Early i.In the Twenty First Century, A Zed and Two Noughts comes across as the period piece it is; relentlessly 80s in its look, it’s self-consciously post-modern in a way that was very fashionable back then, when loose combinations of unlikely themes and images combined to make interesting melanges that were both intellectual and visual — visceral, the critics would probably have said. Certainly, it was very post-modern in 1986 to cast Jim Davidson, a comic known for being frequently racist, sexist and homophobic in an art-house production, and although he is good enough to act (just) you’d have to wonder at the logic of his appearance, other than for the director’s own sake. It’s the sort of cleverness that can only backfire, although at least Davidson wasn’t encouraged to perform any of his ‘impressions’.
Austrian actor Rudolf Lenz (1920–1987) wears a face that I am sure I have seen outside German cinema, and yet I still cannot place it. Even with the benefit of the Internet Movie Database, I am still sure that I have seen him elsewhere, but the more I consider it the more that I think I may have perhaps enjoyed him so much in World on a Wire that I have imagined him to have a had a wider career than he did.
Elvira's impulse in In a Year of 13 Moons to visit the reclusive Saitz is doomed from the start, but is the core of the film, and although the journey from man to woman is partially completed, despite two attempts to rerun, one at the beginning and one at the end, it is the main journey of the film. In moving through Saitz’s office, with its peculiar cast of Kafkan characters, Günther Kaufmann appears as the final barrier – the mythical gatekeeper as it were.
In The Last Metro, Andréa Ferréol plays the actress whom Gerard Depardieu craves, ‘like for a warm croissant,’ he says. Most of the characters in The Last Metro are defined by how they react to the claustrophobic German occupation of Paris, but Ferréol’s character Arlette seems to miss out here and functions as a foil for others, and weirdly we never see her out of the theatre situation or find out anything about her character, other than the fact she is lesbian.
One of the undoubted highlights of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Niklashausen Journey (1970) is a free-spirited jam from Krautrock pioneers, Amon Duul ii. The band, who sound pretty much the same today as they did back then, were true revolutionaries. It's at the moment that Amon Duul ii appear in this movie that we know we are dealing with montage, as opposed to narrative, and it's this jam seession that will probably oblige you to give in to the idea that in this film, not a lot of it is going to make traditional sense. This scene follows a very strange and rather elementary Marxist lecture, delivered in an empty quarry.
Both Karlheinz Böhm and Margit Carstensen appear in the first major ensemble scene of Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, demonstrating the fact that where you find the press, you’ll also find political parties. Simultaneously addressed, is the fact that where you find personal disaster among the public, the politicos are often there too.
Spend enough time with Fassbinder, and it … well it can become like collecting. It means that in the later films, it’s always a pleasure to see an actor like Günther Kaufmann , whom we could consider old-school Fassbinder; or such an important part of the stable, that he can truly be called a Fassbinder actor, which I think is fair in his case. He is one of the absolute central figures to Fassbinder’s cinema, although his appearances are sometimes purely talismanic.
The opening scene of Beware of a Holy Whore is an ensemble piece shot in a hotel lobby, which cuts between groups of twos and threes to build up a picture of listlessness and impassivity. The characters are in fact all ludicrous and isolated, and generally petty; but my favourite is Marquard Bohm who is playing the part of the young actor being hit on by an older man, and is uncomfortable with it. For one so young he seems so bitter, and well he should be, as he plays the lover of the film’s director Jeff.
It would have been good to see more of Karlheinz Böhm in Effi Briest, but perhaps his looks are less suited to this period drama. It is a small detail, but an important one, and although Karlheinz Böhm excels in Fassbinder’s dramas such as Mother Kusters Trip to Heaven and Martha, at least here he speaks in his own voice. He plays, Wüllersdorf, who is a real friend to Instetten, maybe the only one he has.
