Saturday, July 01, 2017

Schwarzer Kies / Black Gravel

Schwarzer Kies. Heinrich Trimbur (Eric Moeller), Anita Höfer (Elli), Wolfgang Büttner (Otto Krahne)

Asfalto nero. Director: Helmut Käutner. Year: 1961. Country: Germania.
    Section: Watchful Dreamer: The Subversive Melancholia of Helmut Käutner.
    Scen.: Helmut Käutner, Walter Ulbrich. F.: Heinz Pehlke. M.: Klaus Dudenhöfer. Scgf.: Gabriel Pellon. Mus.: Bernhard Eichhorn.
    Int.: Helmut Wildt (Robert Neidhardt), Ingmar Zeisberg (Inge Gaines), Hans Cossy (John Gaines), Wolfgang Büttner (Otto Krahne), Anita Höfer (Elli), Heinrich Trimbur (Eric Moeller), Edeltraut Elsner (Anni Peel), Peter Nestler (Bill Rodgers).
    Prod.: Walter Ulbrich per Universum-Film AG. 35mm. D.: 111’. Bn.
    [Not released in Finland].
    From: DIF Deutsches Filminstitut (Frankfurt).
    Introduce Olaf Möller.
    Screened with e-subtitles in Italian and English by Sub-Ti at Sala Scorsese, 1 July 2017.

Olaf Möller (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Among the lowest moments of FRG film culture ranks an award handed out in 1962 by a group of journalists who conceived of themselves as Young Critics, the new makers and shapers of movie manners. Said assignation recognized the “worst film by an established director” and went ex aequo to Schwarzer Kies and Der Traum von Lieschen Müller (The Dream of Lieschen Mueller), both masterpieces by Helmut Käutner (had they known that during the same period Käutner also shot parts of Radványi Géza’s Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein and Diesmal muß es Kaviar sein as well as his wife Erica Balqué’s lone directorial effort, Zu jung für die Liebe?, they might have included those as well…)."

"One can only say: here, insult was added to injury as Schwarzer Kies had already been the subject of a (dubiously motivated) scandal. After the film’s premiere, the Central Council of Jews in Germany’s secretary general, Hendrik van Dam, judged it anti-Semitic due to a scene in which a bordello owner with a concentration camp number tattooed on his forearm is called Saujud (Jewish swine) by an all too ordinary elderly guy who just wants to listen to a march on the jukebox. Some black US soldiers and the hookers stare at the offender, aghast and disgusted. Van Dam’s problem was the idea that a Holocaust survivor could own a brothel – a notion the Central Council’s other members apparently didn’t share at all. Later, van Dam admitted that he had over-done things, maybe even a bit gratuitously – but by then, the affair had gotten out of hand and the film altered severely."

"That only recently Schwarzer Kies was celebrated as a major re-discovery and is now discussed as a key work of the era feels hollow – for there is something especially bitter about this kind of belated praise… After a comparable run-in with the new critical establishment over Die Rote (Redhead, 1962), Käutner focused his creative energies on television (aside from three serenely mellow, self-consciously old-fashioned big-screen excursions).
" Olaf Möller (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: The contrast could hardly be sharper between the ultra-theatrical A Glass of Water and Helmut Käutner's next movie, the almost naturalistic Black Gravel.

There is nothing deliberate or demonstrative in the naturalism of Black Gravel. The grim black-and-white vision is as adequate to this story as the bright, mannered and stagy colour world for A Glass of Water.

Black Gravel is an impressive companion piece to the Sky Without Stars. Both are honest and controversial dramas of contemporary German life after WWII.

Black Gravel is a blunt vision of a Germany living with a foreign military presence. It is a story of abuse and prostitution. An American military base with an airfield for jets is being built. Big money is involved. There is a trickle-down effect, also a black market for stolen special gravel.

The female protagonist Inge Gaines (Ingmar Zeisberg) is married to an American officer, John Gaines (Hans Cossy). John is a sober and decent man, also a sincerely religious church-goer.

Shadows from the past come to haunt Inge in the form of ex-lover Robert Neidhardt (Helmut Wildt), a truck driver bringing gravel to the construction site, also dealing in black gravel. In the past Inge has been a prostitute, and Robert is still actively involved in the girl market.

There is tragedy when Inge cannot help herself and starts to see Robert again.

The milieu is sordid but Käutner's focus in not on the tawdry detail. Even in purgatorial circumstances he focuses on the human qualities of his protagonists.

Writing about Das Mädchen Rosemarie I observed a special German matter-of-fact attitude towards prostitution, also shared by Käutner in Black Gravel. Prostitution is accepted as a fact of life, not idealized nor demonized. Prostitution in itself is not seen as sinful or scandalous, but crime and corruption inevitably follow, and for women who want to move ahead in life it remains a shadow of the past.

Käutner's films were usually released in Finland but Black Gravel was not. There was a lot of newspaper commentary in our land on the alleged anti-semitism of the movie which might have been a factor in it's not being released. Of course, as Olaf states above, Käutner's attitude was always against anti-semitism in the first place, but the remark in question was cut and did not appear in the version screened in Bologna.

I missed the last ten minutes due to an overlap with the restored Blow-Up but friends updated me with the conclusion of the film.


Im ländlichen Westdeutschland des Jahres 1960 wird in einem kleinen Dorf mit 250 Einwohnern eine amerikanische Militärbasis errichtet. 6.000 Soldaten leben nun in der Region, und obwohl niemand sie so recht leiden kann, macht doch jeder sein Geschäft mit ihnen.

Die einen bauen Scheunen zu "typisch amerikanischen" Bars um, damit die GIs dort ihren Sold vertrinken; zahllose Prostituierte kommen regelmäßig in die Gegend, damit die Amerikaner gegen viel Geld für ein paar Minuten ihr Heimweh vergessen können; wieder andere profitieren vom Bau eines Militärflughafens.

Zur letzten Gruppe zählt auch Robert Neidhardt. Er ist ein illusionsloser Mann, der nur die schnelle Mark verdienen will. Robert liefert den Kies zum Bau der Startbahn. Das wirklich lohnende Geschäft aber ist der Schwarzhandel mit deutschen Bauunternehmern, die Robert den Kies gerne unter der Hand abnehmen. So verdient er gleich zweifach an einer Fuhre.

Eines Nachts jedoch wird Robert von der Polizei verfolgt, die den Schwarzmarkt trockenlegen will. Auf der Flucht überfährt er zwei Passanten. Obwohl er schuldlos an dem Unfall ist, geht Robert nicht zur Polizei. Und seine Skrupellosigkeit wird ihn bis zum Äußersten treiben.

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