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Steppenwolf [1974] Max Von Sydow

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Steppenwolf [1974] Max Von Sydow

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Steppenwolf (1974)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072206/
Steppenwolf (orig. German Der Steppenwolf) is the tenth novel by German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse. Originally published in Germany in 1927, it was first translated into English in 1929. Combining autobiographical and fantastic elements, the novel was named after the lonesome wolf of the steppes. The story in large part reflects a profound crisis in Hesse's spiritual world in the 1920s while memorably portraying the protagonist's split between his humanity, and his wolf-like aggression and homelessness. The novel became an international success, although Hesse would later claim that the book was largely misunderstood.
Steppenwolf is a 1974 film adaptation of Hermann Hesse's 1928 novel of the same name. The film made heavy use of visual special effects that were cutting-edge at the time of its release.
Max von Sydow ... Harry Haller
Dominique Sanda ... Hermine
Pierre Clémenti ... Pablo
Carla Romanelli ... Maria
Roy Bosier ... Aztec
Alfred Baillou ... Goethe
Niels-Peter Rudolph ... Gustav
Helmut Förnbacher ... Franz
Charles Regnier ... Loering
Eduard Linkers ... Mr. Hefte
Silvia Reize ... Dora
Helen Hesse ... Frau Hefte
Sunnyi Melles ... Rosa (as Judith Melles)
The film took seven years of complicated pre-production for its producers Melvin Abner Fishman and Richard Herland. Fishman, a student of Jung and alchemy, wanted the film to be "the first Jungian film" and built up relationships with the Hesse family that allowed the film rights of the book to be released. Herland raised the finance.
Directors Michelangelo Antonioni and John Frankenheimer, as well as the actor James Coburn were all touted to direct the film. In the end, the film was directed by its screenwriter, Fred Haines.
Although Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon and Timothy Leary were all proposed as playing the main role of Harry Haller, the role eventually went to Max von Sydow. In the other principal parts, Pierre Clementi played Pablo and Dominique Sanda took the role of Hermine. Although the film is in English, none of the principal actors was a native English speaker.
Finally, the rights to the finished film were entirely given over to Peter Sprague, its financier. A "marketing disaster" followed, this included the colour of the prints coming out incorrectly. The film has remained little seen.
Jung hearts run free Jenny Fabian The Guardian, Friday 21 April 2000
The strange, claustrophobic lighting; the decadent world of Weimar clubland; weird pre-Lynch images... watching the early 1970s movie adaptation of Steppenwolf you get the feeling of peering down a tunnel into a shadowy past. Now simply a neglected film, Steppenwolf was perhaps too philosophical, too gothic for its time.
The tall, dark man flashed a smile and a diamond glittered in his teeth. It was 1970, I'd just been introduced to Melvin Abner Fishman. He'd told me he was producing a film of Hermann Hesse's book Steppenwolf, and I was impressed.
The chaos within the Steppenwolf's soul was something we beaded people identified with as we tried to break free from accepted conventions. Already three years into pre-production hustle, Fishman was staying at the Ritz and working the room service hard. Weird bits of gossip about interesting movie people issued from his mouth like Hollywood Babylon. He was into Jung and alchemy and told me you are judged on the quality of your magic. Flitting in and out of my life for the next few years, he kept me informed of the grinding process of making such a metaphysical movie.
First published in 1927, Steppenwolf had become cult reading in the mid-60s, handed out by Timothy Leary with tabs of LSD. The words "The price of admittance your mind" as condition of entry to The Magic Theatre had acid-heads nodding wisely. Pablo the musician with his sweet-smelling cigarettes and unheard-of suggestions was a familiar figure on the scene. All our curiosity about the unconscious seemed to be summed up by Hesse. "It will be the first Jungian film," Fishman said. "All we need is for someone to walk round deep in thought."
Although Fishman was very much the auteur of the Steppenwolf project, he needed a co-producer to keep him grounded. Richard Herland, with his blonde college-boy looks, was an ideal counterpart to Fishman's visionary freestyle. Herland was a straight, Fishman took a lot of acid.
Herland found himself having to pull Fishman back from some of his wilder conversational gambits as they touted for money. "Fishman was far too brilliant, he could take people much further than they were willing to go. He would be on one of those riffs where he had almost convinced some guy to do business, then he would flip it in such a way that the guy couldn't go to that cosmic level, in the sense of balance sheets, profit and loss statements."
The Steppenwolf universe seemed to be in constant flux. The group of the same name bawled "Born to be Wild" at us. Fishman and Herland were doing the rounds of Hollywood, trying to get their project off the ground. Fishman had offered Antonioni $1 million - an unheard-of amount in those days - to direct the film. This had brought Carlo Ponti sniffing around, because he had Antonioni under exclusive contract.
Their relationship was at a stand-off after the Zabriskie Point flop. It got as far as a kind of surreal casting discussion, Ponti suggesting Walter Matthau for the role of Harry Haller, tormented hero; Fishman telling Ponti he'd been thinking of Jack Lemmon, while, in the kitchen, Sophia Loren was cooking spaghetti as she nursed little Carlo. Antonioni announced the book was unfilmable.
