Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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Rayon Vert
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#101 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Oct 10, 2021 5:14 pm

zedz wrote:
Sun Oct 10, 2021 4:51 pm
- Irm Hermann Irm Hermanning her small role into the stratosphere. I hope she got the chance to do some skiing while she was in Finland.
That's so true. You empathize to some degree with most of the characters, but as usual she makes it really hard in her own characters' case! Always excellent for that sort of thing. (Also, what was up with Ingrid Caven so often having one of her breasts conveniently hanging out?)

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#102 Post by zedz » Sun Oct 10, 2021 6:01 pm

knives wrote:
Sun Oct 10, 2021 5:12 pm
I’m glad, by description, I wasn’t wrong in connecting those two. They sound really great.
zedz wrote:
Sun Oct 10, 2021 4:51 pm
I haven't got back to Lili Marleen yet, but I recall it as one of Fassbinder's worst films, so I'm not looking forward to it!
It certainly fits squarely in the descriptions you seem to like least about late Fassbinder. Right now it’s at number twenty for me, but I need just one more real good film to knock it off.
Try Nora Helmer on YouTube if you haven't seen it. It's the best of the previously unseen films for me, and it might chime with your appreciation of Effi Briest.
#NoraForeverLiliNever

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#103 Post by knives » Sun Oct 10, 2021 7:10 pm

Good to hear. I’ll prioritize it. Of the ones I haven’t seen Martha and Satan’s Brew seem the most interesting on first blush.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#104 Post by zedz » Sun Oct 10, 2021 8:45 pm

Martha is awesome; Satan's Brew is an acquired taste. They're both at the delirious end of the Fassbinder spectrum.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#105 Post by zedz » Mon Oct 11, 2021 6:25 pm

The Third Generation (1979) - This phase of Fassbinder's career might be termed the "incessant background noise years," and this film is the pinnacle of his sound experiments in that area. The BRD trilogy is characterized by radio broadcasts playing insistently in the background (and taking on Greek chorus duties in certain key scenes), and I think the technique kicked off with the burbling music throughout Women in New York. In The Third Generation, however, we enter a whole new realm of cacophony, as every inch of the optical soundtrack is crammed with overlaid dialogue, radio broadcasts (often running from scene to scene without a cut), TVs blaring, characters singing, tapes of animal noises, screaming kids, pornographic audio-books and their live translation, and the film's actual score, all jumbled into a maddening sonic soup. There's a practical reason for all this noise - the would-be terrorists want to drown out their sensitive conversations in case they're being bugged - but Fassbinder escalates this to confront and affront the audience as well. No wonder these characters are so twitchy. If you've been paying attention, you'll note that this is an elaboration and orchestration of what was going on in the penultimate scene of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok, more than thirty films ago. Fassbinder took an isolated idea from an early film and built an aesthetic around it.

The rest of the film is agitated and madcap, and at times it swings and misses rather than connects. The long continuous scene in which manic Bernhard careers around the abandoned flat with the stoic police inspector is like a bad drama school improv (Okay, Vitus, you have to do everything you can to provoke a reaction from Hark, and Hark, you have to stay calm no matter what. Oh, and work in something about Edgar's grandfather wherever you can.) The scene shortly afterwards (which kind of matches it, as they both involve Bernhard and they're a rare instance in the film of long scenes revolving around only two characters and one idea) in which Bernhard trails August around town as he changes disguises, is terrific, with a nice sense of comic timing and some real plot movement, rather than misdirection and running in place (which is kind of the point of much of the rest of the film).

The film explores some pungent topical ideas (primarily that capital encourages, or even seeds, terrorism in order to co-opt government resources to their interests) that are still topical, or are topical again, in what's mostly a light, farcical manner, but Fassbinder swivels on a dime several times. When Petra fires her gun at the end of the bank robbery, it's an instance of genuine personal rage bubbling up through the play-acting. Even more effective is Franz, the sanest character in the film and the only one who demonstrates natural human sympathy (once again, Gunther Kaufman is the stealth MVP in a late Fassbinder film). Tellingly, he's also the only character who notices and comments on the constant goddamn noise. When the cell adopt their ridiculous fancy dress in the final act, his talcum-powdered hair and beard looks no less absurd, but he wears them with dignity to his heartbroken suicide-by-cop graveyard rendezvous.

