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"My name's Franz."
DVD ReviewWhat a year it has been for fans of innovative German director Ranier Werner Fassbinder: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst Essen Seele Auf), Fear of Fear, Whity, and Criterion's recent release of the much-anticipated BRD trilogy. Such is the excitement lavished on these and other titles in Fassbinder's creative canon that his feature-length debut Love is Colder than Death seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.
One of several Fassbinder films recently released by Wellspring on DVD, it's a stark, hypnotic 84-minute movie that's a cross between a Calvin Klein "Obsession" commercial and a live theater presentation taking place on a police line-up stage hosted by Dan Ackroyd's Leonard Pinth-Garnell from Saturday Night Live. Not to say it's "bad cinema", though, just one of the most unusual, unconventional pieces of movie-making that I have ever experienced. Such thoughts are unavoidable when a prissy, holster donning, shirtless male enters a room not one minute into the proceedings, and utters in English, "What's going on here?"
At first, I thought I popped in an unreleased Village People audition, but once the rest of the characters started speaking German and the heart of the storyline indicated in the keepcase synopsis began to take shape, well, talk about relief.
Love Is Colder... documents the tale of Franz (Fassbinder), a punky pimp who bonds with noted criminal Bruno (Ulli Lommel) thanks to their mutual recruitment by a crime syndicate. Shunning their offer, Franz opts to team with his new contact, whose quiet nature belies a violent back history, including killing his father by smashing a vase over his head. But Franz's hooker girlfriend Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) sees right through Bruno's oddly subdued demeanor and is rightfully frightened (and not just because of his bad thespian skills). Yet such misgivings can't stop her man from getting in deeper as a violent confrontation with a fellow pimp paves the way for a planned bank heist that may leave our slutty international equivalent of Butch, Sundance, and Etta meeting a fateful demise.
Often times amateurish, occasionally embarrassing but strangely appealing, Love Is Colder than Death is the work of a budding filmmaker whose refusal to be bound to conventionality led to future prosperity in the form of some of the greatest German cinematic exports put on celluloid.
Although Lommel's miscasting as the ruthless Bruno is a detriment, Fassbinder's lust for experimentation, Schygulla's beguiling performance (somewhat reminiscent of a young Julie Christie), and the memorable, primitively concocted electronic score by Holger Münzer and Peer Raber add up to more positives than negatives.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Transferred from a restored print, the black-and-white visuals are crisp and well defined, but contrast tended to be a little on the high side with minor artifacting and haloing coming into play at times. Considering the low budget and film stock utilized at the time, there's only so much digital magic that can be done on a project of this type. That being said, I think those interested will find the results beyond satisfactory.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Considering the primitive recording techniques at the time of this film and recalling the low budget origins noted in the visual overview above, you know not to expect sonic miracles, here. An unremarkable yet proficient Dolby Digital mono track that sounds as effective as a good old-fashioned mono source can.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Beware of a Holy Whore
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsAlthough I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point to the uninitiated, Love Is Colder than Death is a fascinating, adventurous debut that, despite its flaws, showcases the innovative techniques of Fassbinder that would flourish in years to come.
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