Following his humble beginnings in the first part of our SKIN-depth Look athis career, Rainer Werner Fassbinder achieved international acclaim and began experimenting more with international film styles in the second part. Now we come to the third and final portion of Fassbinder's career, one in which he creates some of his most acclaimed work, but alsoaccelerates his already nasty drug habit to support his relentless filmmaking schedule. This would eventually lead to his death in the Spring of 1982, but some of his most profound and longest lasting successes came during this final period in his life.
His most financially successful film is coming our way soon, along with what many—myself included—consider to be his masterwork, the 15-hour miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz. He began disbanding his stock company of actors, many of whom had been working with him for over a decade, at this point as well. He began working more with internationally acclaimed actors like Dirk Bogarde,Armin Mueller-Stahl, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau, Brad Davis, andonce more with Alphaville's Eddie Constantine.
The same complaints of homophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and radical-Marxism continued to dogFassbinder throughout the final portion of his life as well, with defenders and detractors happily lining up to explain their interpretations of his work. He also kept sex and sexuality top of mind in his final works, leaning just as heavily into male nudity as he did female nudity, but don't worry, there's enough here to make the trip into the end of his career worth your while. Let's not put it off any longer...
Along with another made-for-television movie,Women in New York, this film represents Fassbinder's only cinematic output in 1977. Elisabeth Trissenaarstars as the titular spouse to the buttoned down stationmasterBolwieser (Fassbinder regular Kurt Raab), a woman of loose morals who sleeps around on her husband while he puts in long hours at his job. The film was shown over two nights in two hour blocks on German television before being edited down into a 112 minute feature that was released theatrically in many international markets.
Sadly, the only content we have from the film is this still that shows off Renate Muhri's nude scene in the film! The actress' first screen credit, she would go on to a long acting careerbefore transitioning to being a casting director. Here she plays a woman of ill repute (she's credited simply as "Whore"), but flaunts her fantastic, full-figured fun bags...
Twoimportant personal and professional milestones to come from this film was Fassbinder's relationship with editor Juliane Lorenz and actor Udo Kier. Despite Fassbinder being an affirmed homosexual, he wound up marrying Lorenz in 1979, and they would stay married until his death three years later. Kier, already a star thanks to his work with Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, would appear in three more of Fassbinder's features, as well as Berlin Alexanderplatz.
Just four years earlier, British actor Dirk Bogarde gave a riveting performance in The Night Porter, a film set in the present day with repercussions from his actions during WWII coming back to haunt him. He once again found himself in Nazi Germany in Fassbinder's Despair, only this time on the other end of the spectrum, as a Jewish businessman looking to escape during the waning days of the Weimar Republic. Bogarde's character concocts a desperate scheme to fake his own death and relocate to Switzerland, but he can't help but make a complete and total mess of things along the way.
Bogarde's wife in the film is played by the well-endowed Andréa Ferréol, and she bares everything in a series of scenes in which Bogarde has out of body experiences, thinking that he's seeing a double having sex with his wife while he is actually doing the deed. It's strange, but helps to cement the disconnect the character eventually achieves from reality...
In a career filled to the brim with controversy, perhaps his most controversial film of all is this 1978 effort that centers around a trans woman (played by a man) as she picks up the pieces of her love life on a collision course with a tragic end. Actor Volker Spengler (no relation to Egon) worked on several films with Fassbinder which we covered last week, and here stars as Elvira—nee Erwin—who is doomed pretty much from the moment we meet her. Years earlier, as a man, she had confessed her love for a co-worker who rejected him saying, "Too bad you're not a woman."
Having taken the plunge and become Elvira, she must reconcile with her past relationships andthe string of abuses she has suffered—and continues to suffer—since becoming a woman. Fassbinder himself was reconciling with the suicide of his loverArmin Meier the year before. The coldness of Fassbinder's presentation left many to condemn it as transphobic, homophobic, and every kind of phobic you can imagine. It's lack of sympathy for its characters is not some condemnation of them, but rather just a man sorting out his own feelings on having potentially missed cues or signs or warnings in his own partner's life.
Fassbinder's crowning achievement in terms of both international and domestic (German) reception was this 1979 film that saw him reunite with former leading lady Hanna Schygulla. Thefirst film in Fassbinder's so-called BRD Trilogy (standing for Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the post-WWII era West Germany)followed by1981's Lolaand 1982's Veronika Voss, the film followsthe titular war widow as she tries to move on following the death in combat of her husband. She takes a job as a waitress where she meets and falls for African-American soldier Bill (George Byrd), who gets her pregnant.
