Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#76 Post by zedz » Sun Sep 26, 2021 3:46 pm

Since watching this bout of Fassbinder's films, and seeing the way personal economics overtly play into almost every one of them, I've also become painfully aware of just how much economic pressure is used again and again as character motivation / plot motivation in so many films (and certainly so many thrillers) - but there's a crucial difference. In just about every other instance I've come across, there's something untoward about the pressure: the protagonist is being blackmailed or swindled or robbed, or they're made destitute by a freak occurrence like a natural disaster or - in the US - illness, or they have a fatal flaw (gambling, drug addiction) which has triggered the economic deathtrap. There's almost always a definable external (or internal) agent to take the blame for the protagonist's "choices". But in Fassbinder (Naruse is the other exemplar that springs to mind) intolerable economic pressure is just the way it is for most people: it's how capitalism works, and it's a systemic issue, not a special case. I get the sense that this is the message Ken Loach would like to convey, but the problem I have with many of his latter-day films is that he wants to have his Marxist cake and eat it with melodramatic icing, so he also infests his narratives with overt villains taking advantage of the proles, and cruel acts of God, and dumb personal decisions making matters worse.
Last edited by zedz on Sun Sep 26, 2021 3:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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knives
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#77 Post by knives » Sun Sep 26, 2021 3:57 pm

Even when it’s not explicit that does often feel present. Recently watched 13 Moons, which is great if you remember unlike half the internet that Fassbinder was making a film about a person rather than one random quality of them, and at its heart is the hardness people have to take in order to achieve financial solvency with all the cruelty exacted in the film being born out of self preservation from economic circumstances. The film almost needs surrealism to achieve a measure of contentment. It also plays as an interesting precedent to Memento as we travel back in time in order to be relieved of the stress of economic survival.

It’s a really beautiful film that might make the lower reaches of my list.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#78 Post by domino harvey » Mon Sep 27, 2021 2:19 am

Coincidentally, I just suffered through the truly terrible National Lampoon's Movie Madness and one of the weirder gags in the film involves Peter Riegert taking his young children to see a screening of In a Year of 13 Moons, though it's called "the Year of the 13 Moons" on the marquee-- was that its original US title?

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#79 Post by knives » Mon Sep 27, 2021 6:38 am

Funny that you should be responding as I just finished Women in New York which should at least be of academic interest to you as it is adapted from the same play as Cukor’s The Women.

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#80 Post by zedz » Mon Sep 27, 2021 3:37 pm

knives wrote:
Mon Sep 27, 2021 6:38 am
Funny that you should be responding as I just finished Women in New York which should at least be of academic interest to you as it is adapted from the same play as Cukor’s The Women.
Oh, snap.

Women in New York (1977) - More filmed theatre and more transcendence of that whole concept. This movie (like Cukor's, I presume, which according to my recollection is just about line-for-line identical) cleaves very close to its theatrical origins. Each scene plays out not just on a single set, but in a single shot, with a polite pause before the next one begins to imitate the fall of the curtain. But that's where theatre ends and cinema begins: each of those sets is a jazz-age wonder, full of dark corners from which characters can eavesdrop and extravagant fittings to divert the eye (there's a beauty parlour that looks like it belongs in Metropolis, for instance), and each of those shots is a dazzling feat of mobile cinematography prowling around or through an ebony, glass and bakelite urban jungle. The mise-en-scene, as great mise-en-scene should, is expressing more than what's on the page. During one of the play's (too?) many dramatic highlights, Fassbinder films the hysterics from behind a glass wall, with rain drizzling down it and an ignored servant in the foreground dutifully cleaning the inside of the glass. This is film as idealized theatrical performance, with the audience liberated to invisibly storm the stage and wind their way among the actors.

Fassbinder always got the most out of his collaborators, and he really lucked out in latching onto Michael Ballhaus, who had the chops and recklessness to pull something like this off - though the idea of making a film entirely in long sequence shots goes way back to the pre-Ballhaus days of The Coffeehouse and Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

Although this film was consistently stylistically invigorating, the material was dated and much weaker than your standard Fassbinder (or your standard Fassbinder adaptation), so it loses points for that.

Katzelmacher
(1969) - Continuing with the filmed theatre theme, this is an early self-adaptation of an early Fassbinder play, and it's 'opened up' in a much more conventional way than most of his later such ventures: scenes are played out in the outdoors and real interiors, or are intercut.

This was the first of Fassbinder's early films that I saw, and it didn't do much for me at the time. I'd already read about the Sirkian sea change that came about with The Merchant of Four Seasons and figured that the astringent flavour of Early Fassbinder just wasn't for me, but no: it's just this film. I find it too blunt in its aims, even though the twist at the end and the 'moral' it delivers is cute (the locals aren't going to kill Yorgos or drive him out: they instead become 'enlightened', and are satisfied as long as he's being exploited), and the characters never seem to engage into gear, which can happen for me in even the most artificial Fassbinder film.

It's interesting to see how Fassbinder structures his drama here in a kind of song form, with variations on a small number of group interactions interrupted by the regular 'refrain' of the promenade scenes. But that structure is much more ruthlessly honed, and much more effective, in Bremen Freedom, which basically takes the form of a (very genteel) murder ballad. It's also interesting to see how some aspects of the script are less interesting as cinema. Much of the film's plot and drama is fuelled by a game of racist Chinese Whispers (is there any other kind?) in which casual remarks or innocent incidents are exaggerated into moral panics. On film, this is presented in the obvious and banal way - a series of brief conversations in quick succession charting the transmogrification of the gossip into received wisdom - but in the theatre, you'd need to find a creative and elegant way of presenting that on stage.

The Three Shorts:

The City Tramp (1966) - Fassbinder's first two shorts are very much indebted to the French New Wave, and are much more naturalistic than his early features. This one has a faint whiff of picaresque Polanskian absurdism, with our protagonist lugging around not a wardrobe, but a gun. It's resolutely minor, but it's heartening to see that, at the very beginning of his film career, Irm Herrmann was already there.

