R. W. Fassbinder, Romantic Anarchist
May 29, 2014 5:29 AM   Subscribe

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is currently presenting the first part of a near-complete retrospective of the films of the great German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, featuring 17(!) films he made between 1969 and 1974. (Part 2, featuring the films made between 1975 and his death in 1982, will take place in November 2014.) Collected below are some recent writings on RWF and these early films, posted by the Film Society and elsewhere online.

General Commentary
Series trailer on Youtube.
David Hudson's post at Keyframe Daily, where many of the links below were discovered
Film Comment's RWF Digital Anthology, 99¢ collection featuring 35 years of writing on RWF from the Film Society's magazine
"Total Fassbinder", Richard Brody, New Yorker
"You Can't Do That On Television: Fassbinder's TV Work", John Oursler, FSLC
"Fassbinder and His Friends", Robin Holland, featuring photos she took of some RWF associates
"Cleaning Out the Closet: Fassbinder's Fashion", Abbey Bender, Film Comment
"Fassbinder A to Z", Steven Mears and Max Nelson, Film Comment, featuring profiles of a number of RWF collaborators
"Regarding R.W. Fassbinder: Letter to a Young Cinephile", Godfrey Cheshire, rogerebert.com
"Fast and Furious", Nick Pinkerton, Artforum
"Survey of a Sadist", Jonathan Rosenbaum
The Single Antidote to Thoughts of Suicide, J. Hoberman
Notes on Fassbinder, the "Romantic Anarchist", Craig Hubert, Artinfo
Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist, Bradford Nordeen, Dirty Looks
First Fassbinder, a video essay by Matthew Cheney

The Films
All synopses from the Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC) descriptions.

The Bridegroom, The Comedienne, and the Pimp (1968, directed by Jean-Marie Straub, featuring RWF as an actor)
"Structurally simple yet exceptionally complex in its political resonance, this Straub-Huillet short includes one of Fassbinder’s first onscreen roles as both the titular pimp and a character in the play-within-the-film (Ferdinand Bruckner’s Sickness of Youth). The use of documentary footage, the interracial romance, and the Brechtian performances would all prove decisive influences on Fassbinder’s own work."
Aaron Cutler, L Magazine

Love is Colder Than Death (1969)
"For his feature debut, Rainer Werner Fassbinder fashioned an acerbic, unorthodox love-triangle crime drama. Munich pimp Franz Walsch (played by Fassbinder) relishes his entrepreneurial independence and refuses to join the local mob, despite its allure of greater cash flow and stability. When Franz befriends the mysterious crook Bruno (Ulli Lommel), the two go on a small but frenzied crime spree of theft and murder, along with Franz’s prostitute girlfriend Joanna (Hanna Schygulla)."
Available on DVD and streaming on Hulu Plus.
FSLC [includes NSWF image in rotating slideshow]
David D'Arcy, Artinfo
Abbey Bender, Film Comment
Michael Koresky, Criterion [also covers the other films in Criterion's Early Fassbinder box set]
Howard Hampton, Artforum [also covers the other films in Criterion's Early Fassbinder box set]
Steve Erickson, rogerebert.com [also covers the other films in Criterion's Early Fassbinder box set]

Katzelmacher (1969)
"Fassbinder’s second feature depicts the intolerance of a circle of financially and sexually frustrated friends when an immigrant laborer moves to their Munich neighborhood, exposing a paranoid hostility to outsiders and latent currents of bourgeois fascism. This Greek newcomer, played with impish deadpan innocence by the director himself, becomes an object of cautious curiosity and the inevitable catalyst for their group’s previously suppressed internal conflict."
Available on DVD.
David D'Arcy, Artinfo
Jonathan Rosenbaum
J. Hoberman, Artinfo

The American Soldier (1970)
"An early example of Fassbinder’s pessimistic vision and his fierce, ravishing visual style, this film is a baroque homage to Hollywood cinema—film noir and gangster movies in particular. German actor Karl Scheydt plays a small-time Yankee hood (clad in white suit and fedora) who returns to Munich and quickly finds himself embroiled in some very deep trouble."
Available on DVD and streaming on Hulu Plus.
David Blakeslee, Criterioncast
Keith Uhlich, House Next Door

Beware of a Holy Whore (1970)
"A film’s cast and crew undergo a series of skirmishes, psychosexual charades, and nonplussed power trips in what may or may not be an accurate representation of Fassbinder’s behind-the-scenes methods."
Available on DVD and streaming on Hulu Plus.
Steven Mears, Film Comment
Richard Brody, New Yorker
Ricky D'Ambrose, House Next Door
Ed Gonzalez, Slant

