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When last we left intrepid director Rainer Werner Fassbinder—click here to read part one—the 26 year old had just completed his eleventh feature in two years. This obviously left him depleted and following the release of film eleven, Beware of a Holy Whore, in September 1971, Fassbinder decided it was time to change gears. His viewing habits took a detour into the world of American melodramatist Douglas Sirk, and Sirk's 1950s melodrama classics Written on the Wind and All That Heaven Allows were directly referenced in Fassbinder's next batch of films.

Unlike Todd Haynes, who lovingly recreated the Sirkian mood in his period films Far From Heaven and Carol, Fassbinder's riffs on Sirk were contemporary, set in the present. They were intended to confront German audiences with their continued support of the casual racism and treatment of homosexuality found in 1950s America. On the edge of his 27th birthday, Fassbinder was the very definition of the angry young man and he spends his final ten years on this planet raging against the machine—sometimes literally as in World on a Wire.

Sex and nudity continue to be present in his work throughout this period, with an increasing focus on male nudity. Fassbinder also takes a break from favorite leading lady Hanna Schygulla in this period—don't worry, she'll be back with a vengeance next week—moving outside his own little stable of actors to work with more and more diverse groups of people. He first works with Asian-Austrian beauty Y Sa Lo in this period, as well as Margit Carstensen, both of whom will pop up multiple times over the next two weeks.

Just as he was on the verge of burning out, however, Fassbinder gained his first commercial success, one that would change the trajectory of his entire career...

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972)

Set in the 1950s, just after serving with the French Foreign Legion in Morocco, simple fruit salesman Hans (Hans Hirschmüller) returns to his small West German town to resume life with his wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann). She's not so happy to see him, however,as life with him has been miserable since he lost his job as a cop—for getting oral sex from a prostitute brought in for questioning. Hans seems content to make a living as a fruit merchant,much to Irmgard's displeasure, and when she attempts to leave him—after falsely accusing him of being violent with her—he has a heart attack and ends up in the hospital.

While Hans is recovering, Irmgard seduces a younger man and beds him at her house, where they have such loud, rough, passionate sex, it ends up getting them caught by Hans and Irmgard's daughter Renate...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

Irmgard makes a promise to her daughter that she will try to reconcile with her father now that he will be infirm, and when Hans comes back from the hospital, we get another topless scene from Irm Hermann...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

Hans health continues to decline, but an old friend from his French Foreign Legion days reemerges and takes over fruit cart duties for him. Business is booming under the new management, and Hans soon realizes that he has become obsolete in both his marriage and his business. At bottom, he goes to see a wealthy woman (Ingrid Caven) we saw him sell fruit to earlier in the film. In their younger days, Hans had proposed marriage to this woman, but she turned him down because her parents demanded she marry a wealthy suitor. She now lives comfortably with a husband who is clearly not home, so she strips completely nude and offers herself to Hans...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

Hans declines her offer and, as his obsolescence grows, he ends up drinking himself to death. This reveal at the end essentially reframes the film as a quasi-remake of Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind, told from a slightly different perspective. It certainly owes a great debt to Sirk's film as it covers a lot of the same ground, just from a different class perspective.

The Merchant of Four Seasons was Fassbinder's first commercial success. While his films had been mostly well-received in critical circles, nothing we coveredin our first part of this SKIN-depth Look connected with audiences in any meaningful way. This film changed all of that,thoughFassbinder was not quite on the map yet in international filmmaking circles. However, this film, along with his next filmThe Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, would help his films find an audience outside of Eastern Europe and put him on his road to stardom.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Following his first and only plunge into the world of science fiction—the brilliant World on a Wire—Fassbinder finally achieved that international stardom that had alluded him with this reworking of Douglas Sirk's 1959 film All That Heaven Allows. Following perhaps the most conventional structure of his entire career, Fassbinder updates Sirk's story of a wealthy widow taking up with a younger man much to the chagrin of everyone around her, turning it into a scathing indictment of a the unspoken hierarchy that exists within immigrant communities. Instead of wealthy widow Jane Wyman, Fassbinder gives us 60-year old window washer widow Emmi (Brigitte Mira), and in place of hunky younger man Rock Hudson, Fassbinder offers up his own romantic partner at the time, El Hedi ben Salem as the titular Ali.

When the couple first begins their courtship, it outrages Emmi's grown daughter Krista (Irm Hermann, back again) and her husband (Fassbinder). When they are threatened with eviction by Emmi's landlord, she and Ali marry in a civil union, one they have clearly rushed into however. Their relationship begins to sour as Emmi begins neglecting Ali and generally taking him for granted, eventually driving him away. He finds temporary solace in the arms of an old flame (Barbara Valentin) who bares all three Bs while getting ready to sleep with Ali...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part TwoA SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

With easily the sweetest ending of any film in Fassbinder's catalog, this film's final coda might be the single best scene of his career. After spending 85 odd minutes convincing the audience that Emmi and Ali's love is purebut doomed thanks to societal ills, he eschews that cynicism in favor of a more optimistic ending.

Martha (1974)

Made for television, Martha first aired in the spring of 1974, telling the tale of the titular virginal librarian, played by the gorgeous Margit Carstensen, back from The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kanttwo years earlier. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack while on vacation, Martha soon finds new purpose in life as she finds herself pursued by the wealthy Helmut (Karlheinz Böhm). Marrying him in hopes of a better life—she is 31 after all—she finds her idyllic life upended by a spouse who turns out to be controlling, jealous, and vindictive. Fun!