The Little Chaos (1967) - This is an even more overt nouvelle vague swipe (from Band of Outsiders), but with a much nastier edge, which feels like the real Fassbinder peeping out from behind the curtain of influence for the first time. And welcome aboard, Liselotte! I know you think you're just doing him a one-off favour, but you're going to end up appearing in more Fassbinder films than any other actor, including your son.

Germany in Autumn segment (1978) - This is a crucial Fassbinder film and the most successful of the scripted sections of Germany in Autumn. It's a brutally frank exploration of the impact of the horrendous German political events of the mid-seventies on Fassbinder and his nearest and dearest. Fassbinder relishes making himself as unappealing as possible, fighting with his partner Armin Meier and mother over what he perceives as their political cluelessness and incipient fascism (which sounds a lot more hysterical on the page than it does on the screen, where Fassbinder's brow-beating and bad behaviour puts their positions in the most positive light). I don't know if it's just the surrounding circumstances, but I find the portrait of Fassbinder and Meier's relationship in this film unbearably poignant. They seem to be living at cross-purposes, Fassbinder is a petty dictator, but the strongest impression I get is just how deeply Meier cares for him, which makes his suicide just after the release of this film all the more explicable and all the more tragic.

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zedz
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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#81 Post by zedz » Wed Sep 29, 2021 9:51 pm

The American Soldier (1970) - In the two years after his first feature debuted, Fassbinder made ten more films. They're often considered a distinct period stylistically, but they're actually a pretty diverse bunch that already show a considerable development and range. By the time he'd made this, his sixth feature, he seems to have realized that the alienating anti-theater non-acting could be tamed into a low-key acting style that was genuinely cinematic. And once he'd achieved that, bringing in other acting styles could create interesting effects, as in the case of Kurt Raab's two hilarious scenes in this film. The last of these, the climactic slow-motion shot, is such a weird mix of tones it's one of the highlights of early Fassbinder, lifting what was a pretty effective film noir (there's some awesome noir lighting in the opening card-game scene) into operatic tragedy while at the same time deflating it to the level of ludicrous farce.

There are plenty of self-reflexive gags in this film with in-crowd in-jokes (characters named Marquard Bohm and Rosa Von Praunheim) and Fassbinder's character named Franz Walsch (after Biberkopf and Raoul), which was also his editing sobriquet. But the most famous self-reflexive moment, which wouldn't become one for another four years, is when Margarethe Von Trotta's character relates to Ricky the story that would eventually become Fear Eats the Soul.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#82 Post by zedz » Thu Sep 30, 2021 3:09 pm

Image

Wildwechsel (1973) - Finishing off my "filmed theatre" exploration, this is an adaptation of a 1971 play by Franz Xaver Koetz, but it has completely shed its theatrical origins and is fully opened out into cinema that's stylistically indistinguishable from its written-for-the-screen contemporaries. That said, it's less flashy than the surrounding films and has a more subdued, even-handed approach to its characters (which I guess is from the source material). Plot-wise, it's kind of a young-couple-on-the-run film (like Gun Crazy or Badlands) that never manages to get past its first act. It also bears substantial similarity to Noel Black's Pretty Poison. Young tough has consensual sexual relationship with even younger girl, goes to jail. Comes out and they resume the relationship, to the horror of her father. She gets pregnant. Father must go.

The sins of the father (and mother) was a common theme among several directors of the New German Cinema, and it comes back time and again in Fassbinder's films. It wasn't just an abstract dramatic concept: there was a strong sense among his generation that Nazism wasn't just a historical glitch, and they knew that their parents overwhelmingly collaborated, colluded or acquiesced with the Nazi regime and that fascism wasn't simply abandoned after the end of WWII but stuffed in the back of a wardrobe in the event that it might be needed again someday. This is the mindset Fassbinder was teasing out in his contribution to Germany in Autumn, and in this film it's expressed in the outrage of Hanni's father, who feels that Franz and Hanni's behaviour wouldn't have been tolerated under the Third Reich, and he longs for the good old days when Franz could just be shipped off to a concentration camp and out of their hair. I'm not familiar with the original play, but that sounds an awful lot like a Fassbinder contribution to me, and we know that something he did with the material annoyed Kroetz so much that he got the film suppressed. It could also be the frank nude sex scenes, but those are an intrinsic part of the material (and something Fassbinder would never be coy about) so it would be more than a little disingenuous to expect them to be elided or presented with fake Hollywood L-shaped-sheet tastefulness. For the record, Eva Mattes was nineteen at the time and though she's playing much younger, she doesn't particularly look it.

It's a bleak film with no plausible happy ending, but the subdued denouement goes even darker than I remembered. It lacks much in the way of typical Fassbinderian visual panache (the closest we get it probably the long tracking shot showing us a chicken processing plant where Franz works), but it's a quietly effective piece at the more naturalistic end of his output and I like it a lot. The sensationalistic American title Jail Bait was designed to get the raincoat brigade in under false pretences. The original German title literally means "wild animal crossing" (see above) and I don't believe it has any prurient connotations.

The film is available on YouTube in watchable form, but with Italian subtitles, so it's fine if you've seen it before or can speak German or Italian. The TV broadcast is so washed out that at time it verges on sepia. The original film is not especially colourful, but it didn't look like that! (I first saw the film in the mid-nineties when I had access to an orphaned, rightsless 16mm print which I watched a couple of times before I learnt that it was so hard to see.)

