The Anatomy of Anguish: Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982)
Anyone vaguely familiar with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who died 30 years ago this month) will note that his personal excesses––sex, drugs, and violence––were often inextricable from his confrontational contributions to the New German Cinema. As one of the finest practitioners of melodrama, Fassbinder extended the complexities evident in Sirk's work but eschewed any sense of dual audience (“I don't believe that melodramatic feelings are laughable—they should be taken absolutely seriously”) and infused it with overt political commentary. Instead of carefully plotted, tiny disasters that snowball into a grandiose denouement or random tragic occurrences, the force behind his catastrophes is the nihilistic market. You are subject to capitalism's sadism (which in itself is a meaningless human construction), yet have no real means to escape it.
But unlike Sirk, Fassbinder is too little remembered as an expert maker of images. Below, some key moments from Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fox and His Friends, The Marriage of Maria Braun, In a Year of 13 Moons, and I Only Want You to Love Me where the mise en scène does as much talking as his doomed characters.
In a Year of 13 Moons
(A photo of a pre-Casablanca Elvira)
The Marriage of Maria Braun
(The cigarettes that an American soldier gives Maria Braun as apology, which she trades her mother for a brooch, which she in turn trades for a dress that allows her to work at a G.I.-only nightclub, where she meets Bill.)
Fox and His Friends
(The lucky children of the underground who get the last of Fox's lottery winnings)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
(Ali and Emmi celebrate their wedding by eating at the restaurant Hitler used to frequent before he became Chancellor.)
I Only Want You to Love Me
(A pre-Taxi Driver gun-mirror rehearsal)