The ending of the film is, on the surface, tatty and inconclusive, with industrialist Kurz accepting his abduction with bizarre merriment, like he's going to a surprise birthday party, and the comic mood is sustained as the gang try to overcome their incompetence to pull off an acceptable hostage video, but it's actually a clever piece of misdirection to what is a covertly bleak ending. Kurz is amused and equable because he assumes this abduction is yet another antic orchestrated by his double-agent August, and that he's not in any genuine danger. He's actually entertained by the irony of this latest scam. He thinks he's in control of the game, but what he doesn't realize is that these members of the cell have - for the first time in the film - are acting on their own initiative and have no idea what Kurz's role in their activities has been. He's just another hostage, who will be killed when their unmeetable demands are not met. Kurz thinks he's Dr. Mabuse, but he's really Aldo Moro, and viewers of the time would have instantly made that comparison.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#106 Post by zedz » Tue Oct 12, 2021 4:00 pm

Satan's Brew (1976) - After the sometimes strained zaniness of The Third Generation, I knew this had to be my next stop. And so this particular breadcrumb trail comes to a dead end.

Satan's Brew is a black farce intended to shock and appall, with every performance shrill, infantile and dialled up to eleven. This is entirely intentional. I've stumbled across defenders in the past (if "edgy" is the greatest praise you can imagine, Fassbinder gives you plenty to wallow in here) but I find it relentlessly awful. It's a film in which all human weakness is exploited and any expression of human feeling is a joke. It's Fassbinder's only out-and-out comedy, and it turns out that out-and-out comedy is one thing he sucks at. There are a few promising comic ideas baked into the plot, but the sledgehammer delivery kills them stone dead. Fair warning: this is a film where Margit Carstensen plays a stupid spinster who gets cheated, spat on and raped and keeps coming back for more, but it's hilarious because she wears glasses that give her bug eyes. If that's your thing, you're welcome to it.

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The weird thing is that it's pure Fassbinder, whereas his other grand misfires are not Fassbinder enough. His regulars are delivering exaggerated versions of their personae from other films and the themes are consistent with the films that surround it, but everything is wound up for shallow provocation without the usual redeeming features. Even stylistically, it's one of his most conventionally shot films. It's an inevitable film for him to make, and I guess we should be grateful that he only made it once.

Unless you're in for the long haul like me, do yourself a favour and skip this film. It's currently having a sissy-boy slap party at the bottom of my list with Querelle.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#107 Post by knives » Wed Oct 13, 2021 7:03 am

Nora Helmer is indeed one of Fassbinder’s absolute best. At first I thought the version I was watching was really blocky, but the film rather has an aesthetic of obscuring the foreground and exposing the background that really rose the tension for me. Just such an incredibly powerful movie.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#108 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Oct 13, 2021 10:39 pm

I Only Want You to Love Me.
zedz wrote:
Thu Sep 16, 2021 6:04 am
This film is prime example of the push and pull between cynicism and empathy that I remarked upon earlier. It's yet another film in which the protagonist finds himself in an economic and psychological death trap, and his hapless, irresponsible behaviour only sinks him deeper. Normally, that's the kind of character that would causes me to roll my eyes right out of the picture (see any number of Ken Loach films where you can feel the director's thumb on the scale of social injustice), but here it works for me, because the character is both a genuine, plausible character and an element in a lucid Marxist algorithm. Or maybe I was just taken in by Vitus Zeplechal's puppy dog eyes. The economics are brutal, but I think the film works because they're not cartoonishly demonised, and the real forces of exploitation and oppression in the film are personal and parental. It's a realist social drama, but it has a strong edge of noir fatalism.

In many respects, the film is classic Fassbinder, but it's unusual in leaning heavily on a cast of non-regulars. Zeplechal appeared in half a dozen Fassbinder films (and I bet you can't name them all), but only two of his regular stock company are there, and only making fleeting appearances: Lilo Pempeit as a bank customer and Ingrid Caven as a knitting machine saleswoman. (Fassbinder's lover at the time, Armin Meier, has a slightly larger role.) It gives the film a weird, parallel universe vibe, while also reinforcing how much of the Fassbinder look and feel was independent of his regular actors.
I quite liked this film as well. Strange to watch a film without the regulars but it's quickly recognizable as RWF. The narrative is especially close to The Merchant of Four Seasons: fatal self-esteem wounds generated by toxic parental regard makes the navigation of the economic hazards of adult reality nigh impossible. Lots of flowers and mirrors as well (or as usual!).

