Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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bottled spider
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#51 Post by bottled spider » Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:53 pm

Matt wrote:
Sat Sep 11, 2021 10:41 pm
I have thoughts on Despair that I may expand on further after a rewatch, but I do want to say now that I don’t think it lives up to the names in the credits (though in fairness, I don’t think any film possibly could). It’s not Fassbinder or Stoppard or Bogarde or even Ballhaus at their best. And it’s not a good adaptation of a Nabokov novel (though I seriously doubt such a thing could exist, even if one very good film does bear some resemblance to something he once wrote). It and Querelle are notable examples of international prestige cinema of the time, films seemingly made to appeal purely to jet-setting film festival audiences—a tradition which continues proudly to this very day!
Your warning was persuasive, but I gave it whirl anyway. As usual with Fassbinder, the opening is immediately engaging, but after a while it put me to sleep. I know this is adapted from a novel, but it has the feeling of a short story unreasonably stretched out to a long film.

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Matt
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#52 Post by Matt » Sat Sep 18, 2021 8:24 pm

bottled spider wrote:
Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:53 pm
I know this is adapted from a novel, but it has the feeling of a short story unreasonably stretched out to a long film.
I kind of feel that way about the novel, too. It’s probably heretical of me to say so, but a whole handful of Nabokov’s Russian novels could have been more effective as short stories or brisk novelettes. But just as with all Fassbinder films, still worth watching/reading!

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#53 Post by zedz » Sat Sep 18, 2021 9:21 pm

Like a Bird on a Wire (1975) - It's on YouTube and looks okay. This is strictly a curio, but I enjoyed it as a bizarro exercise in auteurism. If you remember the 70s, you'll remember 70s variety shows. Well, this is Birgitte Mira's and Fassbinder's version of a 70s variety show (with better mise-en-scene, naturally), and it's hilariously subversive. We start out with Mira reciting German lyrics over Leonard Cohen's recording of the title track (and end with her singing a proper version). After that, there's an ostensibly autobiographical monologue peppered with songs and song fragments, then a skit in a train carriage with a bitchy fellow singer. Then things get really weird, as Mira performs her routine in an extremely upmarket leather bar, warbles 'Is That All There Is?' to a gaggle of matrons at a fashion show (Fassbinder's mum is one of the models), and performs 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend' in the sea of almost naked body builders. If you ever wanted to see an episode of the Donny and Marie Osmond Show directed by Tom of Finland, here's your chance!

Lola (1981) - I always admired the film's distinctive candy-coloured look, but never enjoyed it as much as I did this time. Barbara Sukowa does a terrible drunk act early in the film, which might have been what put me off, but after that it picks up. It's obviously a riff on The Blue Angel, but the film plays out very differently, and has a completely new set of character dynamics and thematic concerns. And it's got a classic Fassbinder happy ending wherein true love can prevail only because everything around it is thoroughly corrupted.

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Matt
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#54 Post by Matt » Sat Sep 18, 2021 9:32 pm

zedz wrote:
Sat Sep 18, 2021 9:21 pm
If you ever wanted to see an episode of the Donny and Marie Osmond Show directed by Tom of Finland, here's your chance!
Am rushing to YouTube this very second!

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knives
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#55 Post by knives » Sat Sep 18, 2021 9:54 pm

That does indeed sound appetizing.

I will say I really cherish Despair which somehow hits me in just the right way. I don’t know how to defend it, but it speaks volumes to me.