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#83 Post by senseabove » Sat Oct 02, 2021 3:08 pm

Since I struggled with both Love is Colder... and Katzelmacher, and rewatched and liked Petra between the two thanks to it being the poll-winner, I decided that I'd alternate between pre- and post-Sirk RWF, both running chronologically, so as not to burn myself out on the early stuff. Interestingly, while Petra was filmed after The Merchant of Four Seasons, it may have been apt to watch it first: it was written before Fassbinder discovered Sirk and filmed after, while Merchant was both written and filmed after, so the two in comparison provide interesting control cases, of sorts, for the visual and narrative influence Sirk had. If Fassbiner's poles are the ramification of monetary power structures in individual lives, as if the focus of the early films, and the internecine effects of interpersonal power dynamics, as if the focus of Beware and Petra, Merchant feels like his successful integration of both, the lush exaggeration of every formal feature, from set to costume to delivery, and strikingly depth-staged compositions emphasizing how those two different strands are mutually rooted in and feed off each other, how the structural and interpersonal reinforce each other in individual instinct. Hans's problems are established early on: neither his mother nor the woman he truly loves will give him a chance. As the film progress, we learn in more detail the texture of their judgements, how they extend from his economic and social inferiority, but more importantly, how any struggle he makes against them is either too late for him or too little to get him over the wall of the judgment of the women in his life.

The first scene of Hans with his friends at the bar is a kind of masterfully nose-flicking inversion of his struggle. There's a certain feeling of bitter, comedic comeuppance in Irmgaard's private falls from grace, as if knowing ourselves how duplicitous she can be is some salve for our own experience of Hans' suffering under her righteousness, so how she's set up here feels like a kind of parody of how those social mores have ruined Hans's life:
SpoilerShow
Hans is describing how he met a woman—presumably his wife, since he's complaining about a woman and we've just seen him fight with her, and that's what one does with the boys at the bar after a fight with the wife—and how that meeting led to him getting fired from the police force. When one of his barmates says "she must have been really horny!" we have the first niggle that something's wrong with our assumption, since his wife is, as far as we know so far, timid and fervently religious. Then we see a flashback showing him accepting a blowjob from a prostitute he's arrested, presumably for soliciting, revealing who he's actually complaining about. Soon, Irmgaard shows up at the bar, pleads for Hans to come home, flees from the bar when he throws a chair at her, and is propositioned by a man driving by in a car as she walks home. Later, when Hans is in the hospital, we see her in the car with a man, saying that she's "never done this before," followed by a sex scene that leaves nothing, including, most importantly, just how horny she is, to the imagination. It's left ambiguous whether what she's "never done before" is have an affair or pick up a john, and even if the former is much more likely to be the case given the sex scene, the latter is clearly the initial implication. It's a remarkably crafty way to intertwine the two main characters' moral collapse under the moral rectitude they suffer, and how economic relations always bear on sexual relations, even when they aren't a cash exchange.

On earlier goes, I'd thought this was middling Fassbinder, too focused on Imrgaard and Hans's mother's simplistic hypocrisy, which felt like a played out theme of contrarianism with nothing much more complex to say than, guess what, middle-class morality is hypocritical; but this time it felt much more apparent that bourgeois hypocrisy is not the subject so much as how everyone handles the givenness of it. Part of me has to wonder if that's because, between those previous viewings years ago and now, I have also fallen for Sirk...

--------------------------------------
In other news, the Thomsen book arrived this week, so I've been grazing through it, and I've gotta say I'm surprised—and slightly annoyed—by how thoroughly Freudian his reading of Fassbinder's life is. I never liked Freud and his adherents in my theory-reading grad-school days because of what always felt like their oblivious essentializing of psychological motives to Freudian givens—I'll take free-wheeling deconstructionist absurdity any day, chasing rabbits down rabbit-holes because they're unapologetically hare-brained and so might reveal something unexpected about the subject rather than explain how expected the subject actually is. It's interesting to get Thomsen's biographical insight thanks to his friendship, and to read about how Fassbinder's personal life affected his professional life on and off screen, but so far I've found the interpretations of the movies to be a little too eager to simplify things...

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#84 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Oct 02, 2021 10:30 pm

Reaching back to a couple of earlier ones I’d skipped.

Whity. An explicit portrayal of the oppressed having fully psychically integrated the oppression. Lots of power/S&M games in this plantation landowner family melodrama with western trappings. The decadence is so thick the family members have skin that seems like it progressively gets more ashen-colored, making them look like decomposing zombies. On the one hand, the film reaches to some degree for a commercial sheen with the rare color Scope and an actual score rather than the usual needledrops, but on the other hand this is still uncomprising Brechtian tableaux (which Ballhaus’ fluid camera makes a little less tedious). Overall, not as much fun as the description can make it sound.


Pioneers in Ingolstadt
. I’ve never read or seen the Fleisser play so can’t compare the adaptation. The work definitely integrates itself perfectly into Fassbinder’s themes. There’s a kinship to Effi Briest in terms of a social study (in a more satirical, black comedy mode) that disillusioningly reveals the ugly realities behind the norms and veil, and how repression inevitably blunts all emancipatory aspirations. Definitely a highlight of the early output, even though the cruelty is hard to bear at times. Even though this is still within the avant-garde output, with the distancing quite upfront, at the same time there’s a certain naturalness to the acting and staging/editing that makes it more of a bridge (no pun intended) with the more commercial films.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#85 Post by zedz » Sun Oct 03, 2021 4:12 pm

This weekend, I rewatched the first two Fassbinder films I ever saw, way back in the 80s. Both had been programmed at the local / only, long-gone repertory cinema, and I saw them because I saw just about anything and everything that was screened there. I don't think I'd ever watched them since.

Despair (1978) - My first Fassbinder and one that has remained fairly fresh in my mind after thirty-five (?) years mainly because of my subsequent intimate acquaintance with the source novel and the repertory cinema's tendency to play its stock of trailers incessantly, even if the film was nowhere on the horizon. Thus I saw the trailer for this dozens of times long after its fleeting appearance on the schedule, an effective aide-memoire for what might otherwise have been forgotten.

This is mediocre Fassbinder, and its mediocrity comes from several directions at once.

