Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lola (Fassbinder, 1981)

1a. Emotional Response after first viewing:
         Lola is a gorgeous film, a veritable feast for the eyes. Yet directly after viewing it I feel unsettled and emotionally drained. There is a carnivalesque quality to the viewing experience in the lushness of the mise en scene and chaotic, beautifully artificial use of color. Yet the film also made me feel hollow after viewing, mainly because I walked away with the feeling that nothing has changed in the world of the film. It is still an unequal world of exchange, and the final scenes in which little Marie lies in the hayloft suggest that nothing will change. It gave me a somber, disheartening feeling, which was unexpected as the film’s artful use of melodramatic codes lured me into expecting a perfect, cohesive ending. 
 1b. Purpose/aim/meaning of film as you see it immediately after the viewing
 This film aims to expose the inner and outer life of the citizen in a “free market system”. The respectable town’s nighttime habits in the brothel are shown as a facet of the system of unequal capital and exchange. Money makes people inhuman- Schukert thinks he can buy and sell Lola and her “whole family” with his deep pockets, and Lola sees herself as a commodity, saying only “that costs extra”. There also seems to be a critique of the Americanization of Germany in wake of the Wirtschaftswunder, especially the entertainment culture, which is exhibited through the TV that has only one channel, compared to the twelve in America. The TV functions as a way to escape, even though it only shows “test broadcasts”, almost like Germany is practicing the American brand of escapism.
 2. Analysis of technical/cinematic qualities
2a. Narration (story, dramatic appeal, motivation, closure, point of view)
The point of view in Lola adds tremendous weight to the narrative and is characteristic of New German Cinema. The point of view belongs uniquely to the camera, and the audience is often presented with groupings of characters that stand artfully posed in front of the voyeuristic eye of the lens, such as the shot after Lola and von Bohm are married. There is also no effort to hide the mechanization of the viewing experience, especially the use of fades and the sudden use of zoom. As opposed to tracking in, which feels natural and is representative of the abilities of the human eye, the use of zoom is unnatural and pulls the viewer from the experience, and this is true for the quick zoom to the testing broadcast after the TV is delivered.  In the two scenes where the Building Council gathers around the conference table, a 360 pan is used to circle the table, which is another sickening and jarring element. The camera-oriented point of view lends itself to a Brechtian alienation effect that allows the viewer to be critical of the visual experience, and is also a hallmark of New German Cinema.
Furthermore, Lola gains its dramatic appeal from the subversive use of melodrama. The film draws on the work of Douglas Sirk, noticeably All that Heaven Allows (1955), and manipulates melodrama to great effect. The constant use of bright, noticeable color, especially blue, yellow, and red/pink is an overblown, visual representation of emotion and calls to mind the scene from All that Heaven Allows in which the daughter cries out her teen angst while rolling on her bed, the sunlight through stained glass drowning her in colorful light, almost like the mirror above headboard during Lola and von Bohm’s encounter at the brothel. There is also the actual “melos” of the film, especially the use of Capri Fisher. The song was a popular post-war tune, possessing idealistic, uninspiring lyrics, but the film uses it to subversive ends, notably during Lola’s (Barbara Sukowa) frenzied strip number. The use of melodrama serves to expose the gender and sexual hypocrisies and expectations that are presented throughout the film, and uses the codes of “women pictures” to complicate the downfall of the pure minded man by the seductive prostitute.
2b. Sound (music, dialogue, silence, language, narrator, sound effects)
            Besides its visual artfulness, this film uses language carefully and to great effect. One of the most interesting dialogue themes, that reoccur twice, is von Bohm’s (Armin Mueller-Stahl) jokes. He first tells Lola’s daughter, Marie, the joke about the old woman on her way to church, but the little girl only replies “that was dumb”. Later, he tells his doting secretary a little rhyme about coffee and tea, only to have her interrupt and explain that he has already told that one. These two snippets are extremely telling, and give the viewer an immediate picture of von Bohm. He is old, not only in looks and dress, but in thought. His jokes are tired and cannot even entertain homely spinsters and little girls, much less Lola whose personality and vitality bursts off the screen. His outdated, flavorless jokes makes him comparable to Professor Rath of Der Blaue Engel (Sternberg, 1930)- overwhelmed and unmanned by the sexual intensity of his female counterpart.

