Vincent Canby

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

There no longer can be any doubt about it: Rainer Werner Fassbinder is the most dazzling, talented, provocative, original, puzzling, prolific and exhilarating film maker of his generation….

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Mr. Fassbinder has demonstrated that he is quite capable of adapting his cinematic vision to fit the works of others …, but it's his original screenplays that give the true measure of this great, unpredictable talent. He makes movies the way other, lesser directors talk about them—easily, quickly and precisely. When he shoots a film, he is speculating about the subject as well as about the craft of film making, examining both as he goes along, freely, without being bound to arrive at some preset destination. His movies are the logbooks of an adventuring mind.

Some Fassbinder films are, of course, less successful than others, but that's beside the point. Each is a part of what can now be recognized as a single continuing work, and if one film ends in something of a muddle, there's always another coming along that may clear things up. A Fassbinder movie isn't necessarily an end in itself. It's a way of thinking.

Fassbinder films are so packed (visually and aurally) with information, references, asides, questions and unexpected connections (and, as a result so demanding) that most other contemporary movies look puny in comparison. Watching a good Fassbinder movie is like doing a double crostic after too many games of tick-tack-toe.

"The Third Generation" has you sitting on the edge of your seat even before you are sure what it's about….

The film is about a cell of "third generation" terrorists, earnest, humorless, committed, largely middle-class boobs for whom terrorism has become a style of living without connections to political passions of any sort….

It's not by chance that whenever we see the conspirators, either singly or in various combinations, we always see a television set flickering somewhere in the vicinity. What ideas they do possess have arrived predigested, second- or third-hand, and have more to do with fashion than with intellect….

These people are mutations, distant spinoffs of the members of the notorious Bader-Meinhof gang. They are people for whom political commitment is a matter of secret passwords, disguises and assumed names….

"The Third Generation" is one of the richest looking and sounding films I've ever experienced…. [Fassbinder] seems incapable of shooting a scene that isn't dense with detail, sometimes breathtakingly beautiful ones, which, in this case, serve to emphasize the deadly foolishness of the lives being lived in the foreground….

"The Third Generation" is fascinating. It's also worrying. I keep wondering how long Mr. Fassbinder can continue this remarkable pace.

Vincent Canby, "Film: Fassbinder on Terrorism," in The New York Times, Section C (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 9, 1980, p. 9.

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