1) The central plot device of the novel Despair is one it's easy to understand the attraction of, but is really difficult to pull off: it's a fake doppelganger story, where the protagonist is so utterly narcissistic that he literally can't see that other person doesn't really look like him at all, so when he contrives an elaborate film-noir scheme to profit from their indistinguishability, it's an abject failure. On the page, veiled by unreliable first-person narration, the plot still doesn't really work, and I get the strong sense that Hermann's dissociation / doppelganger-blindness is a phenomenon that fascinated Nabokov much more than it fascinates anybody else (like the inability to properly execute a 180 degree turn in one's imagination that drives Look at the Harlequins!) On the screen, it's dead before it can even be set in motion, and all we can do is gaze on at Hermann's freakish delusion rather than get engaged in the plot in any proper way.

2) Tom Stoppard's screenplay is jokey and shallow. He never gets to grips with Nabokov's style or Fassbinder's interests, and the feints he makes in both directions come off as forced. Transposing bits of Hermann's interior monologue, or the feel of it, into dialogue don't work at all, and make him grotesque and unbelievable. And the nudge-nudge-wink-wink hints towards the coming Holocaust are just flat and obvious and not really in line with Fassbinder's interest in psychologically interrogating the recent German past.

3) The real auteur of this film seems to be "European co-production," as that's what it resembles more than a genuine Fassbinder film. There's the multi-national cast, all acting in conflicting styles and accents, or horribly dubbed. There's no real ensemble coherence, which is one of Fassbinder's strongest characteristics. Andrea Ferreol is especially awful, a misogynistic caricature performed through a bullhorn. Perhaps the worst conceived female character and performance by a woman in his entire filmography. The film looks glossy and is attractively shot, with some lovely locations - but that's the job of a Euro co-production.

There are some good points, however: Dirk Bogarde struggles manfully with the weak writing and prevails mainly through movie-star charisma. You get the sense he could have been a great Fassbinder actor in a different film. Likewise, Klaus Lowitsch (the most prominent Fassbinder regular) actually does pretty well by underplaying his (deliberately) underwritten part. The scenes of Bogarde's disassociation during sex are well-done and effectively creepy (and they actually give Michael Ballhaus something to do - given the wonders he achieves with the single tiny set of Nora Helmer, all the opulence of the production design here is a big fat missed opportunity). The moral of the story is: keep Fassbinder lean and hungry (creatively: I don't think there's any correlation between the quality of his films and how fat he was at the time!) and force him to work with his stock company as much as possible. But more of this later.

Querelle (1982) - I had a much less clear memory of this film, which basically boiled down to three things: the set design was remarkable, even if there was only one set; Brad Davis was terrible; the film was completely tedious. My take on it now is more informed and nuanced, but those three things remain tragically true. This is bad, weird Fassbinder. How bad? Oh, probably the worst thing he ever did (Theatre in Trance's pointless dullness is no match for this film's active awfulness) How weird? Not fucking weird enough.

It's another Euro-pudding-as-auteur film, and the problems of mismatched acting, bad acting and atrocious dubbing are through the roof here. It's opulent but sterile. It wants to be outrageously explicit, but it's fundamentally coy and disastrously tasteful. The film's in-your-face gayness seems to be completely at odds with Fassbinder's own in-your-face gayness. It's the work of a guy flinging shit and cum at the audience from inside his closet. Basically, the action here is talking dirty, the filthier the better, but it's dirty talk from characters who spend half their time fucking other men and the other half proclaiming they're not gay, or denouncing their fellow fuckers and fuckees as fairies. I guess that's Genet for you, but it's just so primitive compared to the portraits of gay lifestyles Fassbinder had already presented, and it seems to be largely this way in order to titillate and sensationalize a straight, bourgeois crowd. For a guy who didn't blink at presenting full-frontal male nudity in a TV movie, there's nothing to see here.

You could be generous and claim that Brad Davis is trying to execute a perfectly blank antitheater performance, but that's not what he's doing. It's just bad line-readings from a boring actor, not any kind of textual transparency (and even if it were, this text ain't worth it, honey). Jeanne Moreau is game, I suppose, but her character is little more than a vague sketch of a fag hag (until it suddenly isn't and she's shocked - shocked! - when she finds out after literally everybody else in the film that her husband's fucking the clientele), and she also has the problem all the actors have of being out on a limb, acting in her own register. The only actor who seems to get the film and deliver an effective performance is Gunther Kaufman (and in a gratifying instance of lightning striking twice in the same place, whoever dubs him into English also does a decent job and actually matches the tone of his performance), and it's largely because of him that his sex scene with Querelle is the only sequence in the film that seems to have any human resonance (or scintilla of heat). A lot of Fassbinder's best films feature 'outside actors' in lead roles, and they work just fine when they're supported by the stock company, but in this film (and to a lesser degree Despair), all of Fassbinder's skill with actors seems to abandon him when strangers dominate, and only his regulars seem to be on the same wavelength as the director.

Basically, this is one big pastel, vaseline-smeared non-event. Despite the glories (and glory holes) of the big set, it's for the most part underused and unimaginatively navigated: the film is more stagebound than most of his actual stage adaptations. The most hilarious aspect of the English version of the film (which I believe is the default 'true' version, as it has the leads acting with their own voices) is the narration, which is delivered by Generic American Documentary Narrator #371. It's like the narrator of those terrible Bud Greenspan Olympics films was being paid big bucks on the sly to read dirty books to the audience. Franco Nero's useless character also provides narration, also badly, but the over-narrator is a whole 'nother level of terrible.

In case it wasn't clear, both of these films are way down the bottom of the pile and won't be making my top twenty (or thirty, or maybe even forty).

