International Cinema: Der Boxprinz (The Boxing Prince) - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the German documentary on the actor behind Vigo the Carpathian

A fist and three fingers. 
Most of you by now have seen Ghostbusters II and can hardly forget it's memorable villain Vigo the Carpathian.  But few of you know about the man behind the mask, Norbert Grupe, and few familiar with his illustrious yet controversial boxing career in Germany have ever seen him in this light.  After a fascinatingly morbid overview of Grupe's life in a Deadspin article by Shaun Raviv, I had to go an extra mile to track down what became known as Der Boxprinz (The Boxing Prince).  

An eye opening portrait of the man known from Hamburg, Germany as 'the Beatle Boxer' or in German master filmmaker Werner Herzog's own words, 'Germany's Mike Tyson', Der Boxprinz showcases the boxing legend's rise to fame and fortune before his public affiliation with Germany's red-light district and his own tendency towards violence worked to ruin his reputation.  Not unlike ex-wrestler Tony Halme, Grupe is remembered by those who knew him as not always being the most pleasant fellow to be around with a real air of danger about him.  Der Boxprinz touches briefly on the troubled boxer's acting career in mainstream film including his bits in Stroszek, Die Hard and In the Mouth of Madness, but it mostly takes a backseat to the boxer's professional career and how he threw it all away with his rebellious attitude and affiliation with criminals.  

For much of Der Boxprinz, director Gerd Kroske spends a majority of the film's running time with Grupe in present day 2002 (Grupe would die months after the documentary's completion) with Grupe musing about his past fights, his start in boxing, his controversial meltdown on live television and his estranged upbringing with his father.  Abandoned by his out of wedlock mother, Grupe was a lost soul from the very beginning according to those who knew him personally and took on demoralizing jobs including as a butcher and waiting on tables.  Soon however he and his father began wrestling together as German heels to lose to Americans and the bad boy stage persona that would eventually become the Boxing Prince was born.  Earning the nickname 'the Beatle boxer', Grupe took on a Kanye West arrogance not seen in the boxing ring before whether it involved wearing fur coats, smoking cigars in the ring or taunting everyone within eye contact.  Grupe seemed to be on top of the world but his thirst for attention led him down a path of affiliation with pimps and pornographers who needed an oversized guard dog to garner payments or bounce off potential physical threats.  Grupe was the guy everyone wanted as an ally until even he became too much for them to handle.  Arguably spoken of the same breath as Yukio Mishima, Grupe overexisted in the court of public opinion and one point was arrested for dealing hash to an undercover cop.  Association with members of the German Hell's Angels didn't help matters much for Grupe.

Some have a monkey on their back.
 I have a mutt.
Der Boxprinz is more or less a chronicle of a once great boxer whose rebellious tendencies tragically undid everything he worked so hard to achieve and then some.  A key moment late into Der Boxprinz catches up with former boxer turned infamous pimp Stefan Hentschel who leads the filmmaker down the sleazy red light district, even taking him and his camera into a strip club.  Along the way, a homeless man accosts the two, prompting Hentschel to sucker punch the man in the face at point blank range before continuing on as if nothing happened.  While we never see Grupe himself engage in such activities, enough stories passed down memory lane and Hentschel's unexpected moment of violence committed before the camera leaves little doubt Grupe was ensconced in physical assault himself more than once.  According to Kroske, who spent years trying to mount a documentary around Norbert Grupe, he had few friends and was an incredibly difficult personality to be around,  swinging from love to despicable hate in the blink of an eye.  Arguably, Norbert Grupe loved to be the guy everyone hated and after watching this still yet-to-be released-in-the-U.S. documentary, Der Boxprinz does little to dispel that notion.

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- Andrew Kotwicki