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Oct 23, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 23: tanner


Let's be real, I love all of the women in this film endlessly and would give it all up for any of them. But like any other rational person, I also have my favorite characters and one of those favorite characters is the complicated, enigmatic Miss Tanner. She's the public face of the company, Helena Markos's proxy, and Madame Blanc's confidante. Through her we get some of Suspiria's warmest moments and plenty of its most chilling. She may not be one of the major players–for my money that'd be Susie, Blanc, and Klemperer–but she feels like one of them, doesn't she? Tanner is essential, I love her, and Angela Winkler's performance is a masterclass in the power that can be conveyed with subtlety, nuance, and restraint.

I've talked before about the intimidation tactics she employs as Susie is about to begin her audition. She makes it clear that not only has the prospective dancer caught the Akademie on a bad day, she really shouldn't be allowed to audition at all. But in the scene following Susie's remarkable performance, where she tells the Ohio farm girl she's a dancer in Berlin now, Tanner is all smiles and kindness. Was it just tough love earlier?


And yeah, I've talked about that scene before as well (a few times, even). It is small and intimate, but beautiful on so many levels. For me, it's a touchstone, an iconic sequence that always comes to mind when I think about this film.

I've gone back and forth in my feelings about Tanner here. Is she being genuine? Or is it simply a mask to put the girl at ease because the coven needs her? After all, she lies about Patricia's departure from the Company without hesitation a moment later. I view her motivations differently on almost every viewing. (Honestly, that happens with Klemperer for me as well. I can't seem to settle on any one opinion about them...although I suppose that's fine, as people aren't simply any one thing. Maybe it points, yet again, to how rich the script is.)

This time around, I decided that Tanner's joy and kindness here is genuine, all because of a scene later in the film. As the witches are having a gal's night out and telepathically discussing who should act as witness for the upcoming Sabbath, Vendegast–that delightful ghoul–suggests that they use one of the dancers. Huller counters by nominating Klemperer, and Tanner agrees. "Not one of our girls," she says. "It would make any of them insane." She's more caring and concerned for the dancers' welfare and well-being than the actual Housemother is.

That's not to say she isn't also one of the most terrifying women in the Tanzgruppe, because she absolutely is. The first glimpse we get of this comes during Olga's meltdown scene, where she storms out of the studio en route to her doom. 


Blanc is nonplussed by this accusation, but Tanner reacts with a laugh that fills the room. She is obscured in the shot, almost hidden by Blanc, but it doesn't matter. Tanner is the focus, and that laugh...that laugh! It's fucking bone-chilling. 

To the other dancers in the room, it may seem to be merely an overenthusiastic attempt to deescalate a tense situation, to brush off Olga and her hissy fit completely. But to us, oh. It belies power. It's a casual threat. It's laughing at Olga's rage and fear, as if to say "Child, if you only knew." It's remarkably frightening and a stark reminder that no matter how sweetly Tanner might smile sometimes, no matter how soft and gentle her voice is, she is not to be trifled with.

Side note: poor Olga, right? I mean, that scene of her...violent undoing...is so shocking we kind of lose her in all of it. She was only concerned about her missing friend. She was only worried–rightfully so–that the women charged with the care of these dancers are not at all who they say they are. Unimaginable horrors and pain inflicted on her, and Tanner and Vendegast and Pavla literally laugh in the face of it.

In the other scene that makes my stomach drop to my knees in abject terror, Tanner doesn't even say a word. You know the one: Sara has just met with Klemperer in his office to discuss a course of action in light of everything she saw in the Mutterhaus. She walks out the door and stops in her tracks, because Tanner is right fucking there



Sara is briefly distracted by a passing group of protestors, and when she turns back it's no longer Tanner, it's just an older woman who walks away. 

But it wasn't a mere hallucination. It was Tanner, or at least a projection of her. Patricia was right; the coven has eyes everywhere. She doesn't have to say anything or move a muscle–with a silent stare from across the street, she lets Sara know that they know. The witches know where you've been, what you've seen, what you've said, and to whom. In an instant, Sara (poor Sara) knows that she is well and truly fucked, but she has to return to that "box of rabies" and try to continue on as if everything is normal. Maybe Patricia is still being held there. Maybe Olga. And she has to warn Susie. So many brave women in this film, even if they don't always get the endings they deserve.

And what of Tanner's ending? At the Sabbath, Death looks her right in the eye and walks away. Although she voted for Markos and acted as her right...baby arm–heck, she even called the false prophet "Mother Markos," she is allowed to live. No other Markosite (nor Helena herself) walked out of that Sabbath chamber. So why Tanner? 

Maybe it's because of her connection with Madame Blanc. Maybe it's because she's so loyal and useful to the Tanzgruppe. Maybe Suspiriorum is rewarding those moments of kindness she occasionally showed to Susie and the others.

Perhaps Suspiriorum, knowing she would erase Klemperer's memories, wanted a witness who would remember. Tanner could serve as a warning to others of the true Mother's terrible power, and the Mother could in turn feed off of her guilt and shame.

Tanner is the focus of the last shot inside the Akademie. Seated in the chair where Griffith cried over Olga (sort of), Tanner turns away from the scene below and faces us, nearly making direct eye contact, her expression inscrutable. The camera slowly zooms in and we see emotions subtly play over that face.


What is going on in that head? She is having a major reckoning. Everything she thought she knew was wrong. She narrowly–like, hair's breadth narrowly–escaped the fate of all of her fellow Markosites. The Tanzgruppe is in complete disarray, its future uncertain for the first time in decades. What is she going to do now? She has been confronted with the entirety of her life and all of her choices, and we watch it play out in one slow, delicious, blood-soaked closeup.

[Note: Colin Drucker of In the Details: a Celebration of Nuance and Alright Mary podcasts has written a fantastic piece about that final shot, and you'll be able to read it in the forthcoming Suspiria zine! I'll be posting details about it soon, but I can tell you that it'll be available digitally and as a  super-limited hard copy on November 11th, hail!)

2 comments:

Yago Martins Campos said...

That last shot always gives me shivers! So cathartic. I have always mirrored Tanner's faith with Doctor Klemperer's - unlike him, she's very much worthy of gilt and shame, and she'll have to live with her memories for the rest of her life.

Unknown said...

I love the idea that Tanner is the witness and that's how she survived.
She is so messed up in the end, literally, she is still covered in gore (there is probably a baby arm clinging to her dress) the next morning. More than the Sabbath witness, she was like the proxy of the movie goer, the witness who thought they were seeing one thing but was actually another--In all regards: Helena Markos was not a Mother, Susie was not just some girl (from...Ohio...) who turned out to be a dance prodigy who also happened to be into everything they planned for her. She saw Susie in time as a beautiful shell to stuff Markos in-- the real mother Suspiriorum was in plain sight to be sacrificed for the layers of disease that was the witch only claiming the be Suspiriorum.

Omg can you imagine the horrible things Tanner did to keep Markos alive all these years?

Also, why were they certain Susie had to be the vessel? Markos doesn't care about dancing, "this isn't vanity, this isn't art!" Was it because it was a known thing that the mothers magic was expressed in dance somehow. If Helena gets a good healthy limber body, was that meant to level up her powers. Because Madam Blanc was the dancer/ teacher, was that how she became powerful? What does this query have to do with Tanner? Possibly Jack Squat but you make me love analysing this movie, it's the best! Thanks Ponder!