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#86 Post by knives » Sun Oct 03, 2021 4:54 pm

Haven’t seen that final one, but paint me with Nabokov even really getting a lot out of that premise. I’ll have to rewatch it to put up a more strong defense than it just working for me.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#87 Post by zedz » Mon Oct 04, 2021 3:42 pm

After Querelle, I needed a film that could restore my faith in RWF, so I went for one of the most Fassbinder Fassbinders of them all:

Chinese Roulette (1976): Performance-wise, this is a perfect counterpoint to the farragoes of Querelle or Despair. Fassbinder is dealing with international co-production new blood (Anna Karina and Macha Meril), but they're perfectly in tune with the seasoned regulars, and that's essential to how the film works, as a feat of synchronized stylization. Once the characters reach the mansion (don't look away, or you'll miss the name of the place, which adds a whole new twist to the denouement), it becomes a symphony of very precise gestures and movements, of the actors and the camera. Fassbinder and Ballhaus orchestrate performance, decor, refractions and reflections to create a seamless whole, where a raised eyebrow can be rhymed by a slight twitch of the camera, or mythological combinations of different characters can be glimpsed briefly in the film's many mirrors (during the film's climax, the panning camera captures the image of Alexander Allerson's body with Ulli Lommel's face, for instance). It's an aesthetic delight from start to finish, cruel, funny and fascinating, and more arch than the Place de l'Etoile.

A note on music. Peer Raben's score is by turns icy and lush, and he's a secret weapon in a lot of Fassbinder films, even when the actual score might be sparing. I'm also at the point of noticing the repetitions in Fassbinder's needle-drops. Kraftwerk's 'Radioactivity' features in a memorably bizarre scene in this film, and it also figured prominently (spoiler?) in the final episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Raben's strange setting of the Kyrie eleison that plays over the film's coda (which seems like a deliberate nod to The Exterminating Angel) comes from an earlier film, if I recall correctly (The Niklashausen Journey?) Other double-ups I've noted so far: 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' and 'Candy Says' (which places Fassbinder firmly in the first wave of Velvet Underground appreciators).

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#88 Post by zedz » Tue Oct 05, 2021 3:10 pm

Love Is Colder Than Death (1969) - This is a very bold debut that does all sorts of aberrant things with film syntax. I used to think that Fassbinder, the novice, was just forging ahead and making up his own rules because he didn't have the time and patience to learn the 'proper' ones, which gave the film the sense of a Martian making a gangster movie after only having read about them in unreliable translation. But looking at his two earlier shorts, which are much more conventionally shot, that doesn't stack up. Instead, he must have been deliberately doing things 'wrong' to see what he could find that might actually work.

This is a film indebted to the French New Wave that doesn't feel much like a New Wave film, other than in its co-option of American genre tropes. The cliche attached to the reception of Breathless, Hiroshima, Mon Amour and the early Truffauts is that filmmakers all over the world realized "there were no rules." But what we tended to see was more like "there were new rules," as filmmakers began adding the techniques of those films to their own tool box. Fassbinder was one of the much rarer filmmakers who looked around for other rules to break, demonstrating his much closer kinship with fellow iconoclast and sometime collaborator Jean-Marie Straub (who gets acknowledged in the credits alongside Chabrol and Rohmer - who also lends his name to a hapless waitress.)

The film includes well-staged and conventionally shot sequences (as when the three main characters bamboozle Irm Hermann's sales clerk) alongside unusual and creative sequences that are still within the bounds of the 'permitted' (the mesmerizing supermarket tracking shot) and elliptical editing that rams shots closer together than is 'natural', but there are also highly disjunctive scenes that ostentatiously rub against classical film grammar. On a train, Fassbinder stages a shot / reverse-shot dialogue scene in which the characters are looking directly into the lens, so that the audience is flip-flopping PoVs (and Katrin Schaake gets to blow smoke in our face). A continuous conversation is shot with several invisible jump cuts, so that the characters pass through the frame from right to left then immediately re-enter again from the right. And the opening scene demonstrates a bizarre framing principle that plays out several times in the film. It's a radical asymmetry that I think of as "temporal symmetry", in which a completely unbalanced composition will eventually be balanced at some point during the course of an extended shot. i.e. there's a classically acceptable composition that the camera anticipates, but which might only materialize momentarily. It's the complete opposite of the principle that the camera discovers the action as it's happening, and it doubles down on the artificiality of blocking and staging. The very first shot of the film begins with its two characters crushed into the bottom left quadrant of the frame, the rest of which is a stark, white wall. After a while, Hans Hirschmuller enters and makes his way over to occupy the right hand side of the frame (standing upright, to also fill the upper half), until Fassbinder himself rises up and goes over there to knock him down, reasserting asymmetry. In other variations of the technique, there is no moment of symmetry, but rather Fassbinder 'evens out' the asymmetry by matching one wonky composition with its mirror image later in the shot. If you eliminate the time component and represent all the character movement in a single superimposed frame, you'll get a nice balanced Rorschach blur, but as it plays out in time, the frame is never balanced. These shots generally play out against blank white walls to accentuate the effect (as in The Coffeehouse, the actors are the decor in these shots), but the mise-en-scene is not theatrical, as it tends to rely on medium shots and varying angles.

This film is also Square One for the Fassbinder Players, and it's interesting that, of his fifteen most frequent actors (those that appeared in ten or more of his films), half of them are already on board (Ulli Lommel, Fassbinder himself, Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake, Irm Herrmann, Kurt Raab, Ingrid Caven), and Peer Raben is already the composer in residence (he also gets to hump some bodies around on-screen), and his music already doesn't sound like anybody else's. I particularly like the psychedelic fanfare that sounds when Lommel first appears, in a long close-up that has no point other that Hey, Cinema!

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#89 Post by senseabove » Wed Oct 06, 2021 5:05 pm

Excellent write-up, zedz. Almost makes me want to rewatch it with more of a focus on the formal technique.