So it's nothing new but it's filmed in a very appealing and elegantly simple, humble way. The clarity of the narrative and its explicit anchoring in a pointedly socioeconomic context makes sense especially as a television film, which you interpret as an occasion to instruct the masses. But it's successful because Fassbinder is able to deliver his own peculiar brand of Freudo-Marxism in a way that never feels didactic and stays competely anchored in the characters that absorb us.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#109 Post by zedz » Thu Oct 14, 2021 10:45 pm

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The Niklashausen Journey (1970): This is one of Fassbinder's least characteristic movies, an account of a revolutionary 15th century shepherd who tried to overturn the social order after seeing the Virgin Mary (as you do) and was brutally punished. The film takes the form of 32 scenes, and 32 shots: tableaux that work their way through the stations of the shepherd's enlightenment and sacrifice. The content is highly stylized - much of the dialogue is recitations of Marxist tracts and none of the characters emerge as verisimilitudinous people - as well as being doggedly anachronistic. Fassbinder is one of the main characters, and he's always dressed in his regular attire of tight jeans and a leather jacket, whatever period drag the other actors are wearing, and the climax takes place in a junkyard of dead cars. About half of the shots / scenes include singing, or snatches of singing, but it's not really a musical. It's one of those heterogenous activist films that followed in the wake of Glauber Rocha's pioneering sixties work, and Fassbinder acknowledges the debt explicitly by making Antonio das Mortes one of the main characters.

It's a bit like Brecht and the R.A.F. hijacked a Miracle Play, but the film works for me because it has a lucid political argument (namely that it's not possible to have a successful revolutionary action within the context of Christianity) and because just about every individual shot / tableaux is based upon an interesting cinematic idea. It could be a lighting idea (a gloomy group portrait framed in darkness like Rembrandt chiaroscuro; a line of figures lit from a side window like Vermeer), a camera movement idea (lateral tracking alongside a group of moving figures, where the camera overtakes or lags behind them multiple times; an excruciatingly slow zoom in on a group outside a church), or a sound idea (a back and forth tracking shot when a group of four split into two groups of two, but remain audible on the soundtrack while they're off-screen). There's always something to look at, listen to and process.

This is the other film Fassbinder co-directed with Michael Fengler, and like Why Does Herr R Run Amok, it is entirely composed of sequence shots and doesn't much resemble any other Fassbinder film. (It's much closer to the work of his friend Werner Schroeter, something the presence of Magdalena Montezuma does nothing to dispel.) In this film, however, it's easier to understand Fengler's actual role as Fassbinder is on screen for most of the film and would have needed somebody behind the camera to ensure the correct execution of some very complicated shots.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#110 Post by zedz » Fri Oct 15, 2021 3:47 pm

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Fear of Fear - It's becoming clear that my favourite period in Fassbinder's work is 1974 to 1975, a string of seven brilliant features (and one charming TV special) that set out the breadth of his range (from the lush, austere Fontane Effi Briest to the austere, lush Nora Helmer - only half kidding there: the films are astral twins but they couldn't be more different in terms of production circumstances and scale).

Fear of Fear is one of the lowest profile of those films, but it's a brilliant work. Margit Carstensen plays a housewife dealing with severe anxiety who, after the interventions of a medical establishment who either over- or under-estimate her illness, also has to contend with addiction and institutionalization. Unlike many of Fassbinder's problem films, here he resists analysis and the problem remains slippery. Although her mother-in-law and sister-in-law (a daunting pincer movement of Brigitte Mira and Irm Hermann) are unsympathetic, they're actually right to be concerned about her behaviour, and nothing in the film suggests they're the root cause of her malaise. Likewise her husband, or the exploitative pharmacist who comes along after that particular ship has sailed. Instead, the issue at hand is the more subtle one of a pre-existing psychological problem that festers because the people around Margot don't know how to deal with it or aren't equipped to acknowledge it. If we're looking for a Big Explanation, we're going to be disappointed (which is one way in which this most TV-movie-ish of Fassbinder's TV movies doesn't conform to the disease of the week template), but if we can accept a small explanation, there's a clue in the one scene of the film where Margot seems to be genuinely happy: when she has to organize her trip to hospital to give birth to her second child. What she has in this scene that she lacks elsewhere is agency. She's at the mercy of biology, and an institutionalized medical establishment, but in a very modest way, she's calling the shots.

Margot and the film lurch from crisis to crisis, but the end of the film offers the hope of a happy ending that's fraught with omens of disaster. It's beautifully done, and the understated nature of the entire film is what allows Fassbinder to pull it off. Margot, having ended up in an institution after her big breakdown, is informed by the kindly doctor that she's not schizophrenic after all, and that her depression can be easily managed with medication. She's free to go. Her roommmate, the sometimes catatonic Edda, asks her to come back and visit her sometime, but Margot is already making her excuses (if there's one social disease to blame in this film, it's a general lack of empathy). When she returns home to her normal life, her brother-in-law (Armin Meier again playing an isolated bastion of sweetness and decency) informs her that their 'troubled' neighbour Mr Bauer (who has been set up throughout the film as Margot's despised mirror image) has hanged himself, and the film ends with her watching through the window as his body is taken away. And then, during the closing credits, a little thing happens that signals the ending of the happy ending. Pay attention.

