In Satansbraten (1976), the dysfunctional writer Walter Kranz lives in a separate society, populated by screw-ups, perverts, self-abusers, hippies and others who for any reason, are antisocial and misfit. This is because he is a writer, and as such unfit for general society - or above it in his case, so he believes.
As well as spending his time scrabbling for money, Kranz’s other interest is sex, with each assignation representing something else. One of his women is Katherina Buchhammer, who plays Irmgart von Witzleben, whom it is suggested is fairly well-to-do and probably waits in all day for Kranz to arrive and abuse her. Irmgart von Witzleben wears (from choice) the most humiliating lingerie available, and when Kranz is present, she moves on all fours, crawling and panting around the room at his behest, and always at full speed.
As time wore on, different drugs came to be profiled in Fassbinder’s films, and here, appropriately enough for the crazed sexual energy of the film, it is poppers that Kranz and his masochistic girlfriend enjoy to send them even further over the edge. Irmgart von Witzleben also keeps a crazy drawer full of useful props – dildos and a gun – visually most satisfying together.
Satansbraten is loose and crazy in general, and is unique in the energy and lack of direction of its comedy; and so Katherina Buchhammer as Irmgart von Witzleben of course lets Kranz stuck the gun in her mouth, and is glad to do so. She begs for more gun sucking and crawls next door to write Kranz a cheque – which is the bit that turns her on the most. It’s now that we realise that by 1975, Fassbinder might have had his fill of the sort of bourgeois women who surround writers and often fund them – although we would never imagine as he states here, that they are sexually turned on by doling out money to hopeless literary individuals.
If you were in any doubt about Fassbinder’s change of direction from melodrama to this kind of formless and anarchic comedy, there is a moment less than ten minutes in, when Katherina Buchhammer orgasms as she signs the cheque to Kranz and begs to be shot – and so he shoots her and pockets this cheque. I’ve always seen it as a comment on writers and their cult among the middle classes, but that is only one effort to make sense of it. As usual with Fassbinder, comment is clear, but interpretation is not.
As it goes, Katherina Buchhammer as Irmgart von Witzleben turns out to be the funniest joke of the film, as you’ll see at the end when she reappears from paradise with Ernst (with who she is bound to sleep soon) and the police, with whom she may have been working with all the time, even when ‘dead’. She cries and laughs at the same time, and she dances with the confused Kranz in a classic ‘life is but a play’ scene with which the whole thing wraps. She is horny, she is daft, she is desperate and she is smart, and like so many Fassbinder characters, she craves the kind of servile abuse that only fascists can deal out… in this case, sexual fascists.