FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 13, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 13: and this moment

The biggest complaint I hear from the total absolute FOOLS!!! who dislike Suspiria is that they feel the Josef Klemperer character is unnecessary. Once I even saw a heathen post a "fan edit" that excised as many Klemperer instances as possible. Nuts, I say. Nuts!

If you take out Klemperer, what are you taking out? What purpose does he serve that these FOOLS!!! just aren't seeing? I think he fulfills several functions, both practical and emotional, and he's rather essential to the film.

In Dario Argento's Suspiria, Suzy Bannion takes it upon herself to investigate the coven, seeking the counsel of Dr. Mandel and Professor Milius, and eventually making her way into the Iris Room and finding all of the secrets within. Obviously it's not possible for Susie Bannion to do this work in Luca Guadagnino's film, so we need someone else to do the detective work and drive the plot forward. Here, the duty falls largely to Klemperer after he reads Patricia's forgotten notebook.

It's just as important, however, that his story with Anke serves as the emotional heart of the film. Though there are also love stories between Susie and Sara and Susie and Blanc, it's the one between Josef and Anke that is more than subtext, that is real and has a place in history. (Though, to be fair, Susie/Blanc is so obvious and there that it might as well be text, no?) Anke is the human face of the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, which informs the Tanzgruppe's history, the political setting of the film, and much of Suspiria's messaging. She is a reminder of the real cost of doing nothing in the face of fascism, of leaving it all to someone else. The story of Anke Meier is perhaps the biggest of all the tragedies in this heartbreaking film, and as Josef was the witness for the witches' Sabbath, so, too was he Anke's witness. He tells us through the entirety of Suspiria that Anke was. She is gone, as we all will be someday, but he remembers. She haunts him–not always painfully. But she is always there, every day, still, over the years and the decades, because he wants her to be. She was a human being who was loved and who is missed dearly. In a sense, he is keeping her alive...and in a movie filled with cruelty, a movie in which no love can stay for long, we desperately need Josef's–and Anke's–humanity, as bittersweet as it is. 

I'll be taking a broader look at their story in another post. Here I want to highlight a small, lovely moment, a gesture, that essentially demonstrates everything I tried to convey in all those words.

First, though, can we acknowledge how magnificent Tilda Swinton is as Josef Klemperer? Or, if you prefer, as Lutz Ebersdorf as Josef Klemperer? (I'll be using the shorthand version of that.) (And in case you didn't know how cheeky they were being, "Eber" means "boar" or "swine," and "Dorf" means "village" or "town." Roughly: Ebersdorf = SwineTown = Swinton.) It's seen as a bit of a stunt, acting under all of that (incredible) makeup. No amount of latex that could save an inauthentic performance, however, so the real marvel is how Swinton inhabits this character so fully, in so many small ways. Even though they got up close and personal after the Sabbath, Ingrid Caven (Vendegast) had no idea she was singing that lullaby to Tilda Swinton. The rapid shallow breaths after a bit of exertion, the stiff gait and small, shuffling steps, the splayed fingers...there are countless tiny moments of physicality that render this performance so much more than a stunt.

The moment I want to talk about happens as Klemperer leaves the police station. He's just spoken with Detectives Albrecht and Glockner, following up on the phone call he made to them to report Patricia as missing. The detectives visited the Academy and, as we know, were ensorcelled by Vendegast, Tanner, and Huller, but the men have no memory of that. According to them, they searched the premises and found nothing untoward. Klemperer insists that they only saw what the women wanted them to see, but the detectives aren't having it and basically brush him off.

(Incidentally, I love how you can feel Klemperer's frustration with all of it in the quick, exasperated side-eyes he gives to the woman next to him who won't stop typing. To feel that your concern isn't given the dignity of a bit of quiet so it can be heard, how deflating. So is Glockner popping a meatball in his mouth while Klemperer talks.)

As he's about to head downstairs, Klemperer calls for Detective Glockner, who returns to the stairwell. Klemperer wants to thank him for information the detective gave him regarding his wife.

"Your wife also went missing?" Glockner asks, and you get the feeling that he finds it suspicious that this man has reported two women who seem to have vanished.

Josef gives Glockner just enough of the story, so the detective can fill in the rest.

"Anke Meier. 1943."

Klemperer makes her known.

Anke Meier. She was.

Glockner moves closer, affording Klemperer the attention and respect he didn't get in the office.

Thanks to Glockner, her could eliminate Poland from the list of places where Anke may have ended up during the war. Over the years since then, Glockner has surely helped or hindered hundreds of people. Perhaps this exchange sparks the ember of a memory, or perhaps for him she is forgotten and gone. Whatever their meeting in 1943 meant or means to the detective, now he will know her name. And their meeting was vital to Klemperer.

"I'm still grateful."

And the moment hangs there. Glockner is silent. Klemperer is momentarily in a reverie, lost in his thoughts, thoughts that are surely of Anke. Regret, sadness, love. Darkness, tears, and sighs.

He quickly pats himself on the chest twice, turns, and leaves. That taptap is so small and simple and beautiful, equal parts let's get on with things, then and i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart). It shows everything she was to him, and everything she is.

Anke Meier. She was.

How could anyone think we don't need this?


CashBailey said...

What guts to have trusted both Tilda Swinton and the make-up department to pull this off.

I'm sure more learned cineastes such as we have here pretty much called it out straight away; but with this it only made the character more interesting and, thanks to Swinton's masterful performance, more emotionally accessible than if they had cast a male.

Unknown said...

Love this! I also was super into your post about Ruth Bré and would be interested to hear your thoughts about all of the figures referenced in suspiria such as Hester Prynne or Lacan.

Stacie Ponder said...

@Cash – agreed. It's quite a statement to make a film SO women-centric that even the primary male character, who is essential to the proceedings, is portrayed by a woman. I think maybe the voice is a tip-off that it may be a woman under that makeup, but nothing about the performance says "Tilda Swinton" specifically to me. I wish I hadn't known it was her before seeing it the first time...although it did color my expectations in a way. I thought for sure Klemperer would be a projection of the witches somehow, as Anke is later.

@Unknown – Thanks! I know I'm definitely going to get into that Hester moment whenever I dive into the dreams. Or heck maybe I'll give it its own entry...I have some theories about it but who knows how accurate that are. :) And yeah, there will also be talk of all the references throughout (or at least the ones I found) of all the women artists, etc. Phew!