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Rayon Vert
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#56 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Sep 18, 2021 10:58 pm

World on a Wire. I definitely started appreciating this more in the second half. Still, my reaction here is to some degree like senseabove’s at watching the debut feature after being familiar with and invested in Fassbinder’s more mature style. With the last three films and/or TV series, I’ve been seduced by their emotional directness and intensity, and this in some ways felt like it hearkened back to an earlier style, heavy on cinematic references and genre tropes, and featuring some more emphatically stylized acting (although as the scholar in the Criterion supplemental interview says, that also fits the fact that these may be simulated “projections”) and coming across a bit more, to me at least, like an intellectual exercise. It’s like I’m really interested where he goes from the last films and this was sidestepping into something else I had a little less interest in and patience for (not to say that the themes aren’t recognizable, and TWBB produced an interesting reflection and articulation on what the film at a deeper level was trying to achieve). A viewing at another time might produce a more appreciative reaction on my part, although that's not to say I didn't still enjoy this quite a bit for the craft: the play with mirrors, and the intriguing, mysterious shot choices in some cases. The documentary on the disc helps appreciate aspects lost on the modern, non-German viewer (and that the original audience would have reacted to), by pointing out Fassbinder brought out a lot of dated, no longer popular 50s German actors to mix in with usual cast.


Martha. This is definitely back “on track” with the previous films, but with the melo pitched to the level of black comedy. Such an insane film. I don’t know if it’s accurate in this case to see Martha as a figure we’re supposed to empathize with – she’s actively contributing to the sado-masochitic relationship, and she's really more of a character in an outlandish horror film, kind of like Sirk meets Hitchcock at his most grotesque/sadistic. We’re let in immediately that we’re in for something bizarre: Martha’s father asking her to stop touching him which point to incestuous desires, Martha bursting into hysterical tears not when her father dies on the steps but once she finds out her purse is stolen, and that crazy swirl of camera movement when Martha’s fateful encounter with her future abuser takes place. I found it completely riveting, and another masterpiece in its own way.


Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. These three films reveal dimensions of Nazism still very much alive in the German consciousness thirty years later, but most explicitly here of course. (In addition to the racism and anti-foreigner feeling – which Fassbinder highlighted earlier in Katzelmacher -, there’s also this surveillance/spying that’s so pronounced in World on a Wire.) Fassbinder’s take on All That Heaven Allows is very simply shot, and is full of understated tenderness. Aside from Eight Hours, it’s rare to have two leads not so f**ked up in their motivations, although in the end they can’t escape being infected by the effects of the social sickness surrounding them.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#57 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sun Sep 19, 2021 1:46 am

Fun! I have seen lots of Fassbinder and have discs of maybe a handful of films I haven't watched yet.
I prefer later Fassbinder with Veronica Voss and A Year with 13 Moons easily my two favorites. We had a good Criterion Film Club discussion of Veronika Voss, where I laid out some thoughts and we helped Gregory out with his Fassbinder problem. [scroll down 3/4 of the page for the start -- I couldn't figure out how to link to a specific post]. Great film.

My least favorite are Beware a Holy Whore and The Bitter Tears of P von K. I have little patience for claustrophobic dramas and the level of intentional interpersonal irritation in these films also grates. Just not my kind of art.

I'll try to rewatch most everything and fill in some gaps for this project. Not sure if I'll start early and work through chronologically, or just jump in here and there. I am looking forward to rewatching Berlin A. which I'll have time for with the upcoming week long holiday here. It's going to take some effort to unearth all my Fassbinders discs, though I think they are mainly in 2 large clumps, at least one of which is in a dedicated German container.

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thirtyframesasecond
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#58 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Sun Sep 19, 2021 4:12 pm

Great choice. I think I've seen 12-13 of Fassbinder's works, so I've got enough for a list - but I'll try to see anything I haven't that I can track down on streaming (does BFI Player have his films?)

Veronika Voss would be my number one, for sure.

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#59 Post by zedz » Mon Sep 20, 2021 6:15 am

It turns out most of the films I hadn't already seen are findable online in some form or another, so I'm diving into Unknown Fassbinder.

