Perhaps the ultimate Freak Movie, this beyond-bizarre German phantasmagoria
features human oddities of every conceivable assortment (some natural born,
others created by prosthetic FX) in a surreal cavalcade the likes of which you
won’t see anywhere else.
Over the past decade FREAK ORLANDO has amassed notoriety as a “Lost” film.
A still in the British anthology Shock Express identifies it as, simply,
“a film you’ll never see”…oh YEAH???
FREAK ORLANDO’S creator Ulrike Ottinger is a prolific painter,
filmmaker and playwright. This, apparently her most monumental film project, is
nothing if not ambitious—inspired by Virginia Wolfe's time-tripping feminist
tract ORLANDO, the film (according to a synopsis published on Ottinger’s
website) means to present “a history of the world from its beginnings to our
day, including the errors, the incompetence, the thirst for power, the fear, the
madness, the cruelty and the commonplace, in a story of five episodes.” What
that quote doesn’t reveal is that this politically incorrect film’s world is
populated entirely by freaks. In other words, Ottinger’s aims are similar to
those of Todd Browning’s FREAKS and Werner Herzog’s
EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL: a
vision of our world as a giant freak show, a concept FREAK ORLANDO takes farther
than Browning or Herzog ever did, even if it isn’t as satisfying as those other
films (see below).
FREAK ORLANDO is divided into five more-or-less distinct sections, all
featuring “Freak” Orlando, a woman, played by the late Magdalena Montezuma (an
Ottinger regular), who appears in various guises (and deformities) throughout.
The opening scene is an arresting one, depicting a lone traveler wandering
across a barren landscape and entering the Freak City; outside its gates is a
woman who literally grows plant-like from the ground.
Part one has Freak Orlando afflicted with a cone-shaped head bearing a
third eye. Together with her seven dwarf friends, she pounds an anvil as
entertainment for the patrons of a shopping mall. She and her minions get
thrown out, though, and forced back to their home in a fairy tale forest, where
they somehow all end up inside a Trojan horse.
In part two, Freak Orlando is now a two-headed prophetess whose harmonic
kingdom is disrupted by a band of black leather wearing punks who carry around a
large, distinctly phallic cone statue and flagellate themselves constantly.
They kidnap two of Orlando’s friends, resulting in a chase back to the hated
Part three begins in the shopping mall, with Freak Orlando seduced by an
offer made by department store employees. Catching a glimpse of herself in a
mirror, she’s suddenly transported to the Spanish Inquisition, where she endures
countless tortures, eventually escaping with a band of fellow sufferers.
Part four finds Freak Orlando having changed sex. “He” falls in love with
one half of a pair of Siamese twins, but the other twin grows jealous and Mr.
Orlando, fed up with all the whining, kills both halves.
Part five takes place in a large field where Freak Orlando hosts a
“Festival of ugliness.” Crippled folks perform their various acts—which include
an amputee chorus line and a midget dance—on a stage, and then Orlando crowns
the winner with a trophy bearing the inscription: “Limping is the way of the
FREAK ORLANDO is undeniably impressive conceptually, and boasts eye-popping
set and costume design, but, like many other many playwrights who become
filmmakers, Ulrike Ottinger has fashioned more of a filmed outdoor play than a
movie (not helped by the fact that modern day scenery is always plainly, and no
doubt intentionally, visible in the background). The camera never functions as
anything more than a passive spectator to Ottinger’s admittedly brilliant
staging, and the bland photography seems better suited to a television drama.
Thus, despite its considerable virtues, FREAK ORLANDO lacks an essential
ingredient indispensable to any effective film, one that similarly minded
filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Werner Herzog intuitively possess: a
sense of cinema.
A fascinating and unique film, to be sure, but far from
the masterpiece its creator clearly intended.
Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduktion
Director/Producer/Screenplay/Cinematography: Ulrike Ottinger
Editor: Dort Volz
Cast: Magdalena Montezuma, Delphine Seyrig, Albert Heins, Claudio Pantoja, Hiro
Uschiyama, Galli, Eddie Constantine, Else Nabu, Therese Zemp, Franca Magnani,
Jackie Raynal, Maria Buchelt, Paul Glauer, Luc Alexander