Calling it a day in Neon Hell: Night City (2015)




    Life is like a B-picture script. It’s that corny. If I had my life story offered to me to film, I’d turn it down.
    (Kirk Douglas)


Dennis Vehlen pulls down the blinds allowing the sun to enter his room at their own discretion and immediately their pitch black fabric transforms into a solely focussed projection surface for dreams, nightmares and longings not properly assignable to both of these two poles. On show – the credits sequence: Fleeting glimpses of life hush by from all sides, blurring pans or camera movements rapidly connect a variety of yet to be explored places and faces. A preview of what lies in store for us – life flashing before your eyes, but you’re not dead yet. Just hop in!

Vehlen is Paul, a young nightwatchman based in Night City, a strange place whose internal workings operate just as fleeting as the credits implied, or is it perhaps based in him? There’s a reoccurring theme quickly established over the course of just a few expository minutes: Projections. Those split seconds of complete tenebrosity return a couple of times, as if acting as chapter stops, in regular intervalls, less frequently as the film progresses, but always evident. “Charley, you know, I saw a beautiful girl today.”, brings Paul to his cats knowledge, then he menacingly raises his finger in our face and presses the switch on their side of the TV set. What follows these temporal interruptions might or might not be a dream, him fantasizing about a girl and the way of life he embarks on to impress her. Vehlen keeps his cards to himself but not his references, most interludes separated by associative darkness channel different genres or even mediums. At night boredom sets the filmic torrent in motion – synth waves right out of an 80’s action film stoke up a fire in the confines of dull duty: Paul munching Pizza like he’s Cobra Cobretti (Sylvester Stallones character from George P. Cosmatos’ ultraviolent “Cobra” [1986]), Paul with decidedly not safe for work 3D glasses, Paul striding back and forth through endlessly empty corridors, the clanging of beats emerging from from under his ever-moving heels. Paul, Paul, Paul – a one man show, there seems to be not single person to truly interact with him wherever he goes.

Until one day, witnessing a robbery progresses into being robbed himself, the go-ahead to an increasingly episodic escalation structure of various encroachments. After all, in cinema you have to safe a girl from something to get her – even if it means causing the ruckus yourself. The rhythm of highlight centric music videos is the wild pumping heart of “Night City” – there might be calm anchor in form of innocuous girl/boy talk from time to time, but before long the music unexpectedly kicks in, flying legs and Paul is attacked by another group of muggers he quite effortlessly slaughters. Without much preparation or training, just like kicking ass were a state of mind and body you simply slip in, empowered by beats and the joyous sprinkle of CGI blood. Likewise early on a different stream of consciousness is introduced: Two police officers attracted to the arterial spray but not on Paul’s trail yet. It’s their interactions where the other important distortion device of importance emits its most notable shine. Despite having been lensed in Germany by a German filmmaker and crew employing German actors, all dialogue in “Night City” consists of overdubs, egroriously artificial overdubs. Because in the end, English is the universal language of celluloid dreams and horrendous dub work for foreign pictures alike. Mostly a tribute to his deeply treasured grindhouse roots and their most abundant form of presentation on Vehlen’s part, there’s still more to this.

A warning sign – the real treasure are to be found elsewhere, words mirror their speakers and these two indulge in the most lunkheaded conversations around. Amidst action pathos infused embroideries of men, they’re comic book caricatures stuck in an awkward 80’s buddy cop loop, their arc looking like “Miami Vice” drenched in an extra layer of treacherous neon garnished with a hamburger permanently stuck in the pathologist’s mouth. This plane is evidently irreal, what about Paul’s? With naturalness of alien delivery acting as a gauge for the slipping scales of reality, it sure seems tender and tangible enough when he’s talking to his future crush Cindy (Jana Jungbluth) in a burger joint. At night. As soon as he is imagining another existence at daytime, conversations detoriate into tottery one liners (“You got a fucking problem, pal?” – “The name’s Paul, and I’m not your pal.”) and crossover mechinations materialize. His nosy glance makes the camera dash straight to the right in a prolonged sideways curve towards a man to the right of a bar counter who immediately reciprocates with an imitation of this behavior aimed at the left . Both curves collide mid air and bang – there’s trouble brewing. If you want no part in it, angers just going to materialize through Vehlen’s external manipulations in this world. He thinks film with the eyes and eyes are what introduces us to players on the field. That other man from the bar is Nick (Sunga Weineck), Cindy’s pimp – “He was looking at me.”, she explains to him in vain while the camera runs sideways again from her face to Paul’s studying eyes further down the street, in an otherwise empty frame, just like he’s not really there, but focussing on something in a mental void. Perhaps he’s even at home, in the little flat that acts as a central hub, the connector to divergent dreamscapes.