This is a great film, relying heavily on what's probably Margit Carstensen's most sympathetic performance. The portrayal of her anxiety seems very accurate to me, and Fassbinder finds ways of expressing her altered state through camera movement (there's a nice track-zoom over the opening credits which signals that something is wrong right away) and sound. We also get two all-time great Fassbinder needledrops: Leonard Cohen's 'Lover Lover Lover' and the Rolling Stones' 'We Love You', both offering too-brief respite for Margot when she escapes into their respective sound worlds.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#111 Post by knives » Fri Oct 15, 2021 5:22 pm

Fear of Fear is probably my favorite “single episode” of the television films and will rank highly on my list. Sometimes I find Fassbinder’s empathy outmatched by his techniques leaving the emotional connection weakened, but here he is perfectly in sync between style and content making a film which in some ways reminds me of the experience of watching Vengeance is Mine.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#112 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Oct 15, 2021 9:34 pm

Satan’s Brew. Yeah this easily goes to the bottom of the pile for me and it’s hard to imagine something else beating it. I’m completely with zedz on this one: painfully shrill and manic, and just as unfunny. Making it even harder was the near-incomprehensible, ridiculous behavior of the characters(which to some extent is a throwback to some of the very early films), and even more so the difficulty understanding what it’s all about. We suffer through following around this petit bourgeois pseudo-poet whose sole purpose is exercising his will to power on people, but it’s hard to read what’s the larger intention here. That society only fosters or allows for relationships of instrumentalization? That modern, bourgeois civilization (as opposed to the pagans described in the Antonin Artaud quotation) all comes down to this, including its sham worship of Literature and Art? If that’s the case, it’s hard to see what constitutes here the advance of creative insight or vision in relation to what’s already been explored in the prior oeuvre.

In any event, watching these actors from Fassbinder’s troupe, I found myself wondering at times what was their own motivation in participating in this film and if it said anything about their own sadomasochistic relationships with the director! Maybe what makes most sense is these few lines in his book where Christian Thomsen speculates the following: It might be suspected that the film is a product of (Fassbinder’s) own sadomasochism. ‘Just take a look at what a completely unbearable film I can make – now hit me.’

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#113 Post by zedz » Sun Oct 17, 2021 5:41 pm

Re: Satan's Brew. My theory is that Fassbinder was going through a period of especially intense self-loathing at the time (what is Kurt Raab's character if not a really nasty self-caricature?) and decided to turn it into 'art'. It's what a compulsive workaholic would do. His regulars complied because that's what they did: they were a team and they took the roles they were offered and made the best of them. They might be the lead in one film and have one line in the next. If they felt this project was a dud, they had the consolation that another one would be coming along in a couple of months.

There's also the economic consideration that Fassbinder's prolificacy was entirely down to the German film-funding system of the period and depended on him never getting off the merry-go-round. He'd got into the groove of cyclical projects where the advance for one film would finance the completion of the previous one, and this depended on him staying busy, working cheap and fast and having a reliable creative team around him who could move at speed from project to project with him - and thus sustain their own creative lifestyle without having to get a 'real job'. As long as he delivered each film on time and under budget, he could pretty much do whatever he liked, and it didn't really matter whether or not any individual film was a hit, or broke even. It's only once he started doing European co-productions with Chinese Roulette (immediately after Satan's Brew), which had larger budgets and longer shooting schedules, that he settled into a more standard - and much slower - production model.

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World on a Wire (1973) - There's nothing in Fassbinder's work before this. or after it, that suggests he could pull off an epic-length science fiction film, and yet here we are. It's a cheap-as-chips effort where the special effects are conceptual and the production value is largely down to rugs, mirrors and some stunningly creative cinematography. Frames are stuffed with reflections that reveal off-screen space or obscure on-screen space, and there's a repeated effect of a kind of cyclical pan or track, where the camera will move away from a character across a considerable space before eventually alighting on the same character, in reflection in another cranny of the room, or in another room entirely. It's a clever effect in a film that's all about doubles and concerns about their authenticity.

The film is regularly compared with The Matrix, as if doing the same thing as an American blockbuster first is any measure of value. The key ideas they share are shared by a lot of science fiction, and World on a Wire is a much better fit for the quiet philosophical approach of its literary forebears. That said, this is also probably the closest Fassbinder ever got to an action movie, and it's almost as if Klaus Lowitsch got the lead by default, as the only one of his regular players who could credibly pull off an action hero. It's also an outlier for Fassbinder in that it's a film in which the focus is on the ideas and the plot rather than the characters, which gives it a very different vibe to most of his work.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#114 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Oct 17, 2021 9:42 pm

Chinese Roulette. Are the international co-productions the reason for Fassbinder switching to widescreen? Except for the first feature and Whity, everything I’ve seen prior to this has been in the academy ratio, so I figured he had some kind of aesthetic commitment to that AR, like Rohmer did (it’s therefore ironic that he’s co-financed by Les Films du Losange here). I don’t know if he ever talked about this.

