Fassbinder, Rainer Werner
FASSBINDER, Rainer Werner
Nationality: German. Born: Bad Wörishofen, Bavaria, 31 May 1946. Education: The Rudolf Steiner School and Secondary schools in Augsburg and Munich until 1964; studied acting at Fridl-Leonhard Studio, Munich. Family: Married Ingrid Caven, 1970 (divorced). Career: Worked as decorator and in archives of Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, 1964–66; failed entrance exam to West Berlin Film and Television Academy, 1965; joined action-theater, Munich, with Hanna Schygulla, 1967; first original play produced (Katzelmacher), action-theater closed in May, co-founded anti-theater, 1968; began making films with members of anti-theater, 1969; worked in German theatre and radio, and as actor, 1969–82; founder, Tango Film, independent company, 1971; with Kurt Raab and Roland Petri, took over Theater am Turm (TAT), Frankfurt, 1974; TAT project failed, returned to Munich to concentrate on film work, 1975. Awards: Golden Bear, Berlin Festival, for Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss, 1982. Died: In Munich, 10 June 1982.
Films as Director (under pseudonym Franz Walsch):
Der Stadtstreicher (The City Tramp) (+ sc, ed, uncredited pr, role)
Das kleine Chaos (The Little Chaos) (+ sc, ed, role, uncredited pr)
Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Love Is Colder than Death) (+ sc, ed, role as Franz, uncredited pr); Katzelmacher (+ sc, ed, art d, role as Jorgos, uncredited pr); Götter der Pest (Gods of the Plague) (+ sc, ed, role as Porno Buyer, uncredited pr); Warum läuft Herr R amok? (Why Does Herr R Run Amok?) (co-d, co-sc, co-ed, uncredited pr)
Rio das Mortes (+ sc, role as Discotheque-goer); Whity (+ sc, co-ed, role as Guest in Saloon, uncredited pr); Die Niklashauser Fahrt (The Niklashausen Journey) (co-d, co-sc, co-ed, role as Black Monk, uncredited pr); Der amerikanische Soldat (The American Soldier) (sc, song, role as Franz); Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte (Beware of a Holy Whore) (+ co-ed, sc, role as Sascha, uncredited pr)
(under real name):
Pioniere in Ingolstadt (Pioneers in Ingolstadt) (+ sc, uncredited pr); Das Kaffeehaus (The Coffee House) (for television) (+ sc, uncredited pr); Der Händler der vier Jahreszeiten (The Merchant of the Four Seasons) (+ sc, role as Zucker, uncredited pr)
Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) (+ sc, des, uncredited pr); Wildwechsel (Wild Game) (+ sc, uncredited pr); Acht Stunden sind kein Tag (Eight Hours Don't Make a Day) (+ sc, uncredited pr) (shown on German television in five monthly segments); Bremer Freiheit (Bremen Freedom) (for television) (+ sc, uncredited pr)
Welt am Draht (World on a Wire) (in two parts) (+ co-sc, uncredited pr); Angst essen Seele auf (Fear Eats the Soul) (+ sc, des, uncredited pr); Martha (+ sc, uncredited pr); Nora Helmer (for television) (+ sc, uncredited pr)
Fontane Effi Briest (Effi Briest) (+ sc, role as narrator, uncredited pr); Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox) (+ co-sc, role as Franz Biberkopf—'Fox,' uncredited pr); Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht (Like a Bird on a Wire) (for television) (+ sc, uncredited pr)
Mutter Küsters Fahrt zum Himmel (Mother Küster's Trip to Heaven) (+ co-sc, uncredited pr); Angst vor der Angst (Fear of Fear) (+ sc, uncredited pr)
Ich will doch nur, dass Ihr mich liebt (I Only Want You to Love Me) (+ sc, uncredited pr); Satansbraten (Satan's Brew) (+ sc, uncredited pr); Chinesisches Roulette (Chinese Roulette) (+ sc, co-pr)
Episode of Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in Autumn) (+ sc, role, uncredited pr); Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun) (+ story); In einem Jahr mit dreizehn Monden (In a Year with Thirteen Moons) (+ sc, ph, uncredited pr)
Die dritte Generation (The Third Generation) (+ sc, ph, uncredited pr)
Berlin Alexanderplatz (for television, thirteen episodes with epilogue) (+ sc, ph, role as himself in dream sequence, uncredited pr); Lili Marleen (+ sc, ph, uncredited pr)
Lola (+ sc, ph, uncredited pr); Theater in Trance (TV documentary) (+ commentary)
Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (Veronika Voss) (+ sc, uncredited pr, ph); Querelle (+ sc, ph, uncredited pr)
Tony Freunde (Vasil) (role as Mallard)
Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhalter (The Bridegroom, the Comedienne, and the Pimp) (Straub) (role as the pimp)
Fernes Jamaica (Distant Jamaica) (Moland) (sc); Alarm (Lemmel) (role as the man in uniform); Al Capone im deutschen Wald (Wirth) (role as Heini); Baal (Schlöndorff) (role as Baal); Frei bis zum nächsten Mal (Köberle) (role as the mechanic)
Matthias Kneissl (Hauff) (role as Flecklbauer); Der plötzliche Reichtum der armen Leute von Kombach (Schlöndorff) (role as a peasant); Supergirl (Thome) (role as man who looks through window)
Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (Lommel) (role as Wittkowski)
1 Berlin-Harlem (Lambert) (role as himself)
Schatten der Engel (Shadow of Angels) (Schmid) (sc, role as Raoul, the pimp)
Bourbon Street Blues (Sirk, Schonherr, and Tilman) (role)
Lili Marleen (Weisenborn) (role)
By FASSBINDER: books—
Antitheater, Frankfurt, 1973.