Nora Helmer (1974) - I figured that this TV adaptation of Ibsen's A Doll's House was filmed theatre, and I was right, but what I'd forgotten was that Fassbinder might just be the greatest director of "filmed theatre" in cinema history. This adaptation is confined to a single set and mounted very cheaply, but I found it electrifying. It has what might be Margit Carstensen's best performance for Fassbinder, far more subdued than her more celebrated leads, and the mise en scene is exquisitely expressive. The camera glides around the bourgeois decor of the Helmer home, viewing the action through shifting layers of bric-a brac, glass, lace, or in mirrors which create eerie displacements. The space is full of glass doors, and every interaction has a sense of risk and exposure. This transparent staging allows the audience to realise early on, for instance, that Helene the housekeeper (Irm Herrman) sees everything that goes on, and one of the play's most volatile and damaging exchanges takes place with two other characters visible in the background or reflected in a mirror. (Raul Ruiz does his own version of this gag in Memories of Lisbon.) For the final spousal confrontation (in which Carstensen is amazing) the prowling camerawork is abandoned in favour of pulsating dissolves of the two characters in near darkness. I was completely surprised to find this a new favourite.

It's even more surprising because the YouTube version I watched was rather poor. I'm assuming that the colour palette of the film was deliberately dialled down - almost monochrome apart from a few splashes of pastel - but I'm sure this rendition exaggerates the effect (it looks like Barbara Valentin spends the whole film in greyface, which, given Whity, isn't out of the question). That look adds to the vibe of a haunted house film that Fassbinder courts (spoiler: the ghost is patriarchy). The subtitles were out of sync for most of the film, so you need to be juggling dialogue in your brain throughout. Nevertheless, a masterpiece.

The Coffeehouse (1970) - Did somebody say "filmed theatre?" THIS is filmed theatre. An antiteater staging of Goldoni, delivered in soporific monotone, on a set so bare that the figures of the actors are the decor (in this sense, it's the complete opposite of Nora Helmer, where the characters were buried by the decor). The film consists of nine ten-minute-plus shots, taken from the perspective of an audience member with a zoom lens / opera glasses. It's as austere as fuck, but I found it visually and stylistically compelling. The sole element of visual interest that Fassbinder retains is blocking, and he uses it masterfully, creating ever-changing configurations of actors in the frame against a bare white background (the only props in the film are the chairs they sit on: there aren't even walls in this hermetic void.) There's a whole lotta Brecht going on, with the characters falling into trances in their chairs when they're supposed to be off stage, and Fassbinder highlights his favoured "economic deathtrap" theme by inserting instantaneous currency conversions into the play's dialogue (i.e. when somebody mentions a sum of money - which happens a lot - somebody else (who may not even be involved in the conversation) will tell us how much that would be in marks and pfennigs.)

This film is definitely Fassbinder Advanced Studies, and it would give most newbies the screaming abdabs, but I enjoyed it. Like Nora Helmer, it was shot on video, and the crappy copy available on YouTube may be as good as it gets.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#60 Post by knives » Mon Sep 20, 2021 3:19 pm

I saw The Coffee House as well and adored it. It’s the closest I’ve seen Fassbinder come to that tableaux master style of Katzelmacher. In addition to Brecht I caught a whiff of Beckett especially with the humour the aesthetic aids in. It was a real joy.


Anyone know of a legal way to see Why Does Herr R. Run Amok without paying through the nose?

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#61 Post by Rayon Vert » Mon Sep 20, 2021 4:02 pm

I don't know where this fits nose-level-wise but Amazon.co.uk has a used copy of region-2 RWF Volume 1 (Lola, Martha, Herr R.) at £19.99.