Margit Carstensen does the best nude scene of her career, played for laughs early in the couple's honeymoon phase when sheshow offher quite comical sunburn...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part TwoA SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

Along with the following year's Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven andFear of Fear, this more or less marked the end of Fassbinder's heavy melodrama phase. He would turn back to it late in his career,but we'll get to that next week.

Fox and His Friends (1975)

This one doesn't have any nudity, but it's an important milestone in Fassbinder's career and worth at least mentioning. Here, the writer/director also plays the titularFox, a down on his luck gay man who uses his last ten dollars to buy a lottery ticket. His numbers hit, he wins, and then he finds himself surrounded by various people, to whom the rest of the film's title alluded, though many are hardly friendly.

Fassbinder regular Christiane Maybach appears as his character's sister, Hedwig, showing off some pokies as she demonstrates a thorough lack of compassion for her brother's pre-lottery win financial state...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

The groundbreaking aspect of this film was in featuring mostly gay male characters, none of whose sexual orientationplayed a huge part in the narrative. In an interview at the film's Cannes Film Festival premiere in 1975, Fassbinder said that while the film's characters are almost exclusively homosexual, the film doesn't treat that as something they're attempting to escape...

"It is certainly the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem. In films, plays or novels, if homosexuals appear, the homosexuality was the problem, or it was a comic turn. But here homosexuality is shown as completely normal, and the problem is something quite different, it's a love story, where one person exploits the love of the other person, and that's the story I always tell". (via Christian Thomsen's book "Fassbinder: Life and Work of a Provocative Genius.")

Satan's Brew (1976)

As you might have noticed by now, comedy is often a precious and little used commodity in Fassbinder's films. His only out-and-out comedy is this insanely dark satire about a revolutionary poet named Walter Kranz (Kurt Raab), who is suffering from extreme writer's block following his breakthrough work in the Communist vein. Perennially broke and driven to increasingly desperate measures to break his writer's block, he eventually stumbles upon a veritable gold mine in the form of extreme right-wing poetry. Moving to the furthest possible extreme from his original milieu, Kranz finds success and wealth like he's never experienced in his life.

The film wastes no time in letting you know that our protagonist is not such a great dude. 7 minutes into the film, Kranz goes to visit his mistress played by Katherina Buchhammer, getting her hopped up on amyl nitrate before making her fellate a gun...

He runs across Christiane Maybach in a library and helps her out of her bra for a little research room rendezvous...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

Also returning here is Austrian beauty Y Sa Lo, who had appeared in Fassbinder'sMother Küsters Goes to Heaventhe previous year...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part TwoA SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

Fassbinder, rather than hold Kranz responsible for his flagrant hypocrisy, brings all of his characters around to Kranz's way of thinking, happy to usher in a glorious new era of fascism that is sure to be better than the world in which they currently live. A little more than two decades removed from the end of WWII, this was a pretty incendiary piece of satire that says that human beings are nothing if not doomed to repeat their own mistakes because they refuse to learn anything from them.

Chinese Roulette (1976)

A film so dense that film critic-turned-professor Andrew Sarris once taught an entire course at Columbia based on its analysis, Chinese Roulette was Fassbinder's most expensive production to date. His first film to crack a million dollar budget, this deeply disturbing psychological thriller focuses around Angela, a 12 year old disabled girl who invents a game to expose the nefarious deeds of her neglectful parents (Margit Carstensen and Alexander Allerson). Both parents, convinced that the other is traveling abroad, intend to take their side lovers to the family's country estate for a weekend of hanky panky, but little do either of them realize that Angela hasorchestrated this whole mix-up in hopes of having her parents finally confront their lack of love for her.

The notion of deceitful parents breeding equally, if not more deceitful children is an interesting one. If deceit itself is part of the nurturing process, then it makes sense that it would be instilled in that deceitful person's offspring. Angela has become convinced that her disability began when her father first began cheating on her mother when Angela was only a year old. By the following year, her mother had also taken a lover, which only worsened Angela's disability. Angela's masterstroke in her Machiavellian scheme involves everyone in the house playing a parlor game with deadly consequences.

Fassbinder's masterstroke, however, is cutting to black before we hear a gunshot, leaving it completely up to the viewer who was shot and by whom. The film's only nudity comes on the morning of the final day in the country estate when Angela travels to every room to personally wake up everyone in the house. Upon arriving at her mother's room, she finds her topless in bed with her lover, with Margit Carstensen doing hersecond andfinal nude scene here...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Sex and Nudity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Films Part Two

When we wrap things up next week, we'll see a filmmaker so tormented by his own relentlessness and addiction that he cuts short his promising life and career before he turns 40. Sorry folks, this story doesn't have a happy ending, as we'll see when we conclude our SKIN-depth Look at Rainer Werner Fassbinder next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films From This Period with Nudity But No Content Here on Mr. Skin

World on a Wire (1973)

Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975)

Women in New York (1977)

Click Here to Read Our Other SKIN-depth Looks at More Than 3 Dozen Other Directors


Non-nude images courtesy of IMDb