Sunday, December 9, 2018

537 - Eight Hours Don't Make a Day, Part 3--Franz and Ernst . Dir. Warner Rainer Fassbinder.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

537 - Eight Hours Don't Make a Day, Part 3--Franz and Ernst . Dir. Warner Rainer Fassbinder.

Now that Kretzschmer is gone, Franz would like to put in for Foreman.  He already works at the factory.  He is a good worker.  He has a good rapport with the men.  And he has aspirations for leadership.

There are just a couple of problems.

One is that Franz has a hole in his head--or so he says--when it comes to Mathematics.  Franz has taken the training to be a foreman, but he has not finished.  In order to finish he still needs to take a written test.  One that involves math.  Such as how to set the machine to the correct angle to produce the right product.

Franz does not have confidence that he can pass.  He has already botched his effort to create a prototype because he could not get the math right.  In a memorable scene he tells Jochen and Marion over drinks about his fears, and somehow they convince him to push forward anyway.

The other problem is that the company has a policy of hiring foremen from outside the company.  They have tried promoting people in the past and have found that it does not work out too well.  So when Franz tells Mr. Gross of his ambition, Mr. Gross informs him that he will be hiring someone else.  As a passing gesture, he tells Franz that if he can pass the Mathematics test, then Gross will put in a good word for him.

Perhaps you can see where this is going.

But alas, Gross hires a man from outside the company. 

The men close ranks against him.  Perhaps they can freeze him out.  Make his life miserable.  Get him to quit before he gets settled.

They play dumb.  Put in a faulty order for too many grindstones.  Submit the bad part to be inspected.

But the new foreman surprised them.  In a manner similar to Maria's first meeting the children in The Sound of Music, he covers for them, protects them, takes the blame himself.

They are flabbergasted.  Now what?

Time for a Deus ex Machina, a God in the Machine.  This is the Latin term translated from the Greek, which Aristotle made popular in his Poetics.  In Greek tragedy, whenever a plot got complicated and the protagonists needed saving, a Greek god could descend from the rafters, an actor in character lowered by a pulley, a machine, to solve the characters' (and the plot's) problems and make everything work out.  In contemporary literature it may refer to a stroke of coincidence that is so great that things just work out the way people want them to.  It makes for a good feel-good story when it is time for one.

Throughout his career, Fassbinder rarely uses Deus ex Machina.  Normally, he is all for pessimism, skepticism, cynicism, naturalism, and determinism.  For taking all the characters and cramming as much suffering and misery as one can imagine in a two-hour span.  But not with this mini-series.  No, things are going to work out just fine.  It is time for a feel-good story, so let us employ the Deus ex Machina.

And regardless of what position you take about it, we suspect that you just might allow yourself to feel good.  After all, this is entertainment.  And it is being done at a high level.

Meanwhile, Grandma hilariously is going to seek out a surrogate grandma for her son-in-law Wolf.

And Jochen is going to be fed just a few too many Cabbage Rolls.

Yum.


*                             *                             *                             *


Management wants to fill the position from the outside.

You guys really live on the moon.

Seven glasses of Kolsch.

If you want to sabotage my parenting, fine.  He's your son.

cabbage rolls

First he takes the stupid classes, and then that ship sails on him.

Workers who think for themselves.  What more could one hope for?
   We get the feeling that there is something more you hope for.

Sorry Fellas.  It just wasn't meant to be.

We want to achieve something, so all risks are justified.

The wish is father to the thought.

Hey.  How are you?  Are you happy?
Is everything okay with your husband?

Mr. Miltenberger incorrectly calculated an angle for Mr. Schwin.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

536 - Eight Hours Don't Make a Day, Part 2--Grandma and Gregor. Dir. Warner Rainer Fassbinder.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

536 - Eight Hours Don't Make a Day, Part 2--Grandma and Gregor.  Dir. Warner Rainer Fassbinder.

Eight Hours Don't Make a Day
Part 2
Grandma and Gregor

A silent hammer has yet to be invented.

This is what Jochen's workmate says to Grandma when she asks him to hammer more quietly.  She is concerned that someone might hear them.  After all, they do not have permission to be in here.

They are in a closed city library.

At night.

Jochen has brought his workmates over to help Grandma.  Grandma and her boyfriend Gregor.

They have moved into the library in a neighborhood where the children play in the streets.  The children play in the streets because they have no kindergartens.  Nowhere to go.  And they have to navigate the traffic that plows through without apparent concern for their well-being.

So Grandma is going to open a kindergarten here.

The books have all been removed, sadly, and the man who put them into the truck to take them away treated them with disregard.  Throwing them around.  Letting them fall into the street.  What difference does it make.  After all, they are only books.

When Grandma asked the Librarian why the library was closing, she said flatly, "Because people don't read."

A heartbreaking moment in the middle of this joyful episode.

