J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 27, 2016

MLFF ’16: Helmut Berger, Actor

It is sort like Luchino Visconti’s version of Grey Gardens, especially because it stars his “muse,” Helmut Berger. Dear, oh dear, has the Oscar nominee for The Damned seen better days. You may think you have seen revealing documentaries, but you are still not prepared for the train wreck that is Andreas Horvath’s Helmut Berger, Actor (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Mammoth Lakes Film Festival.

At his prime, Berger was a ferocious “bad boy” of international art cinema, known for films like The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Ludwig, and The Romantic English Woman. By 2013, he was appearing on the German edition of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. He made a quick exit for health reasons, but it was still a good payday, according to Viola Techt, his long-suffering housemaid and general caretaker, who sadly passed away after Horvath’s chaotic filming sessions.

Frankly, Berger’s flat is even more of a disaster area than the Beales’ raccoon-infested mansion. The squalor would be disturbing enough, but Berger’s behavior takes it to a whole new level of voyeuristic wackness. Throughout the film, Horvath incorporates samples from the voluminous voice messages the actor left for him, which range from delusional and grandiose to downright hostile.

It is hard to understand why Berger let loose these verbal torrents or why Horvath include them, until they make an incredibly awkward trip to the actor’s old stomping ground, St. Tropez (just how that was paid for is never adequately explained). However, we hear Berger repeatedly proposition Horvath in no uncertain terms. Likewise, it is crystal clear how unwelcome Berger’ advances were. That leads to more tantrums from the actor, but Horvath got his revenge in the editing bay. If Berger can still get any work after HB, Actor, it will most likely be of a freak show variety.

Okay, normally the term “trigger warning” makes us cringe, but viewers should be forewarned, Horvath shows Berger self-satisfying himself, right down to the concluding secretions. It is disgusting and pathetic and disturbing. This is a film that somewhat took John Waters aback—but he could still roll with it.

Separate and apart from the doc’s already notorious sequences, HB, Actor is a bizarre, unsettling spectacle of a not so cold war fought between the subject and director. The most comparably fraught documentary would have to be Kung Fu Elliot (as it is now known), but the bargain basement action star is no match for Beger’s dissipation and self-absorbed bubble -perspective. Yet, like Weiner, it is perversely compelling to watch him keep digging at rock-bottom. Recommended for documentary patrons with a tabloid taste for the extreme, Helmut Berger, Actor will generate visceral responses when it screens this Sunday (5/29) as part of this year’s Mammoth Lakes Film Festival (along with the first-rate Last Summer, boasting a heart-breaking performance from the luminous Rinko Kikuchi).

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