Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This bittersweet and sometimes uncomfortably frank documentary was directed by the subject's son, Christopher Buchholz, and Sandra Hacker. I was pleased to find it included -- with English subtitles for those moments not spoken in English (the language the family spoke at home) -- as a bonus disc in the German release of DIE HALBSTARKEN, one of the actor's breakthrough roles, which was not so generously subtitled. Known abroad for his work in such films as TIGER BAY, ONE TWO THREE and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Horst Buchholz has long been a source of fascination for me. I have vague childhood memories of seeing him in a film shown at a drive-in, which ended with his suicide, my first exposure to suicide. Years later, when I discovered films like ASPHALT and TEENAGE WOLFPACK (the US title of DIE HALBSTARKEN), I was all the more impressed by his undeniable star quality and his placement as an early avatar for the New German Cinema. But I have also always wondered why such a compelling figure didn't go further with his magic touch -- and it's a question this film acknowledges and pursues without ever quite nailing an answer. The director's father was a secretive man, and more than one of his interview segments here finds him worked into tight corners with aggressive questioning, which he finally breaks by lighting a cigarette and suggesting they get something to eat.

There are also questions which the German actor's Jewish wife, former actress and now theatrical agent Myriam Bru refuses to answer, like "Do you miss him?" -- yet she acknowledges her late husband's "little affairs" and, most interesting, her attempts to save him from committing professional suicide. (When I saw TEENAGE WOLFPACK, I wondered why he hadn't been scooped up for WEST SIDE STORY, and here's the answer: They wanted him, badly, but Horst "didn't feel like working." He was likewise wanted for the Alain Delon role in THE LEOPARD, but Horst replied "fuck you" when he was asked by an assistant to submit a photograph to Luchino Visconti of himself wearing only undershorts.) We also see Christopher commiserating with his sister Beatrice, now a Sikh known as Simran Kaur Khalsa, about his absences, his problems with communication, expressing affection, and so forth. Christopher goes right after his quarry with his camera's assistance, directly asking his father about his attempts to destroy himself his alcohol, a drunken automobile accident that landed him in a detox clinic, and also about the homosexual side of his bisexuality, which apparently became dominant for him sometime in his middle age. It makes for uncomfortable viewing because Horst fights so hard to retain his mystery and pride.

The film contains numerous clips from films rarely seen in America (I'd love to see his star turn in THE CONFESSIONS OF FELIX KRULL, based on Thomas Mann's final novel), as well as vintage home movies and newsreels of the headline-making marriage of RESURRECTION's costars Buchholz and Bru. Strangely enough, regardless of his accomplishments as an actor, I came away from this film with somewhat less respect for Horst Buchholz as a man and with tremendous respect and admiration for his widow, who -- one can see -- was his anchor and lifeline, who set her own promising career aside to provide that for him. As for the film, it is understandably a bit self-absorbed, as much therapy as documentary for its author, but there is no denying its value as an explanatory footnote to its subject's uneven filmography.

Viewed via Arthaus Premium Edition import DVD


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