But if anyone is pragmatic, Grandma is.  For her, life is about taking action.  Doing.  No time for theory.  In fact, there is hardly anytime time for thinking at all.  Which is a big reason why this episode is so joyful.  Watching Grandma take action first and think later.  And the scrapes that it gets her in.

So she has taken action and moved into the closed library.  After all, the city did leave the door unlocked.

And now she has had enough time to realize that she might not want people to hear them hammering.  Because a loud hammer might get them busted.

But we all know who the real hammer is.

It is Grandma herself.

She is the change she wants to see in the world.

And she is not silent.

She bangs her way through life like there is no tomorrow.

Or more to the point as though she is building tomorrow.  Herself.

And she gives Gregor a good drubbing along the way.

Jochen and his colleagues finish the job just before dawn.  As Gregor and Grandma sit sleeping like statues in the middle of the floor.  The young men leave quietly to let them sleep.  So that Gregor and Grandma awaken to their new dream.

A kindergarten.

It is perfect.

Only one thing is missing.

The children.

Time to recruit.  Grandma and Gregor walk out into the street and make their announcement.  Only to discover humorously that the children have not been waiting for them.  And are unimpressed.

Now how do you run this thing?

This is Luise Ullrich's episode.

And she delivers one of the great performances.

She is going to be discovered over time.  And appreciated for her achievement.  Yes, she was already discovered in Germany and in Europe in the 1930s.  And even offered an MGM contract by the astute Louis B. Mayer in 1938.  And had a good career even after turning it down.  But she is going to be rediscovered today by an international audience.  How could she not be?  She is just too good.

Marion's little brother Manni will attend the kindergarten.

Along with Harald and Monika's daughter Sylvia.  Without Harald's knowledge and against his wishes.  Which will enrage him even more than Monika's purchase of a new hat.  Driving the wedge between them even further.

Back at the factory Jochen works in peace, proud of his grandmother's accomplishments.  Who somehow finds a way to triumph even after the resistance of the bureaucracy, the intrusion of the police, and the betrayal of the press.

And his colleague Franz (there is always a Franz in Fassbinder) decides to put in for foreman.  Only to be turned down.

Fassbinder continues to generate moments of hilarity.  Such as when the four comrades--Grandma, Gregor, Jochen, and Manfred--stand upright and press their noses against the glass as they look into the closed library window.

And he continues to compose frames by looking past objects to see people.  Doorways, pottery, typewriters.  As he did with the flowers in the previous episode.

Have you ever eaten lunch at a restaurant sitting next to a monkey in a cage?  In front of a fish tank.

The Germans seem to drink schnapps as the English drink tea.  Which, you will discover if you do a little research, requires that the fruit be fermented along with the liquor and not added later as a flavoring.

Fassbinder brought down many hammers in the course of his cram-packed, tumultuous career.

And none of them were silent.

But in this moment, in this mini-series, in this episode, this hammer--

was full of joy.


*                               *                               *                               *


There just aren't enough facilities in the world for people.

Yes, this was a city library.  But it is no more as of today.
   Oh, no.  And why not?
Because people don't read.

They're just books.

Grandma's right.  Anyone who does something is always right.

My opinion goes in my house, and no one else's!
   That's why everyone wants to leave it.  That's exactly why.

Learning never harmed anyone. . . . But thinking is better.

If you object, I'll turn you upside down.

See, they cook with water too.

If the press sticks by us, it'll all go well.
If we stick by the press, the press will stick by us.

All the things a Grandma's good for.

Management wants to fill the foreman position from someone outside the company.
It's not so bad if things stay as they are.

Friday, December 7, 2018

535 - Eight Hours Don't Make a Day, Part 1--Jochen and Marion, Germany, 1972. Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Friday, December 7, 2018

535 - Eight Hours Don't Make a Day, Part 1--Jochen and Marion, Germany, 1972.  Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Eight Hours Don't Make a Day.
A Family Series.
Part 1--Jochen amd Marion.

Maybe all good hearts are sick.

Jochen will wonder this about his supervisor, the foreman Fritz Kretzschmer.

Kretzschmer had a good heart.  A sick heart but a good heart.  His blood pump was sick.  His soul was good.

And Fassbinder seems to single out the good hearts in this, his first foray into television.

It is, as it says, a Family Series, a chamber drama.  With a more optimistic outlook and a bit of hope.

Our protagonist Jochen is presented as a good man.  Loving of his grandmother.  Loyal to his workmates.  Faithful to his family.  And from the outset he will be rewarded with love at first sight.  With a good woman.  Who will be good to him.  And the relationship between the two of them will be a joy to watch.

Fassbinder shows us the foils as well.

Harald, the cruel brother-in-law, married to Jochen's sister Monika.

Aunt Klara, the dour sister of Jochen's mother Kathe and other daughter of Grandma Kruger.

