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.
Here then, if you’ve watched enough Fassbinder, a guy like Günther Kaufmann appears as something of a treat – and like an old friend, it’s a pleasure to see him. For the fans, the added bonus in this film is that Kaufmann is speaking English, pretending to be American. I guess for a film like this, which is so wound up in the story of post-war Germany, an American GI figure is quite essential.
Well, Kaufmann is very good in a bar room fight, being just the right size to throw people over his shoulders, and when the anti-imperialist protestors appear in the nightclub, he is the one that ends up brawling – well he is a soldier. If you are into reading deeper cultural meanings, then the brief scene in Lola’s mother’s house, where Kaufmann (speaking pretend German) meets Lola (speaking a hilariously student –accentuated English) exchange basic school boy and girl language pleasantries, a symbol of Germany once more meeting the world, and belonging as a part of it. Brief, but truly hilarious.
The best Von Bohm given by Armin Mueller-Stahl is when he gets his brand new TELEFUNKEN. Obviously Fassbinder has great fun with it too, allowing some classic Gunther Kaufmann GI comedy English. The television! Which sardonic Fassbinder examination of the 1950s would be without it? The characters’ enjoyment of the test picture; bathed in lilac the television operative adjusts the aerial; Das is ein teste spiel.
The best thing about the television is the extra button that Von Bohm doesn’t understand; but it’s there in case they ever get another channel . Armin Mueller-Stahl ‘s joke ‘Do you hear that Frau Kummer! We may get a second channel!’ only gets funnier and funnier, long after RWF passed away. It is a portrait of consumer satisfaction; a very serious and powerful image; Von Bohm lights cigarette; the lilac light and the complete living room; watching the test card on the first ever generation of television.
Kaufmann is just so funny; like a character from Popeye. With his box of Marlboro sticking out of his grocery bag. His impression of an American is excellent, and this is quite an achievement because you can alos detec that his English is not at all strong. But the way he says ‘they run around the clock,’ talking about the 12 TV channels they have in America, it is pure Yank, just beautiful.
It’s really hard to find movie precedents for Gunther Kaufmann and the kinds of conversations he has with people in Fassbinder films. The encounters with Von Bohm are just like we’ve all seen, two tourists meeting on holiday, trying their best at each other’s languages. It is really touching.