• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Monday, March 04, 2019

    Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter (The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp, 1968)

    As part of exploring the context of Huillet and Straub's Moses und Aron (1974) I am exploring their other films including this one.
    Like its title Straub/Huillet's 1968 short The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp, splits readily into three parts, but the three parts of each do not so much correlate to each other as to the three leading characters who emerge as the film progresses.

    In many ways the film references the very earliest period in film history. The opening shot - a 40 second focus on a piece of graffiti functions like an intertitle. The second shot, a four minute pan taken from a car as it drives along Landsberger Strasse in Munich's red light district recalls many of the actualité of the 1890s, most notably the Lumière's Leaving Jerusalem by Railway (1896). It also anticipates the longer shots from a car in Huillet and Straub's later work History Lessons (1972), not to mention Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).

    Then there is the third shot, even longer at 11 minutes than the two that went before it. In most other respects however the shot is different. The outside, street location is swapped for inside a small theatre. The moving camera is exchanged for a static one. The real life "set" becomes a deliberately artificial one with a drawn on looking door. Again this recalls early silent film, but here it is more the static tableaux of the early films such as Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost (1901) or the earlier versions of Pathé's Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (1902 onwards). As with those film, the camera holds this mid-shot without moving for the entire shot, the main noticeable difference with those tableaux silents is that, as ever, Straub and Huillet have placed the camera off centre.

    Furthermore whereas the earliest part of the previous shot started in silence before giving way to Bach's "Ascension Oratorio", here we lose the extra-diegetic music but gain audible dialogue. There's a brief moment of diegetic music when one of the characters slips a typical 1940s instrumental onto the record player and two of the characters begin to dance. It's a moment worth bearing in mind because it's easy to assume that that delivery of the play is without acting that is actually not quite correct. The speech that is delivered is more about rhythm than emotion, but it's not entirely deadpan and the characters movements whilst muted from what might be expected in conventional cinema, is still largely present. The characters stand, sit, smoke, twirl, come into and leave the room.

    It's this section footage that was shot first. Straub was approached by Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Munich Action-Theatre group  to direct a theatre production of Ferdinand Bruckner's "Pains of Youth" (1926), and only agreed on condition that he could strip it down to its essentials. The filmed, live, footage (and it is live, even the two moments of blackout between scenes retain that atmosphere thanks to Huillet and Straub's insistence on live sound) is what we find in the film and whilst following the thread of the plot through the terse dialogue is tricky, it nevertheless forms the key to understanding the rest of the film. Fassbinder himself plays the pimp, and the link to the opening footage from the red-light district is apparent. He also portrays the pursuer in the final section of the film where the documentary like footage of the first section and the stage footage give way to a more conventional (but still rather unconventional and stripped down) sequence.

    The final sequence contains more shots than the rest of the film put-together, and they are far shorter in duration. There's an opening shot outside a woman's flat where she kisses her lover goodbye. As he gets into the lift, the camera holds on it and we see it descend. The next shot captures Fassbinder waiting for the man in a VW Beetle outside. The car recalls the opening section where one of the cars that the camera overtakes is a similarly shaded Beetle. A car chase - shot Straub and Huillet style - ensues. The man leaves his car to flee on foot. The pimp catches him up, but give up when the man kicks him away. The man is then reunited with his lover and in the lengthiest shot in the sequence (some 5 minute or so) get married. They return home only to find Fassbinder waiting for him, whereupon the woman shoots him and then gazes out of the window (recalling a similar shot in Der Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach) as the (extra-diegetic) music of Bach's "Ascension Oratio" starts up again.

    The three sections, then, unite and complete one another with their interaction. Straub/Huillet's films are always political, but the use of real-life documentary footage to frame the artificial theatre section and the dramatic cinema section makes this one of their more political films (not to mention the Mao quote emblazoned on the walls in the theatrical section). This is not simply an entertaining story about a woman escaping prostitution, it is born of a real-life scenario. Indeed if anything, the demonstrable artificiality of the final two sections highlights the improbability of such an escape in the real world. The woman saved from prostitution by a man who loves her, and by her taking her fate into her own hands is, in the majority cases, a fantasy as pristine as the footage from the church.

    For such radical left-wing filmmakers religious imagery and references abound. The church footage here recalls that from Machorka Muff (1962), not least because of the diagonal, low angle of the camera (this time however, the couple is shot from the rear, and the church is more austere and less ornate) and of course is a regular feature of Anna Magdalena. Then of course there is Moses und Aron (1974) which speaks for itself, but there is also a reference to the law of Moses following the wedding ceremony here (which is taken from the writings of St. John of the Cross). And then, naturally, there are the words of the wedding ceremony and religious element behind the music of Bach's Ascension Oratorio which appears at the start and end of the film.

    In honesty I didn't intend this article to be quite so long, but somehow I just find Huillet and Straub such fascinating filmmakers to write about. In some ways their shorter works are far more suited to this kind of blog-length analysis than their longer ones; the dense, intellectual nature of their films means that there is just too much to explore satisfactorily for the lengthier works. And for anyone who is interested in getting acquainted with this one - which until now has only been available on a French DVD - there's a chance to see it on the big screen on Wednesday (6th March), and it will be released by Grasshopper on Bluray and DVD as an extra for their  release of Der Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach).

    Although I've not cited them directly I owe a debt to the authors of the following words , from whom I've derived many of my ideas about it.
    - Byg, Barton (1995) Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    - Pummer, Claudia (2016) "(Not Only) For Children and Cavemen: The Films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet" in Ted Fendt (ed.) Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet. Vienna, Filmmuseum Synema Publications, 2016.
    - Roud, Richard (1972) Jean-Marie Straub. New York: The Viking Press.

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