This left me a bit cold unfortunately. The narrative set-up here is interesting, and the mysterious figure of the child and the obvious continuation of the director’s recent themes, but it’s hard to get engaged, despite the performances, in the characters of the parents and their lovers. They aren’t really made to be interesting per se, they’re more like chess pieces. Then the archness at the end that zedz pointed out was also bit too much for me (especially during the roulette scenes, where before or during every question a character comes up to another and makes some sort of unnatural movement – it would be easy to lampoon the style here). The interest lies more in the visuals, and the film is made with such precision and care in the compositions and shots and camera movements, with the obsession with refracted images at a peak. But it’s not enough to make this really work for me.


Despair. This was on another level of boring, though. Bolwieser is one of the films I’m not watching because of the lack of access to a disc but reading about it it sounds like these two films have things in common, both focusing on a man undergoing a crisis with, in the background, the Nazis coming to power. But zedz is extremely accurate in his write-up in my view in describing how the plot hinging on Hermann’s hallucinatory doppelganger is too slight and uninteresting to create any kind of dramatic tension whatsoever. (I also think Bogarde is fine enough and isn’t the problem here.) Formally Fassbinder and Ballhaus are up to their usual tricks, but the overall artistic effect ends up feeling unrealized and in some ways compromised in terms of the whole production. The score for example is very conventional and obvious, like something out of Hollywood, and is part of what makes the intelligence of the piece feel lesser than the director’s usual work.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#115 Post by zedz » Sun Oct 17, 2021 10:18 pm

Rayon Vert wrote:
Sun Oct 17, 2021 9:42 pm
Are the international co-productions the reason for Fassbinder switching to widescreen? Except for the first feature and Whity, everything I’ve seen prior to this has been in the academy ratio, so I figured he had some kind of aesthetic commitment to that AR, like Rohmer did (it’s therefore ironic that he’s co-financed by Les Films du Losange here). I don’t know if he ever talked about this.
in a way, yes, but that's most likely because most of his films before then were made for television and it was the aspect ratio he was "set up for". Between his first TV production, The Coffee House in 1970, and Satan's Brew in 1976, thirteen of his twenty-four films were made for television, and four of those were shot on video rather than film. It's very easy to sort out the TV from theatrical features, as - to the best of my knowledge, and stretching right through to Berlin Alexanderplatz - all of the TV works (apart from those on video) were shot on 16mm and all the theatrical works were shot on 35mm.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#116 Post by zedz » Thu Oct 21, 2021 8:44 pm

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Pioneers in ingolstadt (1971) - When I worked through Fassbinder's 'filmed theatre' earlier I overlooked this film, probably because it feels very thoroughly opened-out for cinema. It's shot on location, with lots of short scenes. The elements of the film that reveal its roots as a stage play are the high number of two-person dialogues that advance the story, though Fassbinder ensures that these are delivered in a variety of ways. The stagiest of them is a frontally shot conversation on a park bench in a dark park, but others are conveyed with a mobile camera in a lively pub, a receding tracking shot as characters walk down a street, or back and forth pans across a table top (a nod to Citizen Kane, presumably). The acting is more stage-naturalistic than the antitheater norm, though not quite film-naturalistic.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is its use of vague anachronism. The play was written in 1926, and reflects the social and political dynamics of that time, but the costuming, with the women's nylon micro skirts, is present day. I guess a full-fledged period production was beyond the meagre means of this TV movie (note how Fassbinder dodged that budgetary bullet in a completely different way in The Coffee House a year before), but Fassbinder's decision to throw that particular costume choice in our faces (most of the film's settings, and the soldiers' uniforms, could easily pass for the earlier part of the century) creates the weird effect of the male and female characters / stories taking place in different time periods, which is a provocative and effective way of underscoring the very different worlds they inhabit within the narrative. It's more of an affront to see 'modern' women treated as poorly as they are in this film than it likely would have been to see everything consigned to the past.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#117 Post by senseabove » Fri Oct 22, 2021 5:48 pm

Rio das Mortes - The nadir, so far. Yet another iteration of Love is Colder than Death: another love triangle, another scheme—treasure hunting instead of robbery, this time—another vengeful woman, back to the mostly planar composition, scatter some objects in the foreground every now and then and sprinkle a little comedy that once had a dream about a glass of water here and there. Please god let this be the last two-boys-scheme-while-not-quite-having-sex-and-the-girlfriend-is-mad-about-it movie.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#118 Post by knives » Sat Oct 23, 2021 8:09 pm

