Der Fan | Germany | 1982 | Directed by Eckart Schmidt
Logline: A teenage girl, obsessed with an aloof pop star, finally descends into the macabre extremities of her adolescent fantasy.
Simone (Désirée Nosbusch) is in love with “R” (Bodo Steiger), a successful West German new wave pop star. It’s more than infatuation, it’s an obsession. She’s written and posted a love letter to him. She skips class to wander around town in a dissociative daze, daydreaming about interludes with her new romantic lover. She hangs around the post office and grills the postman for a return letter from her dream paramour. But to no avail. Simone must suffer her indifferent parents and the blandness of her life, without “R” close to her.
“R” has announced an appearance in Munich at the local television studio where he’ll be filming his next music clip. Simone makes her way to Munich and, because she is so pretty and dressed so alluringly in her dark chocolate leather pants and pure white cotton blouse “R” is immediately drawn to her, away from the rest of the nondescript teenage hordes clambering for an autograph. Simone remains by his side as he does his “Top Pop” thing. She has managed to enter his inner sanctum, her idolatry now made flesh.
Schmidt’s tale of para-social obsession and deranged pseudo-psychosexual behaviour is, indeed, a strange and studied affair. Curiously intimate, yet still detached, with few speaking parts, and glacial in its tone and mood, the narrative drifts in and out of Simone’s perspective, at one point even drifting into her open mouth, an enigmatic piece of symbolism. It’s a very stylised take on the psychological thriller, providing precious little in the thrills department until the last twenty minutes, when Simone and “R” are alone in a mostly empty apartment exploring each other.
It is the full frontal nudity in this sex scene, and the scene immediately following, that provides the movie with most of its notoriety. Désirée was seventeen when the movie was released. At the time she was an opinionated and successful music show presenter on German television, whilst Bodo Steiger was a shy and reserved musician in the band Rheingold, who provide the movie with its sparse, Kraftwerkian electronic score. Schmidt was keen on the cross-casting, having been influenced by the films of fellow patriot Douglas Sirk, and there is a kind of inverted parallel between Schmidt’s dream of love gone awry and the highly stylised female-centric melodramas.
The Fan is curious in many of its elements. It feels like a short film that has been stretched to feature length. The stilted performances, the camerawork’s short depths of field, and the lack of convincing special effects makeup make it feel like a student production lost in the wilderness. These are all limitations, yet together they create a very particular atmosphere, or void. It’s hard to shake the vibe of this movie, especially the ultimate unhinged intent of its protagonist. She is a diehard romantic, oblivious to the implications of the real world. Yet her parents are as “damaged” as she is.
It is the movie’s epilogue that reveals a final truth, where the true horror and perverse beauty become one, and it is a bizarrely satisfying denouement. The Fan is quite unique in its deep trashiness.
NB: The Fan’s working title was Trance, and it’s the title it was originally released in the UK as, shorn of about ten seconds from the sex scene. A recent, restored Blu-ray release, as The Fan, is uncut.