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April 09, 2010


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James Keepnews

Of course, Mr. Atkinson also championed them thar BRONCOS on ifc.com. Myself, I'm very partial to the Hess/Black collab NACHO LIBRE, a warm trifle that still tickles me every time I see on cable.

As for THE BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX, I guess I found it less of a procedural than you did, although the conventional aspects of the film (notably the scenes with Ganz' gamely performed stand-in for West German Civilization) do drag the film down. That said, the pre-prison sequences where the gang's various acts are carried out and the implications of social foment through German society demonstrated through archival footage, headlines -- and, yes, Ulrike typing words like "Schwein" -- seemed very compelling and not unduly expository, as such cinematic socio-histories go.

The main failure of the film for me -- what can I say? I'm more about Can than Faust... -- has to be its handling of Ulrike Meinhof, quite superbly/mournfully portrayed by Gedeck. It's her the film focuses on at first, and thus building our sympathies towards her. As with pretty much everyone else, however, Edel never gets beneath the surface of her character, though the negative capability at play once she's out of the picture (literally) does carry a discomfiting flavor of reality intruding on a set storyline. We see her in maternal uxorious mode initially, one uprooted by her husband's infidelity and her subsequent radicalization which is well enough dramatized. But the narrative makes short work even of her maternity, and she's always an outsider, among her "class" and then among the cadre, increasingly dismissed and then as noted out of the picture -- her presence in the film, ever on the periphery, really does give the film a general taste of the peripheral. Moreover, there's another, deeper and sadder film about Meinhof promising to break free from Gedeck's contained, wary and melancholy work here in isolation that Edel has no time for -- as, in fairness, it seems history didn't, either.

The resonant word throughout the film is "Verrat" -- i.e., betrayal, a word thrown around by the revolutionaries and, in summation by Meinhof herself in her final speech to the court. There's so many betrayals to consider in this treatment of the B-M Gang -- Meinhof's towards her children, the West towards Vietnam and other reactionary support for tyrants like the Shah, the New Left towards other movements, and most importantly each individual towards her/himself. I'm not a huge fan of Edel -- Last Exit in Brooklyn was alarmingly overrated, when not overacted by people I usually enjoy like JJ Leigh, Stephen Lang, &c. -- but I did walk away THE BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX a bit shaken and more than a bit reflective.


My problem with THE BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX, although I liked the movie more than you did, Glenn, was trying to keep track of all the characters that show up in the last 40 minutes. It did seem like Edel was trying for the fly-on-the-wall approach, which might suggest why he doesn't try to go inside the characters heads too much, or he lets the actors do it (and I think Gedeck does the best of the three major characters), but it does mean some events are confusing to anyone who doesn't know enough specifics about the history of the RAF - myself, for instance.

That said, I wasn't bothered by those action sequences (I agree comparing them to Scorsese is overstating the case, but I didn't find them flat), and if nothing else, it did get me reading Aust's book, as well as Jeremy Varon's "Bringing the War Home," which talks about the RAF in the larger context of other revolutionary groups in the 60's and 70's.

Jeff McMahon

I think most of Armond White's reviews are more about the idealized film in his head than they are about the actual film that ended up on celluloid. I can't imagine how else to explain his raves for Mission to Mars, Torque, or Next Day Air.

warren oates

Hi Glenn,

Mostly agree with your assessment of both films, both of which I wanted to be so much better than they are. A much more interesting riff on the RAF can be had in THE STATE I AM IN -- have you seen it? Like RUNNING ON EMPTY remade as a thriller.

As for BRONCOS, Chevalier alone was funnier than most movies I've seen recently. The real problem with the film for me is not so much direction as it is writing, that it doesn't go anywhere story-wise. The stakes for the young writer protagonist seem pretty high, but he doesn't seem to care enough or do enough. He's far too passive for too long and when he finally takes any action--like rescuing his mom from that creepy dressmaking sex fiend--it has to do with a completely irrelevant subplot. The script seems like an interesting first draft. I wish someone had forced them to rewrite it and jettison the low-budget adaptation and most of the silly Mom stuff and focus more on the huge main conflict of plagiarism and the competing visions of what the sci-fi story should be like.


