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SCHRAMM

schramm.jpg (10485 bytes)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Monika M, Micha Brendel, Carolina Harnisch
Director:  Jorg Buttgereit
Audio:  Dolby Stereo, Dolby 2-Channel Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Barrel Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  65 Minutes
Release Date:  March 1, 2001

Film ***

Schramm is a disjointed, confusing and repellant journey into the mind of a serial killer, which manages to be surprisingly smart at the same time.  Directed by Germany’s Jorg Buttgereit, a horror maestro whose films  tend to collect bans instead of awards, it’s definitely not for the squeamish, easily offended, or for that matter, those who don’t like to pay very close attention for an hour.

Unlike mainstream movies like Manhunter, which purport to take the audience inside the head of a madman, Schramm actually does.  The entire film is told in a chaotic, stream of consciousness series of flashbacks from the point of view of the title character, who is dying.

Schramm, played by von Gustorf, demonstrates all the textbook symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia.  The film conveys his fractured state of mind with its editing and camerawork, which reflect his inability to assemble even the simplest of thoughts into cohesive ideas.  His self perception is warped:  he sees himself at various stages with normal legs, or with one crippled in a brace, or amputated.   Only one is right; the point is, we can’t be sure, because our subjectivity is limited to his point of view.

The flashback concept is important to hold onto throughout…it lends some sense of structure, however loose, to the often violent and perverse imagery.  Why else would we see him bandage the bridge of his nose in one sequence, when he doesn’t sustain the injury until his fatal fall?  Perhaps structure is too strong a word; a better one might be pattern.

The lines between illusion and fact are constantly blurred.  There is a repeated motif of Schramm waking up, which often seems to punctuate the end of one scene and open another.  Is he waking from fantasy to reality, or vice versa?  Again, he doesn’t know, and therefore, neither do we.

What motivates Schramm?  Some kind of psycho-sexual torment that seems to grow from his lust and love for a young hooker (Monika M).  With perhaps a bit of homage to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa, Schramm takes her from appointment to appointment, but the knowledge of what goes on behind those closed doors seems to be making him more unsettled.  I remember one scene where he listens to her make love through the wall, while releasing his tensions with a novelty store prop, which he later carefully cleans while the sounds continue.

The camera often seems to reflect his state of mind.  Images blur, or stationary objects are lingered upon too long for comfort.  In a tense scene with the unconscious girl, the entire scenario plays out with the camera looking straight down on them from above, as though Schramm were having an out-of-body experience.

Though unrated, this picture is clearly NC-17 material, if not stronger.  Buttgereit is a filmmaker that revels in the horrific and shocking, and there are images in this movie that will stay with you for a long time.  The fact that there are equal and copious amounts of sex and violence in the film might be disturbing enough for some; even more so is the fact that the two are almost indistinguishable in the mind of the protagonist.

Von Gustorf’s performance is interesting in that it ends up completely enigmatic.  There are moments we fear him, there are others that almost coax sympathy, but no single note is sustained long enough for us to form a viable opinion.  In the end, one could argue that Buttgereit got the exact acting job he was looking for out of von Gustorf in the editing room.

So be warned…Schramm is definitely a movie for a select audience.  The sensitive viewers won’t enjoy it at all, but ironically, some seasoned horror fans might be put off by the confusing and purposely muddled structure.  It plays like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces put together completely wrong and a number of pieces missing.  But the pieces are there; they’re the ones Buttgereit forces you to bring to the table.

Video ***

Having unfortunately missed Barrel Entertainment’s acclaimed release of another famous (or infamous) Buttgereit film, Nekromantik, this DVD marks my first experience with the company.  I’m generally impressed.  The full frame transfer looks quite good considering the obviously low-budget film elements:  it plays with cleanness and clarity throughout, with good color rendering.  I noticed no cut corners in terms of compression artifacts or grain.  Overall, though the source material would never produce a reference quality visual, Schramm is more well done than most, and should certainly please horror fans.

Audio ***

The original mono track is included, but believe me, you want the remixed stereo one instead, which is very clear and surprisingly lively.  The dynamic range is fairly good, and the split channel adds some depth and space to a few key sequences for an overall satisfactory listening experience.

Features ***1/2

Like Nekromantik, this is a loaded disc from Barrel.  There are two commentary tracks, including one with Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen and one with co-stars von Gustorf and Monika M.  Don’t look for much in the way of explanations in either track—both are more reflective and casual than informative—but enjoy them for the entertainment value (especially the actors’ one).  There is a making-of featurette, plus two early short films by Buttgereit, the whimsical and silly “Captain Berlin” and the touching and slightly disturbing “Mein Papi”.   There is a Buttgereit directed music video by Mutter, a bizarre boxing match featuring von Gustorf, several trailers, and a stills gallery.

Summary:

Schramm does more than track a serial killer…it shows you the world through his eyes.  Defying conventional structure and narrative, this is more than just a shocking gorefest.  The depraved and disjointed way the audience is forced to view these unpleasantries makes the experience all the more unsettling.  Again, it’s not a picture for the squeamish or terminally impatient, but for horror fans who find fascination in the inexplicably horrific, this quality DVD from Barrel Entertainment might be just the ticket you’re looking for.