The 100 Essential Directors Part 3

George Cukor - John Ford

by PopMatters Staff

7 August 2011


Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder
(1945 - 1982)

Three Key Films: The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972), The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979/80)

Underrated: In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

Unforgettable: Over the course of Fassbinder?s 40 odd films, there are many moments that brand themselves upon the viewer’s brain, but perhaps the most scarring is the slaughterhouse sequence from In a Year with 13 Moons. Elvira the reluctant transvestite relates her story of failed romance to her hooker friend, Red Zora, while various slow-creeping tracking shots capture the skinning, disembowelment and bloodletting of cattle. As Elvira becomes hysterical at her own misery, the blood starts to foam in the drains, and we realize that love itself is no different from this killing factory. The film and this sequence become even more powerful if one knows the circumstances of the film’s creation. Fassbinder’s boyfriend(on whom Elvira’s former identity, Erwin, was based) committed suicide on Fassbinder?s birthday, in his apartment, and was not discovered for several days. The tragic incident inspired Fassbinder to write, produce, shoot, edit, do the art design and direct the film in matter of weeks (the film was conceived and completed while he was working on The Marriage of Maria Braun and Berlin Alexanderplatz). This film alone is perhaps justification for Fassbinder’s inclusion on this list.


Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979/80)

The Legend: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, at the age of 16, filled out a questionnaire required of schoolchildren that asked them about their plans for the future. He replied that his goal was to become a filmmaker, and make such a large amount of films that his life itself would become a film. With all of the well-publicized sexploits, drug use, and provocative press statements (that would give Von Trier a run for his money) it seems he accomplished his teenage goal insofar as he was always on the screens of the media and his films saturated the movie houses. He was born in 1945 in Germany, three weeks after the Third Reich surrendered to the Allied Forces. Over the course of his 14-year career, 1968-1982, he made over 40 films across every conceivable medium dealing with the lingering specter of Nazism and the exploitation of emotions within Germany of the 1970s.

Surprisingly, many of Fassbinder’s films are available on DVD; which is pretty impressive considering he made three short films, four television films, one television series, four filmed plays, 24 feature films and one segment of an omnibus film, not to mention the numerous theatrical productions he directed, produced and starred in (along with roles in the production and cast of fellow filmmakers’ projects). He accomplished this stunning feat by literally killing himself with work (and the vast amounts of cocaine he required for said work). He died on the night of June 10th, 1982 with the screenplay for his next film in his hands and a lit cigarette in his mouth. He has several masterpieces apart from the four mentioned here, but these are good entry points into his work. Other amazing films to check out once familiar with his style would be The American Soldier, Effi Briest and The Third Generation.

Overall, Fassbinder’s body of work can be characterized under that catchall banner of melodrama. However, his preoccupation with the exploitation of emotions and German history transforms his work from mere weepies to a sort of cinematic whistleblowing on the shenanigans of social tyranny. Corey Briscoe Gates



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