Moving Pictures
Jun 19, 2024, 06:29AM

Panic in Hamburg

Roland Klick’s Supermarkt is a phenomenal crime movie set in gorgeous 1974 Hamburg.

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France has always been lousy with directors, but of the New German Cinema, less than half a dozen ever achieved popularity or distribution in the United States: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and Volker Schlöndorff. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg was covered in The New York Times, but he faded from view as soon as the 1970s were over (although his epic Hitler: A Film from Germany was just screened in Manhattan). Rosa von Praunheim, Margarethe von Trotta, Alexander Kluge, Wolf Gremm, Peter Zadek, Hark Bohm—good luck finding any of their films in decent quality! Forget about English subtitles. There are under-distributed Nouvelle Vague directors—Jacques Rozier, Jean Rouch, Luc Moullet—but compared to the New German Cinema, it’s a treasure trove.

Not that you can’t get lost in Fassbinder alone. But it’s boring and unhealthy to fixate on any one artist; besides, I’m also interested in what was going on around Fassbinder when he was working. He mentioned, quoted, derided, or dedicated films to all of the above directors, even casting several of them as actors. Werner Schroeter was one of his best friends—why can I only see his films on YouTube? And what about Kluge and Zadek, dedicatees of Lola and The Marriage of Maria Braun, respectively?

Nothing for now. But Roland Klick, who I’d never heard of, directed a crime film in 1974 called Supermarkt that’s out now on 4K and Blu-Ray via OCN Distribution. You can watch the movie with the awful English dub (a luxury denied for Fassbinder completists—I’ve seen all of his films many, many times, and just once I’d like to hear whatever they did for Lola or Maria Braun, if there even were dubs) or the original German, also a dub job, but then again most of Europe has always dubbed their own films in their own languages and others, and I’m not sure why Americans and Brits are so fixated on direct sound (so much Hollywood movie dialogue is dubbed or “looped” after the fact, but it’s never as obvious or comprehensive as something out of Europe in the 1970s).

Klick stands apart from the New German Cinema, a man best known for his 1970 Spaghetti Western Deadlock, with a score composed by Can. It was a huge hit, his biggest; later in the 1970s, he supervised the German dubbing for Dawn of the Dead, but by the 1980s he was down and out: fired as director from Christiane F. Weeks before shooting started, and snookered by Dennis Hopper’s cocaine addiction on White Star, a film so chaotic that it could only be completed as a short. He’s still alive, and provides a new commentary track for Supermarkt, a great film and perhaps indicative of other German programmers from the time.

Marius Müller-Westernhagen’s theme song, “Celebration,” introduces the film and recurs throughout; it sounds like “Guitar Man” by Bread. Charly Wierczejewski is the lead hood Willi, a petty criminal in Hamburg picking the pockets of commoners and cruisers in subway stations. He runs a filthy operation out of a flop house with an older associate, befriends a prostitute played by Eva Mattes, and goes home with a vampiric gay man who looks a bit like Gig Young. “Vampiric,” yes—as soon as they’re together in the bath, he lunges for Willi’s wrist. Willi jumps out of the tub, but is eventually convinced to fulfill his end of the bargain. 500 marks is pretty good for a common street boy. But the best is when Willi wakes up in the morning and hears a woman come home. She finds him half naked, about to run out of the huge house this guy has, but she reassures him: “Dear boy, don’t run, my son will be back soon.”

Another great bit of business: Willi’ following the Eva Mattes character at one point, and with a lit cigarette, he walks up to a janitor and asks, “Got a light?” He waits a moment, then tells the silent man “Thank you,” and continues following her. All of this is done in a single handheld shot, all so smooth, so cool, everything so dirty and chic. Fassbinder didn’t just have great production designers, he had a country that looked really cool in the 1970s. Willi walks in and out of bars, arcades, apartments, down avenues and promenades, always surrounded by vivid colors, gorgeous lights, and immaculate design. He’s a rotten thug, worse than most movie criminals, but he’s fun to hang out with for 83 minutes. And for what it’s worth, he gets a happy ending—not his partner.

Open the vaults! More from Germany in the 1970s, anything! Doesn’t have to be “arty” or “respectable”—give us the police procedurals, the Spaghetti Westerns, the middle-of-the-road stage adaptations, the few fruits of the BRD.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith


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