The Vienna Woods Killer: A Serial Killer’s Handbook

November 26th, 2008 § 0

John Leake’s book is one of those page turner pulp fiction works about the evil doings of a perverse and sadistic serial killer where the killer is always one step away from the police and doesn’t pay for his crimes.

Except it’s all true. The hero of the Vienna Woods Killer is one of the most loathsome souls to ever tread this planet. Hitler and Stalin and Beria’s soul tied up in the flesh of one nasty small chap from Styria by the name of Jack Unterweger.

jack unterwegerJack Unterweger using his favorite cover: crime writer

One of the difficulties of the story is where to begin… Should one start at the beginning with childhood and growing up? A bit drab. Or should one start near the end to raise interest and then flashback to the end.

Leake does neither. He starts somewhere in the middle and wanders forwards and back as suits the narrative. I started reading the book in the trial chapters (about two thirds) so my way through should have been even more confusing. Strangely starting in the late part of the book and then reading the middle and then the beginning wasn’t at all disturbing. A lot of the early ground was covered quite late. I was more interested in Unterweger’s celebrity games on his release – how he played Vienna’s literary and bohemian society for fools. Those escapades were well covered.

What concerns me about a book like this is that the lead character has no redeeming characteristics. Yes, he has charm and he has moderate literary gifts (seven plays and two fictional autobiographies, most produced, some best sellers). But those gifts were only ever used for deceit or manipulation. Unterweger’s primary and primal goal in life was to have the possibility to kill young women, usually after copulating with them.

He liked the feeling of power of watching life ebb out of a woman as she begged him for a mercy never to come. There were a few survivors so we know exactly how this monster went about his business. He usually targeted prostitutes but that was more a matter of circumstance. It’s nigh impossible to get away with killing people you know (more than once at least). A serial killer who wants to kill repeatedly and not get locked away should always target strangers and there are none more vulnerable than sidewalk hookers. As Leake writes: "Street prostitutes are the only women in today’s society who will get into the car of a stranger willingly."

So after spending more than three hundred pages with a monster like Jack Unterweger, how is one better enlightened or prepared for life? As a cautionary note, Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood for the 21st century. The abstinence societies in the US should buy The Vienna Woods Killer in quantity and give it to all the girls between twelve and seventeen. They’d really think thrice about getting into a car or slipping into a restroom with a hot and bothered boy or man.

The Vienna Woods Killer could be useful to law enforcement agents as a detailed case study of how a serial killer or even serial criminal can slip between agencies and end up free to strike again. The Vienna Woods Killer could be useful as propaganda for the three strikes and you’re out crowd who believes once a criminal, always a criminal, lock ’em up and throw away the key.

Worse and less ironcially, The Vienna Woods Killer could be used as a serial killer’s handbook. This Jack Unterweger guy was pretty good at it. He managed to successfully ply his trade in five cities, three countries and two continents.

For someone who is trying to make a better world or would like to believe in the good of mankind The Vienna Woods Killer has nothing to offer except darkness and pain.

The quality of the prose cannot redeem the subject matter. If you love life and/or humankind, I would recommend you stay far away from Jack Unterweger and The Vienna Woods Killer. I hope John Leake finds a more inspiring tale on which to use his considerable talents of forensic journalism. There are any numbers of cases of liberation movements suppressed by international intervention or multinationals pillaging a community. Something like the research behind Silkwood or Julia Roberts’ lawyer character.

In my particular circumstances as a foreigner strongly tied to Vienna and its bohemian life, I found the historical prism into life in the early eighties and nineties of significant professional interest. If The Vienna Woods Killer is accurate, curiously Vienna hasn’t changed much. I don’t yet share John Leake’s contempt for the Vienna pseudointellectual glam bohemia (schikerei he calls them) but perhaps I just haven’t been in Vienna long enough.

I know enough true stories from the last couple of years which might gradually persuade me as well. There’s a guy who didn’t sign the rent contract ("my name isn’t spelled right") and then changed the locks on his landlord. Abusing the pro-tenant laws of Vienna, he paid half the official rent for three years before he was finally evicted. A good Viennese family – for what that’s worth. But that is a tale for another day…

Tanz Company Gervasi: Seikes

November 25th, 2008 § 3

A splendid mixture of music, choreography and light.

Salvatore La Ferla Kenia Bernal Gonzalez Tiffany Watson
Salvatore La Ferla Kenia Bernal Gonzalez Tiffany Watson

The piece opens in near darkness. The steps develop slowly. Strange metal shades adorn the dancers’ heads.

Individual bulbs hang down from overhead. The dancers push these pools of light and then dance solos underneath.

Salvatore La Ferla Tiffany Watson Kenia Bernal Gonzalez
Salvatore La Ferla Tiffany Watson Kenia Bernal Gonzalez

For the rest of the piece, the dancers form and reform in pairs and groups and solos under these lamps. Occasionally, some of the dancers actually sing with Lars Stigler’s splendid to score – they sing in an incomprehensible language (certainly not English or German).

Salvatore La Ferla Kenia Bernal Gonzalez
Salvatore La Ferla Kenia Bernal Gonzalez

I didn’t quite understand the how or the why of when they broke into song but they sang well. The program notes mention something about Dadaistic – singing in tongues and Dadaism go together.