The Baader-Meinhof Complex could have been a lot better, but it's still good. I didn't find the action sequences to be all that flat although some are more routine than others. In fact I thought that Edel could have used the scrupulousness and detail he spends on recreating Baader-Meinhof's Greatest Hits more profitably on a few of his characters. The movie is fragmented, as Glenn notes, like the book by Stefan Aust on which it's based and which it follows closely (the book is worth reading but ultimately disappointing) and without some prior knowledge of the group's activities I would think parts of the movie would be hard to follow. Intertitles might have been helpful.

Contra Glenn I found the movie sagged a bit in the second half as it became more focused on the activities of people to whom the audience hasn't been introduced - the pivotal figure of the fierce Brigitte Mohnhaupt appears more or less from nowhere. There isn't enough of a connection between the thoughtful Baader we see in jail and the hoodlum with a short fuse presented earlier. I also disagreed with the depiction of Rudi Dutschke, which seemed to suggest that he was in some way a godfather to the the group.

Random note: Baader appears to have been a chainsmoker but I thought the movie's emphasis on everybody smoking constantly was straining at period effect. If you look at movies made when everyone smoked all the time, there is smoking but people usually aren't pointedly puffing away in every scene. Enough already.

Wokalek was superb.


Nice to see Broncos getting some attention - I enjoyed it a great deal (well, Napoleon Dynamite's firmly ensconced in my Top Ten Most Enjoyable and Rewatched Films of the Decade, so that's a given) but the leading actor fell on the wrong side of nerd-passivity, failing to provide any real focus for the audience. I think the Hess brothers have a distant kinship to the Kaurasmaki brothers in their love of the hopeless outsider, those who live in unfashionable places and unstylish ways (why the weird Buckyball homestead? Why not? I've seen weirder things in Middle America). There's a generosity in their work that I love, and a rather sweet attempt to hold on to non-generic ways of telling a story, that sets them above the rest of the indie schmindie comedy pack.

As for Baader Meinhof - well, it would have made a rather good four-hour tv series, I thought. They somehow managed to drop anything that would have given the audience the slightest idea of what all the fussin' and fightin' was about. But at least they kept the bombin' and shootin'. I kept wistfully thinking about Fassbinder's Third Generation.

Jeff McMahon

The Hesses are a married couple, not brothers (and one of them's a woman).

Tom Russell

Married couples make the best filmmaking teams. :-)


I did not know that (well, duh). I always pictured them as a filmmaking version of Napoleon and Kip Dynamite.

Dan Coyle

My reaction to Gentlemen Broncos could be summed up in one sentence: This is the kind of film for the science fiction enthusiast who thought Harlan Ellison was "too restrained" when he wrote "Xenogenesis"


Science fiction as we know it doesn't enter into GENTLEMAN BRONCOS. The SF in the film is the kind of SF that would exist in the same world that would or could contain characters like Dr. Chevalier, Napoleon Dynamite, Uncle Rico, and so on. That world has its own form of art and entertainment, and we have ours.

I liked BRONCOS. Clement was, I thought, extraordinary, and pretty much shouldered the burden of everything that didn't work.

Also, I loved "Xenogenesis". I should re-read that.

Glenn Kenny

Ah, Harlan Ellison. Back in 1993 I had one of the great freelance gigs of all time, which lasted only a year, alas: Sci-Fi/Fantasy columnist for TV Guide. Interviewed the great Christopher Lee. Covered the debuts of "Deep Space Nine" AND "The X Files." Discovered that the Viv Albertine who was directing the revival of "The Tomorrow People" for British television was, indeed, the same VIv Albertine who was a founding member of The Slits. Laughed my ass off when I was told that TV Guide would absolutely under no circumstances print the band name "The Slits." And so on.

