Rainer Werner Fassbinder Janet Maslin - Essay

Janet Maslin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If you have any doubt that there's such a thing as being too prolific, by all means go see Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Satan's Brew." Mr. Fassbinder attempting physical, almost slapstick comedy, is Mr. Fassbinder at his least funny or enlightening; and the film, a kind of "Father Knows Best" on acid, showcases most of the director's worst qualities without leaving room for his best. Made in Germany early last year, this is an ice-cold work, and a stubborn and difficult one. The meager rewards it delivers are no match for the enormous energy it demands. (pp. 90-1)

Mr. Fassbinder can be both ironic and provocative when, as in "Mother Kusters Goes To Heaven," his only successful comedy, he gently contrasts people's manners with their desires. But in "Satan's Brew" his blunt directorial style merely exaggerates the coarseness of his characters, and his humor turns stolid and didactic….

For all its brutishness, though, "Satan's Brew" is finally not vulgar enough. The film's premise calls for both precision and abandon and, while an exaggerated, reference-laden meticulousness is Mr. Fassbinder's specialty, he seems incapable of doing anything very freely. His characters follow their animal instincts, but they do so in such a careful way they might as well be trained seals. None of them flouts convention with the kind of spontaneity or enthusiasm that might have lent real wit to the film's bloodless, brittle scheme. (p. 91)

Janet Maslin, "Call in the Family," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 10, 1977 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1977–1978, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1979, pp. 90-1).