Leonie Wahl Salvatore La Ferla
Leonie Wahl Salvatore La Ferla

Each of the dancers has quite different technique and attributes, but all are excellent. Each dancer is beautiful in his or her own way, whether the long limbed speed of Leonie Wahl or the concentrated intensity of Kenia Bernal Gonzalez or the cool grace of Tiffany Watson or the incredibly flexibility of Salvatore La Ferla.

dancer Salvatore La Ferla
dancer Salvatore La Ferla

Gervasi’s success in Seikes is again making the quotidien magic. Gervasi takes one ordinary object and makes it extraordinary. This allows us to see the wonderful in daily life. As daily life is the only life we have besides fantasy life – whatever will allow us to see the magic is welcome. It is something like the eye of a child. Remember how incredible a microscope or a crystal ball could be? Elio Gervasi does and he lets us see it.

Tanz Company Gervasi: Seikes Continues »

Bailouts for whom? Capitalist hypocrisy stumbles

November 15th, 2008 § 0

Rather amazingly the New York Times, David Brooks manages to argue from both sides of his mouth.

He is against the bailout of the big three auto companies, but he is for the bailout of the banks:

Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi want to grant immortality to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They have decided to follow an earlier $25 billion loan with a $50 billion bailout, which would inevitably be followed by more billions later, because if these companies are not permitted to go bankrupt now, they never will be.

This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends.

This just doesn’t make any sense.

Bailouts for whom? Capitalist hypocrisy stumbles Continues »

Seven Features of the Perfect Camera for Dance Photography

November 11th, 2008 § 4

I’ve just shot quite a brilliant show – Nikolaus Adler’s Oedipus is Complex. I got some good shots but I missed a lot of the most powerful sections while shooting. Was I not paying attention? No, I was paying very close attention and watching my shots go by while withholding fire.

oedipus is complex nikolaus adler
Boris Nebyla lets loose in Nikolaus Adler’s Oedipus is complex
Shot with Canon 20D and Canon 50mm 1.4 1/160 sec f2.2 ISO800

What happened then?

Shutter noise. Oedipus is Complex was a live event and my friend Jörg was shooting a film version. So what we agreed with producer Nicolaus Selimov was:

  • no shooting in quiet spots
  • no rapid fire bursts (not something I’m inclined to do anyway – I pick my moments)
  • minimal number of photos except in very high volume sections

And following this prescription:

  • the performance was not disrupted by my shooting
  • the photographs are quite good

But I did miss a lot of the strongest emotional moments with the performer alone on stage. And some of the sections which I do have could be even better (but I had a choice of three images instead of ten).

So both inspired and frustrated by this evening I went camera browsing for the first time in a couple of years (I’ve been very happy with my 20D, particularly since I put the Canon 50 MM F1.4 on it). I started by making a checklist for the perfect camera for dance photography:

Here are the camera requirements for dance (or classical concert) photography in order of priority:

Seven Features of the Perfect Camera for Dance Photography Continues »

Oedipus is Complex – Nikolaus Adler

November 6th, 2008 § 2

Oedipus is Complex begins like Blade Runner with a dramatic voiceover – full of darkness and light.

From a crashed and cutup Volvo on the right hand side of the stage runs a red carpet across the full stage. Three austere single beds each under a single flourescent long hospital bulb. The bare brick walls of the Odeon distant in the dim light. A ruin of time.

A rich and jaded male voice intones a monologue scattered full of such phrases:

"I am a rat"
"The filth of the city"

In the distance, the sound of black rain.

Homunculus Theater 2008 Oedipus is Complex
Homunculus Theater 2008 Oedipus is Complex: opening dance

A beautiful young woman in a white blouse and black skirt drifts on and stares at the audience. A sixties Rolling Stones type song – think Paint it Black – starts to play and the woman begins to fling herself to the rhythms. She is gradually joined by another six dancers all convulsing with equal force.

At the end a blond man (Karl Schreiner) with the dangerous looks of Billy Idol at his prime remains alone with the young woman. The narrator tells the story of their love, as Laius bends Jocasta over the bed to take her crassly from behind. An ironic contrast to the narrator’s beautiful final phrase "the earth moved" – a moment full of truth concerning the origin of children and the nature of love.

Oedipus is born from between Hein’s legs as she sits on the right front bed with Schreiner. Plop, Kun-Chen Shih flops to the ground. A prophetic voice intones about how he will kill his father.

Kun Chen Shih born as Oedipus with mother Anna Hein
Kun Chen Shih born as Oedipus with mother Anna Hein

Two of the dancers (Karin Steinbrugger and Amadeus Berauer who alternate between dancing and observing, like a miniature Greek chorus) take the young Oedipus away and raise him.

When Oedipus returns, quickly enough a mass fight between the full cast starts to a soundtrack of soaring 80’s pop. The fight ends in a head butt from Kun-Chen Shih to Schreiner, with Schreiner sprawled dead at the front of the stage.

Homunculus golden girls Martina Haager Anna Hein Karin Steinbrugger
Homunculus golden girls Martina Haager,
Anna Hein and Karin Steinbrugger mourn the fallen Laius

Oedipus is Complex - Nikolaus Adler Continues »