11 June, 2007

25 Years Ago, Yesterday....

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was found dead from an overdose of sleeping pills and cocaine. He was 37 years old. More significantly, he had directed over 40 films in just in just over a decade of frenetic activity. From his Anti-theater days of the late 60s to his ascension to the status of enfant terrible, he left a legacy which earn him the place of the last great German director of the 20th Century. His seminal influence was Douglas Sirk (who made films for UFA before fleeing the Nazis), perhaps by way of Jean Luc Godard.

I remember hearing about his death in 1982 via a friend who informed me of the fact that RWF had died of an overdose as I was in the midst of acting out my own addiction at the time. I was 30: RWF was 37. He had made 40 plus films; I had made only a few shorts. I immediately recalled my impromptu meeting with RWF in New York City, circa 1975. Dressed in leathers, he seemed introverted, sensitive, "nice" but not particularly communicative. This was before he had become internationally famous and an infamous icon. He seemed uncertain of his physical self but sure of his art. He thanked me, weakly shaking my hand and smiling a smile that didn't seem like one. Later there would be stories.... But what counts is the magnificently heartfelt oeuvre.

I just happened to put on his 1978 IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS yesterday morning. I sat there becoming simultaneously enraptured and stricken by the cruel fate of Elvira (Volker Spengler), the exquisitely tormented transsexual who feels too much and is lost in a cold, calculating world. I only was reminded of Fassbinder's death anniversary today after reading dwhudson's June 10 blog on http://daily.greencine.com/ quoting this German reviewer's comments on the controversial DVD presentation (from the also controversial FASSBINDER FOUNDATION) of RWF's 15 hour TV broadcast BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ. The description of the imagery and methodology reminded me of Jess Franco's aesthetic in his early to mid 1970s films (ie AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO, LORNA THE EXORCIST, LA COMTESSE NOIRE, etc)....

"A far more rewarding read on the DVD is Jürgen Kasten's in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. I'll translate just a bit:
'The radicalism of the direction of the figures, unfocused takes and the disturbingly dark lighting values led to a veritable television scandal when it was first broadcast... In Berlin Alexanderplatz, Fassbinder is concerned with the filmic representation of an inner world. The space in which Franz finds himself is abundant but skewed almost all over. A dusky semi-darkness lays over everything, smearing out the bodily contours. There doesn't seem to be any clear delineation between inside and outside, body and surroundings. The director had filters placed in front of the camera so that most of the shots would take on a delirious haziness. '"

Does "The radicalism of the direction of the figures, unfocused takes and...disturbing dark lighting....[culminating in a] ...delirious haziness..." sound familiar? It just about perfectly describes for me the visual style, tone and what drew me to Jess Franco's films in the first place. And, like JF, RWF was an artist fascinated by the mirror and all of its implications.

I had never seriously considered a link between RWF and JF, but there it is....

If he had lived I'm sure he would have caught up with JF's product count by this time.
And I still have to catch up with the epic length BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, something I have put off for way too long.
Here's an update from DVDBEAVER.com re BERLIN...: "Finnish Digital-TV has broadcasted now 12 of the 15 parts of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ. The new restoration made by Fassbinder Foundation. I must say that this is the biggest disappointment of the year, I do hope Criterion can do wonders, or postpone the release and make a new restoration. I actually get a headache if I even look at the image for more than two minutes - I'm gonna drop the viewing and wait for the Criterion. If someone have the old tapes, don't throw it away yet!..."

(C) Robert Monell, 2007.


scott said...

wow, last night i had put on LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH and watched some of it. enough to wake up this morning with some of it's theme ringing in my head. I am a big Fassbinder fan but didn't know it was the anniversary fo his death. Nice to read about RWF here in your Franco blog. my two favorite directors of many favorites.

Favorite RWF movies


I've never seen THE THIRD GENERATION but it looks wonderful in the stills. My favorite scene from IN A YEAR is when Elvira breaks down in the arcade while Roxy Music's "a song for europe" plays in the background.

I wonder if Franco and RWF ever crossed paths or saw each other's films at all? Or their opinions of each other?

seems many similarities in the way they constantly used the same acting troupes over the years..some would disappear and then come back 6 years later.

and I always thought Pamela Stanford could be a sexier version of Margrit carstenson.

Robert Monell said...

The Third Generation is a very chilling look at a society frozen in the fear of terrorism. A film even more relevant today in some regards. WHITY may be one of the 10 best Eurowestern, similar to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST in vast stylization and relevance. It gets better every time you watch it, like many of his films. Also THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS. I still want to see WHY DOES HERR R RUN AMOK? The scenes in the office building in 13 MOONS with the guys acting out the Jerry Lewis Dean Martin movie are also great. He was also an actor in his and other's films like Franco. He kinda looks like Jess Franco in THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME. Thanks for your feedback. I have many more RWF films to see.

Michael R. Cantone said...

I have often wondered that too, Scott, whether Jess Franco and Rainer Werner Fassbinder knew of each other's work. I'm surprised nobody mentioned that Jess and Rainer had one important link: ADRIAN HOVEN! Mr. Hoven was one of the producers of NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS and he acted in several Fassbinder films (FOX AND HIS FRIENDS is one of the key performances he gave). Anyway, both Franco and Fassbinder rank as my two favorite directors.

DADA for now....