Friday, June 3, 2022

Fassbinder's 77th birthday, part 3 — the Fassbinder doc ‘Wizard of Babylon’ finally reappears (with English subtitles!)

In my last blog entry I noted that there are certain films concerning Rainer Werner Fassbinder that are impossible to find with English subtitles. I’ve learned in the time since I put that post up that some of those films are indeed “on the underside of the Net” with English subtitle files (mostly fan-generated); however, a number of them are still “MIA” as far as subtitles go. However, Jon Whitehead, webmaster and mastermind of the incredible resource Rarefilmm, has now unleashed a wonderful gift for English-speaking, non-German-understanding Fassbinder fanatics in this period between the 77th anniversary of RWF’s birth (May 31) and the 40th anniversary of his death (June 10).

I concluded my last post with a link to the otherwise unseeable The Wizard of Babylon, the 1982 doc by Dieter Schidor, without English subtitles on YouTube. That film was initially distributed by New Yorker Films in the early Eighties and then — poof! — it was gone. Out of distribution, utterly impossible to find. It was SO difficult to lay hands on a copy that I was amazed it was shown again at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center in November of 2014 as part of an RWF festival. That print, I learned upon attending the screening, was a copy from Australia owned by a university. So, seemingly, that particular copy was the only one available anywhere with English subtitles. Until now.

RWF with star Brad Davis.
Jon has made it his mission to find movies that have never appeared on disc, or which seemed to have disappeared entirely from distribution. When he noted there was a German copy, taped off TV, of Wizard, I was stunned — the film wasn’t even retrievable from the aforementioned “underside of the Net.” But there was one big problem, in that the copy was, of course, in German, sans subtitles for those who love RWF but don’t know German.

Jon went to work on this as a “special project,” and finally, after utilizing different translators, the result is up on Rarefilmm and is now the single instance of a subtitled copy of Wizard appearing on the Internet. The film itself is mostly a behind-the-scenes look at Fassbinder’s last film, an adaptation of Genet’s Querelle of Brest.

Fassbinder’s Querelle (1982) is a gorgeous-looking picture that is kind of a muddle — but RWF was allowed his very rare muddles, as his filmography is astoundingly solid, especially for someone who worked so quickly and produced so much. As I’ve often said on the Funhouse TV show, the amazing thing is not that RWF was prolific, it’s that so few of his films aren’t truly wonderful.

The Warhol poster
for the film.
Back to Wizard: As a look at the making of Fassbinder’s last film, the doc is interesting, but Fassbinder also authorized a second filmmaker (Wolf Gremm) to shoot a doc on the set of Querelle, so there is another film out there on the making of that film. (Rainer Werner Fassbinder — Letzte Arbeiten, aka “Last Works,” 1982) Schidor got an exclusive, though: He got Fassbinder to agree to an interview, which took place on June 9 of 1982, reportedly 10 hours before Fassbinder’s partner and editor Juliane Lorenz found him dead on his bed.

The making-of part of the doc is actually most interesting when we hear from Burkhard Driest, who wrote versions of the script and played a featured role as “Mario.” Driest disliked RWF’s “very cynical attitude” about manipulating his actors — in this case, Driest questioned Fassbinder about the way a fight scene was to be shot, and Fassbinder taunted him about being scared of doing the scene.

This kind of interview is valuable not because we want to seek out people saying RWF was an incredibly difficult person, but to find out how this attitude was felt by those who were new to his sphere. Otherwise, making-of films become exchanges of compliments and nothing more.

Franco Nero and Jeanne Moreau are in this mode, elaborating how much they wanted to be in the film and how happy they were with their work on it. Schidor questions Moreau about her unique position in the cast, as she was the only person on-set who had ever met Genet. (Who was also contacted to write an opening comment for the film but turned it down; Genet lived until 1986.) She is able to speak about meeting the writer several times but not about his opinion of his work, as he never discussed that with her.

The first revelation is the narration for the film, written in the first and second person (“from” Fassbinder and “to” Fassbinder) by author Wolf Wondratschek, spoken by actor Klaus Löwitsch. It’s quite unsentimental, considering it was presumably written (or could’ve at least been altered) after Fassbinder’s death. It reflects on Fassbinder’s depleted physical state (especially his obesity), his desire for fame, but most of all his drive to keep working no matter what the circumstances or results.

