Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: The films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder

7 Jun

The next season at cinematheque promises to be fascinating and fabulous; Rainer Werner Fassbinder is on show, and will not disappoint.

Born in 1945, Fassbinder died of heart failure due to drug and alcohol addictions in 1982, aged 37. Of his 15years in the entertainment industry Fassbinder released 40 feature films, three short films, two television mini-series’, 24 stage plays, four video productions, and four radio plays. Of these, he stared in 36, as well as having produced, written, edited and composed much of his work.

He was wildly self-destructive; raging on set, having disastrous affairs with his male cast members, being attacked by the press, all resulting in being accused as corrupting the youth by conservatives and as being misleading and distractive of gay culture by queer activists, feminists and liberals.

Credited as the biggest influence of the German New Wave, Fassbinder often looked at the humanistic elements within people, strongly portrayed by the cast he would often re-use. The use of outsiders was also a large theme within his work; emigrants, homosexuals, the poor, the old, the unwanted and unloved.

Ali: Fear eats the soul

To start the viewing we have Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1973). True to form, Fassbinder was in a relationship with El Hedi ben Salem who plays Ali- Salem would later commit suicide in a French prison after having drunkenly stabbed three people. Here Salem plays a 30-something Moroccan emigrant in West Germany who meets 60-something widow Emmi (Brigitte Mira) and the two develop a relationship in the face of adversity, though for how long seems to be out of their control. Fassbinder’s take on a struggling West Germany is epitomised within his characters, their actions, their clothes, their dancing, their lives.

Fox and his Friends

Secondly, we have Fox and his Friends (1975) that has Fassbinder playing Fox, a gay carnival performer whose lover is in jail and who no longer has a job. Briefly becoming a hustler, Fox is able to procure enough money for a lottery ticket in which he wins 500,000 marks, thus setting about his true decline at the hands of those socially above him. Taken partially from Fassbinder’s own experiences, the film was shot with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus who would go on to work with Scorsese.

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