Rainer Werner Fassbinder Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The] trouble with [The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant] is that it equates methods with powers. One pitfall in latterday filmmaking is the gross overestimate of certain filmic procedures as symbology. Fassbinder thinks he can make a film of his stage play by thickly impasting some of those procedures. The confinement to one room, the slow-moving camera are assumed to create depth—partly on the ground that they contravene conventional commercial procedures. To this, Fassbinder adds some obviously arty Franco-German apparatus: the arbitrarily silent "slave," a lot of unclothed female dressmaker's dummies, a frontally naked male in a huge painting (the only male in the film). All this is facile, and it's distracting because its glibness diverts us to an awareness of Fassbinder's status-hunger. The film world still—still, after the best work of Antonioni and Bresson and Bergman and Ozu has shown us how cinema metaphors can be fulfilled—turns over on its back like a puppy when scratched if a director merely employs some cinematic imagery. It's like calling a poet fine merely because he employs figures of speech. Fassbinder is in control, intelligently, of what he's doing; but after all the controlling is done, he hasn't plumbed very far. (p. 28)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Sex and Murder" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1976 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 174, No. 28, July 17, 1976, pp. 28-9.∗