And Volkmar Gross, the factory boss where Jochen works.  He pushes performance quotas to human limits.  To keep costs down.  To keep efficiency high.

Rainer Hauer plays boss Gross fairly.  He does not make him out to be sniveling, but on the contrary, he is polite towards his employees.  He just happens to demand a lot from them and make decisions that are in the best interest of the company rather than them.

Jochen works at a factory machining parts for other machines.

He also lives at home.  With his father Wolf, his mother Kathe, and his grandmother "Oma" Kruger.

Things are a bit crowded in the home.  Grandmother is a free spirit, like Jochen, but she must navigate the crowded spaces that belong to someone else, namely, her son-in-law Wolf.

One of the great scenes of this episode involves that challenge.  In a tightly choreographed physical farce, Grandma attempts to enter their only bathroom, first waiting for Jochen, and then getting sneakily beat out by Wolf.  Grandma is outside the bathroom trying to get in.  She complains to her daughter and claims Kathe sides with her husband.  Then she gets Wolf back so that he is outside the bathroom trying to get in.  He complains to his wife and claims Kathe sides with her mother.

The camera glides back and forth between the hallway and the kitchen at one end, as Grandma and Wolf move back and forth between the hallway and the kitchen at the other end.  The action also dips into Jochen's bedroom.  It is a small, humorous, and effective Noises Off kind of moment.

Today is Grandma's birthday.  She turns 60.  And they are here for her.  So she would like things to go well.

They are indulging in a bottle of Napoleon Schaumwein.  Champagne.  Birthday bubbly.

Wolf and Kathe and Grandmother Kruger sit around the table, along with Jochen's sister Monika, her husband Harald, their daughter Sylvia, Aunt Klara, and Jochen's best friend Manfred Muller, whom Sylvia refers to as "Uncle Manfred."

Jochen walks by holding the champagne bottle.

He pops the cork and it explodes onto Aunt Klara's new dress.  The one she just bought yesterday for 8 marks 40.  She stands and slaps the tall Jochen.

My good dress!

He responds: The good bubbly!  One doesn't do that, Aunt Klara.

Both Grandma and Wolf tease her.

Sylvia laughs at their jokes and her father Harald slaps her.

Forty seconds in and already two slaps.  We are in a Fassbinder film.

Sylvia leaves the room.  Aunt Klara sides with Harald.  "A little slap has never harmed anyone."  And we can see that they have their own bond as outsiders in this family.  Not relaxed as the others are.  Uptight.

Manfred goes to check on Sylvia.  She calls him "Uncle Manfred."  Hint One.  She says she loves him better than her own father.  Hint Two.  He tells her she should not say that, as it will make her father sad.  However, when he emerges from the room, he shares a private wink across the room with Monika.  Hint Three.  And we wonder if the seeds of a future relationship have already been planted.  We will learn later that the pretty brown-eyed Monika is afraid of the dumpy and irritable Harald.  We do not know if there is anything to these three hints.  They might not be hints at all.  Monika might never go with Manfred.  But she is not happy with Harald.

Grandma puts on her pink wig.  She has Jochen put on a record, and she stands and dances with him.  Then she has Harald and Klara, right for each other, dance together.  Wolf stands to give a toast but forgets his words and feels humiliated.

Grandma goes to the kitchen to find another bottle of wine--and most likely to get out of the room.

Then she sends Jochen on an errand that will change his life.

Forever.

Go get two more bottles of bubbly.  He goes to the automat.  To get the bubbly.  And when he arrives he meets Marion.  Who is trying to get pickles.  He teases her that she must be pregnant.  Because pregnant women want pickles at 9:30 at night.

His face lights up when he learns that she is not pregnant.  And not attached to anyone.

They "argue" and make up, exchanging banter, and both know what they are doing.

They fall for each other.  Immediately.  And he takes her home to introduce her to the family.

He forgot the bubbly but at least he brought home some pickles.

And a new girlfriend.

Grandma gets it.  Not knowing Marion, she immediately calls her Gabi and welcomes her into the home.  She tells the disapproving Aunt Klara that she asked Gabi to get the pickles for her.

Jochen and Marion will work towards becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.

Their relationship will go through bumps along the way but get stronger.

She will encourage him and help him with ideas for how to solve problems at the factory.

The mini-series was filmed in 16mm color by Fassbinder mainstay Dietrich Lohmann.  He keeps the camera mostly still, except for the occasional crash zoom to a character's extreme close-up--a Fassbinder staple.  We often look at faces, and other body parts, through other objects, such as the plastic flowers that cover the table.

There are gorgeous romantic shots of Jochen and Marion in the field (with plastic flowers, but we do not think about that in real time) and in the home.

Look what Fassbinder can do when he has money and the restraints of assignment.

