Rainer Werner Fassbinder Vincent Canby - Essay

Vincent Canby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although "Gods of the Plague" is described as a sequel to "Love Is Colder Than Death,"… it makes an appropriate companion piece to "The American Soldier," a comically dead-panned contemplation of American gangster films of the 30's and 40's. Where "The American Soldier" comes close to parody, though, "Gods of the Plague" is absolutely straight, which is not to say that it's realistic or that its narrative is important for itself….

"Gods of the Plague" is the quintessential American gangster film if the quintessential American gangster film had been adapted and updated to accommodate a bunch of small-time Munich hoods for whom the holdup of a rather ordinary suburban supermarket is "the big job." If "The American Soldier" is about movies, "Gods of the Plague" is one of the movies it's about….

[Franz's] joylessness is profound, and it's consistent with his vision of a world in which everyone is an inmate.

The plot of "Gods of the Plague" is not quite as complex as that of [Howard Hawks's] "The Big Sleep," but it helps to have some program notes, because Mr. Fassbinder, aping Franz's taciturnity, doesn't waste time on explanations….

It's a world of perpetual gray, of chance meetings, faithlessness, revenge, informers and crooked cops. People talk but they don't communicate. Someone says something and there's a 10-second delay before there's any response, as if the person spoken to felt that if he waited long enough there'd be no reason to answer. Everyone is mannered, even Franz's loony mom, who is not unlike the mom in "The American Soldier." Occasionally it recalls Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless," but where Mr. Godard's characters have dreams, Mr. Fassbinder's have been sentenced to life imprisonment and know it.

"Gods of the Plague" is the work of a very young man who has just discovered the secret pleasures of angst. (p. 65)

Vincent Canby, "'Gods of the Plague'," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 11, 1977 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1977–1978, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1979, pp. 64-5).