Antitheater 2, Frankfurt, 1974.
Stücke 3, Munich, 1978.
Querelle Filmbuch, Munich 1982.
Film Befreien den Kopf: Essays und Arbeitsnotizen, edited by Michael Toteburg, Frankfurt, 1984.
Die Anarchie der Phantasie: Gesprache und Interviews, edited by Michael Toteburg, Frankfurt, 1986.
Die Kinofilme 1, Munich, 1987.
By FASSBINDER: articles—
"Liebe ist kälter als der Tod," in Film (London), no. 8, 1969.
Interview in Filmkritik (Munich), August 1969.
Interview in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1974/75.
Interview in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1975.
"Insects in a Glass Case," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1976.
Interview in Cineaste (New York), Autumn 1977.
"Ich bin das Gluck dieser Erde. Ach war' das schon wenn's so ware," an interview with B. Steinborn and R. von Naso, in Filmfaust (Frankfurt), April-May 1982.
Interview with P. Pawlikowski, in Stills (London), November/December 1982.
On FASSBINDER: books—
Limmer, Wolfgang, Fassbinder, Munich, 1973.
Jansen, Peter, and Wolfram Schütte, editors, Reihe Film 2: RainerWerner Fassbinder, Munich, 1979.
Eckhardt, Bernd, Rainer Werner Fassbinder: In 17 jahren 42 Filme—Stationen eines Leben fur den Deutschen Film, Munich, 1982.
Iden, Peter, and others, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Munich, 1982.
Raab, Kurt, and Karsten Peters, Die Sehnsucht des Rainer WernerFassbinder, Munich, 1982.
Foss, Paul, editor, Fassbinder in Review, Sydney, 1983.
Hayman, Ronald, Fassbinder: Filmmaker, London, 1984.
Phillips, Klaus, New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen throughthe 1970s, New York, 1984.
Katz, Robert, and Peter Berling, Love Is Colder than Death: The Lifeand Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, London, 1987.
Elsaesser, Thomas, New German Cinema: A History, London, 1989.
Lardeau, Yann, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Paris, 1990.
Spaich, Herbert, Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Leben und Werk, Weinheim, 1992.
Shattuc, Jane, Television, Tabloids, and Tears: Fassbinder andPopular Culture, Minneapolis, Minnesota Press, 1995.
Elsaesser, Thomas, Fassbinder's Germany: History, Identity, Subject, Amsterdam, 1996.
Watson, Wallace Steadman, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder:Film as Private and Public Art, Columbia, South Carolina, 1996.
Kardish, Laurence, editor, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, New York, 1997.
On FASSBINDER: articles—
Wilson, David, "Anti-Cinema: Rainer Werner Fassbinder," in Sightand Sound (London), no. 2, 1972.
"Fassbinder and Sirk," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1975.
"Gay Men and Film Section," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), no. 16, 1977.
Oms, M., A. Micheu, and M. Meitzel, "À propos de Rainer Werner Fassbinder," in Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Perpignan), vol. 32, Spring 1981.
"Fassbinder Issue" of October (Cambridge, Massachusetts), Summer 1982.
Dossier on Fassbinder, in Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1982.
Roud, Richard, "Biter Bit," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1982.