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knives
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#62 Post by knives » Mon Sep 20, 2021 4:06 pm

That is indeed reasonable to my nose.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#63 Post by Dr Amicus » Tue Sep 21, 2021 1:09 pm

I really must use this as an excuse to dive (finally) into my Arrow box set from a few years back - I've only seen a couple of Fassbinders before, and that was about 15 years ago when we covered New German Cinema in a course I was teaching on. Can anybody recommend any good books on him? I managed to pick up the old BFI book edited by Tony Rayns (the second edition) cheaply recently, but wondered if there was something a bit meatier.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#64 Post by Rayon Vert » Tue Sep 21, 2021 1:45 pm

This was discussed earlier in the thread. I mentioned the Thomsen.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#65 Post by senseabove » Tue Sep 21, 2021 2:17 pm

It didn't really get discussed, per se... You've mentioned the Thomsen a few times, which is wending its way to me now, and I said "I see these other two books exist." Beyond that... I too would welcome any further recommendations, since that brief discussion seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#66 Post by Rayon Vert » Tue Sep 21, 2021 2:52 pm

You're right, sorry about that. I should have said books were mentioned.

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#67 Post by zedz » Wed Sep 22, 2021 11:02 pm

Theatre in Trance (1981) - This gets my vote for least essential Fassbinder film. It's a documentary about the 1981 Theater der Welt festival in Cologne wherein Fassbinder shows us samples of fourteen different performances and delivers extracts from Artaud over the top. It's rather blandly compiled and a lot of the performances are, to be kind, iffy. The dance works fare the best, and the film briefly comes to life in the middle solely thanks to Pina Bausch, so you can safely skip forward to that then skip away to something more rewarding. The biggest problem with the film is that there's not much Fassbinder there.* You don't get any great sense of personal investment and it's a lot more interesting engaging with his own radical theatrical innovations in something like The Coffeehouse than in looking on at these performances over his disengaged shoulder. The only section with a bit of a Fassbinder spark is the long opening credits sequence which is like surveillance footage of a festival function set to Kraftwerk. It plays a little like an outtake from The Third Generation.

* Not the biggest problem with the film, but one of the most annoying things about it is the way Fassbinder uses pop music. At a couple of points he does the same trick of playing five or six seconds of a familiar track (e.g. Janis Joplin's 'Me and Bobby McGee', Marianne Faithfull's 'Guilt'), then returns to the wild performance sound before - five or six seconds later - playing exactly the same brief extract again. And again. And again. It's like an OCD toddler is continually dropping the needle on exactly the same spot of an album every ten seconds.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#68 Post by bottled spider » Thu Sep 23, 2021 9:34 pm

Catfucker (1969). I am unreliably informed that katzelmacher means catfucker. While google translate doesn't recognize katzelmacher, it pretends not to know catfucker either (where spellcheck doesn't even blink), but does admit that katz is cat and macher is doer. Which is all the convincing I need. Henceforth I will refer to this movie as Catfucker, and I'd suggest everyone follow suit to avoid confusion.

Catfucker is "a comment on the persistence of xenophobic scapegoating in German society" according to the Eclipse blurb, but misogyny and male sexual inadequacies seem equally central themes, and the stupidity of gossip.

This might have been tedious were not the indolence, promiscuity, and all round shittiness of the characters so dryly amusing. The mise-en-scene itself is droll in its skillful ineptness -- even with the sound and subtitles switched off, this could be entertaining to watch for twenty minutes or so. Delightfully scored, as has been the case with every Fassbinder I've seen so far.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#69 Post by mizo » Thu Sep 23, 2021 9:47 pm

bottled spider wrote:
Thu Sep 23, 2021 9:34 pm
I am unreliably informed that katzelmacher means catfucker. While google translate doesn't recognize katzelmacher, it pretends not to know catfucker either (where spellcheck doesn't even blink), but does admit that katz is cat and macher is doer. Which is all the convincing I need. Henceforth I will refer to this movie as Catfucker, and I'd suggest everyone follow suit to avoid confusion.
According to a professor of mine, who is German, "katzelmacher" refers to someone who has a lot of children (so I guess the "cat" part suggests a litter of kittens, like the expression "breeding like rabbits"). It was used as a derogatory term for migrant workers who came to Germany and, stereotypically, had large families or lots of children out of wedlock.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#70 Post by bottled spider » Thu Sep 23, 2021 10:54 pm

Thank you. That does sound more plausible.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#71 Post by swo17 » Fri Sep 24, 2021 8:47 am

swo17 wrote:
Sat Sep 11, 2021 8:30 pm
Will the mysterious Arrow box of new Fassbinder restorations make it in time?
So Vol. 2 comes out in December, but it's all previously available titles

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#72 Post by zedz » Fri Sep 24, 2021 10:04 pm

The Filmed Theatre of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Part Two.