Gottfried John, who plays Jochen is tall and large and gangly, with long limbs and large hands and a large face.  As he dances with his Grandma, his legs seem to go on forever.  One imagines him as Richard Kiel playing Jaws in the James Bond Series.  Then one discovers that twenty-three years after this show John did in fact play a Bond villain, as Colonel Ourumov in Goldeneye (1995).

Although Fassbinder uses this series to deliver his economic agenda, he does so in a humanizing way, and he seems, for a moment, to have a positive and hopeful outlook on life.  Perhaps he tapered his feelings in this work-for-hire for a wide television audience.

And he affirms fidelity in relationships.

Imagine in what other Fassbinder film do you expect to hear one person say to another, without irony--

I love you from here to the North Pole.

And mean it.


*                              *                              *                              *


But I send you forth into my vineyards as laborers.  Go and do what I have instructed you to do.  You shall then receive your wages.

The Apostle Paul proclaimed, in his First Epistle to Timothy, that the laborer is worthy of his wage.

Lord, our God, give him eternal peace, and let eternal light shine upon him.  Let him rest in your peace.  Amen.

May God's blessing fill your soul.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  May the Lord eternal bring joy to your heart and grant you peace.  You are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Though the Lord, you shall rise to eternal life.  Be marked with the sign of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Under this sign he has delivered you.  Amen.

These are the words of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.  Written by him.  Spoken by the priest who lays to rest a foreman caught in the middle of a power struggle at the factory where Jochen Epp works.

Jochen has contributed to the struggle.  Partly by inventing a new device which makes their work more efficient and will enable them to meet their quota ahead of schedule.  And partly by participating in a strike-threat that has restored the performance bonuses they were originally promised but which were going to be eliminated upon the implementation of his invention.  Jochen himself was initially rewarded a 1,560-mark bonus for his invention--which he immediately spent on a night out with his workmates--but this in turn cost the others their 1,400-mark performance bonus--which initially turned Jochen into the scapegoat.

The problem with the strike-threat is that it is not a work stoppage but the actual destruction of company property with an adverse material effect on their bottom line.  Fassbinder has Marion refer to the elimination of their bonuses as "immoral," but he does not treat the expensive scrapping of material as unethical.


*                              *                              *                              *


(The deer in the painting is spewing river water into Aunt Klara's ear.)

Grandma Kruger (Luise Ullrich)
sister Monika (Renate Roland)
brother-in-law Harald (Kurt Raab)
father Wolf Epp (Wolfried Lier)
mother Kathe Epp (Anita Bucher)
aunt Klara (Christine Oesterlein)
"uncle" Manfred Muller (Wolfgang Zerlett)

A child should be able to laugh.
   But not at adults.
Then what else does she have to laugh at?

There's many a slip twixt cup and lip.

You see?  That's what people die of.  Of not being able to do what they want to do. - Grandma.

And I love you from here to the North Pole.

Speeches are really just for the dead.

Everyone loves to hear something nice.

That was a beautiful speech.  There were so many things I could imagine that you wanted to say.

We have to drink to that.

It seems women do rule the world after all.

For today is a day full of smiles and joy.  Even if you have no clue what joy is, Klara.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

534 - Beware of a Holy Whore, Germany, 1971. Dir. Werner Rainer Fassbinder.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

534 - Beware of a Holy Whore, Germany, 1971.  Dir. Werner Rainer Fassbinder.

Hochmut Kommt vor dem Fall
Pride goes before a fall.

And I say to you that I am weary to death of depicting humanity without partaking of humanity. - Thomas Mann.

You know, the only thing I accept is despair. - Sascha, the Production Manager.  Played by Fassbinder.

If I can't smash something, I might as well be dead. - Jeff, the Director.  Played by Lou Castel.

Sometimes I could kill you; sometimes I could tear your clothes off. - Manfred, the Producer.  Played by Karl Scheydt.


In Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963), Marcello Mastroianni's character Guido, a director, cannot make a film because of internal angst and marital problems.

In Godard's Contempt (1963), Michel Picoli's character Paul Javal, a screenwriter, cannot write a film because of internal angst and marital problems.

In Antonioni's film Identification of a Woman (1982), Tomas Millan's character Niccolo, a director, cannot make a film because he is still searching for the right woman to star in it.  And to be his muse to inspire him.

In Werner Rainer Fassbinder's film Beware of the Holy Whore (1971), Lou Castel's character Jeff, a director, Karl Sheydt's character Manfred, the producer, and Fassbinder's character Sascha, the production manager, cannot make the film because they have no MONEY.

Fassbinder cuts to the chase.

Writer's block?  What writer's block?  I can make films as fast as I can breathe.  Now if only I could breathe faster.  The only thing that stops a film from getting made is good old-fashioned money.

This is not to say that the director Jeff is without internal angst and marital problems.  Indeed, he has more of that than the other three combined.  It is just that personal problems are not going to get in the way of his making his movie.

