Monday, February 28, 2011

Decoder (Muscha, 1984)

Did you know that the insipid noise masquerading as music you hear when you're strolling down the housewares aisle of your local box-shaped monstrosity is not being played for the benefit of your frazzled nerves? Uh-uh, its sole purpose is to appease your inherent desire to destroy everything in sight. Don't believe me? Listen to the sounds you hear the next time you're about to sit down and eat that inexpensive sandwich at your local den of corporate mediocrity. The flavourless tripe invading your eardrums is not your friend, it's your enemy. Its nonthreatening din is specifically designed to lull that inner deranged person that lives inside all of us. Preventing the populace from engaging in behaviour deemed unbecoming, especially acts that fly in the face of social norms, it's subliminally telling you to purchase your proletarian dishpan, consume that gelatinous glob of chemically enhanced sludge, and get out. Well, the best way to reverse the effects of this so-called noise, or "muzak," is to counter it with the disquieting unpleasantness of a properly motivated piece of industrial music. It's true, industrial music is my go-to cure when it comes to solving the world's problems, so my opinion is definitely a tad biased. (I happen to think that "Slogun" by SPK is the key to inner peace.) However, the unhinged individuals behind Decoder, a brightly coloured underground oddity that features seedy peepshows and frog-infested apartments more than any other film ever made, appear to agree with me that industrial music is the single greatest threat against tyranny and hopelessness.

In most cases, the principal aim of music is to comfort or invigorate the vitality of the listener. And from what I've been told, it enters through your ear canal and where it begins to engage the pleasure centers of your brain by employing lush orchestrations and gentle harmonies. On the other hand, industrial music, striping away all traces of joy and happiness, encapsulates the harshness of the modern world in such an unfiltered manner, that your psyche will feel as if it's been violated by a broken rake, or a rake that is still able to carry out its primary function in a semi-competent manner. Depending on the spiritual disposition of person it's being exposed to, industrial music, no matter if they like it or not, will severely alter the genetic makeup of the ears that are listening to it.

Inspired by the writings of William S. Burroughs (the old guy with a shotgun in the music video for Ministry's "Just One Fix"), chiefly his 1970 work The Electronic Revolution, a West German filmmaking collective (Klaus Maeck, Muscha, Volker Schäfer and Trini Trimpop) grab the well-worn idea that multinational corporations are manipulating the masses through mind control, cradle it gently against their Teutonic bosoms, and proceed to run around Hamburg with it. A fast food chain called H-Burger, a joint that trains its employees with military-style proficiency, is the focus of the film's unsubtle satire of a universe growing more and more dystopian with each passing day. The only person standing in their way of attaining global supremacy is a bushy banged audiophile. Oh, sure, a creepy, priest who looks an awful lot like Genesis P-Orridge, one of the founders of the seminal industrial group Throbbing Gristle, helps out our glum hero along the way. But the revolutionary onus is pretty much on the shoulders of one man and his complicated cassette deck. Wow, I just realized that this film's industrial cred is getting more pronounced by the minute.

(Excuse me, I gotta go expel some urine from my bladder.)

Hey, I'm back. I thought of a question as I watched my beautiful pee struggle to become one with the toilet water: If you were in charge of casting the lead actor in an experimental film about a bang-generous guy who creates audio-terrorism in his spare time, who would you pick? I'll give you a couple of minutes to decide. It's not as easy as it sounds, is it? Let me narrow it down. You can only choose from the members of legendary German racket makers Einstürzende Neubauten. If you're still having trouble, all you have to do go to your parents' house, head downstairs to the basement, find a copy of Fuenf Auf Der Nach Oben Offenen Richterskala, carefully examine the record sleeve, and the choice should be obvious. Boasting one of the most distinctive silhouettes in all of industrial music, and, not to mention, a face that is both obscene and alluring at the same time, FM Einheit (a.k.a. Mufti) was born to play F.M., an anti-muzak radical who sets off a wave of civil disobedience when he discovers a sinister plot to enslave humanity one greasy cheeseburger at a time.

In charge of putting a stop to F.M.'s outlaw behaviour is Jaeger (William Rice), a weary bureaucrat who works for a shadowy surveillance company (his workspace is a mixing board in front of a wall of television monitors). However, the bulk his concentration is focused elsewhere. Transfixed (she emits a blinding light) by a peepshow dancer named Christiana (Christiane Felscherinow), Jaeger, a man who lurks the city streets like an emaciated Dutch financial expert, seems more interested in her than the tape deck-wielding rabble-rouser he's supposed to be keeping tabs on.

Meanwhile, F.M., despite the occasional frog-based interruption from his sexy, goth-tinged girlfriend, who may or may not be the same woman who Jaeger is obsessed with, and the odd game of Frogger down at the neighbourhood video arcade, is working around the clock to get his homemade tapes out to the people. You see, the noise on his yellow-coloured cassettes drowns out the joy-inducing muzak, which, in turn, causes diners at H-Burger, and other fast food restaurants, to become violently ill. This leads to rioting and clashes with police (the film features great riot footage), as the newly unburdened citizenry take to the streets.

Skirting the line that separates pompous dreck and illuminating cleverness, Decoder manages to stave off art-house boredom by liberally employing its industrial soundtrack (with tracks composed by Dave Ball, Genesis P-Orridge, The The, Einstürzende Neubauten and FM Einheit) with the ferocity of a well-aimed tank shell.

