Dear You

Paige K. Bradley on Backstage (2005) and Der Fan (1982)

Emmanuelle Bercot, Backstage, 2005, 35 mm, color, sound, 112 minutes. Lucie (Isild Le Besco) and Lauren (Emmanuelle Seigner).

HOW LUXURIOUS TO BE ALONE in a theater for a double-bill screening of two love-rhymes-with-hideous-car-wreck films at Spectacle Theater. French director and actor Emmanuelle Bercot’s Backstage (2005) and German director and writer Eckhart Schmidt’s Der Fan (1982) suggest that fandom, like a diamond, is forever. In each, the center of gravity is a younger girl pining for an older pop star, seeing her idol as the physical embodiment of the love that she longs for—at least as a one-way ticket out of banality.

Horror makes a major of the minor, an opera out of suggestion, and treats fantasy as if crime were the inevitable result of dreams coming true. Backstage’s teen Lucie (a twentysomething Isild Le Besco) first encounters her stage god Lauren Waks (Emmanuelle Seigner) after her mother arranges a visit from a television crew. They invade the unsuspecting fan’s home and surprise her, SWAT-like. Sometimes seduction looks like terrorism: Lucie is distraught by the appearance of Lauren; tears flow and she flees from the singer after being gently prompted to give the cameras a better show. She retreats to her bedroom—where there is, what else, a wall-spanning poster of the glowing creature just outside her door—and the crew decides to cut their losses and pack up. Lauren takes pity on the young fan, a note is slipped under the bedroom door to the star, and Lucie slumps on the floor, defeated.

Emmanuelle Bercot, Backstage, 2005, 35 mm, color, sound, 112 minutes. Lucie (Isild Le Besco) and Lauren (Emmanuelle Seigner).

Lucie runs out on her berating mother, then departs for Paris to meet Lauren once more. She prods the idol’s vulnerability for pills and human connection outside of her menagerie of paid subordinates. The fan has listened so well—she knows the star better than the star can know herself. A smoking-hot ex-boyfriend of Lauren’s, named Daniel (Samuel Benchetrit), eventually precipitates the end of their solidarity.

There are three reasons that girls want to use your cock: roll out the dough; walk among the stars; get bored, distracted.

Lucie seduces Daniel to ingratiate herself in Lauren’s future, by carrying to term the star’s hopes for a love child—a collab between her and Daniel—that ended in abortion the first go-around with D. Lucie “comes out” to Daniel—not as gay or straight, but as a fan. That is her true orientation, the ledge from which she casts her line. While watching Backstage, it never once occurred to me that what I was seeing was a queer love story, or an examination of attraction between women. What was being played out was calculated confidence stroking the trembling dissonance of youth. Worship is the original kink, and it’s totally timeless.

Emmanuelle Bercot, Backstage, 2005, 35 mm, color, sound, 112 minutes. Lucie (Isild Le Besco).

Todd Haynes once said his luminous 2015 film Carol articulated what it is to be “young and in the dark and falling in love with someone.” Backstage is the anti-Carol, which is to say, this is about what it is to be young, desperate, harshly lit, and destroying yourself for someone who is simply not available. Surrounded by noise, how can you love someone who makes you forget yourself? Then you remember, that’s what you wanted from love in the first place.

While Backstage is extraordinary and breathless, the deadpan Der Fan thrives on the soupy atmosphere of fantasy gunking up the view of a world outside obsession’s narrow frame. A love supreme moves through the titular fan, Simone (a seventeen-year-old Désirée Nosbusch), living in West Germany in the 1980s. She adores R—a stone-faced idol played by a new-wave singer in his thirties named Bodo Staiger. On her bedroom wall is a poster of him abutting crowds of what appear to be Sieg Heiling masses. Sylvia Plath was right: “Every woman adores a Fascist, / The boot in the face, the brute.” And most entertainers operate, to some degree, in the power structure of fascism: Try to tell me you don’t think of the Third Reich every time a full arena screams someone’s name. Or, isn’t there someone out there you’d rather be stomped on by, instead of all the hugs in the world from basic b’s?

Eckhart Schmidt, Der Fan, 1982, 35 mm, color, sound, 89 minutes. R (Bodo Steiger).

R doesn’t reply to her incessant fan letters, failing to cement their bond. Our Lady of Correspondence interprets this lack as the postal service’s conspiracy against her, and she gives the Marvelettes a run for their money by skipping pleading altogether and simply bullying Mr. Postman. So Simone hitchhikes to Munich to track him down. She finds him swishing around a television station in a black SS officer–like getup, with jodhpurs whose volume suggests he might be overcompensating. He seemingly takes a liking to his nearly silent admirer; they go back to his friend’s place and he lays into her. When the deed is done, his strategic warmth evaporates into chilled disdain. Shocked by his attempt to exit the house, her life, the universe she has built with him at the center, she whacks the back of his skull with a foyer trophy. Unspeakable moves, which include an electric carving knife and a pot on the stove, follow. To be blunt, she gets her fill and ends up back at mum and dad’s, secretly pregnant. Talk about anchor babies! The R she loved didn’t exist, so she destroyed what was left. Songs aren’t contracts between a singer and individual listeners, but the real fan makes a dotted line and signs anyway.

Lauren’s last song in Backstage is performed at a concert Lucie watches on TV, back at her mother’s house in the French suburbs along with her newborn baby by Lauren via Daniel. It goes: “Lucie is drunk on tears / All she knows about me by heart / Lucie doesn’t break and Lucie weeps.” Another loser anthem.

Eckhart Schmidt, Der Fan, 1982, 35 mm, color, sound, 89 minutes. Simone (Désirée Nosbusch).

Backstage and Der Fan screened on December 2, 6, 13, and 16, 2017, at Spectacle in Brooklyn.