"Fassbinder has shown what cinema can be" | Movies | DW

Rainer Werner Fassbinder: uninhibited, controversial, brilliant | Movies | KG

Germany has Cooper never loved too much. Not his films and probably not his lifestyle either. Of course, we also know in this country about the importance of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died after a short and productive life at the age of 37. He made over 40 feature-length films between 1969 and 1982, one of them productivity unimaginable. Fassbinder wrested this rage for work with a lot of alcohol and drugs. It came at a price.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the "New German Film"

Fassbinder turned against the old commercial cinema of the Federal Republic, which was stuck in terms of style and content to the cinema of the 1950s: Winnetou and sex films, hometowns and films about the Second World War dominated, which did not allow an honest reappraisal.

The "New German Film", as that aesthetic-content film revolution is called, would not be conceivable without the name Fassbinder.

Born 75 years ago, on May 31, 1945 in Bad Wörishofen, Bavaria, Fassbinder never attended a film school. He became an autodidact. Maybe that made him strong and brave. Fassbinder did what he wanted. His films were aesthetically radical and often very artificial. The audience didn't want to follow him for a long time. That only changed with his last films.

Fassbinder is a nuisance – also with his homosexuality

Neither in his cinematic concepts nor in his lifestylehe let himself be talked into. Fassbinder's homosexuality, which was featured both in his films and in public, met with many reservations in the social climate in Germany in the 1970s. Fassbinder was a radical outsider in a bourgeois society.

In 1969 he directed his first feature film "Love is colder than death", when he had already had some theater experience. Fassbinder was an all-round genius: he directed films and plays, wrote dramas and scripts, made radio plays and also appeared as an actor. Fassbinder danced in a large number of artistic weddings in his short, intensive creative period.

TV, cinema, theater, books, radio plays – but always a little different

He points to this enormous diversity and permanent willingness to develop something new Fassbinder expert Michael Töteberg in a DW conversation: "He played on a lot of media, but always with the medium in mind, always doing something different than the genre dictated." He never did a kind of "secondary exploitation", according to the motto: I now make a film out of a play, and I make a theatrical version out of a television series. For example, the film and TV versions of "Bolwieser" (1976) differed considerably.

Film scene from Bolwieser with Kurt Raab, a favorite actor Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Imago / United Archives)

"Bolwieser" with Kurt Raab, a favorite Fassbinder actor

Today, however, Fassbinder mainly stands for cinematic melodramas about German history, which is a shame, says Töteberg. After all, Fassbinder's work is "very extensive and very diverse".

Fassbinder was discovered internationally at the festival in Cannes

Abroad this is early and probably also better understood, says Michael Töteberg: "I think he is more important abroad than here." Of all places at the film festival in Cannes, France, where Germans are usually not traded high, Fassbinder celebrated its international breakthrough in 1974 with "Fear Eat Soul". The work of the German was also received early and intensively in the USA, says Töteberg.

Michael Töteberg (private)

Michael Töteberg

After the "Fear Eat Soul On" premiere in Cannes, people wiped their eyes in Germany and asked themselves in surprise: "Oh, do people abroad also care?" Today one could say: "The image of Germany abroad is clearly shaped by Fassbinder."

Hasn't Fassbinder's boisterous life of drug consumption and the reputation of being a rascal on the set and insulting friends and foes hid the image of Fassbinder as an artist? There is sure to be something to it, Töteberg says. With such a "cliché of the ingenious monster" one does not really get closer to the Fassbinder phenomenon.

Issues such as sexuality were staged by Fassbinder without taboos

"It's amazing how far he was thematically ahead of his time." Many things that "have only just arrived in the middle of society" were discussed early on by Fassbinder, according to the Fassbinder expert, who has been dealing with the artist for a long time. "Who back then, in the time of the film 'In a year with 13 moons' (1978, editor's note), had actually heard of transsexuals outside a marginalized group?" That was perceived as "completely bizarre and exotic".

Film scene from In a year with 13 moons with Volker Spengler in women's clothing (Imago / Tango Film)

Gender change: Volker Spengler in "In a year with 13 moons"

Fassbinder has dealt with German history and current affairs in many films. He "never made propaganda for these things, neither for leftist or for other politics, but, he always had a very distant and critical attitude," said Töteberg. In this regard, he was never naive, had no illusions.

Fassbinder: between art house and cinema for the large audience

Fassbinder also always kept an eye on the large audience, says Töteberg, who has access to the research in his research Fassbinder archives had: "He planned to film Johannes Mario Simmel (most popular German entertainment writer in Fassbinder's time, editor's note) and not in an ironic manner."

Film scene from The Marriage of Maria Braun with Hanna Schygulla in an erotic situation (picture alliance / dpa)

Hanna Schygulla took the leading role in "The Marriage of Maria Braun"

In Töteberg's opinion, Fassbinder never wanted to serve expectations: "If he had a commercial success, he next made a film that was rather disturbing. When people thought: 'Oh, he really arrived in the art house' , he did something for the audience. It was consistent! "

Fassbinder did not see himself as a genius

"Fassbinder himself always said: I make things out of things. I'm not so productive myself," says Michael Töteberg.

And what would Rainer Werner Fassbinder do today, in the digital age 75 years after his birth? Make series or record on "social media"? "He would do pretty much everything," says Töteberg: "In any case, I can't imagine Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 75, as a pensioner in the garden."

For further reading: "Rainer Werner Fassbinder transmedial", edited by Werner C. Barg and Michael Töteberg, Stoke, 224 pages, ISBN 978-3-7410-0362-2.

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