Review: Eight Miles High

The world moves alarmingly on, but we remain the same, as continually locked down by one mode of living as another.

Eight Miles High
Photo: Dokument Films

Uschi Obermaier may have cut an extraordinary figure in the late 1960s European counterculture—as irresistible to her high-profile lovers as she was incapable of being contained by any of them—but there is little in Achim Bornhak’s tepid biopic of the legendary groupie to suggest what any of the fuss was about. As played by Natalia Avelon, an actress possessed of an intense gaze and a certain offhand sultriness but little range of expression, Obermaier is a creature of whim, in thrall to some vague notion of freedom—weakly articulated in voiceover at the film’s beginning and conclusion—but one whose perpetual lack of self-awareness undercuts anything the filmmakers may be trying to suggest about the possibilities of seeking out new modes of living. In fact, the most salient feature of Uschi’s characterization may be her near constant nudity—appropriate since it was her parents’ discovery of nude pictures that caused her to leave home and begin her storied career of modeling and copulation. Seemingly incapable of suggesting his subject’s legendary erotic force through any other means, Bornhak loads the screen with Avelon’s naked flesh in a series of shots that rarely rise above the aesthetic standard of late-night softcore. To be sure, Avelon’s physical gifts never fail to impress, but without any corresponding force of personality, it’s difficult to imagine her fitting the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to her will.

If most of the film locates Obermeier’s quest for freedom in a series of surprisingly drab drug-fueled hookups, then the final section generates slightly greater interest by suggesting an alternate route of exploration. Embarking on a worldwide bus tour with her longtime lover, the adventurer Dieter Bockhorn (David Scheller), Uschi zips from Pakistan to India to Mexico as the narrative breaks off into elliptical chunks, Bornhak cutting from 1968 to 1975 to 1983 with jolting alacrity. That the characters’ appearances remain essentially unchanged during the 15-year leap and that the filmmaker eschews any gradual transitions that might smooth over the gaps suggests the ultimate failure of seeking transformative experience. The world moves alarmingly on, but we remain the same, as continually locked down by one mode of living as another. Still, since Uschi’s freedom never meant much more than her ability to flash her tits, this final disappointment hardly feels like too great a tragedy.

 Cast: Natalia Avelon, Matthias Schweighöfer, David Scheller, Victor Norén, Milan Peschel, Georg Friedrich, Friederike Kempter, Alexander Scheer  Director: Achim Bornhak  Screenwriter: Olaf Kraemer, Achim Bornhak  Distributor: Dokument Films  Running Time: 114 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2007  Buy: Video

Andrew Schenker

Andrew Schenker is an essayist and critic living in upstate New York. His writing has appeared in The Baffler, The Village Voice, Artforum, Bookforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and others.

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