A fairly close remake with considerable fascination of its own, Laura Nix’s debut feature “The Politics of Fur” resets R.W. Fassbinder’s 1973 lesbian grand guignol “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” in the contempo L.A. music biz. Original’s perversity remains intact and then some, with wicked humor and outre perfs on tap. But current transfer of 16mm footage to video looks poor on the bigscreen, suggesting eventual shelf life as a cult home rental item as likeliest fate if upgrades aren’t made.
At risk of heresy, one could hazard “Politics of Fur” (a title never explained) actually reps improvement over Fassbinder’s pic, one of his most eccentric and misanthropic. At the very least, Nix’s effort scores points for its trim running time, where “Bitter Tears” moved like molasses at two full claustrophobic hours.
Tale’s highly stylized, even theatrical nature remains, however, with nearly all action set in superstar music producer Una’s (Katy Selverstone) tony all-white manse. Incredibly pretentious, dictatorial and self-absorbed, she’s got gay personal assistant Dick (T. Jerram Young) catering to her every whim, and a pet baby tiger for upscale-exotic cuddling.
At start she’s expecting the arrival of a biz peer’s “birthday present” — spiky-haired riot grrl B. (Brynn Horrocks), delivered for a combo audition and blind date. Duly enraptured by the surly young butch musician, Una takes B. in as her new lover-protegee.
Latter refuses to be micro-managed, however, finally stomping out when caught en flagrante with a male hustler.
Where Fassbinder often seemed to hate his all-female cast of dysfunctional characters, putting a Ross Hunter-like soap opera plot through cruel microscope dissection, Nix regards their fresh incarnations with similarly abstract yet funnier (if hardly warmer) focus. Dialogue is witty, presentation both rigorously direct and near surreal.
Selverstone delivers a formidable lead perf, worthy of comparison to the great Margit Carstensen’s original one. Hilariously vain, then titanically self-pitying, she pushes every note as far as possible while retaining striking control. Horrocks’ contrasting “female Sid Vicious” is naturalistic yet extreme in its own way, while Young is a constant hoot as the utterly compliant Dick.
Winnie Huen’s color lensing is self-consciously arty, but that approach works for pic’s pervasive ironic distance. At San Francisco Lesbian & Gay fest preem, however, image resolution was grainy and viddish. “Politics” definitely needs further processing help before it will tempt arthouse distribbers.