Shortly thereafter, her husband (Klaus Löwitsch) returns, having not been killed in action, and gets into a brawl with Bill. Maria accidentally kills Bill in the scuffle and, touched by her devotion to him in her willingness to tell the truth, he takes the fall for the crime. Maria then catches the eye of a wealthy businessman (Ivan Desny) looking for a new assistant, and we're only finishing act one of the story with that. It is a deeply felt and ultimately tragic film, and is easily one of the best German films at the time to reckon with the immediate aftermath of WWII.
In addition to giving a brilliant performance, Hanna Schygulla is responsible for the film's nudity, her last work with Fassbinder that would find her going nude...
Fassbinder courts controversy once more with this pitch black comedy about the head of a tech company (Eddie Constantine) funding extreme leftist terrorists to attack government institutions in an effort to send his stocks soaring. Watching it now, immediately after The Marriage of Maria Braun, it plays like an act of career self-sabotage by the director. Having finally achieved simultaneous international and German success with Maria Braun, he would now make a film satirizing his own countrymen. It was like he was attacking Germany for even thinking about accepting him or what he does.
Y Sa Lo returns from Satan's Brew to bare all as Ilse, a drug addict roommate of one of the terrorists, who frequently parades around the house completely nude. The excitement she brings in her three nude scenes doesn't last, though, as she dies of a drug overdose late in the film. But in the meantime, fun!
Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy of films centering around strong women in post-war Germany continues with this film about the titular cabaret singer (Barbara Sukowa) who, through a series of Machiavellian deeds, finds herself caught between two powerful men on two sides of a land dispute. Lola is the mistress to corrupt land developer (Mario Adorf) and uses her feminine wiles to simultaneously seduce a government building commissioner (Armin Mueller-Stahl). As two titans of capitalism battle it out in the boardroom, Lola proves the most adept capitalist at all by bending both men to her own wills.
Lola is hardly a model of virtue for any young women watching the film, she does prove to be a master of manipulating men, ultimately ending up with the commissioner and the deed to the brothel. Is she happy? Who cares, she's secure, and that's all that matters in a capitalist society, Fassbinder seems to tell us with this film and its almost too conveniently happy ending that's not particularly happy. Barbara Sukowa is at the top of her gamehere, and lives up to the demands of the role with incredible aplomb. She also pops a nip while riding atop her land developer boyfriend's shoulders...
Y Sa Lo also returns as one of the waitresses as the cabaret/brothel, wearing only an apron and showing off some nice TA in the process...
Though released a year before Veronika Voss, Lola is actually considered the final film in the trilogy—the opening titles brand it "BRD 3."
And so we reach the end of our journey, with Fassbinder's adaptation of Jean Genet's novel "Querelle of Brest" about the titular sailor (Midnight Express' Brad Davis) enjoying some extended shore leave in the French city of Brest. Fassbinder himself would not live to see the film's August 1982 premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and it's about as inauspicious a final film from such a filmmaker as one can get. The film essentially tells the tale of a sailor going around town having sex with everyone he meets—despite identifying as homosexual—and even murdersa guy, frames someone else, and gets away with it!
Despite the presence of some international stars like Davis, Jeanne Moreau, and Franco Nero, the film is kind of a lifeless dud, a film that showed Fassbinder was on the precipice of perhaps burning out professionally. The project passed between a number of directors and Fassbinder mostly took the job as a lark, a film he could make between things he really cared about. The film's only nudity comes courtesy ofsome blackmail photos, featuring fabulous full frontal from Natja Brunckhorst...
When Fassbinder's body was discovered on the morning of June 10, 1982, so too was an unfinished script he was working on about Polish philosopherRosa Luxemburg—writer/director Margarethe von Trotta would eventually bring her story to the screen four years later. While his death may have seem preordained or foreshadowed, he clearly had no intention of slowing down. The question was simply how long he could sustain such a schedule long-term, and we got our answer that late spring morning. Thank goodness he was as prolific as he was because he gave us a filmography with more credits than he had years on this earth.
I appreciate you hanging with me over the last month as we hashed out this extensive and daunting filmography. I've got a fun surprise in store for you guys next week, a small break from our typical output, so tune in then for something a little more fun!
Non-nude photos courtesy of IMDb