One of the perks of the gig, as it happened, was that I would get not infrequent phone calls from Harlan Ellison. At home. At peculiar hours. I don't know how he got my number. He would wanna talk about this and that...the current state of the art, the upcoming book version of his script for "City on the Edge of Forever," that kind of thing. It was highly entertaining. And, yes, a little odd.

I didn't hear from Ellison much after Steve Redicliffe took over the editor-in-chief reins of the magazine and got rid of all the columns, except for Terry Bradshaw's. No, really. I still hate Steve Redicliffe for that, and I'm not afraid to say so. C**ksucker. Anyway, I sometimes miss my little chats with Mr. Ellison. I wonder if he ever thinks of me...

Dan Coyle

It's in "Xenogenesis" where Ellison discusses his tactics of tracking down the phone numbers of people. He likes to impersonate police detectives.

I spent most of Gentlemen Broncos wondering what the hell happened to Jared Hess that made him swear upon his dying breath that Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Barry Longyear, Baen Books, Tor, and etc. would pay, they would pay, ONE DAY THEY WOULD ALL FUCKING PAY.

That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. It was quite funny, and as Bill said, Clement was extraordinary. But you gotta wonder about a guy whose idea of the worst, most pathetic thing in the world is the science fiction scene and its fans.


"a guy whose idea of the worst, most pathetic thing in the world is the science fiction scene and its fans."

I had this same argument around the time Napoleon Dynamite came out, with people who thought the film was horrendously nasty about geeky midwestern teenagers. It isn't. They are its subject. I suspect a fly on the wall documentary about the science fiction convention scene would produce scenes far more grotesque, without the Hess's leavening Everygeek humour.


Bernd Eichinger, BAADER-MEINHOF's writer / producer, is a pretty interesting figure. He produced CHRISTIANE F. (of the Bowie soundtrack), which was also directed by Edel, and splits his time between prestige movies (like DOWNFALL, of the Hitler video meme, and PERFUME, both of which he wrote and produced) and special effects heavy genre franchises (he's the producer of the RESIDENT EVIL and FANTASTIC FOUR movies).

The fact that he also produced HITLER: A FILM FROM GERMANY and WRONG MOVE only makes this more confusing. I sorta wish his US arthouse releases would capitalize on the popularity of his multiplex movies. I can just imagine a poster for BAADER-MEINHOF that reads "from the producer of THE NEVERENDING STORY."

Tom Russell

I'm with Paul on this one-- at least as far as DYNAMITE is concerned. The farm stuff aside-- I'm a suburban midwestern-- my friends and I pretty much did and said a lot of the same things.

Hess certainly has his weaknesses as a director, but a lack of genuine affection for his subjects isn't one of them.


Eichinger goes back a long, long way. He was the producer of "Das boot", as well as "The name of the rose".

Jeff McM

I think it's obvious that Jared Hess is a big sci-fi fan and is putting himself into the movie in a deep and personal way. Apparently not to everyone!


Tom Russell - I'm relieved to hear you say it, I'm not very familiar first-hand with the midwest but Hess's stuff has always felt very real to me, and I've stuck my neck out many times and said that Dynamite is much closer to everyday life in the midwest than, say, Boys Don't Cry or the other films made by the sort of people I've heard derisively refer to "the flyover states".



Yeah. And he's a pretty heavy hitter in Germany, maybe the heaviest. Bruckheimer is an apt comparison, adjusted-box-office-wise (Eichinger's been responsible for some of the biggest commercial successes ever made in Europe) -- and Bruckheimer did, after all, produce AMERICAN GIGOLO, THIEF and the extremely weird FAREWELL, MY LOVELY.

Dan Coyle

Damn, I loved Das Boot. One of my favorite war films.

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