Money will.

And politics might.

And the stupidity of others--according to Jeff--may.

But it will not be because of him.

He has shown up, by helicopter in fact, to the coast of Spain, and he knows exactly what he wants.  And he has the temerity to yell at people to get it.  Or do whatever else it takes.

Fassbinder fans can see that he is having fun at his own expense.  Making fun of his own persona.  And the events of the previous film shoot for Whity.  Apparently, there was some drama.

At least Fassbinder knows just what to do with drama:  Put it into your next feature film.

This is not a movie about making a movie.  This is a movie about waiting around waiting to make a movie.

At 1:40.51 of our movie, they finally film their first take.  An extra, playing a butler, walks down the stairs and open the door.  Eddi Constantine enters with a gun drawn.  The woman appears at the top of the stairs.  Constantine marches up the stairs.  He strikes the woman on the back of the head.  She falls forward.  He stands.  The statue of St. Francis stands behind them in the corner, watching over the murder.  We hear a woman singing opera music.  We cannot hear but can tell that they call cut.  The woman stands up delightedly and hugs and kisses him.

It's going to be wonderful.

He has rediscovered something that has been forgotten.  Time.

The director slowly looks up

I guess I won't be content until I know he's been completely destroyed.


*                              *                              *                              *


Wee Willy the Gangster.

Goofy wants to be a children's nurse.

It must have been a shock for the poor little girl to find out she's a crook.

When I came back from a high once, I knew what it was like in the womb.

The oldest form of life is socialism.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

533 - The American Soldier, Germany, 1970. Dr. Werner Rainer Fassbinder.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

533 - The American Soldier, Germany, 1970.  Dr. Werner Rainer Fassbinder.

There was an elephant in Belgium.  Everyone loved it, especially the kids.  But it became quieter and quieter.  And one day, it attacked its keeper.  It trampled him to death and smashed up the elephant house.  It broke through an iron door and trumpeted terribly.  The police came, and the fire department, and shot the elephant dead.  The vet said it had been lonely.

Richard von Rezori is talking to Rosa von Praunheim.

Or to put it more simply, Ricky is talking to Rosa as they stroll down a gravel path along the lake.

Maybe it is one of these lakes: Speichersee, Ammersee, Worthersee, Pilsensee Fischbach, Starnberger See.

They are in Munich.

And he is sharing his heart with her.

Ricky wears a gray fedora with a black band, a cream-colored double-breasted suit with a white shirt and a colored tie, with creased slacks, folded cuffs, and black shoes.

Rosa wears a ground-length floral-print dress.  Her blonde hair covers her sleeved shoulders.  She is barefoot.

The sage grass ruffles in the breeze.  Dead sapling stumps thrust up from the water, cut off before reaching their prime.  A moth flits behind them.

He walks with his toes pointed out, his arms at his side, his back erect but his shoulders slumped, his head tilted down.  His brim covers his eyes.

She walks as if one with the earth, her feet used to the gravel, lifting them for the stalks.  She pulls at a stem in her hands.  Until she is done with it and tosses it away and picks another one.

She looks down and up and out and back.  She observes the trail and the tall grass and the water and the horizon.  And the stem in her hands.

He observes nothing but the ground in front of him as he inhabits his story.

And their relationship.

This is the most important moment of his life, and the one in which it will change, if it will change.

Everything is on the line.

He asks her to come to Japan with him.

She says, Yes.

He says Japan is beautiful.  He says they will meet on Friday at the station.

The Hauptbahnhof.

She finally turns and looks at him.  And says, Okay.

We can see that Ricky means it.  And that he loves her.

And that he intends to take her to Japan.  And to start a new life.  Away from Munich.  And the rest of Germany.  And America.  And Vietnam.

Maybe he discovered Japan when he was in Vietnam.  Maybe it represented the one place where he could take a woman, if he ever were to love a woman, to get away from the only life he knows.

As a killer.

It is clear the story that Ricky tells to Rosa, the one about the elephant, is about himself.  That he is a wild animal.  That he is loved.  Or was loved.  By everyone.  Especially the kids.  But got lonely.

Because maybe actually he was not loved by absolutely everyone.  Maybe he was not loved by at least one person.  His father.  The American.  The American soldier.  The true American soldier.  Who met Ricky's mother while in Germany and then returned home.  And left him.

Alone.

He seems to want to share this story with her.  About the elephant.  Before it is too late.

Before the police have to come.  And the fire department.  And shoot him dead.

If only someone can love him.  And help him no longer to be lonely.  Then maybe he can escape this caged life and the death that will come of it.

If only.

