In the retina of the mind's eye, video killed the radio star. Perky, poised and perfectly coiffed, these tuneful dreamboats stare out across a sea of adoring faces, none of which they can actually see. However, it isn't bright lights that blind them, but the distancing effect of the television screen, keeping the idols more than arm's length away from their adoring devotees. The most faithful of these zealous lovers know that the object of their affection can feel their gaze whenever they stare into this New Wave abyss. For they are not lost souls, hoping to connect with the artists who allow them to feel alive. They are in love, and they will be loved back.
Eckhart Schmidt’s Der Fan is an odd beast – cold, aloof, alienating and relentlessly nihilistic, it’s also a wholly affecting treatise on the hypnotic state of obsession. For Simone (Désirée Nosbusch), there is only ‘R’ (Rheingold vocalist Bodo Steiger) – the slick, gangly front man for her favorite pop group. Infatuation gives way to fixation, as she withdraws from her friends and family, strolling the streets with headphones glued to her ears. Her sun rises and sets with the singer, every hour filled with possessive fantasies of the love they’d enjoy should she just be lucky enough to get in the same room with him. Her bunk is plastered with his pictures, the crooner’s dark eyes looking down on the sick girl as she sleeps like some sort of Kraftwerk angel. Simone scribbles amorous dispatches to her hero and waits patiently for any sign that he’s receiving her transmissions. In her heart, there’s no doubt that they will be united, always and forever.
The unshakable sadness that forms the core of Der Fan is what causes the picture to be emotionally resonant instead of merely terrifying. Though Schmidt pushes the rather rote linear narrative into transgressive terror film territory by the final reel, Simone's heart-wrenching loneliness and despair are what leave a spiritual laceration on the viewer's soul. Nosbusch's soft brown eyes are either constantly wounded or expecting the next blow to land as she scans the terrain for reciprocation (which blinds her when it finally arrives). Hers is an existence of sleepwalking, as adults pass and wonder just what planet she exists on, because it's certainly not theirs. Meanwhile, Schmidt keeps this diminutive sad sack continually in the middle distance, never letting us get a drop on her exact emotional state. We're simply moons circling this orbit-less planet, hoping that one day she will discover a true course.
Adding a thick layer of skeez to the proceedings is the fact that Nosbusch – then a pirate radio celebrity in Germany – was only sixteen when she filmed Der Fan. Outside of making the nude scenes she shares with Steiger wildly uncomfortable, there’s an authenticity added to Simone via shared experience. This isn’t a twenty-five-year-old actress, pulling from past memories in order to sketch a teen girl’s sexual coming of age, but rather a literally lived-in bit of character building. Nosbusch was reportedly outraged when she discovered that the nudity she performed for the film was used in its marketing, and sued to try and have Schmidt’s cut barred from being released. Nosbusch’s legal battle was lost, and Schmidt’s edit remained intact, complete with the awkwardly robotic sex scene shared between Simone and R. Obvious moral difficulties aside, this is an excellent case of legitimate exploitation actually servicing the picture’s central theme, all while making you feel tremendously icky for watching.
Though the final, cannibalistic consummation of Simone and R's love is ghastly, it's also incongruously relatable for anyone who has found themselves in the throes of depressive preoccupation. Suddenly, your self-worth is intimately tied to the object of your unhealthy adoration. When you're apart, you matter less, as your brain now devalues individuality. The only way for you to be whole is to always be in the presence of that other half; to know that they will never hurt you, never say goodbye, never hurt leave you all alone, naked and clueless as the day you were born. Simone's consumption is a “final solution” of sorts (adding an outlandish element of national commentary to the proceedings) -- a guarantee that she will never be without her love, and therefore always “complete”. Yet in Schmidt’s world, she’s permanently alone; as we are all despairing nobodies, staring at a TV screen and wishing that the beautiful people it displays are somehow gazing back at us with private eyes.