With Manuel Rubey, Patricia Aulitzky, Christian Tramitz, Martin Loos, Nicholas Ofczare, and Susi Stach; Directed by Thomas Roth; Not Rated (but not for kids, and for many reasons); 109 minutes
Austrian pop sensation Falco (born Johann Hölzel in 1957) lived larger-than-life, an MTV “Behind The Music” program just waiting to happen. Now, in the form of the biopic FALCO: VERDAMMT, WIR LEBEN NOCH! (“Dammit, We’re Still Alive!”), the English-speaking world can now know fairly well the man behind “Der Kommisar” and the #1 international smash (and in our opinion, the best song of the 1980s), “Rock Me Amadeus,” even if some of it is lost in translation.
If Europe ever had an Elvis Presley, it was Falco, and it is a parallel not lost on writer-director Thomas Roth (“Kaliber Deluxe”). From Falco being the only surviving triplet (Elvis had a stillborn twin), to growing up impoverished with a domineering mother to dying shortly after age 40, the similarities were as numerous as one needs them to be. It is from that artist-as-tormented-pop-god perspective that Roth tells his story, and admirably, without a hint of snark or irony.
Actor Manuel Rubey’s other gig as a singer for the Austrian rock band Mondscheiner prepares him well for the role of Falco, specifically in the number of Falco songs he performs with uncanny accuracy. One glaring problem, however, is the lack of subtitles during the songs. For the uninitiated non-German-speaking, it is difficult to discern what Falco is singing about, which detracts from the understanding of why he resonated with audiences as strongly as he did. It also confuses when it comes to the controversy surrounding the hit “Jeanny,” which was the story of a young girl gone missing (and possibly murdered), told through the eyes of a rapist. Still, Rubey’s cult of personality is appropriately strong. He owns the role, and with just as much flair as Axel Herrig had when he played Falco in the gonzo 2000 stage musical “Falco Meets Amadeus.”
For two people as influential as Danish producers Rob and Ferdi Bolland – the dynamic duo behind 1986’s album-for-the-ages, “Falco 3” – they are given little attention. Falco refers to them with disdain, repeatedly calling them “cheese heads” (a derogatory moniker for Netherlanders). This attitude characterized Falco’s tumultuous relationship with the überproduktor brothers, but in that they are never seen on-screen, they are little more than the singular caricature of a boogeyman. It seems that there was a dynamic there that would have made for some interesting drama. Instead, the narrative focuses on the usual – the desperate need for Falco to be heard and break through, the sudden fame and wealth, the troubles with women, the emotional isolation. Hey, isn’t that what “Pink Floyd: The Wall” was all about? (More parallels!)
Anyone keen to dismiss Falco, who is sometimes referred to as “the first white rapper,” as a clownish footnote should give this standard yet passionate docudrama a try. ’80s aficionados will appreciate the period authenticity and the love that went into telling the story of a misunderstood talent, who, like the Mozart of his biggest hit, was a superstar, he was popular, he was so exalted (because he had flair), he was a virtuoso, was a rock idol – and everyone shouted, “Come on and rock me Amadeus!”•••
Robert Newton is the editor of North Shore Movies. He is also a novelty recording artist and runs The Cape Ann Community Cinema in Gloucester, MA. He would totally produce an English-language documentary about Falco if he were given the resources.