There is a surprising number of filmmakers who have made only one film. And, beyond that, it’s even more surprising how many of those one-off titles are actually great. The ones that get mentioned often: Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, Saul Bass’s Phase IV, Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers; and those that rarely get mentioned: Nelson Lyon’s The Telephone Book (my personal favorite film of the 1970s), Barbara Loden’s Wanda, James William Guercio’s Electra Glide In Blue. All of the respective filmmakers likely have a reason for never making another film, but they do have one thing in common: their films were relatively accessible – some much more than others – and usually in an iteration identical or very close to the original. That can’t really be said for Gerald Kargl’s singular directorial effort, Angst. Kargl made one film, an absolute beast of one at that, and it became relatively inaccessible outside of its native Austria and (seemingly randomly) France – under the title Schizophrenia – especially in an unaltered cut. But, thanks to Cult Epics, that’s no longer the case.
Watching Angst more than twenty years after its 1983 release, it’s not all too difficult to see why it wasn’t the easiest film to get out there. It has achieved a sort of cult reputation for being visceral and “extreme” but it – even in its uncensored form – feels rather tame, at least in its explicitness. However, what it lacks in viscera, it more than makes up for in doing everything it can to make the viewer feel as if they’re watching something that they absolutely shouldn’t be. The film is very loosely based on Austrian serial killer Werner Kniesek and stars Erwin Leder as a Kniesek inspired, though nameless, killer that is released from prison only to spend his first 24 hours free doing utterly abhorrent shit. And he tells us all about it with glee.
Kargl’s film is an odd one. It may even be safe to say that there’s nothing else quite like it. We have seen other films that attempt to channel the mind of a killer since – Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Man Bites Dog, American Psycho – with even more explicit results than seen here. But Kargl does something that the filmmakers don’t: he involves the audience. There are two things that viewers seem to take for granted in narrative cinema: silence and stillness. I’m not talking silent cinema and/or extremely long takes, I’m just speaking of typical pauses in dialogue and a rhythm that tends to come with editing. Kargl seems to have no use for this. If Leder isn’t busy telling the audience what he’s thinking – usually having something to do with sexual and/or violent urges – the pulsing, synth heavy score from Klaus Schulze (once a member of Tangerine Dream) takes control. And this is all complimented by the constantly moving camera of Zbigniew Rybczynski, which seems only to pause in the most severe moments, allowing the audience to really feel the arterial spray and vomit.
Angst isn’t an easy film to watch. Duh. But it isn’t the extreme cinema litmus test that it may have been hyped up to be either. Actually, it’s an exceptionally well made character study that is far more austere than it is juvenile and it never relies on its excesses to succeed. It’s as visionary (I really fucking hate saying that) a debut film as any mentioned in the opening paragraph and every bit as sad a final film as the lot too. It’s easy to wonder what Kargl would have done next had he made another film, but when your only film is as good as Angst, it’s perhaps best to quite while you’re ahead.
Cult Epics have finally made Angst available in an uncensored, English friendly version for (what I can tell) is the first time ever on disc. It has been on Blu-ray already in Europe, but that disc only offered French subtitles which doesn’t really help us here. From what I can gather, that release is also uncut. Cult Epics recently rolled this new restoration out on a US theatrical tour, which I unfortunately didn’t get to see, and it looks really great. Angst isn’t the prettiest movie ever made and it is mostly comprised of dimly lit interiors and unsightly exteriors, with a very dark and grainy appearance throughout. I’m not sure of the provenance of the source used, but I can’t imagine this looking any better than it does here. I’ve only ever seen it on VHS prior and to say that the experience is night and day would be an understatement. It’s worth noting that the most often censored scene (which was darkened by Kargl rather than removed) has been restored here and you can absolutely make out what is happening. More information on the censorship of Angst can be found here, it’s a good read. Audio is in the form of 5.1 and 2.0 DTS HD MA German tracks as well as a 2.0 French track, all with optional English subtitles. I opted for the 2.0 German which is the most faithful and it sounded great with no distortion or hissing present. From what I listened to the 5.1, it sounded balanced but the music is much more bombastic. Very high marks for presentation here.
If having the film uncut and in HD wasn’t already enough, Cult Epics have put together a great supplemental package as well. To start with, they have included a very handsome 40 page book that includes interviews with Kargl and Leder and archival stills/publicity materials. It’s the type of extra we seldom see anymore save for the most prestigious titles and it shows that Cult Epics really sees the value in having this one finally available to the (at least English speaking) public. On the disc itself, we start with an optional 7 minute prologue and 5 minute Gaspar Noe introduction prior to the feature. The prologue offers some back story as to why Leder’s character was in prison and is pretty superfluous, the Noe intro is fun and casual and even offers some brief history on the distribution of the film itself. The big extra here is feature commentary with Kargl who is very talkative and informative. Nothing is left out here with Kargl going into great detail of the production and distribution of the film. It’s a really great track. After that we get a 20 minute interview with Leder, a 27 minute interview with Kargl and a 35 minute interview with Rybczynski. All of the interviews are worthwhile with Kargl’s containing quite a bit of the same information as his commentary does, Leder’s having more to do with the real life inspiration for the film than the film itself which is rather interesting and Rybczynski’s being the most technical and career spanning (and also the longest). Trailers round out the package.
Cult Epics have given us one of the most indispensable disc releases of 2015 so far. I honestly never thought that I’d see the day were Angst was released uncut, in English and in HD. The presentation is top notch and the supplemental package is exhaustive. The film itself may not be for everyone, but you likely already know if it’s for you or not. This is potent, important cinema that has been carefully restored and made accessible to a wider audience than it has ever had. Very highly recommended.