Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fassbinder crop.jpg
Fassbinder on the set of Berlin Alexanderplatz
Born(1945-05-31)May 31, 1945
Bad Wörishofen, Bavaria, Germany
DiedJune 10, 1982(1982-06-10) (aged 37)
Munich, Bavaria, West Germany
Cause of death
Cocaine and Barbiturate Overdose
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, producer, actor
Years active1965–82
Spouse(s)Ingrid Caven (1970–72; div.)
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Not to be confused with Fassbender.
"Fassbinder" redirects here. For the opera singer, see Brigitte Fassbaender.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fassbinder crop.jpg
Fassbinder on the set of Berlin Alexanderplatz
Born(1945-05-31)May 31, 1945
Bad Wörishofen, Bavaria, Germany
DiedJune 10, 1982(1982-06-10) (aged 37)
Munich, Bavaria, West Germany
Cause of death
Cocaine and Barbiturate Overdose
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, producer, actor
Years active1965–82
Spouse(s)Ingrid Caven (1970–72; div.)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (pronounced [ˈʀaɪ̯nɐ ˈvɛʁnɐ ˈfasˌbɪndɐ]; 31 May 1945 – 10 June 1982) was a German film director, screenwriter, and actor. He is one of the most important figures in the New German Cinema.

Fassbinder maintained a frenetic pace in filmmaking. In a professional career that lasted fewer than fifteen years, he completed 40 feature length films; two television film series; three short films; four video productions; twenty-four stage plays and four radio plays; and 36 acting roles in his own and others’ films. He also worked as an actor (film and theater), author, cameraman, composer, designer, editor, producer and theater manager.

Underlying Fassbinder's work was a desire to provoke and disturb. His phenomenal creative energy, when working, coexisted with a wild, self-destructive libertinism that earned him a reputation as the enfant terrible of the New German Cinema, as well as being its central figure. He had tortured personal relationships with the actors and technicians around him who formed a surrogate family. However, his pictures demonstrate his deep sensitivity to social outsiders and his hatred of institutionalized violence. He ruthlessly attacked both German bourgeois society and the larger limitations of humanity.

Fassbinder died at the age of 37 from a lethal cocktail of cocaine and barbiturates. His death is often considered to mark the end of the New German Cinema.

Early life[edit]

Fassbinder was born in Bavaria in the small town of Bad Wörishofen, on May 31, 1945,[1] three weeks after the Americans entered the town and the unconditional surrender of Germany. The aftermath of World War II deeply marked his childhood and the life of his family.[2] Fassbinder, in compliance with his mother's wishes, later altered the date of his birthday to 1946 in order to enhance his status as a cinematic prodigy. It was towards his death that his real age was revealed confronting his passport.[3]

Born into a cultured bourgeois family, Fassbinder had an unconventional childhood about which he would later express grievances in interviews.[3][4] At three months, he was left with a paternal uncle and aunt in the country, since his parents feared he would not survive the winter with them. The child was a year old when he was returned to his parents.[3]

Fassbinder’s mother, Liselotte Pempeit (1922–93), came from Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk), from which many ethnic Germans had fled following World War II. As a result, a number of her relatives came to live with them in Munich. From 1946 to 1951, Fassbinder lived with both of his parents;[5] he was their only child. His father, Helmut Fassbinder, a doctor with a surgery at his apartment in Sendlinger Strasse,[6] near Munich’s red light district,[3] saw his career as the means to indulge his passion for writing poetry. The doctor did not take much interest in the child, and neither did his mother, who helped her husband in his medical practice. Prostitutes came to Helmut Fassbinder for the medical check-up they were required to have so his son became used to seeing these women and, "he would go on feeling that there was nothing wrong or abnormal in prostitution."[5] The extended family disbanded in 1951 and the child, age six, was left alone with his mother after his parent's divorce that same year.[4]

Helmut moved to Cologne and Liselotte raised her son as a single parent. To provide for them, she rented out rooms and found employment as a translator, but tuberculosis kept her away for long periods while she recuperated.[7] Rainer was looked after by his mother's tenants and friends, but he became more independent and uncontrollable. Fassbinder spent time in the streets, sometimes playing with other boys, sometimes just watching events around him.[8] He clashed with his mother's younger lover Siggi, who lived with them when Rainer was eight or nine years old.[9] He had a similar difficult relationship with the much older journalist Wolff Eder (c1905-71), who became his stepfather in 1959.[10] Liselotte, who worked as an English- German translator, could not concentrate with her son around her and Fassbinder was often given money to go to the cinema. Later in life, he would claim that he saw a film nearly every day and sometimes as many as three or four. "The cinema was the family life I never had at home."[7]

His time at a boarding school was marred by his repeated escape attempts and he left school before any final examinations. At the age of 15, he moved to Cologne to stay with his father,[11] but they argued frequently. He stayed though for a couple of years while attending night school, and earned a living on small jobs and helping his father, who rented shabby apartments to immigrant workers. At this time, Fassbinder wrote short plays, poems and short stories.[12] Early in his adolescence, Fassbinder identified himself as homosexual.[10]


At age eighteen in 1963, Fassbinder returned to Munich. He wanted to go to night school with the idea to eventually study theatrical science. Following his mother's advice, he took acting lessons and, from 1964 to 1966, attended the Fridl-Leonhard Studio for actors in Munich.[12] There, he met Hanna Schygulla, who would become one of his most important actors.[13] During this time, he made his first 8mm films and took on small jobs as actor, assistant director, and sound man.[12] At this time he also wrote the tragic comic play: Drops on Hot Stones. To gain entry to the Berlin Film School, Fassbinder submitted a film version of his play Parallels. He also entered several 8 mm films including This Night (now lost),[14] but he was turned down for admission, as were Werner Schroeter and Rosa von Praunheim, who would also have careers as film directors.[15]

He returned to Munich, continued with his writing and made two short films,The City Tramp (Der Stadtstreicher, 1965) and The Little Chaos (Das Kleine Chaos, 1966). Shot in black and white, they were financed by Fassbinder's lover, Christoph Roser, an aspiring actor, in exchange for leading roles.[16] Fassbinder acted in both of these films which also featured Irm Hermann. In the latter, his mother – under the name of Lilo Pempeit – played the first of many parts in her son's films.[17]

Theater career[edit]

In 1967, Fassbinder joined the Munich action-theater where he was active as an actor, director and script writer. After two months, he became the company's leader. In April 1968 Fassbinder directed the premiere production of his play: Katzelmacher, the story a foreign worker from Greece who becomes the object of intense racial, sexual, and political hatred among a group of Bavarian slackers. A few weeks later, in May 1968, the Action Theater was disbanded after its theater was wrecked by one of its founders, jealous of Fassbinder's growing power within the group.[18] It promptly reformed as the Anti-Theater (antiteater) under Fassbinder's direction.[18] The troupe lived and performed together. This close-knit group of young actors included among them Fassbinder, Peer Raben, Harry Baer and Kurt Raab, who along with Hanna Schygulla and Irm Hermann became the most important members of his cinematic stock company.[18] Working with the Anti-Theater, Fassbinder ventured into writing, directing, and acting. In the space of eighteen months he directed twelve plays. Of these twelve plays, four were written by Fassbinder; he rewrote five others.