The 15 year-old me–you know, that creeper-sporting miscreant whose aura reeked of nothing but smugness and apple-coated watermelon–would have loved the film's opening scene. Actually, what am I saying? Modern me loved it as well. What I'm clumsily trying to convey using this jumble of typed words is that the extended sequence where we follow William Rice as stalks the halls of his secretive office building, all the while this menacing electro beat throbs in the background, was the epitome of industrial cool.

Speaking of creepers (my preferred style of footwear circa none of your business), I nearly lost it when an H-Burger employee states the reason he's working at the fast food restaurant is so can save up enough money to buy a pair of creepers. If he had said anything else I would have scoffed in the most bombastic manner humanly possible. But the fact that he said "creepers" allowed me to empathize with his not-so noble cause with a modicum of ease. I just hope the shoe's he had his eye on came with buckles.

The film's many peepshow sequences were my favourite, as I found the garish neon of the Red Light District (a.k.a. Reeperbahn), Christiane F.'s ennui, and the multiple usage of Soft Cell's "Seedy Films" to be very appealing. I don't know what it is, but I have a bittersweet longing for the days when people had to leave their place of residence to masturbate. In addition, I liked the fact that the peepshow, on top of showing women wrestling, seemed to also screen graphic autopsy and castration footage for their shady-looking clientele to view.

Call me someone who is mentally unstable but not schizophrenic, but I could watch the lovely Christiane Felscherinow lounge around her apartment in a pink tissue paper slip covered in frogs and books about frog anatomy for hours. It's just something I think I'd be good at. Anyway, playing two characters: a frog enthusiast who wears black lipstick, gray legwarmers, and fluorescent kimonos, and a peepshow employee whose passive stripe tease drives the raincoat crowd wild, Christiane, who also appears in an eerie dream sequence with William S. Burroughs, is post-punk heaven in a leather jacket.

Reminding me of film's like, Downtown 81 and Population: 1, underground movies about art and music that were cobbled together years after they were shot, the film has an erratic, loosely thrown together vibe about it. However, unlike those two films, this particular flick has a clearly defined narrative. And a lively sense of colour; each character seems to have their own unique colour scheme (Fräulein Felscherinow's face was lit green while in frog mode, red during the peepshow scenes). It was kinda hard for me to gauge the quality of the acting in Decoder, or their physicality, as Christine F.'s legginess was more subtle than I'm used to (Muscha is no Jess Franco). But it was nice to see FM Einheit, a guy who normally smashes shopping carts for a living, moonlight as a leading man.

In closing, the way music is employed in the corporate arena nowadays is a real turn off. Ruining countless shopping and dining experiences, the indigestible noise they inflict on their customers has caused me to flee for quieter ground on several occasions. In extreme cases, if the sound emanating from a particular business is not to my specific liking as I approach the door, it will not be entered. Left to mindlessly wander a garbage-strewn landscape with a fairy dressed in tinfoil, my ears have slowly become wounds.



  1. Somehow that looks all sorts of amazing. Not all of them good. But that doesn't really matter, I don't think. When you've got that many filters and that much mood lighting leading the way something has to go right.

  2. You've got my attention....
    And is it just me, or does everyone in that film have an awesome haircut?

  3. Great post, Yum! Reading this, I was momentarily overwhelmed by a rippling wave of unbridled smug, perhaps the last gasp of my eye-linered, crispy bang-riddled youth. I snapped out of it when my girlfriend suggested we do something exciting this summer, like fly to Vegas. :(

  4. JeanRZEJ: If you can believe this, I didn't really notice the crazy colours at first.

    Andrew Green: I'm afraid the only awesome haircuts are the ones belonging to Christiane Felscherinow and FM Einheit.

    Jerry: Thanks. :)

    "Crispy bang-riddled youth" Nice. I love the idea of someone spending a large chunk of their adolescence riddled with bangs that are crispy.

  5. Reading this makes me want to go eat a schnitzel and drink a Bitburger.

    Wow, could this movie be any more 80s Teutonic? :P

    I think I have a copy somewhere of Christiane F.'s book.

  6. I've never heard of Bitburger. *gasp*

    A local bar has a cocktail on their menu that costs 25 bucks.

    I realize that your Teuton question was in jest, but I thought the soundtrack could have used some DAF. But then again, that's my solution for everything. :D

    The Christiane F. movie has been on my radar for some time now, but I'm dragging my feet as it looks kinda depressing.

  7. this movie is totally classy, thanks for uploading!

  8. How have I never heard of this?!? I ordered this bad boy and it's on the way. Hopefully the postman doesn't rub his crotch with the DVD. Who can blame him really.

    You haven't seen Christiane F.? Another one form my top 100. The German DVD has the original audio, while the US DVD was dubbed into English. Yes, it's utterly depressing, but in the best way possible.

  9. If your postman's crotch has a thing for Christiane F., and who's crotch doesn't, your DVD is in for a bumpy ride. (And by saying "bumpy" I don't mean to imply that your postman's genitals are covered with warts or other such crotch-related abnormalities.)

    The DVD comes with a soundtrack CD.

    Christiane F. is on your top 100?!? I've looked at your list a couple of times and I never... oh, wait, there it is, #18. Anyway, you won't believe this, but I had a bootleg copy of Christiane F. in my hand late last year, but passed on it (I forget what I went with instead).

  10. For the record, the list is alphabetical, so we're not talking top 20 good here, but a 14 year old junkie Bowie fan turning tricks is a 14 year old junkie Bowie fan turning tricks.

  11. "Oh my T V C one five, oh oh, T V C one five."