From the Archives: Fassbinder & His Friends (1983)

in Culture

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was the central German film director of the whole post-Hitler era. He was the greatest in terms of productivity (43 films in barely over a decade), range and impact on his own generation—both in Germany and abroad. The “New German Cinema” revival of the ’70s is unthinkable without him, and among his contemporaries, only Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre) rivals him in world prestige. In films like The Merchant of Four Seasons, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lili Marleen, and Lola—Fassbinder opened up a peculiar, teeming, madly fertile world: a world of bleak city streets; garish interiors rotting with an over-sumptuous hothouse glamour; middle-class eccentricities and madness; and an erotic, romantic frustration so intense that it seems to beat at the spectator in waves. There is something almost oppressive about his films—they repel as they fascinate. Taken together they present a full and often damning portrait of German society in the 20th century—its social realities and, perhaps more important, its cultural undertows, dreams and nightmares.

When I spoke to Dieter Schidor—a deceptively boyish-appearing actor and ex-academic, who produced Fassbinder’s last film (Querelle, taken from the Jean Genet novel) and directed The Wizard of Babylon (a documentary on the making of Querelle)—I expected an intimate glimpse of a driven artist. I didn’t expect the picture I got: an appalling portrait of a man who was, in many ways, self-destructive, cruel and even monstrous—a man who tyrannized his friends and coworkers mercilessly; who drove some of them (like actress Hanna Schygulla) literally into nervous breakdowns; who manipulated the system with consummate cynicism and cunning to finance his movies; whose appetites for sex, drugs, emotional violence or depravity were immense and uncontrollable; and whose personal life was a pathetic, even sordid, shambles (both …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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