The style of his stage directing closely resembled that of his early films, a mixture of choreographed movement and static poses, taking its cues not from the traditions of stage theater, but from musicals, cabaret, films and the student protest movement.

After he made his earliest feature films in 1969 Fassbinder centered his efforts in his career as film director, but he maintained an intermittent foothold in the theater until his death. He worked in various productions throughout Germany and made a number of radio plays in the early 1970s. In 1974 Fassbinder took directorial control over the Theater am Turm (TAT) of Frankfurt, when this project ended in failure and controversy, Fassbinder became less interested in the theater.

Early films and acclaim[edit]

Fassbinder used his theatrical work as a springboard for making films; and many of the Anti-Theater actors and crew worked with him throughout his entire career (for instance, he made 20 films each with actresses Hanna Schygulla and Irm Herrmann). He was strongly influenced by Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt (alienation effect) and the French New Wave cinema, particularly Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965) and Week End (1967).[citation needed] Fassbinder developed his rapid working methods early. Because he knew his actors and technicians so well, Fassbinder was able to complete as many as four or five films per year on extremely low budgets. This allowed him to compete successfully for the government grants needed to continue making films.

Unlike the other major auteurs of the New German Cinema, Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, who started out making movies, Fassbinder's stage background was evident throughout his work. Additionally, he learned how to handle all phases of production, from writing and acting to direction and theater management. This versatility surfaced in his films too where, in addition to some of the aforementioned responsibilities, Fassbinder served as composer, production designer, cinematographer, producer and editor. He also appeared in 30 projects of other directors.

By 1976, Fassbinder had gained international prominence, prizes at major film festivals, premieres and retrospectives in Paris, New York, Los Angeles and a study of his work by Tony Rayns was published, all helped make him a familiar name among cinephiles and campus audiences throughout the world. He lived in Munich when not traveling, rented a house in Paris (with ex-wife Ingrid Caven)[19] and could be seen in gay bars in New York, earning him cult hero status, but also a controversial reputation in and out of his films. His films were a fixture in art houses of the time after he became internationally known with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. In 1977, he was a member of the jury at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival.[20]

Film career[edit]

Starting at age 21, Fassbinder made over 40 films and TV dramas in 15 years, along with directing numerous plays for the theatre. These films were largely written or adapted for the screen by Fassbinder himself. He was also art director on most of the early films, editor or co-editor on many of them (often credited as Franz Walsh, though the spelling varies), and he acted in nineteen of his own films as well as for other directors.[21] He wrote fourteen plays, created new versions of six classical plays, and directed or co-directed twenty-five stage plays. He wrote and directed four radio plays and wrote song lyrics. In addition, he wrote thirty-three screenplays and collaborated with other screenwriters on thirteen more. On top of this, he occasionally performed many other roles such as cinematographer and producer on a small number of them. Working with a regular group of actors and technicians, he was able to complete films ahead of schedule and often under budget and thus compete successfully for government subsidies. He worked fast, typically omitting rehearsals and going with the first take.[21]

There are three distinct phases to Fassbinder’s career. His first ten movies (1969–1971) were an extension of his work in the theater, shot usually with a static camera and with deliberately unnaturalistic dialogue.[22]

The second phase is the one that brought him international attention, with films modeled, to ironic effect, on the melodramas Douglas Sirk made in Hollywood in the 1950s. In these films, Fassbinder explored how deep-rooted prejudices about race, sex, sexual orientation, politics and class are inherent in society, while also tackling his trademark subject of the everyday fascism of family life and friendship.[22]

The final films, from around 1977 until his death, were more varied, with international actors sometimes used and the stock company disbanded (although the casts of some films were still filled with Fassbinder regulars).[22] He became increasingly more idiosyncratic in terms of plot, form and subject matter in movies like The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), The Third Generation (1979) and Querelle (1982). He also articulated his themes in the bourgeois milieu with his trilogy about women in post-fascist Germany: The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), The Angst of Veronica Voss and Lola.

"I would like to build a house with my films," Fassbinder once remarked. "Some are the cellars, others the walls, still others the windows. But I hope in the end it will be a house."[23]

Avant-garde films (1969–1971)[edit]

Working simultaneously in theater and film, Fassbinder created his own style out of fusion of the two artforms. His ten early films are characterized by a self-conscious and assertive formalism. Influenced by Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straub and the theories of Bertolt Brecht, these films are austere and minimalist in style. Although praised by many critics, they proved too demanding and inaccessible for a mass audience. Fassbinder's rapid working methods had begun by now.

Love is Colder than Death (1969)[edit]

Shot in black and white with a shoestring budget in April 1969, Fassbinder's first feature-length film, Love is Colder than Death (1969) (Liebe ist kälter als der Tod), was a deconstruction of the American gangster films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Fassbinder himself plays the lead part of Franz, a small time pimp who is torn between his mistress Joanna, a prostitute played by Hanna Schygulla, and his friend Bruno, a gangster sent after Franz by the syndicate that he has refused to join. Joanna informs the police of a bank robbery the two men have planned. Bruno is killed in the shootout, but Franz and Joanna escape.[24][25]

Love is Colder than Death is a low key film with muted tone, long sequences, nonnaturalistic acting and little dialogue.[26][27] Success was not immediate. Love is Colder than Death was ill received at its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. The film, however, already displays the themes that were to remain present through the director’s subsequent work: loneliness, the longing for companionship and love, and the fear and reality of betrayal.[28]

Katzelmacher (1969)[edit]

Fassbinder's second film, Katzelmacher (1969), (Bavarian pejorative slang term for a foreign worker from the Mediterranean), was received more positively, garnering five prizes after its debut at Mannheim. It features a group of rootless and bored young couples who spend much of their time in idle chatter, empty boasting, drinking, playing cards, intriguing or simply sitting around. The arrival of Jorgos, a guest worker from Greece, leads to a growing curiosity on the part of the women and the antagonism among the men living in a suburban block of apartments in Munich.[29] This kind of social criticism, featuring alienated characters unable to escape the forces of oppression, is a constant throughout Fassbinder's oeuvre. Katzelmacher was adapted from Fassbinder's first produced play – a short piece that was expanded from forty minutes to feature length, moving the action from a country village to Munich and delaying the appearance of Jorgos.[30]

Gods of the Plague (1970)[edit]

Gods of the Plague (Götter der Pest) is a bleak gangster film with a winter setting shot mostly indoors and at night. The character of Franz (From Fassbinder’s first film, but now played by Harry Baer) is released from prison, but falls back with the wrong crowd. He teams up with his best friend, a black Bavarian criminal who killed his brother, to raid a supermarket. Both men are betrayed by Franz’s jilted lover Joanna who tips off the police. Franz is killed and the film ends at his laconic funeral.[31] Similar in plot and characters to both Love is Colder than Death (1969) and The American Soldier (1970), Gods of the Plague’s theme of homoerotic love would reappear repeatedly in the director's films.[32]