Nope, you got a few more in your future.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#119 Post by zedz » Mon Oct 25, 2021 4:02 pm

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The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972) - This film is celebrated as Fassbinder's first after his Damascene encounter with Sirk, but for a Sirk-influenced film, it's still very austere. You can see the impact, however, in the more pointed and ironic use of decor (e.g. the picture of the Holy Family over the conjugal bed as Hans beats the shit out of Irmgard, or the still above): it's no longer set dressing or mood making, but a more developed element of the storytelling from here on in. This is also, I think, the first Fassbinder film where the focus is primarily domestic rather than social. The previous films had been centred on groups of friends or colleagues (be they gangsters, pilgrims or filmmakers). Even Why Does Herr R. Run Amok was as much about the protagonist's work life as his home life. It's a subtle shift at this point, but when looking at his body of work as a whole, it's a decisive one. Likewise, this is the moment when Fassbinder shifts his primary attention to female protagonists, and the greater prominence and complexity of Irm Hermann's wife in this film (perhaps her biggest role and best performance) sets the scene for this sea change.

I remembered this film very vividly in most of its details, but it played out quite differently than I recalled. I'd completely forgotten how unsympathetic Hans was (and, conversely, how sympathetic his wife was): he's a shitty husband, a shitty businessman (it's Irmgard who turns the business around with her ideas for expansion), a shitty cop, and a shitty Legionnaire. The film's flashback structure - which seems to be more of a narrative conceit than a psychological device - adds context without absolving responsibility. Even though the first minute of the film amounts to a vile parenting masterclass, the film doesn't draw simplistic parallels between Hans' treatment by his mother and his later behaviour. Instead of the sympathetic tragedy of I Only Want You to Love Me, we get a portrait of worthless male self-pity at its most abject - which is in many respects a more interesting approach and the less-travelled path. It's prevented from being a wallow by Fassbinder's dexterity: the ending of the film is a perfect series of tightly focussed scenes that tidy away any lingering sentimentality with brutal efficiency. We cut from the awkward family gathering to the ostensible climactic scene wherein Hans drinks himself to death, but it's the three scenes after that which seal the deal and bring in a bunch of new, complicated emotions:
- the last, bizarre, flashback, of Hans being whipped by El Hedi ben Salem. This is Fassbinder's micro-remake of Belle de Jour, and its key revelation is that Hans had always been despised, even by his comrades in the Foreign Legion (including his only friend, Harry), who would rather watch him be tortured than intervene. (For this reason, I don't see the film's flashbacks as Hans's, as there's no reason to expect that he would have that particular insight).
- the funeral, which has the unexpectedly moving grace-note that Irmgard has advised Hans's beloved so she can silently witness it. This moment is sentimental, but it's sentimentality that takes us from behind.
- the car ride, in which Irmgard and Harry calmly plan the pragmatic erasure of Hans. From one angle it's profoundly cruel, but from another it's the happy ending we never thought we'd get.

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#120 Post by zedz » Mon Oct 25, 2021 4:46 pm

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Fontane Effi Briest, or Many people who are aware of their own capabilities and needs just acquiesce to the prevailing system in their thoughts and deeds, thereby confirming and reinforcing it (1974) - This was Fassbinder's biggest and most expensive production to this point (though its cost was still chickenfeed given its apparent production values), and it was so much more complicated that the films that proceeded it that it had to be filmed in two parts, with two different cinematographers (not that you'd notice). Fassbinder used the downtime in the middle to make Martha, for which we should all be grateful.

The film is like nothing else Fassbinder had made to that point - a long, subdued period film - but all his furious work in the lead-up paid off, and allowed him to leap into a new style with the stylistic chops and well-drilled stock company to pull off a masterpiece. It might be the best thing he ever did, and it's one of the great cinematic feats of literary adaptation, wherein Fassbinder valorizes the literary original by the use of intertitular extracts, copious narration drawn from the novel (the scene that might be the film's emotional climax, when Effi sees Annie on the tram, is entirely conveyed by Fassbinder's narration), on-screen documents (letters, telegrams), and the use of 'blank pages' in the film's frequent fades to white and, profoundly, in the black-bordered empty frame accompanying the report of Effi's death.

That literary level of the film co-exists with a full array of extraordinary cinematic effects, particularly the extensive and complicated use of mirrors to break up and compound three dimensional space. There are too many brilliant examples of this to note, but I particularly liked one shot where Effi and Roswitha are pictured alongside one another having a conversation, and then a combination of character and camera movement reveals that they are in fact in different rooms, and Roswitha was being reflected in a half-closed door.