In Günther Kaufmann’s first appearance in Fassbinder’s The Niklashausen Journey, listening to the prophet describe economics in a huge and empty quarry, he cuts a striking figure; as striking as he ever does in any of his film appearances. How great he looked in this era; and better than great — powerful. In fact in 1970, in Europe, Günther Kaufmann must have been the ultimate dude to have in your circle. As the camera shots are all pretty identical in this film – the slow static zoom or the travelling dolly – it helps if you do look powerful.
Babs, the production assistant, who sets the entire tone of the film in the first shot, with her bored and laconic bitching about the others (‘this place is crawling with gays’) is played by Margarethe von Trotta — cast as a typical period Chelsea Girl, a glamorous young and idle person. Somehow, Fassbinder feels, what we should be seeing is hard work, because that is what it takes to make films; and yet all we have is indolence, punctuated with an undisguised sexuality that pops to the surface in every character, whether they like it or not.
Wolfgang Schenck as Baron Geert von Instetten in Fassbinder’s Effi Brest, is described early on as a ‘man of principle’ – a phrase which is a euphemism for a horror of bourgeois attitudes. Indeed, it’s an expression that will alert any viewer to the fact that the repression levels in the movie are going to be through the roof – which they are. Indeed, Wolfgang Schenck is almost terrifying in this role, and when you add the stillness Fassbinder employs, you have a horrific combination and the sense that something is going to go very badly wrong.
Watching Lola by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is at times like watching a film by Claude Chabrol; and this is down to Armin Mueller-Stahl . Now Mueller-Stahl has never acted in any Chabrol films, but to me he looks like he should have. He is gentle, intelligent, comic and middle aged in a perfectly provincial and staid manner. In fact it is this provinciality that makes me think of Chabrol and this same provinciality that made him perfect for Lola.
Michael Konig appears in the distance, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Niklashausen Journey (1970). He's among a group presumably listening to some revolutionary preaching, the sort that is unfortunately very easy to switch off from. He is monotonously beating a drum while the camera moves at a snail’s pace towards what are to begin with stick figures outside a kirk, at the top of a double set of stairs. It isn’t a terribly well composed shot, and it is quite some time before we become aware of Konig’s stunning hair – a show stealing mane if ever there was one – and very reminiscent of many of the rock stars of the age. It’s time to switch off if you are anything other than a Fassbinder die-hard.
The subtitle to Fassbinder’s Fontane Effi Briest is: ‘many people who aware of their own capabilities and needs, yet acquiesce to the prevailing system in their thoughts and deeds, thereby confirm and reinforce it’; which is a fairly sound anti-Bourgeois principle an one that may apply to many a Fassbinder production.
For Fassbinder’s friends and acting regulars there was always a part; consider Peter Berling’s walk on role in Beware of a Holy Whore, as Mandig, a rather inexplicable producer figure. What I wonder is this; did Berling have to wait on set for days, in the exact same conditions portrayed in the movie, before acting his 20 second scene? It would not be surprising, given the fidelity of Fassbinder’s portrayal of the entire movie process.
In Beware of a Holy Whore, Hannes Fuchs plays David, a sound technician on the film set, and a fairly typical period wastrel. Most of the cast and crew (including him) are homosexual, but the other string to his bow is that he is freely spouting the counter-cultural political nonsense we know must have been spouted widely in the era.
Perhaps because of his size and good looks, Karl Scheydt always seems to turn up as a gangster in early Fassbinder, and in Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), when we meet him, he is very much in that mode, with Fassbinder himself, just as we left them in The American Soldier – an amazing five films ago in terms of release date, but not such a long gap in terms of shooting.
Peter Berling, whom you must watch out for as ‘the knife act caller’ in Gangs of New York, appears in several of Fassbinder's films, generally in the same seedy type of role he does here. In this one he is a creepy illegal arms dealer come cobbler, who appears in a rather mundane scene, but does get the rather good line ‘I’m out of Walther PPKs at the moment’ – a line which Godard probably would have thought of in the toilet and discarded with the flush, as being a joke too far beneath him to make the cut.