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)[edit]

The last of the four films Fassbinder shot in 1969, was his first in color, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?). It was co-directed by Michael Fengler (the friend who had been his cameraman on the short film The little Chaos in 1967). Only the outlines of the scenes were sketched by Fassbinder. Fengler and the cast then improvised the dialogue. Fassbinder asserted that this was really Fengler’s work rather than his. Nevertheless the two were jointly given a directorial award for the project in the 1971 German Film prize competition and Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? has always been considered among Fassbinder’s films.[33]

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? portrays the life of Herr Raab, a technical draughtsman married and with a small child. The pressures of middle class life take a toll on him. A visit by a woman neighbor occasions the incident that gives the film its title. Irritated by the incessant chat between his wife and her friend while he tries to watch T.V, Herr Raab kills the neighbor with a blow to the head with a candle stick and then kills both his wife and their son. Herr Raab is later found hanged in an office restroom.[34]

The American Soldier (1970)[edit]

The main theme of the gangster film The American Soldier (Der Amerikanische Soldat) is that violence is an expression of frustrated love. A sudden frenzied outburst of repressed passion, the revelation of desire and a need for love that has been thwarted and comes too late is central here.[35] The eponymous hit man of the title (actually a German, played by Karl Scheydt) is a cold-blooded contract killer, who returns from Vietnam to his native Munich, where he is hired by three renegade policemen to do away with a number of undesirables. Eventually he ends up killing the girlfriend of one of the policemen with his friend Franz Walsh (Fassbinder). The film closes with the music of the song So much tenderness, written by Fassbinder and sung by Gunther Kaufmann. The American Soldier is the third and final installment of Fassbinder’s loose trilogy of gangster pictures formed by Love is Colder Than Death and Gods of the Plague. It pays homage to the Hollywood gangster genre, it also alludes to Southern Gothic race narratives

The Niklashausen Journey (1970)[edit]

In The Niklashausen Journey (Die Niklashauser Fahrt), Fassbinder co-writes and co-directs with Michael Fengler. This avant-garde film, commissioned by the WDR television network, was shot in May 1970 and it was broadcast in October the same year.[36]The Niklashausen Journey was loosely based on the real-life of Hans Boehm, a shepherd who in 1476 claimed that the Virgin Mary called him to foment an uprising against the church and upper classes. Despite a temporary success, Boehm's followers were eventually massacred and he was burned at the stake.[36] Fassbinder's intention was to show how and why revolutions fail.[37] His approach was to compare the political and sexual turmoil of feudal Germany with that of the contraculture movement and the protests of 1968. Fassbinder did not clarify the time frame of the action mixing medieval elements (including some costumes, settings, speech and music) with those from other time periods, like the Russian Revolution, the Rococo period, postwar Germany and the Third World.[37]

The Niklashausen Journey, influenced by Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend and Glauber Rocha's Antonio das Mortes, consists of only about a dozen or so scenes, most of which are either theatrical tableaux where there is no movement of the characters and the camera darts from speaker to speaker or are shots where characters pace back and forth while giving revolutionary speeches about Marxist struggles and debates on economic theories.[38]

Whity (1970)[edit]

Set in 1876, Whity centers on the title character, a mulatto who works as the obsequious servant in the mansion of a dysfunctional family in the American South. He is the illegitimate son of the family patriarch and the black cook. Whity tries to carry out all their orders, however demeaning, until several of the family members ask him to kill some of the others. He eventually kills them all and runs away to the desert with a prostitute from the local bar.

The film was shot in Almeria, Spain in widescreen on locations built for the Westerns made by Sergio Leone. Its production was particularly traumatic for cast and crew. Whity, a mixture of Euro-western and American South melodrama, was badly received by the critics and became Fassbinder's biggest flop. The film was neither picked up for theatrical release nor there was interest for broadcasting it on television. As a result Whity was only seen as its premiere. It remained unavailable until the 1990s when it began to be screened and now, like almost all of Fassinder’s films, is available on DVD.

Rio das Mortes (1971)[edit]

A whimsical comedy, Rio das Mortes follows two young men without prospects who try to raise money in order to realize their dream of finding a buried treasure in Peru using a map of the Rio das Mortes. The girlfriend of one of them finds the notion stupid and wants to put a stop to it, but eventually the two friends find a patroness to finance their adventure.[39]

Based on an idea by Volker Schlondorff, Rio das Mortes was shot in January 1970 following Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?,[34] but it was broadcast on television a year later in February 1971.[40] The film feels casually constructed; the humor is bland and the plot has been criticized for its sloppiness and poor character development.[41][42] Rio das Mortes is best remembered for a scene unrelated to the plot, as the girlfriend, played by Schygulla, dances up to Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock on the jukebox in the company of an oafish leather-jacketed youth, played by Fassbinder himself.[42]

Pioneers in Ingolstadt (1971)[edit]

Pionners in Ingolstaldt (Pioniere in Ingolstadt) was adapted from an eponymous play by Marieluise Fleißer written in 1927.[43] It follows two young women whose lives are transformed when army engineers (the pioneers of the title) arrive to their town to build a bridge. One of the women flirts from soldier to soldier, but her friend falls in love only to be abandoned.[44]

Shot in November 1970, Pionners in Ingolstaldt was commissioned for television. Fassbinder wanted to bring the plot from the 1920s to contemporary Germany, but the producers, fearing to offend the German army, refused. A compromise did not satisfy any of the parts and midway onto the project Fassbinder lost interest on it.[43] The film suffered as a consequence and it ranks among Fassbinder's weakest films.[38][45][46] The tensions and bitterness that had surrounded the making of Whity lead Fassbinder to dismantle the collective project of the anthiteather as a production company. Instead, he founded his own production company: Tango films.[45] Pionners in Ingolstaldt, although broadcast before the theatrical release of Beware of a Holy Whore, was the last film made by Fassbinder during his formative period. In the next year, 1971, Fassbinder would shot only one film : The Merchant of Four Seasons.[45][47][48][49]

Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)[edit]

Beware of a Holy Whore was based, like many of Fassbinder’s films, on a personal experience – the shooting of his earlier film, the revisionist western Whity (1970). The film shows an egomaniacal director, beset by a stalled production, temperamental actors, and a frustrated crew. When asked what the movie he is making is about, he replies: "brutality." The film ends with a typical Fassbinder-esque irony, as the crew gang up on the director. Beware of a Holy Whore marked the end of Fassbinder’s avant-garde period. It presented such an embittered and radical self-critique that his future films would have to be quite different from the ones made before. After spinning out ten films in not much more than a year (this film was shot only a few months after Whity) in a frenzied burst of creativity, his anti-film anti-theater drive seemed to conclude.