Hoberman, J., "Explorations," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1982.
Riley, B., and H. Kennedy, obituaries, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1982.
MacBean, J.R., "The Success and Failure of Rainer Werner Fassbinder," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1982/83.
MacBean, J.R., "The Cinema as Self–Portrait: The Final Films of R.W. Fassbinder," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 12, no. 4, 1983.
Sirk, Douglas, "Obituary for Rainer Werner Fassbinder," in Framework (Norwich), no. 20, 1983.
Erffmeyer, T.E., "I Only Want You to Love Me: Fassbinder, Melodrama and Brechtian Form," in Journal of University FilmAssociation (Carbondale, Illinois), Winter 1983.
Feinstein, Herbert, "BRD 1–2-3: Fassbinder's Postwar Trilogy and the Spectacle," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Fall 1983.
Katz, Robert, "Fear Ate His Soul," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July/August 1985.
Krasnova, G., "Uber Rainer Werner Fassbinder," in Beiträge zurFilm und Fernsehwissenschaft (Berlin), vol. 26, no. 2, 1985.
Silverman, K., "Fassbinder and Lacan: A Reconsideration of Gaze, Look, and Image," in Camera Obscura (Baltimore), no. 18, 1989.
Ruppert, P., "Fassbinder, Spectatorship, and Utopian Desire," in Cinema Journal (Berkeley), vol. 28, no. 2, Winter 1989.
"The Other Fassbinder," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 12, no. 1, January 1990.
Pflaum, H.G., ". . . ich hatte nur diese bestimmte Zeit. . . ," in EPDFilm (Frankfurt), vol. 9, no. 6, June 1992.
Watson, W., "The Bitter Tears of Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Fassbinder Bogarde Letters," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 2, no. 3, July 1992.
Naughton, Leonie, "Fassbinder: Ten Years On. . . ," in Filmnews, vol. 22, no. 7, August 1992.
"Fassbinder-Werkschau," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), vol. 20, no. 4, August 1992.
Shattuc, Jane, "Fassbinder as a Popular Auteur: The Making of an Authorial Legend," in Journal of Film and Television (Boston), vol. 45, no. 1, Spring 1993.
Nevers, C., and E. Andréanszky, "Le secret de Rainer Werner Fassbinder," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 469, June 1993.
Shattuc, Jane, "Contra Brecht: Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pop Culture in the Sixties," in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), vol. 33, no. 1, Fall 1993.
Medhurst, Andy, "The Long Take," in Sight and Sound, vol. 6, no. 2, February 1996.
On FASSBINDER: films—
von Mengershausen, Joachim, Ende einer Kommune, West Germany, 1970.
Ballhaus, Michael, and Dietmar Buchmann, Fassbinder produziert:Film Nr. 8, West Germany, 1971.
Wiebel, Martin, and Ludwig Metzger, Glashaus-TV Intern, West Germany, 1973.
Plater, Edward M.V., "The Externalization of the Protagonist's Mind in Fassbinder's Despair," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), vol. 11, no. 3, 1987.
* * *
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was the leading member of a group of second-generation, alternative filmmakers in West Germany. The first generation consisted of Alexander Kluge and others who in 1962 drafted the Oberhausen Manifesto, initiating what has come to be called the "New German Cinema." Fassbinder's most distinguishing trait within the tradition of "counter-cinema," aside from his reputation for rendering fragments of the new left ideology of the 1960s on film, was his modification of the conventions of political cinema initiated in the 1920s and subsequent tailoring of these conventions to modern conditions of Hollywood cinema. He did this to a greater degree than Godard, who is credited with using these principles as content for filmic essays on narrative.
In an interview in 1971 Fassbinder asserted what has come to represent his most convincing justification for his innovative attachment to story: "The American cinema is the only one I can take really seriously, because it's the only one that has really reached an audience. German cinema used to do so, before 1933, and of course there are individual directors in other countries who are in touch with their audiences. But American cinema has generally had the happiest relationship with its audience, and that is because it doesn't try to be 'art.' Its narrative style is not so complicated or artificial. Well, of course it's artificial, but not 'artistic'."
This concern with narrative and popular expression (some of his productions recall the good storytelling habits of Renoir) was evident early in the theatrical beginnings of Fassbinder's career, when he forged an aesthetic that could safely be labeled a creative synthesis of Brecht and Artaud oriented toward the persuasion of larger audiences.