2c. Photography (focus, frame, angle, locale/organization of space, sets, lighting)
            The lighting is impossible to ignore in this film. Sometimes chiaroscuro, other times more similar to a neon sign, the colors blue, red, and yellow dominate the film. Lola is always painted in hot reds and pinks, while von Bohm is always a cool, washed-out blue. Even their respective bedrooms reinforce the theme- Lola’s space is a riot of rose shades, stocked with the pointless trinkets of capitalism and material culture, such as dolls and frilly, oversized pillows. Von Bohm’s space is Spartan in comparison, painted a cool blue with a high ceiling that seems impossibly far away, with only a red lamp in the room, his own personal “red light district”. Furthermore, when the two are together in Lola’s little red convertible after their first date, the car is sharply divided into blue and red zones. These codes visually and melodramatically divide the two realms of the town, with Lola the secret private life and von Bohm the public realm.
2d. Editing (order, cuts, duration, rhythm, continuity, montage, motifs)
         Fassbinder utilizes a particularly long take when the couple of Lola and von Bohm first go to the church. The two sing a round and then proceed out the door of the church, closing it behind them, yet the camera lingers on. The audience sees only a white door and wall, and to the right pictures of saints, and hears von Bohm jokingly accusing Lola of witchcraft. The distance of the camera, and the unusually long take and final inactivity reinforces the alienation of the audience and gives them time to digest the scene, but it also draws a parallel between the location and the characters. The saints are exactly what Lola is not, despite her virginal act, and in reality she is much more the sorceress who can tempt morally and sexually. The viewer, guided by the camera, attains a privileged point of view of the door closing on the church. The couple has closed that door, and it makes von Bohm complicit in his own downfall- he sees the “witch” he is with, yet turns his back on morality, as symbolized by the country church.
2e. Other (acting, costumes, social, racial and cultural codes, stylistic devices, genre expectations, historical context for years around film, gender assignments etc. )
Von Bohm explains that man has “many masks”, and throughout the film Lola is pictured wearing a veil, which usually covers her eyes and ends just above her mouth. The net symbolizes the masks that Lola assumes- high-class femme fatale when von Bohm kisses her hand, calm negotiator when she speaks with Schukert’s wife, and even the not-so-blushing bride. What I find most memorable is the scene following the wedding, when Schukert (Mario Adorf) gives her the brothel as a wedding gift, and the two kiss through the white wedding veil. Lola briefly lifts it to nip at his ear, and he then tells her to take off her clothes, but to keep the veil on, to which she laughingly replies, “that costs extra!” The traditional marriage ceremony, the idyllic end of many melodramas and “women’s pictures” is subverted by consume culture. Marriage becomes a moneymaking opportunity, both through the title to the whorehouse and Lola’s own sexuality.
            Another, unrelated, code used by Fassbinder is the assignment of race. The African-American GI is representative of all things American, especially the American material culture. Looking at the newly arrived TV, he holds a carton of cigarettes in one hand and has a prostitute behind him as he remarks that there are twelve channels in America. At the brothel, he and another man make-out with a woman, but when she leaves he just grabs another girl and quickly substitutes her for the missing girl. Everything is a commodity, including women, and it is all mass produced and indistinguishable in the eyes of the American. Though representing the American mentality, this portrayal is potentially problematic because it seems to play up stereotypes black men as a  sexual threat and hypersexual.
2f. How does the film "make its case"? (for example: by emotional appeal, alienation effect, manipulation of point-of-view, documentary authority, symbolism, race/gender assignments etc. Give examples!)

This is a wonderfully complex film that uses an array of appeals to “make its case”. The alienation effect, both from the camera having its own point of view and the use of color and music, is both critical of mass consumer culture, but also gives the viewer the distance needed to synthesize and form opinions based on this critique. Lola’s frenzied rendition of Capri Fischer alienates the viewer with her performance style- rending her clothes, screaming, hitting high notes in a mock operatic style, stripping, tossing her hair, riding on Schukert’s shoulders- but it compounds the experience by camera placement. The camera is not coming from her perspective, not that of Schukert or von Bohm, but rather it controls its own perspective, often keeping physical distance from Lola’s performance. The emotion of her song is raw, but the distance makes it ridiculous rather than epic, and makes the viewer seriously consider the elaborate “song and dance” that is commercial culture. The lights flash across her face like pop art, gaudy, shocking, mundane, awesomely appealing, and it mass-produces her feelings and performance. The artificial lighting makes her pain accessible to every single person in the audience, as does the actual physical mechanization of filming this pantomime of grief. It is her stage act, and the crowd cheers and sings along, but the lengths to which she will go to finish her act and gain material items appall the viewer in the theatre.

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