German melodramas (1971–1975)[edit]

After Pioneers in Ingolstadt, Fassbinder took an eight-month break from filmmaking. During this time, Fassbinder turned for a model to Hollywood melodrama, particularly the films German émigré Douglas Sirk made in Hollywood for Universal-International in the 1950s: All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life. Fassbinder was attracted to these films not only because of their entertainment value, but also for their depiction of various kinds of repression and exploitation.

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)[edit]

Fassbinder scored his first domestic commercial success with The Merchant of Four Seasons (Händler der vier Jahreszeiten, 1971).[50] The film portrays a married couple who are fruit sellers. Hans faces rejection from his family after he violently assaults his wife for not bending to his will. She leaves him, but after he suffers a heart attack they reunite, though he now has to employ other men. His restricted ability to function leads him to ponder his own futility. He literally drinks himself to death.

The Merchant of Four Seasons uses melodrama as a style to create critical studies of contemporary German life for a general audience. It was Fassbinder's first effort to create what he declared he aspired to: a cinematic statement of the human condition that would transcend national boundaries as the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini had done.[23] It is also his first realization of what he learned from Sirk: that people, however small they may be, and their emotions, however insignificant they may seem, could be big on the movie screen.[23]

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)[edit]

Loneliness is a common theme in Fassbinder's work, together with the idea that power becomes a determining factor in all human relationships. His characters yearn for love, but seem condemned to exert an often violent control over those around them. A good example is The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant, 1972) which was adapted by Fassbinder from his plays. The title character is a fashion designer who lives in a self-created dreamland and the action is restricted mostly to her lavish bedroom. After the failure of her second marriage, Petra falls hopelessly and obsessively in love with Karin, a cunning working-class young woman who wants a career in modeling. The model's exploitation of Petra mirrors Petra's extraordinary psychological abuse of her silent assistant, Marlene. Fassbinder portrays the slow meltdown of these relationships as inevitable, and his actresses (there are no men in the film) move in a slow, trance-like way that hints at a vast world of longing beneath the beautiful, brittle surface.

Jailbait (1973)[edit]

Jailbait (Wildwechsel, 1973), also known as Wild Game Crossing, is a bleak story of teenage angst, set in industrial northern Germany during the 1950s. Like in many other of his films, Fassbinder analyses lower middle class life with characters who, unable to articulate their feelings, bury them in inane phrases and violent acts.[51] Love turns into a power struggle of deception and betrayal. The story centers on Hanni, a precocious fourteen-year-old schoolgirl who starts a relationship with Franz, a nineteen-year-old worker in a chicken processing plant. Their romance faces the opposition of the girl’s conservative parents. Franz is sentenced to nine months in prison for having sex with a minor. When he is released on probation, they continue their relationship and Hanni becomes pregnant. Afraid of her father’s anger, she persuades Franz to kill him. Back in prison, Franz is told by Hanni that their child died at birth and that their love was "only physical".[52]

Originally made for German television, Jailbait was based on a play by Franz Xaver Kroetz who violently disagreed with Fassbinder’s adaptation, calling it pornographic.[53] The luridness of its theme further the controversy.

World on a Wire (1973)[edit]

His only science fiction film, World on a Wire (Welt am Draht, 1973) was a departure for Fassbinder. An adaptation of the pulp sci-fi novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, it was made as a two-part, 205 minute production for television using 16 mm film stock during a hiatus from the lengthy production of Effi Briest and in the same year as Martha and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.

A story of realities within realities, World on a Wire follows a researcher, working at the institute of cybernetics and future science, who begins to investigate the mysterious death of his mentor. He falls deep into the cover up behind a computer capable of creating an artificial world with units living as human beings unaware that their world is just a computer projection. Made in contemporary Paris, the film was stylistically inspired by Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965) and in its theme of artificial humans wanting to reach real life anticipated Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982).[54]

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)[edit]

Fassbinder first gained international success with Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf, 1974). This film was shot in 15 days in September 1973 with a very-low budget ranking among Fassbinder's quickest and cheapest. Nevertheless, the impact on Fassbinder’s career and in overseas release remains cemented as a great and influential work. It won the International Critics Prize at Cannes and was acclaimed by critics everywhere as one of 1974's best films.

Fear Eats the Soul was loosely inspired by Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955). It details the vicious response of family and community to a lonely aging white cleaning lady who marries a muscular, much younger black Moroccan immigrant worker. The two are drawn to each other out of mutual loneliness. When their relationship becomes known, they experience various forms of hostility and public rejection. Gradually, their relationship is tolerated, not out of real acceptance, but because those around the good-hearted old lady realize their ability to exploit her is threatened. As the external pressures over the couple begin to subside, internal conflicts surface.

Martha (1974)[edit]

Fassbinder’s main characters tend to be naifs, either men or women, who are rudely, sometimes murderously disabused of their romantic illusions. Shot on 16 mm film and made for television, Martha (1974) is a melodrama about cruelty in a traditional marriage.

The plot focuses on the title character, a spinster librarian. Soon after the death of her father while on vacation in Rome, Martha meets a wealthy civil engineer who sweeps her off her feet. They encounter again at a wedding in her hometown of Constance and marry. However their married life becomes an exercise for her husband to express his sadism and for Martha to endure her masochism. Her husband shows his desire for her violently leaving marks on her body. He obsessively controls her life, her diet, her taste in music and her interest until she is confined to their house. Martha’s initially positive wish to be liked by her oppressive and abusive husband push her to such an extreme that she becomes deranged leading to her own permanent physical paralysis.

Effi Briest (1974)[edit]

Effi Briest was Fassbinder’s dream film and the one in which he invested the most work. While he normally took between nine and 20 days to make a film, this time it required 58 shooting days, dragged out over two years.[55] The film is a period piece adapted from Theodor Fontane's classic novel of 1894, concerning the consequences of betrayed love. Set in the closed, repressive Prussian society of the Bismarck era, the film paints a portrait of a woman's fate completely linked to an unbending and utterly unforgiving code of social behavior. The plot follows the story of Effi Briest, a young woman who seeks to escape her stifling marriage to a much older man by entering into a brief affair with a charming soldier. Six years later, Effi’s husband discovers her affair with tragic consequences.

The film served as a showpiece for Fassbinder's muse and favorite actress Hanna Schygulla, whose detached acting style fitted the roles the director created for her. Fassbinder made her a star, but artistic differences while making Effi Briest created a split that lasted for some years, until Fassbinder called her back to take the role of Maria Braun.

Like a Bird on a Wire (1975)[edit]

Like a Bird on a Wire (Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht) is a forty-minute television production featuring Brigitte Mira, the main actress in Fear eats the Soul, singing cabaret songs and love ballads from the 1940s and 1950s. Between songs she drinks and talks about her husbands. The title is borrowed from Leonard Cohen's song "Bird on the Wire", with which the program ends.

