Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Blu-ray Review: RED SUN

 by Anthony King

S.C.U.M. Manifesto: The Movie

“Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”

That is the opening stanza of Valerie Solanas' S.C.U.M. Manifesto, her call to arms for a radical feminist takeover of the world. The acronym stands for “Society for Cutting Up Men,” and while Solanas flip-flopped several times on calling her call to arms a serious effort in mobilizing women throughout the world and a piece of satire, the manifesto itself is at once inspiring, infuriating, hysterical, terrifying, and heart-wrenching. Whatever you think of Solanas – whether she's a nut (she shot Andy Warhol in 1968, a year after self-publishing the manifesto, and many believe the attempted assassination directly led to his death 20 years later), or she's a true leader (she has inspired countless women to break out of abusive relationships and start life anew) – her words undoubtedly inspired other artists to create.
Not to be confused with Terence Young's 1971 western-heist film starring Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune, Alain Delon, and Ursula Andress, Rudolf Thome's Red Sun (1970) is a much quieter and ultimately more disturbing film. Thomas (Marquard Bohm) is hitchhiking to get back to his on again-off again girlfriend, Peggy (Uschi Obermaier). Along the way we discover Thomas is pushy, a slob, the pure definition of “slacker.” He gets back to Peggy, they go to bed, and her roommates enter, asking for her help. Thomas stays in bed as Peggy, Sylvie, Isolde, and Christine go to the room down the hall where there is a man gagged and tied to a chair. “She can't do it,” one of them says. Peggy takes a pistol, slowly turns a silencer onto the barrel, presses the gun against the man's head, and pulls the trigger. A muted click replaces a bang; there is no blood splatter; nothing visceral about this moment. The camera pulls back revealing the man slumped over and Peggy slowly unscrewing the silencer from the gun. She orders the others to get rid of the body before returning to Thomas in bed. We are 15 minutes into Red Sun at this point, and if you weren't on board by now, you won't be on board ever.

The simplified synopsis is this: four young women kill the men they sleep with after dating for five days. The complicated synopsis is just that: complicated. Like human beings – men, women, or otherwise – Rote Sonne (its original German title) attempts to explore the psyche of women fed up with the world, more specifically the world run by men. The women use sex work as their “front” in order to lure men to their prolonged demise; a demise that doesn't include any sort of torture. Once the five days are up, it's as simple as turning off a light switch and taking out the trash.
The dialogue is never delivered with any sort of ebullience. Anger never boils over, stoking crimes of passion. Sets are never adorned with beautiful paintings, ornate furniture, or flashy cars. The walls in the house are all painted with flat colors – reds, oranges, yellows – nothing hanging on the walls, as if they were backdrops to portraits of the many closeups Thome employs. Costumes are simple, the women in dresses that compliment the mise en scene rather than pull focus with bright colors. The four women, all stunningly gorgeous, and with the exception of one, hold their composure, emulating cold-blooded serial killers. It's clear these women are bad people, terrorists even, but the filmmakers want us to side with them rather than the real scum: men. I say terrorists because these four women have much bigger plans than just murdering a few greasy men. They have a cache of weapons and teach themselves how to make bombs. Their plans are never discussed forthright leaving the viewer to assume these women have taken Valerie Solanas' words to heart, and are politically motivated in a radically leftist way. And while their motives for killing men are also never spoken aloud, we nod along with them, not in approval per se, but in understanding.

There is only one way for this movie to end, which I won't discuss here, but concludes the previous 86 minutes in a pleasing manner. Like Peggy, Sylvia, Isolde, and Christine, Red Sun is methodical and calculated. That isn't to say it's slow. If we're living in a “vibes only” society now, then Red Sun is a “vibes only” type of film. And like S.C.U.M. Manifesto, this could serve as a call to action, however that is to be defined. The movie stands out in the history of German cinema, coming at a time where the New German Cinema was transitioning from the original group of the Oberhausen Manifesto (Hans Loeper, Dieter Lemmel, Alexander Kluge, etc.) to a German New Wave that included Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Ulli Lommel, Wolfgang Petersen, and Wim Wenders. (Of note is the fact that only two women are regularly mentioned when discussing the German New Wave: Helma Sanders-Brahms and Margarethe von Trotta.)
For the first time ever for English-speaking audiences, Radiance has delivered a spectacular presentation of Red Sun in a restoration overseen by director Rudolf Thome. The disc includes select scene commentary with Thome and Rainer Langans who served as inspiration for the film, and two visual essays. The first, Rote Sonne between Pop Sensibility and Social Critique, by scholar Johannes von Moltke is an excellent piece that shines a light on the era during which the film was made and provides context on the themes which Red Sun explores. Moltke's essay inspired me to go out and get a copy of S.C.U.M. Manifesto for myself, which illuminated even more themes within the film. The second visual essay comes from academic and programmer Margaret Deriaz. From Oberhausen to the Fall of the Wall is an extensive history lesson of the New German Cinema jam-packed with insightful information and titles of films. As someone who loves a good movie guide, Deriaz's essay doesn't disappoint. The package also includes a 52-page booklet featuring newly translated archival letters from Wim Wenders, critic Enno Patalas, a newly translated archival interview with Thome, and a wonderful essay by Samm Deighan called “Gorilla Girls: Radical Politics in Rudolf Thome's Red Sun.” As always Samm is so eloquent in her words, delivering a university-style thesis in a manner that is at once easy to read yet inspires the reader to dig more into the socio-political climate of the time.

Red Sun
is a truly remarkable piece of filmmaking from a time and place most westerners are unfamiliar with. As much as the beauty stands out, like our four leading ladies, the ugliness of the world in which they live is equally apparent. Radiance has delivered this film in a beautiful presentation that deserves a slot on your shelf.

Bonus features
High-definition digital transfer overseen by director Rudolf Thome
Select scene commentary with Thome and Rainer Langhans, Obermaier’s boyfriend and Kommune 1 member who served as inspiration for the film and was on set for the shoot
Rote Sonne between Pop Sensibility and Social Critique - A newly produced visual essay by scholar Johannes von Moltke on Red Sun, which looks at the social and cultural influences on the film and provides context for the era in which it was made (2022, 21 mins)
From Oberhausen to the Fall of the Wall – A visual essay by academic and programmer Margaret Deriaz tracing the development of the New German Cinema from the Oberhausen Manifesto to the fall of the Berlin wall (2023, 50 mins)
Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
Limited edition 52-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Samm Deighan, newly translated archival letters by Wim Wenders, critic Enno Patalas and the German Film Evaluation Office on the film’s official submission, newly translated archival interview with Rudolf Thome and an overview reviews
Limited edition of 2000 copies (each for the UK and US), presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

Blu-ray release date: June 20, 2023
86 minutes / 1970
1.75:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (German)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Region: Free

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