• A DEGREE OF MURDER (1967)

  • A DEGREE OF MURDER (1967)

  • A DEGREE OF MURDER (1967)

  • A DEGREE OF MURDER (1967)

Synopsis and Basis

“A modern fairy tale: once upon a time there was a girl who set forth to experience the shivers and scares.”

A girl, a weapon, a shot – and a dead body that immediately needs to be removed. A story without repentance or moral. There is a scene in DER JUNGE TÖRLESS (Young Törless) that hints at Schlöndorff’s second film: In the newspaper, under the headline “Blood and Thunder”, Beineberg reads about an unusual case:

Eight years of dungeon for murder – Until the age of 19 Wilhelmine worked as a waitress at a café in Graz. Then she met the deserted soldier Günther K., who brought her into prostitution and let her work for him. To the judge’s question why she had done it Wilhelmine responded: “I was submissive in bondage to him. When Günther was bringing me to my work place on Wiener Straße that evening I told him: I don’t feel like it tonight. Günther responded: so, then sleep with me. I didn’t want that either, so I fought back and Günther beat me and became angry with me. Then, as always, I had to kneel down before him and pray to him as my God so that he would again be good to me. In the course of that night I shot him in his bed.”

In reality, Schlöndorff had read this article in the Munich evening newspaper, which gave him a vast amount of material for his next film, which should not be literature, but finally Nouvelle Vague, here and today” (Schlöndorff). After Hans has packed his bags to finally leave Marie, he starts to force her to sleep with him one last time. Even as Marie fights back, he does not stop. She grasps the weapon and shoots. Eventually she meets Günther in a pub whom she persuades to help her dispose the corps—a road trip into the countryside begins and the murder is put into the background.

“No real love story develops, but some sort of friendship that goes beyond the natural companionship.”

 

Production and Pre-Production

Script

Shortly after his film debut, Schlöndorff, together with Gregor von Rezzori, Niklas Frank and Arne Boyer, wrote the script for his first film in color, so that he could already start with the shooting in the fall of 1966. Instead of a literary film adaptation he now uses original material. Even before the shooting starts, Schlöndorff expressed doubts about the development and success of the film, stating: “My script is more than vague; it is a piece of work without a net. I hope that we will be able to keep the balance—and that our rope is stretched up very high. This kind of work is at least more interesting; and I doubt that I will do a literary adaptation again—unless we fall off the rope.” The film should carry a special attitude to life and represent the “general expectations of life” and the mobilization of childhood against the rush demand of the grownups” (ibid.).

Nicholas Ray – whose Rebel Without A Cause (USA 1955) seems to hover, in form of a film poster in Marie’s room, like a motto over the atmosphere of the whole filmprovided a deal with Universal, to take on the worldwide distribution of the production, titled A Degree of Murder, for a multiple of the production costs. The planned contract that would oblige Schlöndorff and Pallenberg for six more years was, however, never signed.

Shooting

“It is not a moral storyline, it is a crook of the finger, without thought, without responsibility.” (Schlöndorff 2011, p. 167)

Without a raised finger and without moral judgment, the direction and the camera, for whose guidance Franz Rath could once again be won over, are supposed to concentrate only on capturing the pure moments, just as “the action and the murder had happened in a blink of the eye” (ibid.). Schlöndorff decided, in order to highlight the monotony and the constriction of the large city scenery, to shoot in color and widescreen, resulting in his first Technicolor also being a Technicolor debut for the Neuer Deutscher Film. Not only should there be an improvisation of dialogs, but the expression, perspective and tone should completely result from the situation.

Cast

According to the script, the roles in this film were supposed to be cast “with unknown, ordinary people”instead, Schlöndorff engaged none other than Anita Pallenberg for the main female role, who he had discovered on the front page of the teenage magazine twen. The 22-year-old fiancée of Rolling Stones member Brian Jones was part of Schlöndorff’s cast for the first time, but in comparison to her fellow actors, such as Werner Enke as Hans and Hans Peter Hallwachs as Günther, was she the only famous actor. Schlöndorff sometimes called her an “explosive neuter” or a “beautiful goat”, however, summing her up with the words “Anita is a cinema animal.”

 

Musik

Schlöndorff engaged the Rolling Stones founder and guitarist Brian Jones (*28.02.1942, +03.07.1969) for the soundtrack to his third film, MORD UND TOTSCHLAG (A Degree of Murder). Schlöndorff remembers that Jones himself actually asked to write the soundtrack. The shooting of the film took place at a time when Jones was isolating himself from the Stones, no longer considering them as his band, and trying to follow his own musical interests. His girlfriend at that time was Anita Pallenberg, actress and model, who was chosen for the role of Marie after the test shots in Paris. She appeared for the shooting in the company of Brian Jones. British musicians, such as the pianist Nicky Hopkins, the drummer Kenney Jones from the Small Faces, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and Stones guitarist Keith Richards, were part of the recording of the sound track.

The soundtrack to A Degree of Murder is composed of Hillbilly music, Blues elements, Pop music, and Rhythm ‘n’ Blues pieces. Especially the heavy-on-the-blues harmonica solos remind of the early Rolling Stones.

Effect

The harmony in A Degree of Murder is quite simple and therefore relates to the mostly blithe attitude of the protagonists in respect to Marie’s murder. The music for the most part is cheerful and bright. Deep and sad accords, which the audience would expect, are only rarely used. This illustrates that Marie lacks any deeper grief for the death of her friend and that she does not regret her act. Marie is horror-stricken about her actions only in one scene towards the end of the film. There the camera shows a photograph of her ex-boyfriend, at which point Marie releases a bloodcurdling scream and collapses. This is accompanied by peculiar seeming pipe organ and mellotron sounds which illustrate the surreal situation.

Main Theme

The music can be described as monothematic, as it almost completely derives from a single theme. Variations of this theme are played with instruments such as the flute, sitar, banjo, violin, harmonica, guitar and pipe organ, which were all played by the multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones. Furthermore, this theme is heard in various musical styles. For example, a rock version of the theme is played during the murder scene and, after the death of Hans, a version of the melody is carried out in the style of a dirge, only played by flutes.

Music for settling the events

In addition to the main theme, music is used in some scenes to depict the atmosphere of the particular locality. In the bar scene one can hear Rhythm ‘n’ Blues songs and Pop hits. This strategy sets the film in the 1960s. During breakfast with Fritz’s aunt a Hillbilly piece sounds, played on a Banjo to highlight the rural setting. Playing the Hillbilly piece supports the odd character of the film, as Hillbilly usually associates with the US countryside and not with provincial Bavaria, which therefore makes a contrapuntal effect.

Reception

Schlöndorff’s second film was also sent to the International Filmfestival in Cannes as Germany’s official contribution. However, unlike the previous year, MORD UND TOTSCHLAG (A Degree of Murder) did not bring home any awards. Still, the cast around Anita Pallenberg, her fiancé Brian Jones and his band colleague Keith Richards caused great excitement and a storm of flashlights at the Croissette. In Germany the film was received with excitement at the Deutsche Filmpreis, awarding Franz Rath with the Filmband in Gold for Best Camera Work and Rob Houwer with the Filmband in Silber for Best Production. The film received another silver award in the catagory „Abendfüllende Spielfilme“ (feature-length film). The press sees in Schlöndorff’s second project the spirit of the Pre-68th youth, a troop of deniers: “Schlöndorff’s second film […] lives on the spontaneity of a generation, which carries chill in its blood and equates feelings with discharge” judges Die Welt. Le Monde in France titles : “La jeunesse et les idoles dans la société” (The youth and the idols in society) to announce the entry in Cannes.

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