Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 10, 2008

Eight Miles High

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

As a luridly cartoonish but entertaining biopic of Uschi Obermaier, a German Playboy model who dabbled in radical politics in the 1960s before embarking on a hippy voyage to India on a luxury version of a VW Microbus, “Eight Miles High” passed the Proyect 10-minute endurance trial with flying colors.

It is somewhat difficult to figure out whether screenwriters Olaf Kraemer and Achim Bornhak want us to take Uschi (Natalia Avelon) seriously or not, since she comes across as a combination of Terry Southern’s Candy (a send-up of Voltaire’s “Candide” featuring a sexually exploited naïf) and an R. Crumb character. In a way, it doesn’t matter since the movie can be accepted on its own terms as a jaundiced nostalgia trip down 60s memory lane, whose principal characters are monumentally shallow.

The film begins in 1968 with a 22 year old Uschi Obermaier playing rock-and-roll at full blast in her bedroom. When her mother and father demand that she turn the music down and become more “respectable”, she storms out of the apartment in their small Bavarian village and begins hitching a ride to Munich where she intends to launch a modeling career. She is picked up by a VW bus full of hippies who begin to clue her in on the New Age that is rapidly approaching.

Once the VW arrives in Munich, she follows them to the loft where Kommune 1 made its headquarters, a group which appears to have had much in common with our “Yippies”. They are in a middle of a press conference when Uschi arrives, with the Kommune members mostly naked-a sign of their rejection of bourgeois norms. Leader Rainer Langhans (Matthias Schweighofer) answers a “straight” reporter’s questions with playfully “subversive” answers in the patented Bob Dylan/Beatles style. A wiki article on the group explains:

Langhans, Teufel and the others wore long hair, beaded necklaces, army jackets or Mao suits at the urging of the women of the commune. Soon, they were paid for interviews and photographs. A sign hung plainly in the hallway of their apartment: “First pay up, then speak”.

Almost immediately, Uschi and Rainer become a couple-at least as far as that is possible in a commune dedicated to free love. In their loft, a space donated by writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger, there are no walls and people have sex in full view of others. When Uschi objects to Rainer screwing another woman in front of her, he lectures her about being politically incorrect, as if she had crossed a picket line.

The Kommunards have ceaseless discussions about the need for revolution, but appear clueless about how to connect with a serious movement that can challenge the German ruling class. Mostly, revolution involves personal transformation such as walking around naked or having multiple sex partners, all in an effort to fight the “fascism” of nuclear families or conventional life as a heterosexual couple. Even though I had little connection to this kind of cultural rebellion at the time, I am aware that such sentiments were quite pervasive, even penetrating the small, stodgy world of American Trotskyism that I inhabited. In 1971, as challenges to bourgeois sexual morality were at an all-time height, it was virtually unheard of for Trotskyists to get married. One married couple in Houston accepted under the terms of a grandfather clause made a point of maintaining an “open marriage”. Somehow the arrangement struck me as not that different than the one depicted in John Updike’s “Couples”, a novel about wife-swapping in the suburbs of Boston.

Uschi soon discovers that the Kommune members were too far into politics for her own needs, which revolved mostly around her desire to be an emancipated woman. A connection made with the Rolling Stones through a possible free concert to benefit “the movement” soon leads to friendship with Mick Jagger and an affair with Keith Richards. Richards (David Scheller) appears as a slouching, drug-addled slug with whom she makes love in hotels across Europe. One imagines that this portrait is accurate enough, although hardly enough to sustain any real interest in the musician other than as a comic figure.

Uschi’s modeling career continues to flourish and eventually she attracts the attention of one Dieter Bockhorn (David Scheller), a self-styled world traveler who has just spent a year in Africa and whom she finds irresistible. One supposes that after Keith Richards, this king of Hamburg’s red light district is a natural follow-up who has just returned to Germany with a pet chimpanzee named Cheetah whose diapers she is expected to change. Her refusal to do so is proof of her proto-feminist values. Some women fought for abortion rights back then and others refused to change chimpanzee diapers. That’s one of the lessons of a movie filled to the brim with found humor.

Dieter and Uschi decide to leave Germany and make a “truth-seeking” voyage to the East as was the custom of the times. An old friend from the U.S., who I visited in Austria around the same time as the couple went on their trek in a luxury-appointed bus, regaled me with stories of his trip to Afghanistan where he apparently spent most of his time smoking hashish in mountain villages. One can understand the allure of such counter-cultural escapades, especially since they didn’t involve selling sectarian newspapers at factory gates on a chilly morning.

The press notes indicate that the couple’s trip “took place in a positive period of time…since the Shah was still ruling in Iran and Afghanistan wasn’t a war zone yet.” Yeah, things became a real bummer afterwards.

You can get a sense of Uschi’s values from the press notes’ recounting of difficulties the film crew had with Customs in India:

They also had 34 crates full of props shipped over from Germany. Customs happened to spot check the one box that contained the 40-year old leopard skins that belonged to Uschi, which prompted all 34 crates to be seized. The crew had unknowingly violated a US law about endangered species and the member who was in charge of customs was arrested-all this two days before the shoot was supposed to start.

I don’t know. Anybody who collects leopard skins is not exactly the kind of person I’d want to hang out with. Watching a movie about such a person showing them in an unsparing manner is another story altogether. My recommendation to New Yorkers is to check out the film which opens at the Cinema Village tomorrow. You’ll be far more entertained than by the blockbuster crap coming out of Hollywood. That’s a promise.

1 Comment »

  1. This movie is great!!!! I had the most fun watching it and would love to see it again. Its cool, hip and sytlish and entertaining. Natalia Avelon looks breathtaking all the actors are very good. 10 out of 10 stars!

    Comment by Freddy Muller — August 11, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

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