Short Cut to Hollywood
English Title: Short Cut to Hollywood
Country of Origin: Germany
Studio: Artdeluxe, Bavaria Film, Bavaria Pictures, Capture Film International, Schiwago Film
Screenplay: Jan Henrik Stahlberg
Cinematographer: David Hofmann
Runtime: 95 minutes
Language: German, English
Johannes Selinger (Stahlberg), an insurance salesmen, and his two life-long friends, Christian (Kottenkamp), an alcoholic veterinarian, and Mattias (Mittermeier), a bankrupt used-car salesman, who spend their evenings playing kitschy pop to empty bars have nothing going for them. Now in their mid-thirties, Johannes decides that they will rebrand themselves ‘John F. Salinger and the Berlin Brothers’ and seek fame in the United States. The ‘unique selling point’ of their act is to be John’s eventual death, live on television, making the man the ultimate ‘reality TV’ star and using his gradually growing celebrity to market their music. Constructed as a mock documentary, the film charts the development of the ‘John F. Salinger Show,’ as it becomes known to the world, from his initial ‘teaser’ act of self destruction – Christian amputates John’s little finger, the film of which is used to drum up media interest – through the band’s staged terrorist attack on a small-town cafe to increase the hype around the story, to a series of increasingly dramatic amputations and his final death. With fame, however, John finds love, leading him and his friends to question what they are doing, as ‘real life’ intervenes and undermines the original aim of their ‘reality’ project.
The reception of the film in Germany was overshadowed by a hoax staged by Stahlberg. On 10 September 2009, two weeks before the film was due to open and the day before the eighth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, Stahlberg contacted the German Press Agency (DPA) posing as a journalist for the fictional network KVPK-TV, reporting an attempted suicide attack on a café in the town of Bluewater, California by a German rap band dressed as Arab terrorists. Backed by reports appearing on Twitter, entries on Wikipedia, as well as videos on Youtube and Myspace, the journalist pointed the DPA to his network’s website which contained eyewitness accounts of the attack along with US contact numbers. Every aspect of this was a fiction: the television network did not exist, neither did the band. No attack took place and the numbers linked back, via Skype, to Stahlberg and his team in Germany. The hoax was quickly ‘uncovered’ as a publicity stunt for the ‘band,’ but not before hundreds of worried Germans had tried to contact emergency services, causing outrage both for the trouble the stunt produced and its timing, which was seen to be in extraordinarily bad taste. The outrage increased as it was subsequently revealed that the band publicity hoax was itself a hoax, and the stunt was aimed at promoting the film Short Cut to Hollywood.
The construction and impact of the ‘Bluewater Attack’ goes to the heart of the film, as well as Mittermeier and Stahlberg’s approach to film-making more generally. Short Cut to Hollywood is their second joint feature, following from a similarly quirky quasi-documentary about a vigilante undertaking an obsessive quest to correct the minor misdemeanours of his fellow citizens, Quiet as a Mouse (2004), a film which also adopted ‘guerilla’ tactics –epitomized by the ‘Bluewater Attack’ – in both its production and marketing. In their second feature, however, such tactics become the very point of the film itself. For the directors:
Form has beaten content. No one asks ‘why?’ anymore. And if another unknown television personality lies down in a terrarium full of spiders no one laughs at him for being an idiot. Instead he just sells twice as many records.
Thus, the film explores the very status of ‘reality’ in ‘reality TV’, repeatedly pushing the boundaries of what the audience finds acceptable. This begins with the representation of the first amputation of John’s little finger, an operation presented in horrific detail. As the narrative unfolds, we become more accepting of the film’s premise and so John’s further self-mutilation becomes less shocking. Consequently, the film resorts to other tactics to challenge its own narrative logic, including John’s gratuitous performance of Hitler in response to a Jewish television executive’s request that he refrain from smoking, the man’s father having died of lung cancer. There is no reason for a specifically anti-Semitic plot twist here, other than to shock, breaking the audience out of its now comfortable suspension of disbelief and reminding us of the ‘real’ world outside the theatre.
Author of this review: Paul Cooke