Two more adaptations of stage plays, but this time they're plays written by Fassbinder.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972): I love this film, chilly as it is. Spoilers ahoy, so go watch it already. Carstensen is brittly brilliant, and Fassbinder shows how he can alchemically transform theatre into cinema without using any of the conventions of 'opening up'. The fundamental difference is in his conception of the mise en scene, and the way the camera become a participant in the on-stage action, slinking around the set and conveying the director's perspective simply by its placement in relation to the actors. This is clearest in the way that Marlene is continually foregrounded / backgrounded, as she ultimately emerges as the central character of the drama (as hinted at by the opening dedication). She's always at the margins of the action, either visually or on the soundtrack, and Fassbinder is careful to let us observe her reactions at key moments of the film. There's a marvellous shot in the long opening scene when Petra is applying her makeup and the camera makes a slow zoom right across the room to zero in on Marlene looking on, then we rack focus and pan slightly to the right to reveal, for the first time in the film, Petra, in extreme close-up, made up into her public self. A pretty good stage gimmick (the lead actor making herself up on stage) turns into an even better film gimmick through the interaction of the film's three main characters: Petra, Marlene and the camera (sorry, but for me Karin is the film's McGuffin). Fassbinder's playing with character empathy doesn't work the same way in this film as it usually does. I feel no empathy for Petra throughout the film, as all we really see is her getting a taste of her own selfishness and exploitativeness. Instead, our unexpected empathy resides with Marlene, a character who never even speaks and whose inner life is perpetually veiled, which is a very impressive feat of writing and direction.

Bremen Freedom (1972): This is an amazing piece of work which could be framed in a number of ways: The Coffeehouse v. 2.0; A Doll's House reworked by Tennessee Williams on a bender; the film that's probably playing in Marlene's head for most of Petra von Kant.

Frau Geesche Gottfried finds oppression all around her, at its most extreme in the opening scene when her horribly disfigured husband forces her to kneel, walk around like a dog and whisper "I love you" to him for the amusement of his friends. She gets the idea that life would be much nicer without her oppressors, but it seems like whenever one gets knocked down another sprouts up in his place (that's patriarchy for ya!)

Stylistically, this is the stark, proscenium approach of The Coffeehouse on very potent hallucinogenics. It's a continuous theatrical performance on a very bare stage (though this time we have the trappings of a drawing room rather than just a few chairs), but Fassbinder allows for a few side angles and inserts (e.g. Geesche's feet as she trots frantically back and forth like an automaton). The big innovation, however, is that the backdrop is chromakey, which means that for almost the entire film the action is backed by mocking footage of the open sea (sometimes tinted), apart from a climactic scene when it features a close-up of Geesche. It just adds to the trippy, cyclic nature of the film. After every (not very) mysterious death, we get a brief scene of Geesche singing in the dark, and then Fassbinder unleashes variation no. umpteen on the same sad scene.

Even though she's basically playing a psychopath in this film, I find Margit Carstensen's performance here more sympathetic than her operatic turn in Petra von Kant. I think she's certainly the strongest actor among his stock company, and the one who carried the most films on her bony shoulders. Hanna Schygulla was co-lead in a number of early films, but by my count was sole lead in only three (Fontane Effi Briest, The Marriage of Maria Braun, and Lili Marleen), whereas Carstensen was sole lead in five films (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Bremen Freedom, Nora Helmer, Martha, Fear of Fear), and in all of those she's hardly ever off-screen.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#73 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Sep 25, 2021 9:59 pm

Effi Briest. The full title (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) could basically apply to most of the director’s films! The tragic trajectory of all the main characters here really drive the message home – maybe nowhere as explicitly as when Innstetten explains why he chooses the duel, against what he would actually need and desire. (And the mother figure here, as in some other films, plays a notable role in maintaining this system.) Like a lot of the Fassbinder’ films in this period, too, there’s both an emotional pull for the characters’ dilemmas and strong distancing through various means – the acting for one thing is particularly underplayed or inhibited.

