Rainer Werner Fassbinder Critical Essays

Introduction

Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1946–

German director, playwright, and actor.

Fassbinder is considered by many to be the leading director of the German New Wave, a movement marked by a radical break with Germany's past. He advocates rebellion against moral and social complacency; however, he also acknowledges that the rebel is doomed to failure. Instead of psychological character studies, Fassbinder creates fables that state their messages in bold, short strokes. His nihilistic view of Marxist society, along with his precarious balance between the very stylized and sharply realistic, have caused him critical difficulties.

Fassbinder's acting career started in Munich's "Action Theater," an avant-garde theatrical troupe. A year later, Fassbinder founded the Anti-Theater, intended as an alternative to the German theatrical standards he found boring and narrow. Sparse decor and uninflected performance characterize his first film, Love Is Colder than Death. This film also reflects his fascination with love's power. Fassbinder says, "Love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression."

The theme of isolation also figures prominently in Fassbinder's work. Fassbinder admits he creates compulsively to avoid his own loneliness. His most autobiographical film, Fox and His Friends, tells the story of a homosexual befriended only for his momentary wealth and soon abandoned. Significantly, Fassbinder plays the lead character.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant also intertwines love and politics. Like most of Fassbinder's characters, Petra is an outsider, a victim, and, ultimately, a loser. Other characters are not so much victims of love as of a complacent and monotonous society.

The Marriage of Maria Braun is Fassbinder's first international success. Maria is a victim of both love and society. As one of Fassbinder's strongest heroines, she battles oppression only to meet an ironic and violent death. Unexpected violence, such as Maria's death, appears frequently in Fassbinder's films as both a stylistic and thematic pivot.

Fassbinder acknowledges Hollywood director Douglas Sirk as his strongest influence. He shares Sirk's fondness for the melodramatic, using exaggerated camera angles and mirror techniques. But although Fassbinder creates extended melodramatic situations, his treatment is distant and deadpan. While some critics question the speed with which he makes films, most accept his use of a skeletal frame for his work. Some resent his films, labeling him overrated and undertalented. After over thirty films, Fassbinder remains a paradox: a pessimistic artist who enjoys Hollywood's most sentimental films, and a politically curious intellectual involved in changing the status quo while admitting the futility of his efforts. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 93-96.)