Fassbinder considered this project "an attempt to do a show about the Adenauer era. For us it certainly wasn’t entirely successful. But the film does reveal the utter repulsiveness and sentimentality of the time" he explained.[56]

Fox and His Friends (1975)[edit]

Many of Fassbinder’s films deal with homosexuality, in keeping with his interest in characters who are social outsiders, but he drew away from most representations of homosexuals in films. In an interview at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, Fassbinder said about Fox and His Friends: “It is certainly the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem. In films, plays or novels, if homosexuals appear, the homosexuality was the problem, or it was a comic turn. But here homosexuality is shown as completely normal, and the problem is something quite different, it’s a love story, where one person exploits the love of the other person, and that’s the story I always tell”.[57]

In Fox and His Friends (Faustrecht der Freiheit, 1974) a sweet but unsophisticated working-class homosexual wins the lottery and falls in love with the elegant son of an industrialist. His lover tries to mold him into a gilt-edged mirror of upper-class values, all the while appropriating Fox' lottery winnings for his own ends. He ultimately destroys his illusions, leaving him heartbroken and destitute.

Fassbinder worked within the limits of Hollywood melodrama, though the film is partially based on the plight of his then lover Armin Meier (to whom the film is dedicated). The film is notable for Fassbinder's performance as the unlucky Fox, in a self-directed starring role.

Fox and His Friends has been deemed homophobic by some and overly pessimistic by others.[58] The film's homosexuals are not, surprisingly, any different from the film's equally lecherous heterosexuals. The film's pessimism is far outweighed by Fassbinder's indictment of Fox as an active participant in his own victimization, a familiar critique found in many of the director's films.

Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975)[edit]

Interested in and deeply critical of West Germany political situation, Fassbinder made two films dealing with contemporary issues of his country: Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975) and The Third Generation (1979). Germany in Autumn (1978), made by Fassbinder and other directors of the New German Cinema, also discussed the contemporary situation.

In Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (Mutter Küsters Fahrt zum Himmel), Emma Küsters, a kind old widow, becomes the center of media and political attention after her husband, a factory worker, killed his supervisor and then himself when lay offs were announced. Wherever Mother Küsters turns for comfort and assistance she meets either rejection or exploitation. Journalist, left wing political extremist and even her family take advantage of Mother Küsters’s personal tragedy to advance their own agendas. At age thirty and already in the midpoint of his career as a filmmaker, Fassbinder was inspired by the German classic film Mother Krauser’s trip to Happiness (1929) directed by Phil Jutzis.

Fear of Fear (1975)[edit]

Made for German television, Fear of Fear (Angst vor der Angst) is a physiological drama about a middle class house wife, locked into a dull life with a distracted husband, two small children and openly hostile in laws. She becomes addicted to valium and alcohol overwhelmed by an irrational anxiety and fear of her inexorable descent into madness.

Fear of Fear is similar in theme to Martha, which also portrays the effect of a dysfunctional marriage in an oppressed housewife, the central role was again played by Margit Carstensen.

I Only Want You to Love Me (1976)[edit]

I Only Want You to Love Me (Ich will doch nur, daß ihr mich liebt, 1976) tells the story of Peter, a construction worker in jail for manslaughter. His life is recounted in a series of flashbacks. A hard working man, Peter spends his spare time building a house for his cold unloving parents. He marries and finds a job in another city, but in his desperate yearning for affection he tries to buy the love of those around him with expensive gifts which soon makes him fall into a spiral of debt. When he sees his own unrequited love for his parents reflected during an argument in a bar, he kills a man who serves as a proxy for his father.

The film was made for television and shot during a pause while making Satan's Brew. Based on a true account taken from For Life, a book of interviews edited by Klaus Antes and Christiane Erhardt, it was also Fassbinder's personal reflection on his childhood and adolescent longing for love.

Satan's Brew (1976)[edit]

In a time of professional crisis, Fassbinder made Satan's Brew (Satansbraten, 1976) a bleak amoral comedy that pays homage to Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. Stylistically far from the melodramas that made him known internationally, Satan's Brew gave way to a new phase in Fassbinder’s career.

In Satan's Brew, a neurotic poet suffering from writer's block; struggles to make ends meet while dealing with a frustrated long suffering wife, a half witted brother and various prostitutes and masochist women who drift in and out of his life. He convinces himself to be the reincarnation of the gay romantic poet Stefan George (1868–1933) after he plagiarizes his poem The Albatros.

International films (1976–1982)[edit]

Enthusiasm for Fassbinder's films grew quickly after Fear Eats the Soul. Vincent Canby paid tribute to Fassbinder as "the most original talent since Godard". In 1977, the New Yorker Theater in Manhattan held a Fassbinder Festival.

However, as enthusiasm for Fassbinder grew outside of Germany, his films still failed to impress the native audience. At home, he was better known for his television work and for his open homosexuality. Coupled with the controversial issues of his films — terrorism, state violence, racism, sexual politics — it seemed that everything Fassbinder did provoked or offended someone.

After completing in 1978 his last low-budget and very personal ventures (In a Year of 13 Moons and The Third Generation) he would concentrate on making films that were becoming increasingly garish and stylized. But Fassbinder's TV series Berlin Alexanderplatz was a naturalistic adaptation of the two-volume novel by Alfred Döblin, which Fassbinder had read many times.

Chinese Roulette (1976)[edit]

Chinese Roulette (Chinesisches Roulette) is a gothic thriller with an ensemble cast, the story follows a twelve-year-old crippled girl who, out of hate for her parents lack of affection, arranges an encounter between them with their respective lovers at the family country estate. The film climaxes with a truth guessing game Fassbinder often played with his friends. The players divide into two teams, which take it in turn to pick out one member of the other side and ask them question about people and objects. The game is played at the suggestion of Angela, the disabled daughter, who plays on the opposite side from her mother. When the mother asks: "In the Third Reich, what would that person have been?" Angela’s answer is "Commandant of the concentration camp at Bergen Belsen"; it is her mother she is describing.[59]

The Stationmaster's Wife (1977)[edit]

There are no happy endings in Fassbinder’s films. His protagonists, usually weak men or women with masochistic tendencies, pay a heavy price for their victimization. The Stationmaster's Wife (Bolwieser) is based on a 1931 novel, Bolwieser: the novel of a husband by the Bavarian writer Oskar Maria Graf. The plot follows the downfall of Xaver Bolwieser, a railway stationmaster submitted to the will of his domineering and unfaithful wife, whose repeated infidelities completely ruin Bolwieser’s life. Broadcast initially as a two-part television series, The Stationmaster's Wife was shortened to a 112-minute feature film and released in the first anniversary of Fassbinder's death.[60] The film stars Kurt Raab, Fassbinder's close friend who the director usually cast as a pathetic man.[61] Raab was also set designer of Fassbinder's films until their friendship and professional relationship broke up after making this film.

Germany in Autumn (1978)[edit]

Germany in Autumn (Deutschland im Herbst) is an omnibus film, a collective work of eight German filmmaker including Fassbinder, Alf Brustellin, Volker Schlöndorff, Bernhard Sinkel and Alexander Kluge, the main organizer behind the project. They took a look at the wave of guilt and paranoia that afflicted West Germany's society and its authorities in the months between the kidnapping and murder of industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer by RAF members and the deaths of Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe in Stammheim Prison. The film is a document about terrorism and its sociopolitical aftermath: hysteria over state surveillance, repression of constitutional standards and civil rights, and indiscriminate persecution of alleged RAF sympathizers. The film begins with Schleyer's wake, a segment filmed by Alexander Kluge and Volker Schlöndorff, and it ends with the tumultuous funeral of the dead terrorist at Stammehim prison.