Gods of the Plague (1970)
"Continuing Fassbinder’s early interest in teasing out the subtexts of American genre films, this stylized noir exercise—made under the signs of both Sam Fuller and Jean-Pierre Melville—focuses on the not-so-latent homoerotic tensions at the very heart of the gangster movie. Recently freed ex-con Franz (Harry Baer) is barely out of prison when he gets roped back into the Munich underworld that landed him behind bars in the first place. But this time, his romantic attentions are divided between femmes fatales Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) and Margarethe (Margarethe von Trotta) and, more unexpectedly, “Gorilla” (Günther Kaufmann, Fassbinder’s longtime lover, making his screen debut), the black Bavarian hit man who assassinated Franz’s informant brother."
Available on DVD and streaming on Hulu Plus.
Ed Gonzalez, Slant
David Blakelee, Criterioncast

The Niklashousen Journey (1970)
"A shepherd turns to preaching when he is visited by the Mother of God, but while his support increases, he is filled with a dissatisfaction that can be absolved only by embracing his own destruction."
Available on Italian DVD.
Clips on Youtube: Clip 1, Clip 2
FSLC [includes NSWF image in rotating slideshow]

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)
"Herr R. has a wife and a child to love and keep company, a respectable job as a technical engineer, and a medium-sized apartment with a garden and a TV set to slump in front of: the complete middle-class existence. One night after work, as his wife idly converses with a friend, Herr R. beats both women and his child to death with the base of a candlestick."
Available on out-of-print US DVD and in-print UK DVD.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
Calum Marsh, Village Voice
Nick Pinkerton, Reverse Shot

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)
"In one of Fassbinder’s pivotal works and greatest achievements, ineffectual ex-policeman Hans Epp, newly home from the war and greeted with chilling contempt by his domineering mother, continues to disappoint his bourgeois family by becoming a lowly fruit peddler. "
Available on Hulu Plus.
Steven Mears, Film Comment [also covers Pioneers in Ingolstadt]
Fernando F. Croce
Ed Gonzalez, Slant

Pioneers in Ingolstadt (1971)
"An adaptation of the 1924 play by Marieluise Fleisser, one of Brecht’s protégé’s, this is a prime example of Brecht’s concept of “epic theater,” and a fascinating attempt to translate those famous distancing techniques to the cinema. Completed for German television right before production on the similar if less restrained Whity, the film depicts the conflicts within a group of soldiers building a bridge in the provincial town of Ingolstadt. The aggressive young recruits live out their motto “Where there is no war, we’ll have to make one” in ways both trivial and profoundly dangerous."
Available on out-of-print DVD.
Ed Gonzalez, Slant

Whity (1971)
"Whity (Günther Kaufmann) is the illegitimate black son of sadistic patriarch Ben Nicholson (American B-movie actor Ron Randell) and also the family’s brutally abused butler. The outrageous, even deranged Nicholson family members include a perpetually enraged gay son (Ulli Lommel) and Ben’s sex-crazed young wife, who abuse Whity every chance they get, while loving him in deeper, truer ways than they can muster for anyone else, including themselves."
FSLC [includes NSWF image in rotating slideshow]
Zach Clark, L Magazine
Ed Gonzalez, Slant

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
"High camp and claustrophobia abound equally in the hermetic rooms where fashion designer Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen), her model flavor-of-the-week (Hanna Schygulla), and a faithful, longtime love slave (Katrin Schaake) enact the cruel cat-and-mouse games that comprise the plot of this chamber psychodrama."
Available on Hulu Plus.
Hillary Weston, BlackBook
Peter Tyson, Bright Lights
Jonathan Rosenbaum
Fernando F. Croce

Bremen Freedom (1972)
"This dark-as-pitch comedy about Geesche Gottfried (Margit Carstensen), a widow from the city of Bremen who over 15 years killed as many people using butter laced with arsenic, is one of Fassbinder’s more ambitious stage-to-television experiments."
Available on Youtube.

