A Der Fan Screening Reminded Me of the Importance of Going to the Movies

R on a TV set in 1982 German film Der Fan.
Seeing Der Fan in a theater beats watching it at home.

There’s a moment in Der Fan, when it’s obvious that something is extremely not right about Simone. A cute, teenage boy who clearly has a thing for the protagonist of this 1982 German film hands her a cassette tape. She rejects the tape so casually that I practically gasped while sitting in the front row of a screening at Alamo Drafthouse

Before this point in the movie, we already know that Simone is a little too into the pop star R. She also has some clear anger management issues, which is usually directed at anyone she perceives as getting in the way of her fascination with said pop star. Still, maybe you can chalk that up to being a teenager. Maybe. But, rejecting a mix tape from an IRL age-appropriate boy? Who does that? Simone, obviously, since she only has eyes for R and, from there, the story gets far more twisted. 

I had never seen Der Fan before that screening. It stuck with me in the days that followed the event, which I suppose is a sign of an impactful work of art. There’s a lot packed into this movie about power dynamics, about the lengths that a fan will go to in order to connect with their idols and how those idols take advantage of that kind of star worship. 

I keep thinking about the movie with a 2023 mind, relating it to stans, celebrities and brands that may as well be celebrities and the all-too-close relationship between all of them online. Maybe real life disturbs me more than Der Fan. It’s kind of a toss-up. But, that’s not the point of this post. The point is that I almost missed out on the screening. 

Earlier that day, for a few minutes, I thought that I might have to cancel my plans, which wouldn’t mean just flaking on a movie I could probably rent, but on the friend who was hosting the screening and invited me when we were hanging out at a show the prior weekend. 

It had been one of those weeks with too many deadlines and one of those days where I was stuck waiting around to hear back from people, filling in the time by scrolling, which rendered me more bleary-eyed than I should have been in the late afternoon. Even the coffee wasn’t helping.  

Fuck, I thought, I really don’t want to miss the movie. It will be the second I’ve seen in a theater since the pandemic. The first was Dune and the reason I haven’t seen any others has nothing to do with crowded rooms and everything to do with days like this one. The last minute work obligations and subsequent canceled plans happen a little too often. I used to just sigh and tell myself it’s the consequence of the career path I chose, but that excuse is getting old. 

I also really don’t want to be the flake, because that situation is also getting old. Like, what am I going to say, “I’m busy?” I’m stuck in an endless scroll while waiting for something that will probably take less than a half-hour to finish and, when it’s done, I’ll have nothing better to do than continue scrolling. 

So, I sent my friend a text saying that I’ll probably be late. I finally got the work thing, took care of it as fast as possible and ran out the door at around 6 p.m. relieved that I would only be ordinary late.  Then, by some Metro miracle, the bus showed up just five minutes after I reached the stop, hit no traffic and made few stops between my neighborhood and the Jewelry District. I was actually going to be on time. 

Once I hopped off the bus, the memories of the workday began to fade and, a couple hours later, when the lights dimmed inside the theater and Der Fan began, they were wiped from my brain. Now, I was invested in this other world where the fashion is a little cooler than in American films of the same era and the pop star is played by Bodo Steiger from Rheingold, the Neue Deutsche Welle band that also provided the soundtrack for Der Fan. I’m entranced by the music— dark synthpunk with hints of a Can influence— because it does such a good job of capturing the unease that grows as the film heads towards its terrifying climax. 

(You can hear Rheingold in my latest Beatique mix.)

Meanwhile, I’m wondering who the biggest creep in the film is because, outside of R’s assistants, there aren’t really any sympathetic characters here. Yeah, Simone is one scary fan, but R is a manipulative shit. 

But, I can’t think about the movie for too long because, as the end nears, the story gets wilder and scarier— The King of Comedy is tame in comparison— and I can feel my eyes widen and stomach turn with shock and disbelief. Der Fan is rollercoaster of a movie, even if you’ve read enough of the Wikipedia entry to (sort of) know how it ends. 

When the film does ends, we step outside of the theater and immediately start talking about it. Experiences like these, watching a movie with your phone nowhere in sight and talking about it with people in person after it’s over, feel more and more like a luxury. I realize how grateful I was just for being able to make it out of the apartment that night. 

Check out Los Angeles-based DJ Liz O. at one of her upcoming gigs.