This aesthetic began to form with Fassbinder's turn to the stage in 1967. He had finished his secondary school training in 1964 in Augsburg and Munich. He joined the Action-Theater in Munich with Hanna Schygulla, whom he had met in acting school. After producing his first original play in 1968, the Action-Theater was closed by the police in May of that year. Fassbinder then founded the "antitheater," a venture loosely organized around the tenets of Brechtian theater translated into terms alluring for contemporary audiences. Although the 1969 Liebe ist kälter als der Tod marks the effective beginning of his feature film career (Der Stadtsreicher and Das kleine Chaos constituting minor efforts), he was to maintain an intermittent foothold in the theater over the years until his premature death, working in various productions throughout Germany and producing a number of radio plays in the early 1970s. The stint with "antitheater" was followed by the assumption of directorial control, with Kurt Raab and Roland Petri, over the Theater am Turm (TAT) of Frankfurt in 1974, and the founding of Albatross Productions for coproductions in 1975.
When TAT failed, Fassbinder became less involved in the theater, but a trace of his interest always remained and was manifested in his frequent appearances in his own films. In fact, out of the more than forty feature films produced during his lifetime, there have only been a handful or so in which Fassbinder did not appear in one way or another. Indeed, he has had a major role in at least ten of these films.
Fassbinder's mixing together of Hollywood and avant-garde forms took a variety of turns throughout his brief career. In the films made during the peak of 1960s activism in Germany—specifically Katzelmacher, Liebe ist kälter als der Tod, Götter der Pest, and Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?—theatrical conventions, principally those derived from his Brechtian training, join forces with a "minimalist" aesthetic and the indigenous energies of the Heimatfilm to portray such sensitive issues as the foreign worker problem, contradictions within supposedly revolutionary youth culture, and concerns of national identity. These early "filmed theater" pieces, inevitably conforming to a static, long-take style because of a dearth of funding, tended to resemble parables or fables in their brevity and moral, didactic structuring. As funding from the government increased in proportion to his success, the popular forms of filmmaking associated with Hollywood became his models. His output from 1970 through the apocalyptic events of October 1977 (a series of terrorist actions culminated in Hans-Martin Schleyer's death, etc.) is an exploration of the forms of melodrama and the family romance as a way to place social issues within the frame of sexual politics. Whity, Der Händler der vier Jahreszeiten, Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant, Martha, Faustrecht der Freiheit, and Frauen in New York are perhaps the most prominent examples. A self-reflexive pastiche of the gangster film is evident as well in Der amerikanische Soldat. This attention to the mediation of other forms ultimately began to assume the direction of a critique of the "art film": Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte, an update of 8 1/2; Satansbraten, a comment on aesthetics and politics centered around the figure of Stephen George; and Chinesisches Roulette, a parody concerning an inbred aristocracy.
The concern with the continuation of fascism into the present day received some attention in this period (specifically in Wildwechsel, Despair, and Bolwieser), but it became the dominant structuring motivation in the final period (1977–82) of Fassbinder's career. Here there is a kind of epic recombination of all earlier innovations in service of an understanding of fascism and its implications for the immediate postwar generation. Fassbinder's segment in Deutschland im Herbst (a collective endeavor of many German intellectuals and filmmakers) inaugurates this period. It and Die Ehe der Maria Braun, Lili Marleen, Lola, and Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss may be seen as a portrayal of the consolidation of German society to conform to the "American Model" of social and economic development. In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Querelle are depictions of the crisis in sexual identity, and the criminal and counter-cultural worlds associated with that process, in relation to "capitalism in crisis." Die dritte Generation is a kind of cynical summation of the German new left in the wake of a decade of terrorist activities.
This final phase, perhaps Fassbinder's most brilliant cinematically, will be the one given the greatest critical attention in future years. It is the one which evinces the keenest awareness of the intellectual spaces traversed in Germany since the years of fascism (and especially since the mid-1960s), and the one which reveals the most effective assimilation of the heritage of forms associated with art and political cinema.
Fassbinder, Rainer Werner
Despite his abbreviated career that was cut short when he died of a drug overdose at age 37, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1946–1982) has been ranked among the most important German filmmakers of the modern era. "In the 20 years since [his death]," wrote Tony Pipolo in Cineaste, nothing comparable to Fassbinder's brief but galvanizing engagement with cinema has emerged in Germany."