Gods of the Plague: Maybe these early Fassbinders won't be such a slog after all: dollies! zooms! depth! a choreographed fight! high-contrast lighting! even a helicopter shot! Not quite gone, but the singular obsession with planar composition is no longer totally overbearing. There are still quite a few alienating flat shots, people in the foreground with nothing much more than a wall behind them, but they're punctuation now. At least as frequently there's depth, something jutting forward into the frame past the actor—an armoire, a wall lamp, a nightstand—giving the eye somewhere to move within the frame. And then there are shots straight out of a Hollywood B-movie: composed toward the receding corner of a room with actors in semi-profile, a spotlit full shot of the poor, grifting dame tied to a chair and the shirtless brute slapping the truth out of her. The static style is mostly restricted to the first half, where the social ills besotting the characters are established. Franz, the lead, fresh out of prison, is demoralized by his successful cabaret singer girlfriend's success, and so abandons her for a listless woman he met in the first bar he came to fresh out of jail. His abandonment precipitates a chain reaction of jealousy, desperation, and revenge that cycles through his entire circle of acquaintances, including the cop charged with investigating them. Everyone suspects that someone else is talking to the cops, and everyone is looking for a gangster in hiding, "the Gorilla," for different reasons; once the chain reaction starts, and Gunther "the Gorilla" arrives on the scene, everything starts falling into its catastrophic place, and the technique itself get progressively more dynamic, with slightly more conventional cutting rhythms and spatial construction: a startling dolly in on Schygulla's distraught face as she suddenly stops walking away from the camera following her and turns around; a long shot of Gunther suddenly sprinting off-screen and a quick cut into an open window as he playfully dives through it onto a bed of hay; a mirror reveal, with one character in an angled medium shot suddenly aware the reflected door behind her is opening. It's a bit uneven, with Fassbinder still figuring out how to weave the sensationalist personal and the austere political, but it's a distinct step toward the more excruciatingly emotional style of his mature films.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#90 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Oct 07, 2021 10:15 pm

Fox and His Friends. Eugen’s condescending cultural grooming of Fox is reminiscent of Petra von Kant’s relationship with Hanna (also a homosexual relationship) although the tables here are turned, in a more cruel way, in terms of who gets shafted because that person loves the most. That class-based humiliation aspect makes the fleecing of Fox that much more exploitative. I liked the film well enough but I didn’t feel it reached the same heights of brilliance and originality than the films that precede it post-1970, and in this way I’m in agreement with Thomsen’s mitigated appreciation of it. The story arc is predictable, even though the directorial craft, the staging especially, is strong enough to sustain significant interest on its own, and that last scene, as obvious as it is, is emotionally potent. I also felt the film lagged a bit in narrative tension here and there and could have used some tightening, but there were still some shimmering scenes, like that whole sequence in Morocco.

It’s interesting that once again a marginalized and oppressed part of society is shown as reproducing that violence, but in contrast to other films this isn’t a revelation as the film progresses but more of an established fact as soon as we’re introduced to these shallow and predatory men (the ones in the bourgeois class that is, not the ones who we see in the working class bar, who you could say – the former that is - are marginalized in one aspect but not in another), so that it doesn’t create the same sort of impact than in those films where we depressingly discover oppressed characters having integrated and now reproducing the oppression. It’s something you appreciate more considering the film as a unit in the larger artistic statement that is the entire oeuvre of the filmmaker.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#91 Post by senseabove » Fri Oct 08, 2021 2:22 pm

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? And now for something completely different. Straying far from static austerity and exaggerated Hollywoodisms, here Fassbinder uses a pseudo-documentary style, with an entirely handheld camera and, aside from some establishing shots, relying almost exclusively on medium over-the-shoulder and close-up shots of actors who are very clearly improvising endless, stultifying small-talk when they aren't staring in dead-eyed silence at their work or the wall. It's excruciating. I unwisely tried watching this a few months ago when it was on the Criterion Channel, mid-pandemic lockdown, and only lasted about twenty minutes before abandoning it. Coming from the earlier films, though, it weirdly worked for me this time. It's like Fassbinder's The Office (which is a show I've always found to be nearly as excruciating as this), and it's a more effective use of his penchant for form-as-oppression: who hasn't been trapped in apparently bottomless, boring small talk, and who could find it anything other than maddening to realize that, except for those times when someone is yelling at you, your life has become nothing, absolutely nothing but bottomless, boring small talk: with your wife, with your mother, with your co-workers, with your neighbors. Except Herr R.'s wife, and mother, and co-workers, and neighbors all seemingly don't. When Herr R. does finally "run amok," it's all too understandable to us why. This isn't great Fassbinder, and ultimately it feels as much like a proof-of-concept formal exercise as it does a successful feature, but for me, at least, it was perversely more engaging than the forced alienation of the earlier features.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#92 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Oct 08, 2021 4:24 pm

It sounds like I like it maybe more than you do (?), but your description of the film is pretty apt in terms of my own experience of it. I'm def on board with finding it more fun than the alienation gangster flicks. Also, maybe watching it a second time and knowing what comes at the end makes the boredom of everything that occurs beforehand more tolerable. There is definitely a perverse "payoff" with the liberation that comes at the end, nihilistic and disturbing as it may be.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#93 Post by knives » Fri Oct 08, 2021 5:12 pm

Speaking of Herr R. can anyone explain Michael Fengler’s exact role in its making? I see him credited as a co-director in some places.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#94 Post by senseabove » Fri Oct 08, 2021 5:50 pm

Yeah, to be clear, I liked it, certainly more than the other early works, not as much as Plague. But it feels deranged to call Herr R. "fun"—though I guess "more fun" is not quite the same thing—since it's the movie equivalent of a "realistic farming sim" for middle-class drudgery, and there's no relief for us; most treatments of this material punctuate it with black comedy, but Fassbinder consistently undercuts even the urge to laugh at these people, since they themselves are never actually full-tilt absurd or seem fully aware that anything is, they just illustrate the absurdity of a society this deadening. (Until the end, of course: Irm Hermann's blathering and Herr R.'s passive aggressive fiddling is almost funny, until it's not.) When Fassbinder takes his foot of the gas, it's by giving us faint glimmers of tepid, bottom-of-the-barrel camaraderie that nevertheless feels genuine in whatever relief it does provide these people—and then he undercuts that too, as with Frau R.'s fight with Herr R.'s mother during the walk in the snow following their jovial dessert, or the punctuating cuts to whichever person is absolutely miserable in the current social setting after focusing mostly on someone else having a good time. So, sure, it "hurts so good" in a particularly Fassbinderian way, and this would squeak onto the bottom of my list if I have a spot to fill.

