Presiding over the society that Fassbinder creates and mocks in The Niklashausen Journey, is the local bishop, played by Kurt Raab. The bishop lives and works in an absurdly rococo room, around which lounge half naked boys, the slumped sloven of a woman, and other inactive beings who partake of various slow and unspecified pursuits on the floor. For both Fassbinder and Kurt Raab (both homosexual and also lovers off and on until the inevitable split) filmmaking was about total vision, and Kurt Raab’s real skill outside acting, was dressing sets, which he did for many of the films.
We meet Raab in in The Niklashausen Journey lying on the floor making love to a boy, amused to a state of joy by the arrival of a peasant, who stinks. Naturally, the bishop is useless, ineffectual and homosexual. He cowers in fear at the mention of a possible peasant revolt, but he is alone. The boys and the strange slatternly woman who sits in his court, wearing a yellow dress that reveals her underwear — none of them care.
Everywhere he goes, in fact, the bishop and his adviser (Günther Rupp) take the same entourage of decadence, and continue to cavort as lazily as they can. It’s a kind of Pontius Pilate role for Kurt Raab; certainly Michael Konig’s character of Hans Boehm has clear Jesus parallels.
At one point Kurt Raab as the bishop presides over some crucifixions and burnings in a junkyard; you don't see much of his face as he's shot from behind but it's still one of his main scenes. This being a truly ensemble film, there is plenty going on and the scene doesn't have one particular star. It's a great example of what the film is like however, revolutionary, dismissive, earnest and desperate to push the boundaries of what is going to acceptabl;y work when theatre and film mix, to form a highly modern almost Brechtian vision:
That's Kurt Raab with his back to the camera there, waring the bishop's alb. It's a scene of great potential, and although it seems dated, slapped in the sad seventies of experiment and allegory, it shows a genuinely free attitude to communal film-making, and highlights the ambition of Fassbinder's vision.