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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Big Mess

Another obscure sci-fi film of 1971 was Alexander Kluge's Der Gro├če Verhau, (The Big Mess, or TBM for short). The film played in America, perhaps only in New York City, as the Times did a review of it. There does not appear to be an english-dubbed version, so it is highly doubtful that general American audiences ever saw it. TBM may not have been seen outside of art film circles. Films written, directed and produced by the same man (Kluge) has seldom been a recipe for success, though Kluge managed to make a rather long career of it. That said, TBM suffers the same pitfalls. TBM is an artsy, confusing, fragmented "story" of several characters in space in the 2030s, told in clips, wiggly-cam vignettes and crude title cards.

Quick Plot Synopsis
(The following is a reassembled synthesis. An attempt at description in order of how events appear in the film, would be too long and make no sense): After several revolutions and galactic wars, the Suez Canal Company emerged as the only organized power. The SCC quickly solidified its monopoly on everything, becoming the de facto galactic government. Some citizens try to escape to the edges of SCC influence to find a better life. Some, like Mr. and Mrs. Sterr make a living "salvaging" old space ships. Others, like Carl Douglas, find employment at the edges. He flies cargo ships for the Joint Galactic Transport company -- outside of SCC control. The SCC builds a super battleship, flown by Admiral Bohm. It suffers an engine room fire on its maiden voyage. Bohm orders it destroyed so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Meanwhile, the Sterrs forge documents so they can get into high security areas and steal good stuff. They're caught and jailed but an attack on the city frees them. Douglas loses his job when the JGT is bought out by the SCC. He cavorts with a strange woman named Sylvia. Some rebel force launches an attack on the SCC's base world, but the band plays on. "The last American" explores space like the early pioneers. He is mistaken as part of a rebel attack and his ship destroyed. The montage stops.

Why is this movie fun?
TBM is not particularly "fun", nor easy to watch. It's value to sci-fi cinema comes from its alternative view of man's future in space. Where Stanley Kubrick envisioned a vast, clean, antiseptic future. Kluge imagined a crowded, dirty, brutish one.

Cultural Connections
The Marxist viewpoint of Kluge is abundantly obvious. Big companies are BAD. Business owners are pirates. Governments wasteful and corrupt. The common man is a huddled mass yearning to be free, etc. etc.

Notes
Anti-Film? -- Some critics have described TBM as an "anti-film". It certainly is the opposite of what mainstream audiences had grown accustomed to. Kluge created the intentional opposite of what movies had become. There is no cohesive narrative or plot. There is virtually no character development, so the characters are little more than names who come and go and do random stuff. The timeline has been cut into so many jumbled pieces that all events seem to be taking place more or less at the same time. Kluge uses inter-titles A LOT, making sure that each has a mismatched, badly hand-made quality to them. They feed the viewer random factoids but do not advance the plot as the old silent film inter-titles did.

Anti-2001? -- Some critics claim that Kluge was trying to create an opposite of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. TBM was produced the year after 2001. To some extent, this view seems to fit. Where Kubrick saw a future that was spacious, clean, orderly and full of sophisticated technology, Kluge's "ships" are cramped, dirty and filled with old technology. Kluge's ship models were almost-obviously cobbled together from mechanical junk. When the "city" of Kruger 60s is under attack, one of the foreground "buildings" is clearly the mainshaft gear cluster from a transmission. Ships are made of plumbing parts and miscellaneous metal bits. This satirical absurdity may be why TBM is sometimes listed as a comedy.

Social Satire? -- Perhaps the true motivation for TBM is social satire -- as seen through Marxist lenses. This comes through via several small set-pieces. For example: While inspecting the building of the new super ship, Admiral Bohm is nagged by men who want to buy the salvage rights to it, before it's even built! The Sterrs think of themselves as "honest" salvagers, but are really just pirates who steal jewelry from ships they cause to crash. Douglas gets a job as a pilot, but plots to steal from his boss. The supposedly tough security chief of the SCC catches the pirate Sterrs, but since they'll sign a paper that says they're against slavery, they're let go. The list goes on and on.

Nudity Note -- As if included solely for the gratuitous sake of it, there is a bit of bare-chested nudity. Sylvia, who may be a prostitute, or could just be a very weird woman, is shown sprinkling some blue liquid on her bare chest for what seems forever. It's not particularly erotic, just matter of fact. It makes no sense, but perhaps it wasn't supposed to.

Bottom line? TBM might have some artistic merit, but not to the average sci-fi movie fan. It's chaotic and grunge to the point of being self-righteous about it. Trying to make sense of (or find) the plot, will only make your head hurt. Whatever humor Kluge intended, must have been aimed at a narrow art-house audience of frustrated marxists, though it's hard to picture frustrated marxists laughing.

2 comments:

Randall Landers said...

Wow, not sure I want to watch this one!

Nightowl said...

Yeah, you'd have to REALLY be in a puzzle-solving mood for this one. It's like a Cubist painting, in cinema.