It is too bad that they are entangled in this web already.  That she is the girlfriend of Ricky's boss.  The man who hired him to be a contract killer.  The man who is the leader of the corrupt cops.  Who won at poker in the beginning of the movie, and who sent his own girlfriend to the killer when he first came to town, simply so that the killer could have a girl that the cop could trust.  So that if he blabbed his mouth to the girl, it would not be a stranger who might then go and tell the police.

Or maybe what is really too bad is that the corrupt cop, Ricky's boss, Rosa's boyfriend, has to walk in on her while she is packing for the station.  And ask her what she is doing.  And demand to know the answer.  So that she is forced to say, "I'm leaving you."  And that she likes him.  The killer?  Yes.

So that the corrupt cop gives his employee Ricky one last job to do.  The name and address of which is someone Ricky does not recognize.  Until he arrives at the address.  And is greeted at the door by someone he never expected.  And enters and sits on the couch, stalling, to orient himself to his new situation.

He looks around.

He realizes it.

He resigns himself.

He drinks straight from his bottle of Ballentine's to steel himself.

Is this your apartment?

Yes.

Are you _____?

Yes.

She comes to him.  Sits.  Looks him in the eyes.  Says his name.  Her face flush with love.  As if to ask, What is going on?

He fixes his face.  Removes all flush.  Hides behind his mask.

She stands.  Confused.  Walks around behind him.  Looks back.  He rationalizes.  Takes a another swig.  No.  A deep drink.

He stands.  Walks around.  Approaches her.  She goes to him.  Reaches up to him.  Takes his cheeks in her hands.  Kisses him.

He kisses her.

Retrieves his gun from his breast pocket.

Does his job.

He drives his 1962 Chevy Impala to the pay phone on the wet cobbled streets.  The man tailing him parks behind him.  Ricky places a phone call.  Talks to his friend Franz.  Franz Walsch.  Yes, that Franz.  The character who has been in every one of Fassbinder's movies so far.  Played twice by Harry Baer.  And twice now by Fassbinder himself.  Ricky tells him he will be leaving from the train station tonight.  That there might be trouble.  And that he would like Franz to meet him there in about an hour to help him.  Ricky exits the phone booth, gets in his Impala, and drives away.

The man tailing Ricky calls Ricky's mother.  Tells her what he overheard.  Ricky will be leaving from the train station tonight.  In about an hour.  And she might want to meet him there in order to help him.  The man tailing Ricky was not hired by the corrupt cop, but by Ricky's mother herself.  She loves him.  She wants to help him.

If there is love in this movie, or the appeal for it, then it is in these moments.  The rest of the time it is hidden.  Behind layers of toughness and affectation.  Laughing.  Mocking.  Violence.  And open cruelty.

People treat one another in shockingly brutal ways.

Sometimes for hire.

Sometimes for pleasure.

On the surface, Fassbinder is celebrating the American crime dramas of the 1930s and 40s.  As they were repurposed by the French New Wave of the early 1960s.  And now, in the early 1970s, this arbiter of the New German Cinema is making something uniquely German.

While one could go through and identify the many allusions in this film to its film noir predecessors, it also stands separately from them and becomes something different.  Fassbinder is more influenced by Jean-Luc Godard than the American directors, and he subverts the crime drama genre--on the one hand pushing audaciously beyond the bounds any American film might have observed, even if it had been without the Hays code, and on the other hand moving into self-aware parody.

It is Fassbinder's fourth film, and his cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann has found his stride.  The compositions and lighting are sophisticated and artful.  And the casting is the best he has had so far.  It is nice to see in a Fassbinder picture a suit worn by a man and not a boy.  Speaking of which, our boy, Ulli Lommel, who played, read played, Bruno in Fassbinder's first film Love is Colder than Death (1969), does return here as Zigeuner, the gypsy, in a fascinating smaller supporting role.  Margarethe von Trotta also returns, this time as Zimmermadchen, a Chambermaid who serves Ricky at the hotel, and who delivers her own story towards the camera while strangely sitting on the bed inhabited by Ricky and Rosa.

This is not a mainstream movie by any means, and Fassbinder's continued expression of violence towards women comes across as troubling, especially in light of today's sensibilities.  But it is also the most advanced display so far of his rapidly developing gifts.

As he has now released four films.  In 16 months.

And one quietly wonders if in Ricky, who was speaking lines written by Fassbinder, that perhaps Fassbinder was speaking of himself.  His feeling like an elephant.  Who was loved.  But who destroyed.  And who was ultimately killed.

Because he was lonely.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

532 - Gods of the Plague, Germany, 1970. Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Tuesday, December 3, 2018

532 - Gods of the Plague, Germany, 1970.  Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

We herewith commit your body, Franz Walsch, to consecrated earth,
For from dust you come and to dust you shall return.
May the Day of Judgment hold no horrors for you.
Therefore, let us pray for his poor soul that it may be cleansed in purgatory,
For the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who leads the lost sheep back to the way of God
and cleanses us of all our sins.  Amen.