Meanwhile, James Coburn had approached Herland, waving contracts, trying to rope Fishman out of the deal. Behind their backs, MGM was trying to poach Steppenwolf scriptwriter Fred Haines, whose screenplay for Ulysses had just received an Oscar nomination. Herland bumped into Marlon Brando buying a copy of Steppenwolf in a Beverly Hills bookstore. John Frankenheimer, hot from The Manchurian Candidate and Birdman of Alcatraz, was another power player who wanted complete control. Herland came to realise all these deals would have been Faustian. No big studio would risk such an eclectic project without destroying the spirit of the book.
While Fishman dropped acid with Leary, Herland would be courting studio executives on Dean Martin's tennis court. Turning up with a financier's lawyer at Fishman's Beverly Hills shack, Herland found him sitting naked and Buddha-like on the lawn with the sprinklers full on. He was sampling some psylocibin he was planning to initiate Herland with. "You don't feel the wet," he told them gleefully.
Nevertheless, it was Fishman who had built up the invaluable relationship with the Hesse family, which, after an 18-month charm offensive, had enabled the negotiation of a tricky clause in Hesse's will previously prohibiting the sale of film rights to his work.
At one point, Fishman and Herland found themselves in competition with Conrad Rooks, the rich Avon cosmetics junkie kid, looking to take the next step after his self-reflecting film Chappaqua, featuring William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. I came across Rooks in 1968 in the basement all-night restaurant in The Royal Garden hotel, which was a good place to recover from Saturday night's Unlimited Freak Out. Four years later and he was holding court to members of the Hesse family on his oversized yacht in Cannes harbour. But Rooks, with fortunes at his disposal, was too stoned to remember which book he was after except that it began with S. He ended up with Siddhartha.
Herland and Fishman had no such financial resources. Herland, with some minor film production deals already under his belt, managed to cobble together the $150,000 needed for the rights, and decamped the team from the big-time bullshit of Hollywood to Basle, Switzerland, the home of LSD, and, coincidentally, where Steppenwolf was written.
A production team of eight moved into a house, supported by Herland as he desperately juggled finances to keep the show alive. Fishman announced he was going to make the movie anyway. "We know Haines wrote the script, now we want to be sure he's read it." For three days with a handheld camera, he filmed Haines, wearing Hesse's dressing gown, reading the screenplay beneath a 150-watt lightbulb with a couple of pictures of Hesse in the background. Three hours of film with one image. "Once you've accepted that he's not going to move, you can make your own movie," Fishman said. "The other film will be the Mickey Mouse version."
Zig-zagging their way across Europe, touting their project, Herland was starting to feel the pressure of Fishman's obsession. Driving through the Black Forest to meet Dr Bender at the Institute of Parapsychological Studies in order to consult the mythological runes, Herland was overcome with intense paranoia. "I saw Melvin in the same black light as the night when he gave me the magic mushroom. I felt I had somehow lost my grip on the reality I had pieced together for 34 years and was powerless to avoid floating off into a terrifying world of crazies. I had given my mind to Melvin."
Finally, Herland came up with a financier, Peter Sprague, a man born into the American industrial aristocracy who liked to think he had a radical image. Timothy Leary, on the run from prison, turned up at the Hesse-Jung Summer Institute, and Fishman had the notion of screen-testing him for the part of Harry Haller. They introduced him to Sprague, who liked him, but Leary blew it by dropping two Sunshine tabs on Sprague, who had a bad trip and had to be cooled out with a handful of valium and a copy of the Financial Times. He called Leary "that perverter of mankind".
Finally, after seven years, shooting began. Haines took the director's chair, stoked up on the Ritalin which had come gift-wrapped. "We're film fans," said the head of one of the many pharmaceutical companies based in Basle. "We're drug fans," Fishman replied. The cast was a formidable European roll-call: Max von Sydow as tortured Haller; Dominique Sanda, a favourite of Bertolucci and Visconti, the androgynous Hermine; and Pierre Clementi, in his first role since Belle de Jour and two years' incarceration on a dope charge, as Pablo, "exotic demi-god of love". None was a native English speaker. The early special effects have a magic long since lost in the onslaught of computer animation. See Pablo pick up a hologram of Hermine and crumple her up like paper.
Behind the scenes there was trouble among the producers. Herland ran off with the cutting copy and refused to part with it until Sprague paid up, but this meant finally relinquishing any further control he and Fishman might have had. What followed became a marketing disaster. Eighty prints were struck but the colours were wrong, and Sanda's brilliant blue eyes became brown. It adds strangely to the film's other-worldly quality.
By now, Fishman, who had suffered a minor heart attack after taking a Christmas speedball, swung between desperate hope and total despair. His fantasy was in the can, but he'd lost control of it. No one knew quite how broke he was. Two years later, still with Herland, still trying to get their film back from Sprague, who had stuck it away on a shelf somewhere, it was fade-out for Fishman. He had another heart attack, this time fatal, and died with 20 Swiss francs in his pocket, no dream left to dream.