Fassbinder's contribution stands out as the most personal statement in the film. Made in the form of a 'fly on the wall' documentary, Fassbinder himself appears making phone calls in the nude; flushing cocaine in the toilet in a state of paranoia; taking his frustration on his lover Armin Meier and angrily arguing with his mother, who longs for a benign dictator to solve the problem of terrorism.

Despair (1978)[edit]

Fassbinder made three films in English, a language he was not proficient in: Despair (1978), Lili Marleen (1980) and Querelle (1982). All three films have international stars and are very ambitious, yet each faced artistic and commercial problems.[62] Despair is based upon the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, adapted by Tom Stoppard and featuring Dirk Bogarde. It was made on a budget of 6,000,000 DEM, exceeding the total cost of Fassbinder’s first 15 films.

Despair – A journey into the Light (Despair – Eine Reise ins Licht) tells the story of Hermann Hermann, an unbalanced Russian émigré and chocolate magnate, whose business and marriage have both grown bitter. The factory is close to bankruptcy, and his vulgar wife is chronically unfaithful. He hatches an elaborate plot to take a new identity in the belief it will free him of all his worries. The story of Hermann’s descent into madness is juxtaposed against the rise of National Socialism in Germany of the 1930s

In a Year of Thirteen Moons (1978)[edit]

In a Year of Thirteen Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden, 1978) is Fassbinder most personal and bleakest work. The film follows the tragic life of Elvira, a transsexual formerly known as Erwin. In the last few days before her suicide, she decides to visit some of the important people and places in her life. In one sequence, Elvira wanders through the slaughterhouse where she worked as Erwin, recounting her history amid the meat-hooked corpses of cattle whose slit throats rain blood onto the floor.[63] In another scene, Elvira returns to the orphanage where she was raised by nuns and hears the brutal story of her childhood. Fassbinder's camera tracks the nun (played by his mother) telling Elvira's story; she moves with a kind of military precision through the grounds, recounting the story in blazing detail, unaware that Elvira had collapsed and can no longer hear it.

In a Year of Thirteen Moons was explicitly personal, a reaction to Meier's suicide.[64] In addition to writing, directing, and editing, Fassbinder also designed the production and worked as the cameraman. When the film played in the New York Film Festival in October 1979, Vincent Canby (who championed Fassbinder's work in America) wrote, "Its only redeeming feature is genius."[65]

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)[edit]

With The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun), his greatest success, Fassbinder finally attained the popular acceptance he sought, even if with just German audiences. The title character is an ambitious and strong willed woman separated from her husband towards the end of World War II. The plot follows Maria Braun's steady rise as a successful business woman during the Adenauer era. Maria’s dream of a happy life with her husband remains unfulfilled. Her professional achievements are not accompanied by personal happiness.[66] The film, constructed in the Hollywood tradition of women's pictures presenting a woman overcoming hardships, serves also as a parable of the West Germany economic miracle embodied in the character of Maria Braun. Her story of manipulation and betrayal parallels Germany's spectacular postwar economic recovery in terms of its cost in human values.[67]

The film was the first part of a trilogy centered on women during the post-war "economic miracle" which was completed with Lola (1981) and Veronika Voss (1982).

The Third Generation (1979)[edit]

The economic success of The Marriage of Maria Braun allowed Fassbinder to pay his debts and to embark on a personal project, The Third Generation (Die Dritte Generation, 1979), a black comedy about terrorism. Fassbinder found financial backing for this project difficult to acquire and it was ultimately made on a small budget and borrowed money.[68] As he did with In a Year of Thirteen Moons, Fassbinder worked again as the film's cameraman.[69]

The film concerns a group of aspiring terrorists from leftist bourgeois backgrounds who kidnap an industrialist during carnival season unaware that they have been manipulated by the capitalist and the authorities whose hidden agenda is for terrorism to create a demand for security hardware and to gain support for harsher security measures. The actions of the ineffectual cell of underground terrorists are overlaid with a soundtrack filled with newscast, voiceovers, music and gibberish. The political theme of the film aroused controversy.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)[edit]

Returning to his explorations of German history, Fassbinder finally realized his dream of adapting Alfred Döblin's 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. A television series running more than 13 hours, with a two-hour coda (released in the U.S. as a 15-hour feature), it was the culmination of the director's inter-related themes of love, life, and power.

Berlin Alexanderplatz centers on Franz Biberkopff, a former convict and minor pimp, who tries to stay out of trouble but is dragged down by crime, poverty and the duplicity of those around him. His best friend, Reinhold, makes him lose an arm and murders Franz’ prostitute girlfriend, Mieze. The love triangle of Franz, Reinhold and Mieze is staged against the rising tide of Nazism in Germany. The film emphasized the sadomasochist relationship between Biberkopff and Reinhold stressing its homoerotic nature.

Fassbinder had read the book at age fourteen; later claiming that it helped him survive a “murderous puberty”. The influence of Döblin's novel can be seen in many of Fassbinder’s films most of whose protagonists are named Franz, some with the surname Biberkopff like the naïve working class lottery winner in Fox and his friends, who is played by Fassbinder himself. He also took the pseudonym of Franz Walsh for his work as editor on his own films: Walsh was an oblique homage to director Raoul Walsh.

Lili Marleen (1981)[edit]

Fassbinder took on the Nazi period with Lili Marleen, an international co production, shot in English and with a large budget. The script was vaguely based on the autobiography of World War II singer Lale Andersen, The Sky Has Many Colors.[70] The film is constructed as a big, tear-jerking Hollywood melodrama in its depiction of the unfulfilled love story between a German variety singer separated by the war from a Swiss Jewish composer. Central to the story is the song that gives the film its title.

Fassbinder presents the period of the Third Reich as a predictable development of German history that was staged as spectacle supported by hate. Filmed with a morbid nostalgia for swastikas, showbiz glitz and as a cloak-and-dagger romance, the main theme of Lili Marleen is the question: is it morally justifiable to survive under National Socialism, as does the naïve singer by having a successful career?[71]

Theater In Trance (1981)[edit]

Theater In Trance is a documentary which Fassbinder shot in Cologne in June 1981 at the "Theaters of the World" Festival. Over scenes from groups such as the Squat Theatre and the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch Fassbinder spoke passages from Antonin Artaud as well as his own commentary.[72]

Lola (1981)[edit]

Sex as a means for the strong to manipulate the weak is a frequent motif in Fassbinder's work. This is one of the themes in Lola, which tells the story of an upright, new building commissioner who arrives in a small town. He falls in love with Lola, innocently unaware of the fact that she is a famed prostitute and the mistress of an unscrupulous developer. Unable to reconcile his idealistic image of Lola with reality, the commissioner spirals into the very corruption he had sought to fight out.

