Love is Colder Than Death wasn’t just Fassbinder’s debut; in fact just about everyone in it started here, and although most of them went on to make many films with Fassbinder (some more than others) this is unlike any other film debut, in that it commemorates the birth of an entire troupe. And just as Fassbinder was in charge from the off, he’s the first we see.
Fassbinder’s sexuality drives the film, and if the European New Wave was re-working the classic gangster motifs that had been evolving in American cinema since the 1930s, the homo-sexuality was their own addition – and a fair one too – because like in football, the gangster world is one of male intimacy, where male to male eroticism, bonding and contact are visible and on display, although never much discussed. And I’m not sure is homosexual is quite the right term, as Fassbinder tends to see all bodies as sexually available, and in a rather cold and often cruel manner.
In dressing the way he does, Fassbinder is really going against his instincts – for he was fastidiously clean man. The screen image that we see of Fassbinder here – mussed up hair, seemingly half-hearted attempts at shaving, the tight trousers and the leather jacket – all were suggestive of a persona, as much designed to irritate his parents and the rest of the bourgeoisie, as they were to express something vital and sexual. I don’t take the line however, that Fassbinder approached this film with great thematic import and high artistic aims – although in subsequent interviews, it appears that much of this is dressed up to make it appear as if he did. Fassbinder’s aims were more direct – to create and perpetuate the Fassbinder myth and the Fassbinder troupe, being one, by ensuring a constant stream of work for all.
What we see of Fassbinder here, we will see again and again, which is no bad thing, especially when we remember that he is not just the oeuvre’s lynch pin, but the regie and the buch. He smokes the same, and it is hyonotic, he leads the two other leads down a deserted country road (to the eventual shooting of a policeman) – and it is hypnotic – as his stare, and
Godard however, kept quiet. Consider the police intervbiew in this scene, which features probably the greatest Godard 60s trademark of them all; the panning from continuous panning from side to side to track character and dialogue. I’ve always been convinced that Godard saw the geratets merit of this shot as being that nobody else had done it, and therefore he could safely say that he had originated it. The fact that shortly after the release of Liebe is kalter he retired from film, and concentrated on abstract and impenetrable television broadcasts, probably indicates that he realised that he’d become so great that he had directly impacted the language of cinema; so much so that it was safe for him to move on. It was possible a shame that he did, because great as he was in that era, Godard has rarely been great since, whereas Fassbinder… just got gerater … and greater yet.