Following on the experiments of the French New Wave in the 1960s, the filmmakers of the so-called New German Cinema, of which Fassbinder was one, cultivated darker themes, often with a lurking consciousness of the horrors Germans had perpetrated before and during World War II. Fassbinder made films about outsiders of various kinds, and his films, filled with betrayal, crime, and fringe existences, were often unpleasant to watch. Few people knew Fassbinder well, for he himself was an unpleasant drug abuser who tended to drag others down with him; two of his homosexual lovers committed suicide. Yet his films were wildly imaginative, and critics hailed many of them as masterpieces. Working with feverish rapidity, he never repeated himself. Fassbinder managed to tie many of his preoccupations together into an epic story, Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun), which achieved financial as well as critical success internationally.
Grew Up amid Post war Chaos
Like the early stages of Die Ehe der Maria Braun, Fassbinder's early life took place against a backdrop of a devastated Germany in which crowding, disorder, and substandard housing were the norm. He was born in Bad Wörishofen, near Munich, Germany, on May 31, 1946. Fassbinder's father was a doctor who treated prostitutes, and Fassbinder, though he was warned away from them, grew up with an open mind toward people who lived or worked on the streets. His mother was a translator who, among other works, created the German versions of several books by Truman Capote. Fassbinder's parents divorced when he was six, and both before and after that he was left on his own for much of the time.
These experiences, according to various statements made by Fassbinder himself, colored the emotional tone of his films black. "I was lucky, growing up in a family where close relationships didn't exist," he was quoted as saying by Vincent Canby of the New York Times. When I was a child, I suffered a lot from that, but today I'm kind of happy about it. It makes me freer than people are in general." American movies of the 1950s were widely available in Germany, and the young Fassbinder spent most of his time soaking up one after another. He was especially impressed by the huge melodramas of the German-Danish-American director Douglas Sirk, whose visually imaginative style was plastered over stories that revealed layers upon layers of personal deception born of the efforts people make to live in a corrupt society. Sirk's films, such as Written on the Wind and the racially based tearjerker Imitation of Life, influenced the films Fassbinder would make as an adult, and even though he was a radical outsider who would hardly have fared well in Hollywood, he always professed an admiration for American films. His own work loomed large in the minds of independent American directors oriented toward social critique, such as Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant.
In 1964 Fassbinder took a job with Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, but his heart was in stories he wanted to tell through drama and film. In 1965 he applied to the West Berlin Film and Television Academy but failed the entrance exam. In the famously conservative German city of Munich, Fassbinder and a group of like-minded souls began to mount experimental stage productions, taking the leftist-oriented theater of German playwright Bertolt Brecht as a point of departure. Fassbinder was influenced by the radical French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and by the general revolutionary spirit that grew among European young people around the especially violent year of 1968. After Fassbinder's group Action-Theater was shut down by the police, he co-founded a second troupe called Anti-Theater and continued to write plays and radio plays even after beginning to devote most of his intense energy to films. Several of his Anti-theater plays were later collected in books.
Several of the actors and production artists Fassbinder met and worked with in Munich's theater scene became the nucleus of the creative talent he would draw on in his films. Fassbinder realized his homosexual orientation as a teenager and never attempted to conceal it, although he briefly married actress Ingrid Caven in 1970. Only a few of his films dealt with gay themes, and he was criticized by some in the gay community for his negative portrayals of gay characters. Others defended him, however, pointing out that nearly all of the characters in Fassbinder's films were portrayed negatively, regardless of background or sexual orientation.
Lived on Wild Side
In his personal life, Fassbinder went well beyond the party-happy dissolution often practiced by film-industry figures and creative artists in general. He often drank two quarts of cognac a day, downed a variety of pills, ate voraciously and soon became overweight, and was fond of violent sadomasochistic games. In an episode reported by his biographer Ronald Hayman, after the trio had gone for a swim in the nude, he ordered his Algerian-born male lover, El Hedi ben-Salem, to cut Caven's hair off with a kitchen knife. Her struggles left her with a throat wound, but she was luckier than ben-Salem, who eventually, like Fassbinder's second long-term male partner Armin Meyer, committed suicide. When he appeared in public, Fassbinder was surrounded by a posse of associates who discouraged approaches by outsiders.