Lola was loosely based on Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930) and its source novel, Professor Unrat (1905), by Heinrich Mann.[73] In The Blue Angel, a cabaret singer leads a sanctimonious teacher to his ruin, and "Lola" is the name of the character portrayed by Marlene Dietrich. Unlike the earlier film – of little stylistic resemblance to Lola – Fassbinder equally emphasizes his leading man and leading woman, rendering them compellingly, and giving added thematic resonance to how both are corrupted: the weak-willed commissioner by submitting to Lola, and Lola by submitting to the sham values of materialism.

Veronika Voss (1982)[edit]

Fassbinder won the Golden Bear at the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival for Veronika Voss.[74] The original German title, Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss, translates as "The longing of Veronika Voss". Set in the 1950s, the film depicts the twilight years of the title character, a faded Nazi starlet. A sports reporter becomes enthralled by the unbalanced actress and discovers that she is under the power of a villainous doctor who supplies her with the drugs she craves so long as she can pay the exorbitant fee. Despite the reporter’s best attempts, he is unable to save her from a terrible end.

Veronika Voss was inspired as much by Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), as by the life of performer Sybille Schmitz.[75] While the stories of the two films are distinct, there is a similarity between the pathologically self-deluding characters of Norma Desmond and Veronika Voss. The film was shot in high-contrast black and white.

Querelle (1982)[edit]

Fassbinder did not live to see the premiere of his last film, Querelle, based on Jean Genet's novel Querelle de Brest.[76] The plot follows the title character, a handsome sailor who is a thief and hustler. Frustrated in a homoerotic relationship with his own brother, Querelle betrays those who love him and pays them even with murder. His story unfolds in a surreal, phallic setting lighted with an orange glow. The film was the subject of much controversy, not least because of its free and provocative depiction of homosexuality and criminality. It was shot in English with unnaturalistic dialogue and in a flat acting style.

Personal life[edit]

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Fassbinder was entangled in multiple relationships with women, but more often with men. Mixing his personal and professional lives, family, friends and lovers appeared in his films. Early in his career, he had a lasting, but fractured relationship with Irm Hermann, a former secretary whom he forced to become an actress.[77] The director usually cast her in unglamorous roles most notably as the unfaithful wife in The Merchant of Four Seasons and the silent abused assistant in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Irm Hermann idolized him, but Fassbinder tormented and tortured her for over a decade.[78] This included domestic violence: "He couldn't conceive of my refusing him, and he tried everything. He almost beat me to death on the streets of Bochum ...."[79] In 1977, Hermann became romantically involved with another man and became pregnant by him. Fassbinder proposed to her and offered to adopt the child; she turned him down.[80]

In 1969, while taking the lead role in the T.V film Baal under the direction of Volker Schlöndorff, Fassbinder met Günther Kaufmann, a black Bavarian who had a minor role in that film. Kaufmann was straight, married and with two children, nevertheless Fassbinder fell madly in love with him. The director tried to buy his love with movie roles and expensive gifts;[81] Kaufmann managed to destroy four Lamborghinis in a year. He appeared in fourteen of Fassbinder's films, having the leading role in Whity (1971). Their turbulent affair affected the production of that film.

Although he claimed to be opposed to matrimony as an institution, in 1970 Fassbinder married Ingrid Caven, a regular actress in his films. Their wedding reception was recycled in the film he was making at that time, The American Soldier.[82] Their relationship of mutual admiration survived the complete failure of their two-year marriage. "Ours was a love story in spite of the marriage," Caven explained in an interview, adding about her former husband's sexuality: "Rainer was a homosexual who also needed a woman. It’s that simple and that complex."[83] The three most important women of Fassbinder’s life, Irm Hermann, Ingrid Caven and Juliane Lorenz, his last partner, were not disturbed by his homosexuality.[84]

In 1971, Fassbinder fell in love with El Hedi ben Salem (c1935-82), a Berber from Morocco. Their turbulent relationship ended violently in 1974.[85] Salem, cast as Ali in Fear Eats the Soul, hanged himself in jail in 1982. Fassbinder, who barely outlived his former lover, dedicated his last film, Querelle, to Salem.

Armin Meier (1943–78), a former butcher who was almost illiterate and who had spent his early years in an orphanage, was Fassbinder's lover from 1974 to 1978.[86] He also appeared in several Fassbinder films in this period. A glimpse into their troubled relationship can be seen in Fassbinder's episode for Germany in Autumn (1978). After Fassbinder broke up with him, Meier committed suicide on Fassbinder’s birthday.[87] He was found dead in their apartment only days later.

In the last four years of his life, Fassbinder's companion was Juliane Lorenz (born 1957), the editor of his films during the last years of his life. She can be seen in a small role as the film producer's secretary in Veronika Voss.[88] According to Lorenz, they considered getting married, but never did so.[19][89] Although they were reported drifting apart in his last year,[90] an accusation Lorenz has denied,[91] they were still living together at the time of his death.


Media scandals and controversies ensured that in Germany itself Fassbinder was permanently in the news, making calculatedly provocative remarks in interviews. His work often received mixed reviews from the national critics, many of whom only began to take him seriously after the foreign press had hailed him as a major director.[92]

There were frequent exposés of his lifestyle in the press, and attacks from all sides from the groups his films offended.[93] His television series Eight Hours Do Not Make a Day was cut from eight to five episodes after pressure from conservatives.[93] The playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz sued over Fassbinder's adaptation of his play Jail Bait, alleging that it was obscene.[94] Lesbians and feminists accused Fassbinder of misogyny (in presenting women as complicit in their own oppression) in his 'Women‘s Picture'.[93][95] The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant has been cited by some feminist and gay critics as both homophobic and sexist.[93]

Gay critics also complained of misrepresentation in Fox and his Friends.[93] Conservatives attacked him for his association with the radical left. Marxists said he had sold out his political principles in his depictions of left-intellectual manipulations in Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven and of a late-blooming terrorist in The Third Generation. Berlin Alexanderplatz was moved to a late night television slot amid widespread complaints that it was unsuitable for children.[93] The most heated criticism came for his play Garbage, the City, and Death, whose scheduled performance at the Theater am Turm in Frankfurt was cancelled early in 1975 amid charges of anti-semitism. Though published at the time, and quickly withdrawn, the play was not performed until 1987, after Fassbinder's death. In the turmoil, Fassbinder resigned from his directorship of that prestigious theater complex, complaining that the play had been misinterpreted.[93]

Fassbinder did little to discourage the personalized nature of the attacks on himself and his work. He seemed to provoke them by his aggressively non-conformist lifestyle, symbolized in his black leather jacket, battered hat, dark glasses and perennial scowl.[93]


By the time he made his last film, Querelle (1982), Fassbinder was using heavy doses of drugs and alcohol to sustain his unrelenting work schedule. On the night of June 9–10, 1982, Wolf Gremm, director of the film Kamikaze 1989 (1982), which starred Fassbinder, was staying in his apartment.[96] Early that evening, Fassbinder retired to his bedroom. He was working on notes for a future film: Rosa L, based on the life of Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish-German revolutionary socialist.[97] Fassbinder was watching television, video and reading in between when shortly after one o'clock in the morning he received a phone call from his friend and assistant Harry Baer.[97] At 3:30 a.m, when Juliane Lorenz arrived home, she heard the noise of television in Fassbinder’s room, but she could not hear him snoring. Though not allowed to enter the room uninvited, she went in, and she found him lying on the bed, dead, a cigarette still between his lips.[96] A thin ribbon of blood trickled from one nostril.[98]

The cause of death was reported as a lethal combination of cocaine and barbiturates.[99] The notes for Rosa Luxemburg were found next to his body.[97]

Fassbinder's remains were interred at Bogenhausener Friedhof in Munich.