Why Paul turns violent is never properly explained, it’s of no real interest. He who curiously shares his first name with Charles Bronson’s architect turned street sweeper from the long-running “Death Wish” franchise (1974 – 1994) is not a struggling man eventually broken by the brutal anarchy surrounding him but an inherently violent character. Not a true vigilante, just like Nick doesn’t seem like he’s cut from quite the same material cruel movie macks are – the latter is merely a blockage to the former’s rampant property claims. “Night City” eagerly embraces part of the vigilante film tradition to reject it at a later date. Obsessing over something – that’s what it is really and that something is a woman, Cindy. She is what Paul expects at the end of his own gloomy rainbow, a progression of villains seldom brought up or even ackknowledged past their demise. Wrong tracks laid for us but not the two cops roadmapping a shadowy dreamworld from inside. Suddenly Paul is everywhere, like figments of the imagination, a veritable army of vigilantes felling thugs left and right in schismatic encounters rupturing any claims to reality once and for all. Night comes with growing rarity, then abruptly like the permanent darkness brought onto a mugger lying wounded on the ground, life lights hushed from above. By a naive asking his love: “Are you a waitress or something?”

Different versions of Paul populate their own planes of existence: the one he’d like to be, the one he neither is nor desires to be and the most flimsical variant, the one that really exists. A mysterious entity puzzled together from all incarnations, an entity featuring one prominent trait: Misogyny. “Maybe that’s what I wanna do.” – a sentiment about her job even soft-spoken appartment Paul doesn’t take kindly to – “Angel is not good for you – I am.” And soon said colleague is strangled to death after being contemptiously, every flicker his intent glare discernible in close up, lectured by him. “You don’t have to be a whore to pay the rent.” While film vigilantes like Paul Kersey close to always turn more irritable and non-discriminatory in their crime expurging sprees, committing cathartic murder can’t corrupt a man who’s not really committing any at all. Our Paul is simply boiling over, filled to a burstin’ with repressed thoughts and desires. At first he only seems like much more of a threat to prostitutes and women in general than the actual pimps and low-lifes about in scant moments hinting at actuality, then he actually becomes it. “Night City” is above all else a reflection on the “only decent girl”-trope employed in a variety of narratives dealing with a corrupted society or whole world and the latent sex worker bias ingrained in it.

Helplessly nightwatchman Paul – the real Paul? – looks on when he stumbles upon a rape scene at his work place in the film’s centerpiece. Is this his fist factual encounter with with violence? Or is all we’ve witnessed before true after all and the killing machine in him believes the woman to be deserving of her fate? A switch among perspectives and in the next shot centered around him Paul is suddenly not brandishing his work clothes anymore but black leather coat, gloves and pumpgun – trusted uniform of every incel spree killer. Barely enough time is granted to blow the rapist away before a cut to the dead man has Paul emerging as masked serial killer who promptly executes the victim himself. The young dreamer, the vigilante, the mad butcher, as the radio calls him – all fragments of his mind co-exist for a brief moment in time. Cut. We’re back at the flat, everything’s fine – a nightmare, nothing else. Who is real? There’s a pronounced difference in the way Vehlen treats the killing on-screen, juxtaposing a supposed deliverer of cold-blooded justice with someone too squeamish to not feel shocked by his own urges, the glowing red blood on his hands. What is real – is anything at all?

Disparate strands sewn together in just the right increments, neither too obvious nor too disjointed, on point. They closely resemble the two not really entwined stories told in “Night City” who hit each other headfront eventually after a series of close misses. By the time the trails of hunters and hunted finally combine, it becomes increasingly clear what we ourselves are lacking: Interpretational sovereignty – it is lying in Cindy’s and Paul’s hands alone. They plainly dictate now that one of the cops is actually a major sleaze and predator as well to frame Paul as the hero of a third story. While we have no previously established reason to believe so, an appropriately tinted, monochromatic flashback says otherwise. Everything is subject to change in an unstable mind tiled entirely with impressions from old movies. “Night City” is the story of a man whose saviour fantasies ultimately don’t work out for him, an enthralling and far to observant to be based on third-party observations alone glimpse into the mindset of “the nice guy”. In this it is surprisingly relevant for a no-budget film experiment made in 2015, back when the links between this sort of bearing and aggressive incel communities were still largely ignored by the cultural mainstream.


Night City – Germany 2015 – 105 Minuten – Direction: Dennis Vehlen – Production: Ingeborg & Dennis Vehlen – Screenplay: Dennis Vehlen – Cinematography: Stephan Franz – Editing: Dennis Vehlen – Music: Prof. Zonic Zynth – Cast: Dennis Vehlen, Jana Jungbluth (as “Jana Lisa Neuber”), Nina Rauterkuß, Kai Henschel, René de la Vigne, Sunga Weineck u.v.a.


Dieser Beitrag wurde am Dienstag, Dezember 31st, 2019 in den Kategorien Ältere Texte, André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Essays, Filmbesprechungen, other languages veröffentlicht. Sie können alle Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag über den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können diesen Beitrag kommentieren, oder einen Trackback von ihrer eigenen Seite setzen.

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