JULY 1-2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 19, 22, 25, 27, 30
AUGUST 1, 5-6, 8, 10, 12-13
June marked the 30th anniversary of the untimely 1982 death of the great German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It has been 15 years since Pacific Cinémathèque presented a substantial retrospective of his work, much of which has remained unavailable or difficult to access in recent times.
Fassbinder’s is a cinema, and a life, of staggering extremes, stunning productivity, unparalleled accomplishment. He was both wunderkind and enfant terrible of the New German Cinema, and perhaps its leading luminary. Certainly, with Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, a part of its great triumvirate. Many place Fassbinder at the peak of an even higher summit: the most important filmmaker of the postwar period since Godard.
“The most dazzling, talented, provocative, original, puzzling, prolific, and exhilarating filmmaker of his generation.”
VINCENT CANBY, NEW YORK TIMES
Fassbinder was also, and not incidentally, a bad-boy, a rebel, a black-leather-jacketed artist-thug. Openly, defiantly gay, in an era when such a public stance was unusual, a provocation. Notoriously abusive and sadistic as a director, yet inspiring great loyalty from an ensemble troupe of actors who worked with him time and again. Above all, he was phenomenally tireless, a non-stop workaholic, a indefatigable dynamo, a shooting star who burned oh-so-brightly and then burned out — from an eventually-fatal diet of booze, cocaine, and pills. He died suddenly at the age of 37.
“Was Fassbinder cinema’s last genius? Certainly no director since his premature death has produced such a prodigious body of work.” JAMES QUANDT, CINEMATHEQUE ONTARIO
Fassbinder’s meteoric filmmaking career really lasts only a dozen or so years: from 1969, when he directed his first feature, to 1982, the year of his premature but perhaps predictable death. In that time, he directed no fewer than 40 — forty! — feature-length works for the cinema and television. One of those, Berlin Alexanderplatz, was itself 15 hours long. In 1970 alone, he directed seven features. During the same period, he also worked extensively as a writer and director for the theatre and radio, and appeared as an actor in some 40 films, his own and others. It defies belief that any filmmaker could produce such an output, sustain such a workload, ever again.
Fassbinder’s cinema is a cinema of the outsider, the unloved, the cruelly loved. A cinema offering a pitiless — but often bleakly comic — view of human relations, of the dynamics of power, of humanity’s desperate desire to be loved. And offering a stinging social critique of postwar West Germany and its so-called “Economic Miracle,” of the soulless consumer capitalism that left behind or trampled into the dust those Fassbinder championed: immigrant workers, exploited women, homosexuals, the underclass.
“Fassbinder’s oeuvre is both one of the greatest and one of the largest in modern cinema, and much of it remains shockingly unavailable.” RICHARD BRODY, THE NEW YORKER
His early features — Love Is Colder Than Death (1969), Gods of the Plague (1969), The American Soldier (1970) — were quick, radical, New Wave-like works of “counter-cinema,” very much influenced by Brecht and Godard, and sharing the latter’s love of American B-movies. In the early 1970s, after discovering the sumptuous Hollywood films of German expatriate Douglas Sirk, Fassbinder moved towards a more popular, more accessible form of filmmaking, creating highly stylized, extravagant, melodramatic works which, like Sirk’s subversive weepies, offered sly critiques of the status quo. Including The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973), it was these that brought Fassbinder his greatest critical and commercial triumphs, culminating in the breakthrough international art-house success of The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978). A delirious string of masterstrokes, including Lola (1981) and Veronika Voss (1982), followed, before Fassbinder’s career and life would abruptly end, on June 10, 1982.