As for Fengler's role, Thomsen's book says nothing of him in its discussion of the film, and Fengler's only indexed mention in the whole book is in the introduction's very short list of the two people Fassbinder co-directed plays or films with.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#95 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Oct 08, 2021 6:01 pm

I kind of assumed Fengler must be responsible for the pseudo-doc style, given that's so different from the other films, but who knows. I see on a website that apparently Hanna Schygulla claimed in an interview that Fengler directed the whole thing.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#96 Post by zedz » Sat Oct 09, 2021 2:21 am

Why Does Herr R. Run AMOK? (1970)
knives wrote:
Fri Oct 08, 2021 5:12 pm
Speaking of Herr R. can anyone explain Michael Fengler’s exact role in its making? I see him credited as a co-director in some places.
He's credited as co-director in the film itself. The actual credit is "a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Fengler", and that seems to cover co-writing, co-editing and co-directing, though the script was more like an outline for improvisation and the film is comprised of sequence shots so there's not much editing happening. As for the actual direction, I've read conflicting reports, ranging from Fassbinder handing a co-credit to Fengler as a favour for other work to Fassbinder not being present on the shoot at all.

It's hard to judge the authorship from the evidence of the film, because a) in stylistic conception it's radically different from any other Fassbinder film, being shot in faux documentary style with a hand-held camera in unbroken sequence shots, and b) Fengler himself was more a producer than a director, with this being his first film credited as director. Even the other film they co-directed, The Niklashausen Journey, is very different in style, even though it also consists of long sequence shots. Because these two co-directed films differ from everything else Fassbinder did on his own, I'm inclined to be generous with crediting that difference to Fengler's influence.

I find the film fascinating, because as senseabove noted, it's his core obsessions realised in a new way. It is indeed a proof-of-concept, but it's a proof-of-concept for a much, much better film:
SpoilerShow
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which employs the formal rigour this kind of experiment cries out for.
I find the film quite amusing on a conceptual level, and awkward-funny in several individual sequences (e.g. the one with the sniggering salesgirls in the record store, having to help Kurt Raab find the record he wants "with the chorus that keeps coming back"). Furthermore, I feel that the payoff has genuine power that goes beyond the conceptual. The climactic scene has a real tension on the soundtrack that's largely lost with a reliance on subtitles (which only translate one of the two conflicting sound streams in the small room), and there's the black joke that the answer to the titular question ends up being: Irm Hermann won't stop wittering on about her skiing holiday.

The scene plays out like a particularly unhinged Monty Python sketch, but it switches to quiet horror when Kurt Raab goes into his son's darkened bedroom and we stay outside. The other small detail I find moving about the end of the film is how genuinely distressed Mrs. Eder at the office is when she hears the news. Interesting point: all the actors in the film seem to be using their real names, even when they're acting under a different one.

The Longing of Veronika Voss (1982) - There are plenty of influences one can trace in Fassbinder's work (e.g. Sirk, Straub, Rocha, Godard), but I think this is the only film that's an out-and-out pastiche, and what a magnificent pastiche it is. It's not mimicking the films of 1955, when it's set, but an earlier era (Voss's 30s / 40s heyday) with all that luminous luxe cinematography and the ludicrously varied optical wipes. It's a good noir-ish story with fine performances and toothsome subtexts, but this is a movie where I'm primarily sniffing the amyl nitrate of its style. This might be the best example of Fassbinder's third axiomatic cinematographer, Xaver Schwarzenberger, demonstrating what he can do that Michael Ballhaus or Dietrich Lohmann couldn't. Veronika Voss (and indeed Herr R.) illustrates that, despite how powerful an authorial personality Fassbinder represented, he was also adept at tailoring his work to the talents of his collaborators, and fashioning new versions of himself out of the alchemy of the collective.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#97 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Oct 09, 2021 9:24 pm

Mother Küsters’ Trip to Heaven. A more explicitly political film that’s rich in interpretive possibilities. The motives for Hermann (father Küsters) running amok and committing his murder/suicide at the factory aren’t clear, but they’re immediately recuperated into self-serving narratives by the different social and ideological forces at play. Meanwhile the film's main dramatic thrust is built around us witnessing mother Küsters getting abandoned or used by pretty much everybody, her own children first in line. (Although at the same time there’s some nuance here, because we are allowed to empathize also with them and how their own upbringing was affected by the father’s flaws, and we see some signs of love or compassion in them, lacking in the balance as those behaviors ultimately may be.)

The film was controversial for its treatment of the Left, but this is one area where I find the film interesting to analyze or discuss because I didn’t find the critique of the Communist Party that damning. We’re immediately made aware that the Tillmanns are personally very well-off Communists and they are obviously interested in Mother Küsters’ plight because it serves their cause (we hear her character enunciate words recognizing and accepting this as she uses them too), but you do get the sense of an authentic kindness (which is marked in contrast to the rest of the film's players). They’re portrayed by contrast with the anarchists to be likely lacking in political efficacy, but the anarchists’ actions are so radically self-destructive they immediately come off worst, and fairly ridiculous, in the comparison. Although in the end I buy Thomsen’s conclusion that the film is antipolitical and instead “indicts the inhuman element in all ideologies”.

