Visiting Berlin – 80 years after a colorful and still so elusive man named Adolf Hitler took the throne. After one week in freezing temperatures, buildings as grey as the sky, incorrigable communist vibes meddling with hungry nazi zombies, especially in the former East Berlin, you’re about ready to crave spending a weekend at Spreewald Thermenhotel, one of the many feel-good venues in Berlin. Yes, positive thinking has also reached the far away shores of this former totalitarian bastion, even the new Reichstag looks like a wellness resort. Then there’s fashion week, why I have no idea, I mean isn’t Paris, Milan and New York already enough? Mütter auf der Matte – mothers on the mat - pursuing their yoga dreams and Quentin Tarentino getting all hyped up as usual to present his new slave trash opus Django Unchained, once again starring that new German villain portrayal specialist Christoph Waltz.
At the theaters, I got pretty bored with Das Himbeerreich, an all too predictable and typically German interpretation of bankers gone bad, I was slightly entertained but ultimately fell asleep at Komische Oper’s Rise and Fall of Mahagonny, and I was about to move on to Warsaw to find out why Aaron, my neighbor, who almost vanished at Auschwitz, still couldn’t listen to words spoken in German and why he refused to visit Berlin with me on this journey. The day I had planned to depart for Poland I discovered a poster of a play with an American flag on a worn out boxing glove called Fucking Liberty! with an exclamation mark, and I said to myself what the hell is that, what’s going on there and who’s trashing liberty? It fittingly plays at a theater called Volksbuehne at Rosa Luxemburgplatz and was written and directed by Ulli Lommel, whose rather teutonic but never the less brilliant serial killer flick Tenderness of the Wolves still haunts me to this very day. I decided to postpone my trip and watch Fucking Liberty! I was in for a big
surprise, a big fucking treat as in trick or treat.
The theater itself is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, you can smell history when you enter this temple of gloom, doom and rebellion, upstairs there is a strange yellow ton with polaroids depicting Andy Warhol in a 360 degree journey around the pope of pop taken by Lommel during his stay at Warhol’s factory. 60s and 70s pop tunes invite you to take your seat. The set is a gigantic and frightening visage of Mickey Mouse, eyes deadened pitch black like a Halloween trick and mouth turned into a giant razor blade, all envisioned by scenic genius Bert Neumann, who also collaborated with Lommel on the Warhol installation. Then suddenly darkness and the lips of the mouse reveal a funeral procession, It’s Michael Jackson being put to rest, accompanied by all the icons Lommel dreamt up for his goulish night, including the undead Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Erich von Strohheim, Angela Davis, Big Boy Caprice, a freaky 40s style G.I. band and four sexy and happening black Hip-Hop chicks dressed up as S&M nurses. Robin, Batman’s sidekick, tells us that America will never die and to prove his theory Michael Jackson rises from the dead with the help of his black sistas and the American pop band and reanimates to the beat of Billie Jean. It’s Lommel himself as Michael, and one wonders what kind of drugs this man must be taking. He’s in his late sixties, but has the fast, snaky moves of a rock star in his mid thirties.
The evening roars like a learjet into what’s labeled 500 years of America in 100 minutes, a slogan right from the Interview magazine pages of Warhol himself. Lommel gives the entertainer who leads us through this night such ease and light footedness that one wonders whether he actually resides on this stage like Count Dracula in his castle.
To fulfill the promise of telling America’s story during one single show Lommel has chosen to marry the stage to the movies. The audience gets 3D glasses and watches 3D movie segments that are choreographed in such a way that they allow the actors to relate to their cinematic 3D copy, the result of which is so startling and riveting that one wonders whether one is watching the nocturnal invention of an entirely new medium. Some viewers seemed to be irritated and confused, while others were enjoying the trip like me. This is not your daddie’s Oldsmobile, an American commercial said a few years ago in order to attract a new generation of young car buyers. Well, this is not your daddie’s theater for sure, but what more can you ask for than a satanically wild witches brew with old Queen Mary of England, the bloody one, taking off her clothes and belching out I love Rock’n Roll, Marilyn Monroe singing Nancy Sinatra’s Bang-Bang while a vicious U.S. Senator dressed as a German puppet accuses her of being a communist, a suicidal and breath takingly divine Maria Callas teaming up with her nemesis Jackie O., only to morph into the fabulous Supremes chanting Stop in the Name of Love, Amelia Earhart throwing in her philosophy about how pleasant it is to be caught in a plane wreck at the bottom of the ocean floor and then dancing to Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, Lommel showing up on stage in the third act proudly carrying the stars and stripes - an old American flag he says he received from the son of a fallen pilot - and reading out loud the names of all the members of the U.S. Air Force who sacrificed their lives for the Germans during the Berlin air lift, Warhol revealing his inner most secrets about magic, beauty and happiness to a gangster who says he killed JFK and Marilyn, the riveting comic strip figure Big Boy played by the same bourgeois monster who moments later threatens to kill Warhol in his factory, while Andy, being hit by bullet after bullet, keeps asking for more, ever more, it’s all art, he proclaims, just keep on shooting. And that’s what I wanted to tell Lommel and his fantastic gang of 3D movies-meet-theater revolutionaries: Keep on shooting! Don’t ever stop! Just keep on shooting, no matter what the angst ridden critics may say, those head-heavy intellectuals, for whom this monster show must feel like a bullet in the brain. And take this gig to the U.S. of A., in doors and out doors, to small clubs in the Midwest or right smack into Giant Stadium, NYC. Mad, mad Fucking Liberty! by this German born renaissance man, who grew up in the American sector of West-Berlin right after WWII, immigrated to the United States in 1977 and has now returned to Berlin for a limited engagement as a true ambassador of America, For him Fucking Liberty! of course means fucking great!
Next morning, still dazed from those 100 minutes in Ulli Lommel’s America, I took the train to Warsaw, from Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, the new main train station, which reminded me of a giant wellness cemetery. Not sure whether I was happy to leave Berlin or not, but while the train started rolling along, I thought about Warhol and I felt the beauty, I felt the magic.
Los Angeles Correspondent
Cahiers du Cinema