Sample: “I want to be the cover of TIME magazine. I will make it, and that makes me happy, and I admit that. That is luxury. Work when ugliness finally reconquers all beauty.

“A feisty, fat body, a monstrous bastion against any affection that only makes you suspicious. It also protects you from the expected hugs. Even those you shyly long for. Getting ugly is your way of staying alone.

“That’s luxury. How the world’s stars dance in front of your camera, and you’re standing next to them in the shadows with your Bavarian wheat beer. Nothing is more fascinating than being famous. Because nothing compares to the horror when the dreamt-up becomes reality.

Fassbinder, Brad Davis, and
some guy who visited the set.
“Get ugly and work. Then, only then, should they come. The beautiful kings of film. The queens and the photographers.” 

And then there is the one very important reason to see the film (if one already knows some of Fassbinder’s work): his last interview. As I noted in the last blog entry, while he is less than 12 hours away from death, he does not appear particularly sick, or particularly high. His answers are articulate and well thought out. He does seem very heavy, though, and his breathing is labored. Along with that he seems tired, extremely tired. 

But, given that he produced

three early shorts (one is lost to the ages)

one short contribution to an anthology film (the most singularly personal thing he ever made for any medium)

one TV variety special

eight telefilms, two of which were two-parters

one documentary

twenty-eight fictional feature films, and

two miniseries for TV; the second of which, Berlin Alexanderplatz, is arguably his masterpiece and perhaps his most personal fictional work

it makes perfect sense that he finally, sadly, was very tired at the age of 37 and very much needed to rest on June 10, 1982.

You can access The Wizard of Babylon at Rarefilm at this link. Make up your own mind as to whether Fassbinder’s final interview is something that should be hidden away from RWF’s fans (as his mother desired) or if it is a very important document in terms of understanding Fassbinder’s thoughts at the end of his life, as some of us believe.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Fassbinder’s 77th birthday, part 2 — a trove of amazingly rare RWF-related films (anyone know a ‘fansubber’ or low-price translator?)

I don’t speak or read German. Thus, my deep fascination with the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder has been inhibited. I have relied over the years on the kindness of subtitlers to supply subs for his films, and am happy to report that, at the current time, you can find English-subtitled copies of every one of his features and telefilms somewhere on the Internet, except the second part of Bolweiser.

In the world of Fassbinder-lit, it’s been dire: the collections of his early writings and interviews with him have gone untranslated for a long time (18 years for the interview book so far).

Thus, you can imagine my conflicted feelings when a YouTube poster named “Raoul Révéré” began to post a host of INCREDIBLY rare films concerning Fassbinder and other German directors, albeit with no English subtitles. Révéré has posted *dozens* of very watchable copies of films made by directors whose work Americans never get to see.

The fact that they are untranslated is indeed maddening — not since the traveling festival of Fassbinder’s films in 1997 (that began as a comprehensive show of everything he directed at MoMA) has there been such a veritable flood of RWF-related material available to viewers worldwide. I thus present the following with mixed emotions, but in celebration of Fassbinder’s birthday (which is today, May 31) and in commemoration of his death (which took place on June 10).

It would be delightful if the many people who “fansub” films for free would tackle these films, but it seems unlikely. It would make sense, however, to start a sort of crowd-funding project to get these films (perhaps just one or two to start with) subtitled for Fassbinder fans who would love to see them. Count me in if such a thing can be arranged with a bilingual person who has the time and the inclination (and charges a reasonable rate for translation of movie dialogue). I can be contacted at the email found at

For those who would find respite in the Google “auto-translate” option for Closed Captions, I must warn you: that way lies madness. The films that do have that option on Révéré’s channel proceed — as they do in “heard” English — to produce sentences that are mere word-salad and seem to have a vague relation to what is being said (many words are “misheard” by the program), but which make no sense and ultimately undercut the viewing experience. (Read: You’re better off with whatever plot synopsis can be found online, even if it’s only a line or two.)

Back to the trove of Révéré: The specialty on this YT channel is apparent — filmmakers who follow Fassbinder in their love of Hollywood (and German post-war) melodrama and others who craft visually arresting kitsch/camp/gay imagery. The bulk of Révéré’s online trove centers around the writer-painter-filmmaker Herbert Achternbusch and Fassbinder. In the case of the latter, Révéré has posted a number of films that fit into the categories outlined above and also happen to feature members of Fassbinder’s acting ensemble in supporting roles.