Johanna Reiher stands in the foreground.

Marguerethe stands in the background, next to a third woman in mourning.

Three crosses rise from large tombstones, one above each of the women's heads.

Marguerethe, the brunette with sensible straight hair, stands in repose and grieves internally.

Johanna, the blonde with big hair, weeps openly.

I loved him so much!

That is quite a statement since she had told the police officer when and where he would be holding up the supermarket.  So that the police could be there waiting for him when he arrived.

But then this film is a kind of sequel to Fassbinder's first film, Love is Colder than Death (1969), and as such it is a continuation of Fassbinder's appropriation of Godard's Breathless (1960).

In Love is Colder than Death, Franz Walsch was being interrogated by the police for two murders.  He was part of a threesome along with Johanna and Bruno.  When Johanna grew jealous of Bruno and contributed to his getting killed at the botched grocery hold-up, she told Franz in the get-away car that she called the police.

Now in Gods of the Plague there has been another threesome at another botched grocery hold-up, again because Johanna grew jealous and tipped off the police.

But this time she is not a part of the threesome.  So she is even more jealous.

How did we get here?

Stadelheim Prison.  Munich.

Franz Walsch is released from prison.

Take care, kid.
   Yeah.
See you next time around.
   There won't be a next time for me.

That statement would be known as foreshadowing.

0:56 - 1:35 - Tracking Shot.  Franz walks past the brick wall.

Franz enters a cafe, orders a coffee, and asks to use the phone.  The Cafe Owner places a phone on the counter and goes to make his coffee.  She watches him with longing.

The espresso machine arm moves up as a correlative expression of the arousal in her eyes.

Her profile fills the left side of the screen in an extreme close-up.  He stands behind the counter on the right side of the screen talking on the phone.  Single vanishing point perspective.

Fassbinder has more money with his third film, and his camera work and production values show it.  He is using the same cinematographer, Dietrich Lohmann, and Dietrich Lohmann is getting better.  And probably has more gear with which to work.  There will be plenty of perspective in this film.

He asks an employer over the phone if Johanna Reiher still works there.  Just released from prison and she is the first person he calls.  He reads them this number to call back when they get her.  63 64 07.  (What?)  07.  Then he hangs up and waits.

He puts money in the jukebox and orders up a song.

He puts money in a slot machine and starts it.  But he sees the Cafe Owner and walks away before the slot machine settles on its numbers.  It produces a WIN.  20-80-80, 80-80-20.  In diagonal cross section.  But he is not there to see it.

(Harry Baer wrote in 2007 that they filmed 76 takes until the slot machine gave them the results they wanted.)

The Cafe Owner dances with Franz to Ray Charles singing "Here We Go Again."

And if you watch the film again, you might think that this is the best shot at love he is going to get.  This slow dance with a stranger.

The phone rings back before the end of the song, before the end of the dance, and he finds out that Johanna is singing at The Lola Montez.

This is the first of several allusions to other filmmakers that Fassbinder will make in this film.  They are a bit thin and obvious, but perhaps in his time at his age they seemed fun.

Lola Montez was a real person who lived in the 19th century and achieved fame as a Spanish dancer.  She was Irish.  Lola Montes was a 1955 French film loosely based on her life and directed by Max Ophuls.

It was our 94th film to review, on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
https://realbillbillions.blogspot.com/2017/04/094-lola-montes-1955-france-dir-max.html

Franz meets up with Johanna.  He hears her sing in the club.  And the next allusion comes right away, from Johann's singing Marlene Dietrich to her standing next to a Dietrich poster backstage.  (Another one will come with the name Schlondorff on the door of the room where Franz will find his brother's body.  Margarethe von Trotta, who plays Margarethe, was married to director Volker Schlondorff, who cast Fassbinder as the lead in his film Baal, which was released the same year as this one.)

They go out together afterwards.  He might be happy to see her but neither she nor we can tell.  It seems he is trying to do his best impression of Meursault from Albert Camus' The Stranger.  28 years later.

He will hook up with Johanna and then hook up with Magdalena and then hook up with Margarethe and then hook up with Gunther.  And if you connect with him and walk a mile in his shoes, then you might sympathize with his lonely, fruitless quest.

But when the movie is over, you might also find yourself saying to Johanna, Girl, you could do better.

