Here’s looking at you, Fassbinder’s ghost

Criterion’s releasing a nice collection of early films by German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder on DVD soon. Early Fassbinders all have a stylised staginess to them, but they’re worth watching.

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From Love is Colder than Death (1969), Fassbinder’s first feature film. Incidentally, the pudgy-faced man on our left is Fassbinder.

One thing I’ve associated with Fassbinderearly and late—since seeing his Ali: Fear Eats the Soul for the first time is his unusual ability to make you, the viewer, the centre of attention in that awkward, uncomfortable way we all hate to be made the centre of attention in real life. The action is going on until Bam!—

Everyone’s looking straight at you.

OK, not all of the shots are such surprises, but they do tend to bring out that feeling of “Hey, stop fucking looking at me!” either by when they come or how long they last. Although some of the shots are point of view shots where we assume the eyes of a character, and the other characters look at “us”, not all of them are. Sometimes the characters really are just looking at you, i.e. at nothing.

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6 thoughts on “Here’s looking at you, Fassbinder’s ghost

    • I agree about Ali. It’s such an unusual romance (“They were separated by age, religion, culture, language…”) filtered through the changing face of demographics in Germany in the 1970s and made in such a lovely, colourful arthouse style. It was my first Fassbinder and I still love it, but it’s definitely worth searching out more of his films. Fassbinder may have been prolific, but a lot of his massive output is very good.

      • Uh oh, pressure! …I recommend The Marriage of Maria Braun, In a Year with 13 Moons and Martha. (Coming up with these, I’ve realised how few post-WWII German films I’ve seen, apart from Fassbinder’s. A few Herzogs, a handful made after 1989 and that seems to be it.)

        Any non-Fassbinder German recommendations?

        🙂

  1. Wonderful, thank you! I love Wings of Desire (Der Himmel Uber Berlin), Wim Wender’s 1987 film. It’s steeped in psychogeography with one character obsessing about the landscape of pre-war Berlin and the angels floating about the soon to be demolished wall. The cinematography is beautiful, and the actors are amazing – including Peter Falk (der filmstar) as himself, and a performance by Nick Cave. I also really love (though it is terrifically gut-wrenching) Rossellini’s Germany: Year Zero. So many sequences are burned in my memory though I haven’t seen it in years – people on the street scavenging the flesh of a horse just dropped dead in the street for meat to feed their families, or a boy flogging a record of one of Hitler’s speeches to some American troops, Hitler’s voice from the playing record echoing and rebounding through a hollowed out building. The dramatic shots of post-war Berlin are shocking. More moving than any historical document…

    • Thank you. I haven’t seen Wings of Desire, but remember reading about its cinematography and use of colour in a book about colour in films. It’s been on my “to see, hopefully” list ever since. Now it’s been boosted because I had no idea Nick Cave was in!

      I have seen Germany, Year Zero and, like you, I can’t forget parts of it: the footage of bombed-out Berlin at the beginning resembling the jagged sets of pre-war German Expressionist films, the scene with the record and the schoolteacher, the ending…

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