Before I delve into the film directly relate to Fassbinder, here is a list of those, for the diehard RWF fan.

Directed by Robert Van Ackeren:

Harlis, aka “The Sensuous Three” (1972), with Ulli Lommel

Der letzte Schrei (1975), with Delphine Seyrig and Udo Kier

Die Reinheit des Herzens (1980), with Elisabeth Trissenaar

Directed by Achternbusch:

Die Atlantikschwimmer (1976), with Margarethe von Trotta, Kurt Raab

Die Olympiasiegerin (1983), with Kurt Raab

Rita Ritter (1984), with Armin Mueller-Stahl, Barbara Valentin, Eva Mattes

Wohin? (1988), with Kurt Raab

Hades (1995), with Irm Hermann and Rosel Zech

Das fünfte Gebot (The Fifth Commandment, 1975), directed by Duccio Tessari, with Helmut Berger and Udo Kier

“Talk Im Turm,” 1992 talk show with Helmut Berger and Fassbinder colleague (and nemesis) Rosa von Praunheim

Die Peep Show ist tot, es lebe die Peep Show! by Lothar Lambert, with Ingrid Caven and Dieter Schidor

Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht (1982), directed by Hans-Christof Stenzel, with Volker Spengler

A “missing in action” title that did have a U.S. distributor (“Promovision International”) and yet never showed up on U.S. DVD is A Man Like Eva (1984), directed by Radu Gabrea. It’s an odd picture, in that its main conceit is that Eva Mattes (who starred in Fassbinder films, including Petra von Kant and the missing (but available on the “underside” of the Internet) Jail Bait) plays RWF.

Ms. Mattes does a good impression of RWF, but the film does leave out one aspect of Fassbinder’s non-stop activity, namely drugs. One assumes Gabrea left this out to further concentrate on Fassbinder’s relationships with his performers and crew.


Moving closer to Fassbinder, Révéré has posted Heute spielen wir den Boß (“Today we play the boss,” 1981), the only theatrical feature directed by the composer of the immaculate music in Fassbinder’s films, Peer Raben. The film stars and is coscripted by Fassbinder's ex-boyfriend, star, and crew member, Kurt Raab. Other Fassbinder mainstays in the cast are Ingrid Caven, Rosel Zech, Harry Baer, Irm Hermann, and Gunther Kaufmann.


Raab died of AIDS in 1988. A documentary about his life appeared in 1989. Sehnsucht nach Sodom (“Yearning for Sodom”), was directed by Hanno Baethe, Hans Hirschmüller, and Raab.


There are seven documentaries on Fassbinder on the Révéré channel — alas, these as well are all in German and have no translation to any other language. Each one of them contains rare footage of Fassbinder interviews and shows him directing on-set. I leave out here the full-length interview filmed in his Paris apartment, as that has appeared as a supplement on U.S. DVD.

The first documentary is Es ist nicht gut, in einem Menschenleib zu leben (“It is not good to live in a human body,” 1995), directed by Peter Buchka. It can be found here.

Doc 2 is Ich will nicht nur, dass ihr mich liebt (“I don’t just want you to love me,” 1992), directed by Hans Günther Pflaum.


Doc 3 is Ende einer Kommune? (“End of a commune?”). Directed by Joachim von Mengershausen, it is probably the RAREST of the RWF docs. It was released in 1970 and shows Fassbinder and his colleagues rehearsing and attending the premiere of his first film, Love Is Colder Than Death, at the 1969 Berlin Film Festival.


Doc 4 is Der Kulturbetrieb braucht so was wie mich (“The culture industry needs someone like me”).


Doc 5 is Etwas, wovor ich Angst habe, setzt mich in Gang (“Something I’m scared of gets me going,” 1982).


Doc 6 is Der Mensch ist ein hässliches Tier (“Man is an ugly animal”). 


Lastly, Révéré has posted three films that Fassbinder acted in, only one of which appeared on U.S. VHS. The first is 1 Berlin-Harlem (1974), directed by Lothar Lambert and Wolfram Zobus. It contains RWF ensemble members in the cast: Ingrid Caven, Peter Chatel, Gunther Kaufmann, and Evelyn Künneke.