World on a Wire (1973)
"Made for German television, this recently rediscovered, three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a textbook example of a film many years ahead of its time. An adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s 1964 American novel Simulacron-3, World on a Wire is a paranoid, boundlessly inventive take on the future with dashes of Stanley Kubrick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick."
Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and on Hulu Plus (Part 1, Part 2.
Ed Halter, Criterion
Richard Brody, New Yorker
J. Hoberman, Village Voice
Glenn Kenny

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
"Produced at the peak of Fassbinder’s creative powers, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul reworks the narrative and thematic framework of Douglas Sirk’s classic melodrama All That Heaven Allows (also the inspiration for Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven) in telling the improbable love story of Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a thirty-something Moroccan immigrant working as a mechanic, and Emmi (Fassbinder muse Brigitte Mira), a German widow who is old enough to be his mother."
Available on DVD and Hulu Plus.
Chris Fujiwara, Criterion
Michael Töteberg, Criterion
Jonathan Rosenbaum
Chris Wisniewski, Reverse Shot
Ed Gonzalez, Slant

Effi Briest (1974)
"Married to a considerably older man (Wolfgang Schenck), gentle Effi (Hanna Schygulla) lives in a comfortable prison, a manor on the Baltic Sea staffed by servants whose chilly demeanor mirrors the house’s statuary. Too young and naïve to understand that breaking the rigid rules of her world might spell her doom, Effi falls for the handsome Major Crampas (Ulli Lommel) and, in the process, hurtles toward a tragic fate."
Available on Hulu Plus.
Christa Lang Fuller, Senses of Cinema

Martha (1974)
"A beautiful virgin loses her father on a trip to Rome and falls into the arms of an older stranger. His sadism and her masochism set the stage for a claws-out satire of bourgeois marriage."
Available on out-of-print US DVD and in-print UK DVD.
Jonathan Rosenbaum
Ian Johnston, Bright Lights
Ed Gonzalez, Slant
Richard Brody, New Yorker

Nora Helmer (1974)
"Fassbinder’s idiosyncratic take on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House plays out as a blistering psychodrama visually refracted through latticework, curtains, prismatic glasses, and multi-paneled mirrors."
Clip on Youtube.
posted by Awkward Philip (7 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
What Fassbinder film is it? The one-armed
Man walks into a flower shop and says:
What flower expresses
Days go by
And they just keep going by endlessly
Pulling you
Into the future.
Days go by
Endlessly pulling you
Into the future.
And the florist says:
White Lily.
posted by The Bellman at 6:46 AM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

What a great post! Thank you!
posted by MrMisterio at 6:49 AM on May 29, 2014

(It's Berlin Alexanderplatz, which was released in theaters in the U.S., but was actually a miniseries.)
posted by The Bellman at 6:50 AM on May 29, 2014

Fantastic post.

When I first started paying attention to film writing in the late seventies and early eighties, you could not escape Fassbinder's name. Then he died, three decades of increasing cultural conservatism went by, and I almost never saw his name in print or online any more. There's really been an uptick in interest over the last six months or so and it's nice to see.

I have to admit that I find some of his work pretty impenetrable, but I really liked "Fox and his Friends" and "Effi Briest," and someday I'll be brave enough for "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul."
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:56 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Though it's not one of the FSLC films, since Fassbinder didn't direct it, this is a good place to mention the awesome proto-cyberpunk sci-fi kulturkritik noir Kamikaze '89 in which he stars. (It was directed by Wolf Gremm, who was a close friend of Fassbinder's, and was RWF's last film appearance.) RWF shambles magnificently around in a leopard print suit, taking pictures with his ring (wearables!), uncovering Adornoian media conspiracies of The Combine, fighting with awesome New Wave punks, and engaging in some of the most desultory, checked-out police work ever captured on film. If you have a chance to see it you should -- it's not great by any stretch but it's fun and extremely strange.
posted by deathmarch to epistemic closure at 7:50 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

My brother gave me the Criterion Collection Early Fassbinder set for Christmas and I've been thoroughly enjoying it; I've seen all these movies, some multiple times, in the theater back when I was living in NYC and MOMA did a huge retrospective, but now I'm in the boonies and have to depend on DVDs. I agree with Sheydem-tants that it's great to see Fassbinder back in the news, and I hope a lot of people will get turned on to him. (Don't let fear eat your soul re Ali—it's sad but nothing to be scared of, a great, human movie with amazing performances.)

Thanks for this great post!
posted by languagehat at 7:59 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Though it's not one of the FSLC films, since Fassbinder didn't direct it, this is a good place to mention the awesome proto-cyberpunk sci-fi kulturkritik noir Kamikaze '89 in which he stars.

I didn't mention it in the post, but the FSLC series actually features a number of related films that RWF didn't direct, including Ulli Lommel's Tenderness of the Wolves, in which he acts; Francois Ozon's Water Drops on Burning Rocks, based on a Fassbinder play; All That Heaven Allows, which inspired Ali: Fear Eats the Soul; and Far From Heaven, which was inspired by both All That Heaven Allows and Ali. As a result, I'm sure that Kamikaze '89, from 1982, will be included in the second part of the retrospective.
posted by Awkward Philip at 8:13 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

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