The literary and cinematic layers of the film are also beautifully integrated with its theatrical one, in which performances play out at length in long shot, using blocking to express shifting character relationships, and many of the actors wear heightened make-up that evokes the stage (or silent film - this is one of the few 'modern' films that draws on the language of silent film without dipping into parody or pastiche).

For my money, everything about this film is in harmony, working towards a devastating extended climax. After a meticulous and relatively leisurely set up, the steel doors come crashing down one after the other as soon as von Instetten makes his fateful decision to challenge Crampas to a duel, in a marvellous cross-cut sequence that's one of the jewels in Fassbinder's crown. And from there, the emotional blows come hard and often, bringing the drama to its conclusion with unseemly briskness.

An out-and-out masterpiece, Fassbinder's best-looking film, and one of the best-looking films of the 1970s (the Arrow Blu-ray is superb). It probably also has cinema's best performance by an invisible dog.

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I couldn't use a still at the top that didn't include Schygulla, but I couldn't not post this one.

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knives
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#121 Post by knives » Mon Oct 25, 2021 7:17 pm

Here’s my favorite major disagreement with Zedz as Fassbinder’s homosexuality secret language, and language does seem key here, of Querelle won me over in a deeply personal way like a nightmare imagining of Demy. I don’t think the film would make sense with tons of on screen sex as that’s such a given whereas being able to be in a relationship isn’t.

I feel the dedication to ben Salem is pretty key here. My understanding is that their relationship was pretty poisonous and yet full of love ending after a murder attempt by ben Salem and his suicide in France which weirdly mirrors this story. That plus the strange relationship with the idea of women all seem incredibly autobiographical from Fassbinder lending an air of a film that is perhaps too naked to have a coherence (which is the main thing putting this below the similar Berlin Alexanderplatz).

It’s also just a delight to continue to experience Fassbinder’s understanding of adaptation as Fassbinder desires to be as literal to the experience of reading as possible, this time by making Tom of Finland a movie, without losing that baseline feeling of being Fassbinder. I almost feel tempted to say that Fassbinder is better at interpreting others than himself.

Finally, Gunther Kaufmann continues to be the secret MVP of Fassbinder.

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#122 Post by zedz » Wed Oct 27, 2021 3:48 pm

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Whity (1971) - It didn't occur to me until I rewatched them both this time around, but this is probably the Fassbinder film that most resembles Querelle in its tone. Now that the segue is out of the way, let's get down to business.

This is a very revealing film when considered in the context of Fassbinder's output. It's the tipping point of the first phase of his career: the big breakthrough that wasn't, and it directly inspired the film that culminated that period and broke the addictive production chain. After Beware of a Holy Whore, the collective split for a while and Fassbinder took an extended break from filmmaking for the first and last time before coming back with a new approach.

That new approach, inspired by Sirk, was in making films that courted an audience with "Hollywood values" while slipping the subversion beneath the surface. Whity, on the other hand, was an attempt to make a "Hollywood" film without any of those niceties. Where Fassbinder would later adopt and adapt the form of the Hollywood melodrama, here he can only parody it. Whity is a western (with songs! in English!) in which the implicit racism of the genre is exposed and the depravity is dialled up to eleven. It takes the form of a big, lavish commercial film, but it's aggressively stiff and weird and off-putting. Some of the oddness is almost subliminal. Peer Raben contributes a lush, traditional score, but long stretches of the film drop it in favour of a very dry sound mix of footsteps and ticking clocks. The theme song, 'I Kill Them' (spoiler alert! the climax of the film is given away over the opening credits) sounds like it comes straight from a spaghetti western, except that it's loping and wonky, with multiple changes in time signature. I adore it.

This is Fassbinder's first film shot by Michael Ballhaus, and it looks like half a million bucks. It's in vivid colour (with Gunther's scarlet livery popping against every background) and smartly deployed widescreen. Some of the shots, such as the one with Whity prowling around the outside of the saloon, viewing the action within from different angles, through the set, provide a basic template for the Fassbinder / Ballhaus 'look' to come.

Much of the subversion in the film is pretty blunt and obvious, in the manner of a Warhol / Morrissey film, but we need to talk about race, which is the wound Fassbinder really pokes his fingers into and deals with in the most outrageous and effective manner. It's in your face from the outset, when we see Whity's mother Marpessa in blackface so horrifyingly over-the-top that her big close-up in the opening roving shot amounts to a void encompassing the screen. In an instant, this is a devastating critique of the dehumanizing effect of blackface. To complicate matters, the family she serves appear in whiteface - or more to the point, sickly greyface. This is less a critique of American racism (which I doubt Fassbinder knew much about at this point) than it is of the simplistic codings of Hollywood racism (with which he'd be much more familiar.)

