By Don Simpson | April 27, 2011
Director: Thomas Roth
Writer: Thomas Roth
Starring: Manuel Rubey, Nicolas Ofczarek, Christian Tramitz, Patricia Aulitzky, Susi Stach
Born on February 19, 1957 as Johann (Hans) Hölzel, Falco is revered by many Austrians and Germans as the European Elvis. In the United States, however, Falco is typically considered a one-hit wonder (his one hit, for those of you who were living under a rock in the 1980s, being “Rock Me Amadeus”).
Writer-director Thomas Roth’s casting of Manuel Rubey (singer for the Austrian rock band Mondscheiner) in the 11th hour to portray Hölzel/Falco turns out to be the saving grace of Falco: The Rise and Fall of an 80’s Pop Icon. Told as a straight-forward bio-pic, Roth begins with Hölzel’s childhood, showing his early fascination with music (especially pop music) and brothels; it also allows us to hear Hölzel’s mother (Susi Stach) tell him: “Nothing comes from nothing…be able to look at your own reflection and keep those who love you near at hand.” (The inclusion of this statement is not without purpose.)
Roth then goes on to chronicle Hölzel’s early days as a bassist for the Viennese band, Drahdiwaberl, to his meteoric rise as Falco, the overnight pop phenomena. Falco reveals that Hölzel adopted his solo moniker from the famous East German ski jumper, Falko Weißpflog; notes that Hölzel rebelliously chose to sing in his native German tongue (as Hölzel explains: “we speak German all day, but put a guitar in our hands and we start reproducing English-language pop culture”); points out many similarities between Elvis and Falco; and contends with Hölzel’s rocky-at-best relationship with Jacqueline (Patricia Aulitzky) and their daughter (Magdalena Achleitner).
We then witness Falco’s fall from grace, which triggers his downward spiral into a life saturated with booze and drugs; and since Roth begins Falco with Hölzel’s fatal car wreck, we already know how this rollercoaster of a bio-pic is going to end. (The iconic Grace Jones appears as the waitress who witnesses Hölzel’s accident.) Falco was two weeks shy of his 41st birthday when he died in the Dominican Republic on February 6, 1998.
Besides Rubey’s spot-on portrayal of Hölzel/Falco, Falco also gets the set and costume design perfect (somehow they were even able to use the original Drahdiwaberl outfits!). We see Hölzel’s transition from a shaggy-haired glam rocker to the über-chic, thin white…rapper?! Roth really nails the musical and stylistic excesses of the 1980s as he recreates several of Falco’s music videos and live performances — this is where Rubey’s ingenuity really comes in handy. (Rob and Ferdi Bolland, the Danish producers behind Falco 3, assisted in the rerecording of Falco’s songs for this film.) As someone who has never paid much mind to Falco, these performances make it difficult not to notice similarities between Hölzel’s Falco persona and the stage images of David Bowie, David Byrne and Ralf Hütter (Kraftwerk).
Unfortunately, Roth’s plot and narrative seem a bit thin. It seems as though the sole purpose of Falco is to portray Hölzel as a tormented artist/pop god, and Roth seems intent on convincing us that behind Hölzel’s arrogant persona there was a sensitive (but complicated) person. It is also worth pointing out that even though Roth’s script is based mostly on biographical facts, the dialogue and the details are pure fabrication.
Roth’s film, originally titled Falco – Verdammt, wir leben noch! (which translates to Falco – Damn, we’re still alive!), was released in Austria on February 7, 2008. Strand Releasing recently released Falco: The Rise and Fall of an 80’s Pop Icon on DVD in the United States. Being that Falco’s notoriety waned so quickly in the United States, I will be curious to see how Stateside audiences react to Roth’s film.