“Cruelly, Madly, Deeply: The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder” at the Aero and the Egyptian, May 31–June 14, 2012
“We have lost our greasy wild boar.” —Werner Herzog, on hearing the news of Fassbinder’s death in 1982
As everyone who writes about him can’t resist noting, German writer-director Rainer Werner Fassbinder made 30-odd features between 1969 and his death at age 37 in 1982. He also found the time to direct the 15½-hour TV miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) and various shorts, as well as act and write plays. He was astonishingly prolific, sometimes shooting two or three films in a year (drugs helped with that) — but that’s not why anyone should see his films today.
RWF came to prominence as part of the 1960s’ New German Cinema movement that also included Herzog and Wim Wenders; as dissimilar as all these filmmakers were, the shared agenda was very much about overturning stale conventions and using the medium for something more than escapist entertainment.
Accordingly, few filmmakers have ever put such a distinct personal stamp on their work: Fassbinder’s movies are bracingly smart and provocative. Not to mention funny, sardonic, kinky, thoughtful, taboo-breaking, feminist, and, not least, remarkably stylish, even when he was working on the proverbial shoestring budget. The camerawork (courtesy of Michael Ballhaus on many of the films) and the blocking of the actors is always fascinatingly inventive.
Fassbinder’s earliest films from the late 1960s have a grotty, underground-movie quality, even when they’re witty, ironic updates on classic Hollywood genres like gangster flicks, Westerns and romantic melodramas. During the 1970s the budgets got bigger, allowing the filmmaking to become more lavish and stylized. One of the pleasures of the films is seeing him use stars like Hanna Schygulla and a stock company of actors over and over, always finding interesting new roles for them. (There’s a reason why they put up with all his abuse behind the scenes.)
Highlights of this series include a double feature of Fassbinder’s most acclaimed film, The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), and a personal favorite of this writer, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), playing at the Egyptian Theatre on June 2, and both starring Schygulla. (Click here to read more.)
Also notable is the hard-boiled, revisionist B&W noir The American Soldier (1970), which features one of the most memorably strange endings I’ve ever seen in a movie, playing on June 7 with Fassbinder’s debut feature, Love Is Colder than Death (1969). (Click here to read more.)
On June 3 there’s a rare screening of Effi Briest, Fassbinder’s adaptation of the classic Theodor Fontane novel about one woman’s downfall in 19th-century Prussia (another great role for Schygulla). (Click here for more.) Also worth catching on the big screen in glorious 35mm is Fassbinder’s visually gorgeous, eye-popping riff on The Blue Angel, 1981’s Lola. For a review of Lola, click here.
For the complete schedule of “Cruelly, Madly, Deeply: The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder,” click here.