Fassbinder appears at 116:20, with Caven outside a movie theater. That scene is here.

Shadow of Angels (1976) is the most controversial project that Fassbinder was ever involved with. It began as the Fassbinder play “The Garbage, the City and Death,” which contains a character called “the Rich Jew.” It has been noted by critics that the character is not an anti-Semitic stick figure, but the play attracted protests and smears against Fassbinder in the press.

The film adaptation is akin to the bleaker films in Fassbinder’s canon (like In a Year of 13 Moons), but Swiss filmmaker Daniel Schmid handled direction for Shadow. Schmid is seen here introducing the film on German television. Online he is quoted as saying that the film takes place in “a Germany where no one is starving and no one is scared anymore, and the only two people who are still sensitive are the prostitute and the Jew, because both of them are outcasts.”

Below is the version put up on YT by Révéré. A subtitled copy of the film can be found at Rarefilmm, here.


The most amazing discovery for Fassbinder fans who enjoy watching him act in films directed by others is a 1971 telefilm directed by Peer Raben, Die Ahnfrau — Oratorium nach Franz Grillparzer (“The Ancestress”). The cast includes RWF, Margit Carstensen, Hans Hirschmüller, Kurt Raab, Irm Hermann, Ulli Lommel, Ingrid Caven, and Hanna Schygulla.

For those who would like to try to follow the plot without knowing the language, the plot of the 1816 play by Grillparzer is this (well, at least according to Grillparzer’s Wiki bio): “It is a gruesome fate-tragedy in the trochaic measure of the Spanish drama, already made popular by Müllner's Schuld. The ghost of a lady who was killed by her husband for infidelity is doomed to walk the earth until her family line dies out, and this happens in the play amid scenes of violence and horror.”

Raben’s stylized production of the play truly makes one wish this film did have subtitles.


And finally, a film that did play in the U.S. but has disappeared in the last 40 years. And for which we DO have a translation of the key portion (but not on the film itself on YT). The film in question is Dieter Schidor’s The Wizard of Babylon (1982), which shows the making of Fassbinder’s last film, Querelle (1982) but even more importantly features his last-ever interview, conducted the evening before he died at the very young age of 37.

There is another making-of film about Querelle, Wolf Gremm’s Letzte Arbeiten (“Last works,” 1982), so while Schidor’s behind-the-scenes look at the production of Fassbinder’s last film is very interesting, it isn’t unique. The interview most certainly is.

It’s not all that long, but the film begins (for 6 minutes) and ends (for 11 minutes) with this last interview. The important thing to know is that Fassbinder is not out of his mind on drugs. He does not look like he is dying — he simply looks very, very tired. (Which makes sense, given the output of films, plays, TV work, and writing he created from 1969 to 1982.)

His answers are extremely coherent and quite eloquent. I will include two here:

Schidor: Rainer, you’ve just concluded your 41st film, Querelle, based on a novel by Jean Genet. What made you film this radical novel by Genet after your feminist films, Maria Braun and Veronika Voss? Or, why did you postpone it for so long? 

RWF: Well, I didn’t shoot feminist films but films about human society. Querelle is a utopian draft in contrast to society. That’s what it’s in contrast to, it isn’t feminist film as opposed to men’s film. These films were to describe a society as well as possible. It’s easier to do this with women. Querelle is the draft of a possible society… which, judging by all its repulsiveness, is wonderful. Therefore, they don’t contradict each other but complement each other.... 

Schidor: You started to create a kind of German Hollywood with Lili Marleen and Querelle, which were both extremely big studio productions. 

RWF: That was once an expressed thought of mine. What I’d like is a Hollywood film, that is, a film that’s as wonderful and as easy to understand as Hollywood but at the same time not as untruthful.

The full translation of the interview was featured in the press notes put out by New Yorker films. The interview and a short essay by Fassbinder on Querelle can be found here.

So now, with the re-entry into public view of a “lost” Fassbinder documentary and its key sequence translated into English, I can conclude my celebration of the 77th anniversary of RWF’s birth.


Thanks to superior cineaste Paul Gallagher for his help with this piece. Thanks also to Jon Whitehead of for letting me know about this YT channel and in discovering the print materials about Wizard of Babylon. is here.