The character of Emma (who is primarily referred to as Mother Küsters which tells us something about her existence as a person in this society) is interesting because even as she's basically the typical Fassbinder tragic victim of the film and despite her fate in the ending, there's also a positive journey there, where her coming to a political consciousness serves the means of providing a self-sustaining identity shift after we watch her lose all her anchors.

As absorbing as the film’s ideas are, visually and formally I didn’t find it as interesting or engaging as previous films, until the end of course, with that Brechtian ending that deprives us of the tragic dénouement through scenes of action and emotional involvement (just like the initial act of violence isn’t shown) and instead uses captions that just read the script of that sequence, complete with shot descriptions. A more radical return to what we were presented with in Effi Briest.

EDIT: I forgot to mention the alternate ending for the film, a 10-minute sequence only used in the U.S. which just completely puzzled me, as it isn't the sequence we're deprived of in the European version but a completely different ending where the final tragedy is averted.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#98 Post by knives » Sun Oct 10, 2021 12:51 pm

Big old dump of viewings because my mad and impoverished ramblings finally fit the mood of a thread.

Effie Briest is pretty great for a lot of reasons, but for me in this context it was the delight of seeing the matured Fassbinder making a film so closely connected to his initial style. Not only the black and white, but also the abrupt cutting (though with transitions most of the time here) and tableaux style acting. It really helps to develop that sense of isolation and defeated expectations. No one here is really bad, but as the subtitle says by play acting their role these Brechtian figures sigh down the path of their own destruction. If only they could escape style. Fassbinder’s previous and future career gives hope to the possibility of that rendering this less hurtful than it might be in isolation, and rather comes across as hopeful for what freedom new forms might bring.

Next was The Third Generation which proved a fun aesthetic twin to 13 Moons. While this ultimately lacks the emotional investment of the best of Fassbinder’s films, I was laughing like a maniac and enjoyed myself just a tad too much. While there’s some aesthetic connection to other films of the period, particular the surreal 13 Moons and final episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz, this is the most clearly indebted to Godard I’ve seen yet. Fassbinder even quotes some ‘70s work with No. Deux getting the best shot in the film. Although with his lack of optimism in youth movements the film more strongly recalls Chabrol, with Nada as an obvious comparison point, and the playful anxiety of Rivette. The sarcastic dedication is perhaps the film’s most revealing moment. It’s dismissal of the good is something the rest of Fassbinder’s career negates, but which helps to highlight his antipathy to grand statements which seems the motivation for the film. Youth movements fail because performance gets in the way of thought. These are pretty naive and immature people.

In being Fassbinder’s darkest film since Beware of a Holy Whore it also becomes his most hopeless as there is no human worth in this milieu. I next watched Petra von Kant which I don’t have much to add to except to say I got a lot more out of it this time.

Finally though is Lili Marleen. W hat a jump by a decade does. From the theatricality of Petra’s tears this Euro-pudding of Truffaut proportions is quite a shock. Outside the actors and use of color there’s not much here distinctively Fassbinder. It really highlights how fast he was moving that just barely a few years since Third Generation he was making a film with none of its surrealistic furnishes and hyper concentrated perspective instead being an epic historical metaphor conjoined as a fourth member of the BRD.

The movie is incredibly fascinating in this context, but by itself it only manages to be an above average version of this sort of film. Think a prettier The Last Metro. It also makes me think that despite being more famous Schygulla isn’t as dynamic a figure as Margit Carstensen.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#99 Post by zedz » Sun Oct 10, 2021 4:51 pm

I haven't got back to Lili Marleen yet, but I recall it as one of Fassbinder's worst films, so I'm not looking forward to it!

I decided to follow up Herr R. with a film that basically picks up where that one left off.

Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (1975): Not a lot to add to Rayon Vert's excellent post. This is a great, overlooked Fassbinder film that presents a quite complex picture of how personal tragedies are manipulated and exploited by the media and their survivors in a manner that's rather subdued for Fassbinder during this period, with a naturalistic acting style and without much in the way of flashy camerawork. The cast is almost all regulars, and they get to shine in this context. Brigitte Mira is at her best, and unless I've forgotten something, this is probably Ingrid Caven's largest role in one of her husband's films. Karlheinz Bohm and Margit Carstensen are especially good in underplaying their pair of Good Bourgeois Communists, who could easily have been comic or villainous caricatures.

I think both endings to the film work brilliantly. The tragic German ending is utterly arresting, with the freeze-frame on Emma's bewildered face and the overlay of the script: much more devastating than a filmed version of that final scene would likely have been. The comic American ending is equally valid, baldly exposing the politics of the characters as shallow theatrical posturing and resolving on a sweet note of quiet human contact. It's a testament to the tonal complexity of the rest of the film that neither ending would stick out like a sore thumb. Though the choice to include both of them in sequence on the DVD is a bit of a weird one, I like that it doesn't favour one over the other.

Other things to love about this film:
- How Fassbinder - and Kurt Raab - immediately delineate two radically different worlds when we cut from the Kusters' apartment to Corrina's night club, but they're both recognizable Fassbinder worlds.
- How everybody who conveys the ghastly news at the beginning of the film uses the identical "and there's something else" construction to do so.
- Irm Hermann Irm Hermanning her small role into the stratosphere. I hope she got the chance to do some skiing while she was in Finland.

I think my thematic breadcrumb trail points to The Third Generation after this.

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Re: Auteur List: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

#100 Post by knives » Sun Oct 10, 2021 5:12 pm

I’m glad, by description, I wasn’t wrong in connecting those two. They sound really great.
zedz wrote:
Sun Oct 10, 2021 4:51 pm
I haven't got back to Lili Marleen yet, but I recall it as one of Fassbinder's worst films, so I'm not looking forward to it!
It certainly fits squarely in the descriptions you seem to like least about late Fassbinder. Right now it’s at number twenty for me, but I need just one more real good film to knock it off.

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