Barbara Valentin (1940 – 2002) could be the star turn in Fassbinder's Effi Briest, for several reasons, the least of which her good looks, her acting and her singing voice. But in this Fassbinder dubfest, I’ll have to decide later if that is really her singing or not. Also, she is dead sexy, very difficult in C19th Prussia, and this elevates her character Marietta Tripelli, the singer, into something special.
It’s not often that Fassbinder actors adopt disguises for their roles – part of the underlying ethos that in Fassbinder films, the participants are playing themselves. I don't know what it is, and whether it's a certain nudity of spirit that Fassbinder sought after, but usually in his films, everyone is pretty much themselves, with some great exceptions such as Margit Carstensen in Satan's Brew. Karl Scheydt in Effi Briest is however in fig.
Katrin Schaake doesn’t get the billing she deserves, and finds herself sidelined considerably. Although Woody Allen’s character tries it on with three different girls in What’s New Pussycat? it’s only Schaake as Jacqueline that could be described as his girlfriend.
Should you mention Smiley’s People to television viewers of a certain age their eyes will mist over and they will stare into the distance, recalling halcyon moments at their tellyside. This is because Smiley’s People is considered not only a British television treasure, but a classic BBC production – and in terms of small screen credentials, it doesn’t get much better than that.
After the opening scene, the story of Elvira picks up back at her house, as she is dumped by her long-time boyfriend Christoph Hacker, played by Karl Scheydt, a rather bullying and histrionic actor. It’s curious in this scene that despite the obvious identity confusion Elvira is suffering, that her boyfriend is probably worse, and is really only in the relationship for the bullying as it is. Why would he worry about identity anyway, when he holds the physical power in the relationship?
It would take a greater film buff than I to calculate it, but the chance are high that of all the actors working on Leibe ist Kalter als der Tod, Schaake was the most experienced. She had already had a hit with What’s New Pussycat, and had been in the business 10 years already – since Fassbinder was 14 actually. Knowing Fassbinder, it’s a little difficult to understand why he would sanction someone with so much experience being in his film, but then the appearance is so brief as to almost be insulting, and it’s never a bad thing to have a ‘name’ attached to any project, especially if one is starting out.
What have they done to your daughters? Film fans know there are always more genres out there than they bargained for and although most of these sub-genres are hybrid, they are nonetheless valid. There is for example the Italian horror thriller genre, a perfect triple genre that actually does extend and defy other genres. As it is, Italian horror thriller includes crime and eroticism. The genre known as giallo which is Italian for "yellow" stems from a series of cheap paperback novels with trademark yellow covers and covers more bases yet; giallo indeed comprises Italian horror thriller crime eroticism.
The citizen who arrives at the court of the local bishop, played by Kurt Raab, is the very well presented Karl Scheydt. He is humble, and he is well dressed, despite the bishops interest in the fact that ‘he stinks’ – but that is only because he wears the late 60s male uniform of black suit, and thin black tie, as popularised by many a film, especially those of the French variety. Yes, he stinks; but the smell clearly turns on the bishop, who nearly ravishes him on the spot.
Katrin Schakke has a silent role in Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore. To commence with, she is the solitary dancer, the woman creating the Chelsea Hotel effect during the first 50 minutes, when she can be seen barefoot, slowly dancing by herself. Her acting role – scriptgirl – is made clearer during the second half of the film from when Ulli Lommel (Schaake’s husband) hands her the morning juice and she is one in a long line to frown at him instead of saying thank you.
Stroszek by Werner Herzog is many things, though I am guessing that its first draw is that it mainstreams outsider art. The outsider is the real life Bruno Schleinstein a self-taught musicia, who developed his own brand skills on the piano, accordion, glockenspiel and handbells. He would play in back gardens in Berlin, performing 18th and 19th century style ballads, and famously noted that he transmitted his songs (German: durchgeben) rather than sang them.
I’m one of those not convinced by the work of Wim Wenders. It’s not easy to say how many of his films might be said to be good, while probably none of them are great; and yet his name is still well known, although this is likely because he came to America when he did and made a name for himself under the tutelage of Francis Ford Coppolla.