used to makes his character's sensible against the dark walls of the various squats, back alleys, and dirty bedrooms of the Hamburg Reeperbahn. As my eyes darted up from the subtitles at bottom of the screen to the image an unintentional rainbow of text stuttered over the rotting shit colors of 70's West Germany as the white projector light separated into bright red, green, and blue.
There's something to be said for watching a great film under the worst possible circumstances. I remember watching what I still think is both Nick Ray's and Robert Mitchum's best film, The Lusty Men, on a worn out 16mm print back when Film Forum's theaters still felt small (Philadelphia's International House, Prince Theater, and, to a lesser extent, The Ritzes spoiled me). I also remember being 14 and watching third generation VHS of fansubs of anime in my sister's best friend's basement and my head exploding over and over again over what, when I'd grow up, would turn out to be poorly animated, vaguely pedophilic, untranslatable nerd culture (with the exception of Princess Mononoke and Akira, which still hold up). Whether I was right about the former and though I was ultimately wrong about the latter, those experiences are dear to me. How I felt when watching Trigun with the older girls I'd wrestle with and get high with in-between episodes is still how I want to feel, what I go to the movies looking for. I fell in love with The Lusty Men not only because Nick Ray films would always be rare, but also because the film was only half seen, was still out there somewhere in the ether on 35, though Ray himself could only scrounge up a 16mm copy for Wim Wender's Lightning On The Water. Few of us believe in the reality of the abstract, that when we devour a film something is really devoured, something afterwards is missing. A film that is something less than itself, on this one hand, leaves not only something to be desired but something protected from pleasure.
The point is I don't feel like I really saw the film, especially when looking at the stills I found online...
Spectacle mentions on their site that this film is becoming a cult classic among German screenwriter and filmmakers. I certainly hope so. It's one of those films that obeys the old film school/high school creative writing dictum to show not tell and actually produces something worthwhile from this most arbitrary of limitations. The thread of visual motivations is deeply tied to the script. It's plausible (but still hard) to imagine writer/director Roland Klick sitting at home in front of his typewriter and coming up with ever little piece of business he made this film out of: a child slapping a prostitute in a detective's office, a watch on a lighter flashing suddenly out of a film so dark our main character hardly has a face, but definitely has a silhouette. Someone wrote these flares in. It's like Melville with a little more dialogue, Melville if those characters could ever exist in the real world.
Great writing saves characters and situations from the cruelty of abbreviation, but within an economy - which is to say it's still judicious and, at the end of the trial, despite all the ambiguities, there's still a conviction. The movement toward the worst acts in the film, like those with the rich man who picks up our protagonist Willi when villain Theo tries to pimp him, are designed backwards with such finesse that no movement is wasted as we arrive at acts that are not even worth writing spoilers for, they only really only make sense in sequence as a part of the movement of the whole film. Agnes Varga's Vagabond and Willi steps through the same doors, their sin, but Willi never hears it lock behind him, and we as the audience never want to hear it either, we just want to keep going. This is how great thrillers are written. In the end though we have our verdict, it emerges out of a concentration of every formal conceit in the final shot, as if it was always anticipated and enmeshed in every element of the visual style from the beginning. It took the whole film to say, but it's expressed most clearly in one shot that rhymes every gesture that proceeded it.
If I want anything from this blog, more than celebrating films that revolutionized their medium, I'd like to celebrate films that first and foremost did their job. Supermarkt is such a film, a work of craftsmanship, a delivery on the archetypical promise ever trailers sells us on from the start. If you can find it, see it (good luck).