Peter Sempel’s “Dandy” is an intellectually pretentious, though never boring, meditation on decadence and anomie in the postindustrial world. Employing the logic of an extended musicvideo, it’s an underground pic of extremely limited appeal. Though not a typical cult movie, Sempel’s purely imagistic and sensory work would still be best appreciated as a midnight movie experience.
Sempel claims Voltaire’s “Candide” as its literary inspiration, but with graftings of the anarchic and nihilistic philosophy of Wim Wenders, sans the humor and irony. Pic’s title derives from the song “Death Is a Dandy on a Horse, ” which Blixa Bargeld sings with angst and gusto at the film’s beginning and end.
Obsessed with alienation and the end of the world, “Dandy” is pregnant with heavy symbolism and simplistic allegories.
Recurrent metaphoric close-ups of a dead fish and a butterfly captured in a wine goblet are extended, as the real butterfly is crosscut with a human one, veteran Japanese performer Kazuo Ohno, who dances a pas de deux with his son Yoshito to Jessye Norman’s exquisite rendition of “City Called Heaven.”
Unfortunately, the continuous flow of inventive images and sounds is too often interrupted by a superfluous and unnecessary narration about the nuclear threat, violence and torture. Brief philosophical assertions are made about the meaning of life and death, alienation and the dialectical relationship between life and art.
Intermittently entertaining, “Dandy” features some of Germany’s most eccentric underground figures, such as Nick Cave singing the blues and Nina Hagen making faces at the camera.
True to its postmodern, global, intercultural sensibility, film contains stunning shots of Berlin, London, Cairo, the Himalayas, Marrakech and other exotic places. Pic’s kaleidoscopic nature–West meets East–is also reflected in the blend of music and style.
Production values are only moderate, with original 16mm images blown up to 35 mm.
Though plotless and disjointed, “Dandy” is not shapeless, as it is unified by the continuity of characters and the lively soundtrack, which is its best feature.
Made in 1988 and thus a bit dated, “Dandy” is an experimental movie that displays a distinctly German sensibility, one that cannot be found in avant-garde American pix, past or present.