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Satan's Brew
cast: Kurt Raab, Margit Carstensen, Helen Vita, and Volker Spengler

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

106 minutes (18) 1976 Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Currently released as part of a DVD boxset, Satan's Brew (aka: Satansbraten) was Fassbinder's attempt at an out-and-out comedy. It's a bit like (for example) Michael Winner attempting to make a work of guerrilla cinema, or... well - you get the idea. In other words, it's comedy, Jim, but not as we know it.

Kurt Raab (outstanding in a cast of grotesques) plays Walter Kranz, a womanising, anarchist poet. He is suffering from a lengthy spell of writer's block. As well as a string of mistresses, he is also married to Luisa (Helen Vita) in a relationship that is so unlikely that at first I took her for his landlady. Also staying with them is his deranged brother, Ernst (Volker Spengler), who keeps catching flies and trying to have sex with them. After failing to get an advance from his publisher, Walter appears to accidentally shoot one of his mistresses as she is writing him a large cheque. This enables him to clear some of his debts, but now means that policeman Lauf (unconvincingly played by Ulli Lommel) is investigating him for the murder.

His only plan to beat his writer's block is to write a book on prostitutes, which rapidly eats up his money on 'research'. Then he is struck by inspiration and begins to scribble down a poem about an albatross. Apparently it's quite wonderful, although this is something that is lost in the journey between the German dialogue and the subtitles. It also happens to be from a poem by real life poet Stefan George (1868-1933), as Luisa soon discovers. How does Walter react to this unconscious piece of plagiarism? He assumes that he is the reincarnation of George. He hires a coterie of young men who dress in monochrome Victorian fashions, including garish black-and-white makeup. George was, of course, gay, so Walter tries to become gay, with teeth-grinding results. Ironically he also gains a female groupie (Margit Carstensen in comedy glasses) who believes the hype. It's obvious that Fassbinder identifies much more with George than with Walter, but anyone lacking familiarity with the works of George will just have to take Fassbinder on trust.

Fassbinder is saying much about identity, creativity, hypocrisy and the superficial nature of fame, but he also remembers to put a few laughs into the mix as well. Walter's novel, for example, is called 'No Celebration For The Fuhrer's Dead Dog'. Genius. Satan's Brew is a complex and at times challenging work, and, although underrated, it is hardly Fassbinder's finest hour. However, it is certainly not dull. That would have been unforgivable.
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