All titles written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder unless stated otherwise. According to Hanna Schygulla, Fassbinder had no part in the making of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?; it was realized from his idea by Michael Fengler, his assistant.[100]

YearEnglish titleOriginal titleNotes
1965This NightThis NightShort. Lost.
1966The City TrampDer StadtstreicherShort.
1966/67The Little ChaosDas kleine ChaosShort.
1969Love Is Colder Than DeathLiebe ist kälter als der Tod
1969Katzelmacher (aka Cock Artist)KatzelmacherBased on his play.
1970Gods of the PlagueGötter der Pest
1970The Coffee HouseDas KaffeehausVideo recording for German TV. Based on a play by Carlo Goldoni.
1970Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?Co-directed and written (improvisation instructions) with Michael Fengler.
1970The American SoldierDer amerikanische Soldat
1970The Niklashausen JourneyDie Niklashauser FahrtTV film. Co-directed with Michael Fengler.
1971Rio das MortesRio das MortesTV film.
1971Pioneers in IngolstadtPioniere in IngolstadtTV film. Based on a play by Marieluise Fleißer.
1971Beware of a Holy WhoreWarnung vor einer heiligen Nutte
1972The Merchant of Four SeasonsHändler der vier Jahreszeiten
1972The Bitter Tears of Petra von KantDie bitteren Tränen der Petra von KantBased on his play.
1972–1973Eight Hours Are Not a DayAcht Stunden sind kein TagTV series, 5 episodes.
1972Bremen FreedomBremer FreiheitTV film. Based on his play.
1973Jail BaitWildwechselTV film. Based on a play by Franz Xaver Kroetz.
1973World on a WireWelt am DrahtTV film in two parts. Based on the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye. Co-written with Fritz Müller-Scherz.
1974Nora HelmerNora HelmerVideo recording for German TV. Based on A Doll's House by Ibsen (German translation by Bernhard Schulze).
1974Ali: Fear Eats the SoulAngst essen Seele aufInspired by Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows.
1974MarthaMartha16mm TV film. Based on the story "For the Rest of Her Life" by Cornell Woolrich.
1974Effi BriestFontane – Effi Briest oder: Viele, die eine Ahnung haben
von ihren Möglichkeiten und Bedürfnissen und dennoch
das herrschende System in ihrem Kopf akzeptieren durch
ihre Taten und es somit festigen und durchaus bestätigen
Based on the novel by Theodor Fontane.
1975Like a Bird on a WireWie ein Vogel auf dem DrahtTV film. Co-written with Christian Hohoff and Anja Hauptmann.
1975Fox and His FriendsFaustrecht der FreiheitCo-written with Christian Hohoff.
1975Mother Küsters' Trip to HeavenMutter Küsters Fahrt zum HimmelCo-written with Kurt Raab. Based on the short story "Mutter Krausens Fahrt Ins Glück" by Heinrich Zille.
1975Fear of FearAngst vor der AngstTV film. Based on the novel by Asta Scheib.
1976I Only Want You to Love MeIch will doch nur, daß ihr mich liebtTV film. Based on the book Lebenslänglich by Klaus Antes and Christiane Erhardt.
1976Satan's BrewSatansbraten
1976Chinese RouletteChinesisches Roulette
1977Women in New YorkFrauen in New YorkTV film. Based on the play by Clare Boothe Luce.
1977The Stationmaster's WifeBolwieserTV film in two parts. Based on the play by Oskar Maria Graf.
1978Germany in AutumnDeutschland im HerbstFassbinder directed 26-minute episode for this omnibus film.
1978DespairDespair – Eine Reise ins LichtScreenplay by Tom Stoppard. Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov.
1978In a Year of 13 MoonsIn einem Jahr mit 13 Monden
1979The Marriage of Maria BraunDie Ehe der Maria BraunCo-written with Pea Fröhlich and Peter Märthesheimer.
1979The Third GenerationDie dritte Generation
1980Berlin AlexanderplatzBerlin Alexanderplatz16mm TV film series, 14 episodes. Based on the novel by Alfred Döblin.
1981Lili MarleenLili MarleenBased on Der Himmel hat viele Farben, the autobiography of Lale Andersen. Co-written with Manfred Purzer and Joshua Sinclair.
1981Theater in TranceTheater im TranceDocumentary.
1981LolaLolaCo-written with Pea Fröhlich and Peter Märthesheimer.
1982Veronika VossDie Sehnsucht der Veronika VossCo-written with Pea Fröhlich and Peter Märthesheimer.
1982QuerelleQuerelleCo-written with Burkhard Driest. Based on the novel Querelle de Brest by Jean Genet.


Documentaries about Fassbinder[edit]


  1. ^ Hayman, Fassbinder: Film Maker, p. 1
  2. ^ Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 2
  3. ^ a b c d Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 3
  4. ^ a b Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 13
  5. ^ a b Hayman Fassbinder: Film Maker, p. 2
  6. ^ Ronald Hayman, Fassbinder, Film Maker, p. 2
  7. ^ a b Hayman, Fassbinder: Film Maker, p. 3
  8. ^ Hayman, Fassbinder: Film Maker, p. 4
  9. ^ Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 14
  10. ^ a b Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 15
  11. ^ Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 5
  12. ^ a b c Lorenz, Chaos as Usual: Conversations About Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 248
  13. ^ Hayman, Fassbinder: Film Maker, p. 27
  14. ^ Lorenz, Chaos as Usual, p. 3
  15. ^ Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 43
  16. ^ Hayman, Munich: Film Maker, p. 29
  17. ^ Hayman, Fassbinder: Film Maker, p. 26
  18. ^ a b c Elsaesser, Fassbinder's Germany , p. 301
  19. ^ a b Nicodemus, Katja "No morals without style",
  20. ^ "Berlinale 1977: Juries". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  21. ^ a b Watson The Bitter Tears of RWF, p. 24
  22. ^ a b c Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  23. ^ a b c Pipolo Straight from the Heart
  24. ^ Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 69
  25. ^ Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 66
  26. ^ Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 71
  27. ^ Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 67
  28. ^ Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 69
  29. ^ Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 80
  30. ^ Thomsen, Fassbinder, p. 79
  31. ^ Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 72
  32. ^ Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 73
  33. ^ Watson, Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 82
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