Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Disco Fieber, Hubert Frank, 1979

Hubert Frank's gloriously delirious Disco Fieber is the german Gold Diggers of 1933. Or at least, the closest german cinema could ever, after germany's own 1933, come to Gold Diggers of 1933. When Gold Diggers can be described as a film which acknowledes the reality of the depression, and by way of this very acknowledgement somehow overcomes it, Disco Fieber manages to do the same with and for (west-)german provinciality.

And it does so, again just like Gold Diggers, by way of a textual bifurcation. For the most part, the film plays out like a standard, juvenile sex farce of the time, chronicling the escapades of a few wannabe-studs who try out gestures and chat-up-lines taken more or less directly from american youth films (Lemon Popsicle clearly was a big influence, too). The jokes are stale and the slapstick-hide-in-the-closet-the-nuns-are-coming-routines are even staler, but that doesn't matter, because it's all about attitude, anyway, about celebrating the art of carelessly entering the classroom, about slouching on the bench with buttoned-downed shirts, about the right amount of disgracing oneself in an agreeable way.

Most of this works perfectly, despite itself. By now, Hubert Frank is, without a doubt, my favorite german sexploitation director. He may not be as distinctive as Jürgen Enz, as unconditionally perverted as Hans Billian, as rigorous a stylist as Ernst Hofbauer, but he is the most inspired of them all. Frank may just be the only truly instinctive filmmaker of German erotic cinema. He finds something special in every single scene. The low angles he uses for a football game, the way he glamourizes a female teacher, a bizarro dance montage involving several disguises, magnificent sport cars popping up out of nowhere in southern german no-man's-land - this is a film thoroughly infused with pleasures of the cheap, but powerful kind.

Frank's films always have charme and style, even when, or maybe especially when he has next to nothing to start from - like in this case: a film structured around Boney M, but without Boney M actually showing up on set for principal photography. When they do appear, they inhabit not only a different space than the rest of the cast, but a different layer of reality, and indeed a different medium: all the scenes with Boney M and other Frank Farian acts were shot by Klaus Überall (the name itself is a hint: "überall" is german for "everywhere") - on video.

These music video-like performances are the real piece du resistance of Disco Fieber, and also the sequences which align the film once and for all with Gold Diggers of 1933. Just like Berkeley's exuberant production designs and body sculptures in motion, Überall's crude video intrusions (complete with oldschool video effects - miniature people dancing on their own hands, whispering in their own ears) transcend the diegetic space in order to become objects of pure cinema. And, just like in Gold Diggers, it's impossible to decide if these intrusions of the musical-spectacular represent the inner truth of the more prosaic world the rest of the film inhabits, or pure, unreachable externality.

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