After making several short films, Fassbinder made his real debut with Liebe ist käter als der Tod (Love Is Colder than Death) in 1969. The title might serve as an epigram for many of his films, which, despite their wide variety of style and subject matter, often involved betrayal as a theme or plot element. Fassbinder was soon making films that critics would later number among his best. Katzelmacher, a depiction of a group of unemployed proto-punks in Munich, was praised for its innovative style; Canby wrote in the New York Times that "the major presence in the film … is Fassbinder's camera, which appears to be just as lazy and cruel as any other of the characters." Fassbinder's fourth film, Warum läuft Herr R amok? (Why Does Herr R Run Amok?, 1969) depicted a middle-class husband and father who suddenly goes berserk and attacks his family with a blunt instrument. Several of Fassbinder's films presented negative depictions of middle-class life; in Der Händler der vier Jahreszeiten (The Merchant of Four Seasons, 1971), a soldier named Hans faces rejection from both his wife and his mother after returning from service abroad and drinks himself literally to death in a harrowing scene that to some foreshadowed Fassbinder's own demise.
Such storylines, however, only hint at the dizzying diversity of Fassbinder's work; he was able to pick up almost any kind of conventional cinematic narrative and bend it to his emotional outlook. His 1970 film Whity, starring the African-German actor and longtime Fassbinder associate Gunther Kaufmann, was set in the southern United States and drew on Western imagery in its tale of an African-American slave who kills a degenerate family that includes his master, who is also his father. Fassbinder's Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, 1972), one of the best known films of the first part of his career, is set completely in a single apartment and depicts a manipulative lesbian fashion designer. The satirical Mutter Küsters fahrt zum Himm (Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven, 1975) was the closest Fassbinder came to comedy; it told the story of a cleaning woman who becomes famous after her husband murders his boss upon learning he is to be fired; political parties of various persuasions try to exploit her situation for their own benefit.
Fassbinder worked with incredible speed, turning out more than 40 films over his 13-year career. Many said that they varied in quality, but there was rarely agreement as to which the good ones and bad ones might be. He wrote the scenario of Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant in the course of a 12-hour flight from Germany to Los Angeles. Often Fassbinder moved on to a new film while the current one was still being completed, and, in marked contrast to the other cinematic auteurs venerated by film students, he rarely shot more than one take of a single scene. "Rainer Werner Fassbinder made films the way he smoked—all the time, more than one at a time, sometimes without seeming to notice or care—and then tossed them away, like butts deserving to be swept up with the rest of our garbage," mused David Thomson in The New Republic. He took a short break from this feverish activity to return to stage plays as a director with the Theater am Turm company in Frankfurt, but returned to filmmaking after the company went under.
Traced Postwar German History
Until 1978 Fassbinder's films were mostly known only in Germany, but that year his Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun) gained international attention. The film tells the story of a woman, Maria Braun, whose husband disappears in the late stages of World War II. As she attempts to survive, she makes a series of morally questionable choices that eventually bring her prosperity; her story parallels the Wirtschaftswunder, the "economic miracle" of postwar Germany as it rose from ashes to become an economic titan. Fassbinder underlines his questioning of materialist German society with an ambiguous ending in which Maria is betrayed. The film starred actress Hanna Schygulla, who appeared in many of Fassbinder's films but held herself somewhat apart from his personal excesses. Die Ehe der Maria Braun became a commercial success in the U.S., and film festivals and later videotapes and DVDs circulated the rest of his work among American film students and enthusiasts.
Working on larger budgets than he had been allowed as an independent enfant terrible, Fassbinder made two more films about women in postwar Germany, Lola (1981) and Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (The Longing of Veronika Voss, released in English as Veronika Voss, 1982), and they received wide attention. He filmed the massive 1920s German novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (Alexander Square, Berlin) for German television, and along with fellow German directors Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog he achieved a measure of international celebrity despite his unpleasant ways. Fassbinder, however, was visibly deteriorating physically as a result of his dissolute ways. He was found dead at his Munich home on June 10, 1982, by his roommate and film editor Juliane Lorenz. Police issued a statement a week later indicating that his death was likely due to a massive ingestion of sleeping pills and cocaine. Fassbinder's reputation continued to grow, and in the 990s and 2000s his work was the subject of several important museum retrospectives, and an enormous literature of Fassbinder studies grew in universities and film schools worldwide.
Hayman, Ronald, Fassbinder: Film Maker, Simon & Schuster, 1985.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th ed., St. James, 2000.
Advocate (The National Gay & Lesbian Newsmagazine), July 9, 2002.
Artforum International, February 1997.
Cineaste, Fall 2004.
New Republic, December 31, 1984.
New York Times, June 11, 1982; June 19, 1982; June 20, 1982; October 3, 1982.
"Rainer Werner Fassbinder," All Movie Guide, http://www.allmovie.com (December 14, 2005).