Whity enters the kitchen, the pair converse coldly, and he advises his mother to stop being so black. Whity (Gunther Kaufmann, unlike almost every actor in the film given the privilege of wearing his natural skin colour) is thoroughly domesticated. He serves as the intermediary between the family his unacceptably black mother, whose voice alone can perturb the white folk like the cry of the beggar woman in India Song. To nobody's surprise, it turns out that Whity is the bastard son of the patriarch, which makes his status within the household even more unstable. He has internalized his society's racism and readily submits to the whims and punishments of it, until he doesn't. At various points, most of the main characters attempt to weaponize Whity against the others (he's an instrument rather than a person), begging or ordering him to kill off one rival or another, and ultimately it might be this cacophony of commands (oh, and the love of a somewhat good woman) that finally jumpstarts his agency.

Gunther Kaufmann's dignified, placid performance is a jewel set in the base metal of the surrounding caricatures, and most of the film's moments of resonance hinge on his underplayed, cinematic presence (the gentle seduction of Davie in the barn, the final dance in the desert). It's casting as parting love letter, and it would be seven years before he would be invited back into the Fassbinder fold.

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swo17
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#123 Post by swo17 » Wed Oct 27, 2021 3:57 pm

I just watched this last night, and sensed when I opened the thread that it would be you reviewing it. Spooky. I think it somehow manages to be both a subversion and an exemplar of the genre, i.e. I don't think our votes for it in the Western list are secretly a vote against Westerns, if that makes any sense. I'm not sure I would say the same thing about Dead Man

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#124 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Oct 28, 2021 8:59 pm

Germany in Autumn. The Fassbinder segment is definitely the most memorable. Another opportunity for the director to do a full frontal! It’s impressive how willing he is to reveal himself in many other ways, including his drug use (he’s clearly also a Coke addict along with coke, going by all the empty bottles on the kitchen table). A bit disappointing to learn that he edited his mother’s ending response to make it appear more than fascistic than it actually was.


The Marriage of Maria Braun
. I found this to be more an interesting film to try to sort out, than one to really be engaged with, and I’m still not completely sure about what caused the latter (although zedz seems to have had similar experiences with it). The film is full of rich ambiguities, right down to its form: a return to Fassbinder’s ’71-to-‘74 Hollywood with a critical/ironic viewpoint melodramas, but even more mainstream/conventional in its “entertaining” drive and look, while at the same time bearing strange dissonances like those frequent, more user-unfriendly layered audio tracks.

In terms of the titular character, Maria is a strange hybrid of no-nonsense, expedient survivalism tied to a never explained and ungrounded idealized love for the stranger that is her absent husband. (Ironically it’s that very compulsive, reptilian-brained – and perhaps by that point numbed-out – busyness that’s responsible in the end
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for the distraction that makes her forget to close the gas oven at the end.)
Maybe the most interesting aspect of the film is trying to figure exactly what Fassbinder is attempted to create as an analogy with the historical period. The bookend images of the film of the historical political leaders suggest a morbid, hidden continuity between the Nazi past and the Adenauer ‘50s, and we can read Maria’s quest (and its sad denouement) as a commentary on the hollowness of Germany’s economic miracle (we’re constantly hearing construction work in the background).

Thomsen makes it a point to state how Maria is one of a few rare cases where Fassbinder promotes identification with a character, and she definitely is full of qualities we can admire, in her spirit, devotion, intelligence and energy. But the essayist in the Arrow booklet on the other hand rightly points out how we’re never allowed access to her interior life, which is possibly one of the reasons I felt a bit disengaged from the drama, while admiring the artistic framework and the craft. The narrative’s set-up and the way it’s staged in the initial scenes is almost comical in its absurdity, and it takes quite a bit of film time to get to a scene where we have some sort of feeling for her. I also have to disagree with Thomsen when he claims that her violence towards Bill doesn’t interfere with our identification with her. That’s a tremendous blow to the soul after the tenderness they’ve exchanged, and we start sensing there a palpable, strange craziness that inhabits her motivations and obsession with the marriage, even if it’s never actually spelled out or explained.

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#125 Post by zedz » Thu Oct 28, 2021 9:51 pm

Re; your spoiler:
SpoilerShow
when I watched it most recently, there seems to be a deliberate ambiguity in that she is completely discombobulated by the discreet revelation that her husband was complicit in their latter-day estrangement. This is presumably enough to shatter her illusion that they can finally live happily ever after and impel a double suicide. But as I recall, the failure to turn off the gas actually took place before that revelation, setting it up as a tragic accident. The ambiguity remains, however, in the unseen act of lighting the match. Did she not smell the gas, did she not care?

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