Monday, June 11, 2012

The 30th anniversary of Fassbinder’s death

30 years ago yesterday Rainer Werner Fassbinder was found dead at the age of 37 — he had died overnight, and the film 20,000 Years in Sing Sing was in the VCR near the mattress he slept on. In the three decades since his departure, film buffs the world over still haven’t caught up with his singularly brilliant and eternally vibrant body of work. I’ve documented on the Funhouse TV show my fascination with the work of RWF, and I wanted to commemorate this anniversary with a little “survey” post offering the best Fassbinder video links on YT.
I will present these in three batches: the first are interviews, the second are film clips, and the third are film clips involving music. In the first category I would of course first refer readers to two clips from my second interview with Juliane Lorenz, the head of the Fassbinder Foundation.
There has been some controversy over the years about Ms. Lorenz’s leadership of the FF from disgruntled individuals who knew RWF, but there can be no argument that she has done an exemplary job in getting Fassbinder’s works back into circulation in perfect prints and in keeping his memory alive.
In my first interview with her, we spoke about her personal relationship with him, but in the second interview, I focused much more on his work. She worked hand-in-glove with him as the editor on all of the later features he made (including the titanic Berlin Alexanderplatz), and so I asked her about his habit of only shooting single takes of scenes:
Since he was a master of “distancing” techniques, Fassbinder was often accused of being “cold” to his character’s difficulties. I asked Ms. Lorenz about this:
Fassbinder did several interviews on TV in Germany, but almost none of them have been subtitled in English. Thus I will point you to his appearance in Wim Wenders’ short Room 666 (1982), in which Wenders asked his colleagues to comment on the “future of film” (since even back in 1982, video was destined to usurp the cinema). Here is Fassbinder’s response to this question:
The longest and best interview with RWF to be subtitled is a 1978 chat with Peter W. Jansen that was conducted in his Paris apartment. The chat almost works like a therapy session, as the interviewer probes Fassbinder’s emotions and relationship with his work:
For those hardcore devotees like myself, there is nothing finer than discovering a truly rare piece of footage, even if it is not subtitled. Here is a documentary on Fassbinder and Sirk that shows the two men shooting the never-seen-in-America (except for one unsubtitled showing at MOMA in NYC) Sirk short Bourbon Street Blues (1979).
Now onto the films. I would recommend that anyone who is not familiar with Fassbinder’s work check it out in a movie theater, since he was a master of moving the viewer “in” and “out” of the action visually, and that just ain’t gonna register if you watch his films on anything smaller than a normal-sized TV set. In case you really do want to become acquainted with his work, the collector who put up a number of great Chabrol films, some great Truffaut and Rohmer films, and an equal amount of Bergman pics has also been putting up a lot of Fassbinder films.
Of the titles this gent put up (I’m going to take the plunge and assume such frenzied fan behavior came from a male):
— the single best intro to Fassbinder’s work is Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
— the most famous and “normal” title is The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)
— the *rarest* is Lili Marleen (1981) (which has never been out on US VHS or DVD)
Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) is recommended for diehards who’ve seen the other films. OOP on DVD.
Fox and his Friends (1975) is one of his greatest German humiliation™ films ever — yes, some day I’ll trademark that term, which I’ve been using on the show for over 15 years now. OOP on DVD.
Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (1975) is a slight film, but entertaining nonetheless. OOP on DVD.
Satan’s Brew (1976) is a title I’d warn every one but the most diehard fan away from.
To close out the films-online section, I must reference his masterpiece, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980). The film contains the full range of emotion and is not only the finest thing Fassbinder made, but one of the finest things ever made for television (right up there with the works of Dennis Potter, Rod Serling, and other TV innovators). Here our hero, Franz Biberkopf, has a little discussion with his drinks:

And now the music. Fassbinder’s third short, The Little Chaos (1966) is a gorgeous little number that combines his Godard influence and his dark sense of humor, with a nice closer that beautifully uses a song by the Troggs:
Rainer rocks out with his greatest female star (although I do love all the others), Hanna Schygulla. This little bit of dancin’ is from Rio Das Mortes (1971):
Fassbinder absolutely loved Kraftwerk, and specifically the group’s song “Radioactivity.” He used it in Berlin Alexanderplatz, but here is its first appearance in an RWF film, in Chinese Roulette (1976):
And because one of the cornerstones of Fassbinder’s work was the absolutely beautiful scores of Peer Raben, I once again link to my montage of favorite musical moments from Raben in Fassbinder’s films:

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