It was most interesting to me to see what the director did here stylistically, though, and in his treatment of the genre of the period film and the literary adaptation. The fade-outs to white instead of black have a violent effect, depriving us of soothing perhaps (although there are some fades to black as the film progresses, but it wasn’t obvious to me what the reason or rhyme was for these choices). Christian Thomsen articulates well how the film consistently seems to “turn the film into a novel” instead of the other way around, for example in the way Fassbinder keeps the lengthy literary form of the dialogue, or the way the narrator will read lengthy passages of the text describing a scene or a plot development while visually we’re watching a much more banal scene, sometimes almost frozen. I quite enjoyed the observations by Erica Carter in the Arrow book essay on the film about that the way the omniscient narration imposes itself at times on the characters’ voices (it’s particularly striking and explicit towards the end in two scenes where the narrator and the characters’ voices actually audibly compete for attention), so that in the end the film isn’t only a critique of the society the novel depicts but also of literary realism itself.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#74 Post by zedz » Sun Sep 26, 2021 2:48 pm

Rayon Vert wrote:
Sat Sep 25, 2021 9:59 pm
Effi Briest. The full title (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) could basically apply to most of the director’s films! The tragic trajectory of all the main characters here really drive the message home – maybe nowhere as explicitly as when Innstetten explains why he chooses the duel, against what he would actually need and desire. (And the mother figure here, as in some other films, plays a notable role in maintaining this system.) Like a lot of the Fassbinder’ films in this period, too, there’s both an emotional pull for the characters’ dilemmas and strong distancing through various means – the acting for one thing is particularly underplayed or inhibited.

It was most interesting to me to see what the director did here stylistically, though, and in his treatment of the genre of the period film and the literary adaptation. The fade-outs to white instead of black have a violent effect, depriving us of soothing perhaps (although there are some fades to black as the film progresses, but it wasn’t obvious to me what the reason or rhyme was for these choices). Christian Thomsen articulates well how the film consistently seems to “turn the film into a novel” instead of the other way around, for example in the way Fassbinder keeps the lengthy literary form of the dialogue, or the way the narrator will read lengthy passages of the text describing a scene or a plot development while visually we’re watching a much more banal scene, sometimes almost frozen. I quite enjoyed the observations by Erica Carter in the Arrow book essay on the film about that the way the omniscient narration imposes itself at times on the characters’ voices (it’s particularly striking and explicit towards the end in two scenes where the narrator and the characters’ voices actually audibly compete for attention), so that in the end the film isn’t only a critique of the society the novel depicts but also of literary realism itself.
One of his greatest flms, and a really intelligent rethinking of the heritage literary adaptation. The push and pull of alienation and empathy that you identify is brought to one of its highest forms in this film.

The FULL, full title is actually Fontane Effi Briest (plus the subtitle): Fassbinder was very deliberate in putting the author's name first, in keeping with the film's fidelity to literary forms.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#75 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Sep 26, 2021 3:25 pm

Just watched the short Ulli Lommel interview on the Arrow blu where he says he considers this RWF's masterpiece.

There are so many tracking scenes of characters walking, horizontally across the landscape (country/forest, beach), usually Effi and another character in tow. I'm wondering how people here interpret those scenes. Starting the Arrow commentary and the scholar in question says about the first one that it potentially signifies how Effi is being "hunted down" by the society. But I'd be interesting in other people's thoughts.

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