Rainer Werner Fassbinder áNdrew Sarris - Essay

áNdrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

ÁNDREW SARRIS

[Satan's Brew] strikes me as a minor setback in [Fassbinder's] career. While it does not make me reconsider my previous appraisals, it does suggest certain limitations to his talent. What he has attempted on this occasion is a form of savage screwball comedy, which descends irrationally and intentionally into depravity and disgust….

Fassbinder quotes Artaud as his guide, but one is reminded instead of the Cocteau of Les Enfants Terribles and the Chabrol-Gegauff of Les Cousins. Unfortunately, Fassbinder is unable to furnish any behavioral conviction to his players, and, as if to admit this deficiency, he allows his plot to fizzle out in a fit of Pirandellian playfulness. These are not real bullets, as it turns out; only the wife's death in the hospital is absolutely irrevocable.

Regrettably, Fassbinder displays no flair for farce, and he is never really overtly funny. Indeed, Fassbinder should never actively seek humor but allow it to lurk in the background of his dark lyricism. The best moments in Satan's Brew are characterized by either self-mocking sentimentality (with gliding camera movements to match) or hard-edged sexuality (in which exposure is indecorous, if not indecent, because of its casual integration with the dramatic action). Fassbinder's cynicism about power on all levels of human intercourse finds ample expression here, but this cynicism is more nakedly schematic than it ever has been before.

Andrew Sarris, "A Summer Spate of Sugar and Spite" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXII, No. 35, August 29, 1977, p. 45.∗