Part of it is that Harry Baer, Fassbinder's sometime Assistant Director, does not have the presence or charisma that someone like Orson Welles has in Touch of Evil (1958), which would make someone like Marlene Dietrich herself say upon his death, "He was some kind of a man."  Nor does he have the star-making magnitude of Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless (1960).  Of course, it does not help that Baer is playing Walsch in exactly the opposite manner--absent, without charisma, life, or energy.  Or that he treats Johanna, and Margarethe after her, so shockingly poorly.  And though Fassbinder appears to have cast Baer over himself to play the role in order to get a thinner, more handsome leading man, well, maybe a little charisma, life, and energy might have helped.  And maybe a little affection underneath the tough (or blank) exterior.  At least if you are trying to remake parts of Touch of Evil and Breathless on a poor man's budget.  Or maybe a classic thriller just does not come off as well after being mixed with 20th century existential posturing.  This Franz Walsch is not some kind of a man.  He is fine as it goes, and we believe that people would love him and grieve over his death, for sure.  But you might just find yourself pulling for Johanna to move on with her life afterwards.

And yes, I am saying that Fassbinder's first works are derivative of his heroes.  He has a case of anxiety of influence.  Harold Bloom's book by that name would come out just three years later, in 1973.  (Did Bloom himself steal his ideas from T.S. Eliot?)  But then, so what, right?  Fassbinder will go on to make his own way in spades.  He needed to get started somewhere.

We are told that the German trailer for this film stated the following:

Capitalism is the plague.
Criminals are its gods.

OK.

These films work better without making explicit their Marxist underpinnings.  If Walsch thinks he is justified in his bad behavior because other people are making money in a free market economy, well, no, he is not.

Gunther at least gives us a moment of poetry in his final moment, after his overwrought bloody lumbering from the grocery store to seek revenge.

Life is very precious.  Even right now.


*                              *                              *                              *


Here We Go Again.  Ray Charles.
Don Lanier, Russell Steagall.

Here we go again.
The phone will ring again.
I'll be her fool again.
One more time.

I've been there before
And I'll try it again
But any fool knows
That there's no way to win

Here we go again.
She'll break my heart again.
I'll play the part again.
One more time.


Blond hair, dark-blue eyes
I see wherever I may be
And a silly little childlike smile
Haunts my reverie
My blond baby
Do not forget me
My little baby
Don't do that to me
You've no idea
What you mean to me
For in your soul
You're still a baby
My little baby
Listen to me
In my dreams
There's only you
Hear my yearning
Speak to you
My blond baby
Do not forget me


Karl Valentin, Liesl Karlstadt
Klapphornverse Maskenball der Tiere Wo die Alpenrosen bluhn

All creatures, great and small,
gathered for a grand masked ball.
The turtle from a turtle race
played trumpet at a hurtling pace.
The chameleon, chameleon
puffed on a bulky bombardon.
And all the lice, the little lice,
they made a noise that wasn't nice.
The bumblebees, the bumblebees
banged on bombastic tympanies.
The eel, the eel
performed a slithering reel.
The leopard, with a spotted scarf,
was waiting for his better half.
The flamingo, the flamingo
was looking for some place to go.
The mule, the stubborn mule
was sprawling in a vast fauteuil.
The water's mirror showed the swan
that he was looking rather wan.
And the hippo, hippopotamus
behaved badly like a lot of us.
The pig, who wasn't very fine--
(Do you want some ravioli?)
The buffalo, the buffalo
bawls to the goose a gruff "Hello!"
While the spotted salamander
slides down to the veranda.
The fly, the fly
stands outside in the pantry.
A parrot who could count to three
squawked "Pretty Polly" constantly.
The storks, the storks
were camouflaged as hawks.
The wolves, a pack of twelve,
had sheepishly disguised themselves.
The bugs, even the little bug,
began to dance a jitterbug.
And when it danced, the eagle
did something very regal.
The fleas, the fleas
hopped in the air with ease.
Then suddenly the hall was still.
They all sat down to eat their fill.
The raven and the stork
ate soup with just a fork.
The giraffe, the giraffe,
ate chocolate wafer with cafe.
(Like a schnapps?)
And the serpent, for a change,
tried to eat a blood orange.
The lizard, oh, the lizard
had pork crackling in its gizzard.
The gnu, the gnu,
had eaten quite enough, he knew.
The aurochs, who was soon replete,
asked who would like the rest to eat.
The dromedary chewed at length
on caviar to give him strength.
The snipe was but a snipe,
though clearly not a guttersnipe.
The llama, the llama,
finished off with a banana.
That this was just a nonsense song,
was something we knew all along.


Hush, hush, sweet Charlotte.
Charlotte, don't you cry.
Hush, hush, sweet Charlotte.
He loves you till he dies.
And every night after he shall die
Yes, every night when he's gone
The wind will sing to you its lullaby
Sweet Charlotte was loved by John.

He held two roses within his hand
Two roses he gave to you
The red one tells you of his passion
The white one of his love so true
And every night after he shall go
Yes, every night when he's gone
The wind will sing to you its lullaby
Sweet Charlotte was loved by John.


Monday, December 3, 2018

531 - Katzelmacher, Germany, 1969. Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Monday, December 3, 2018

531 - Katzelmacher, Germany, 1969.  Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Es ist besser neue Fehler zu machen als die alten bis zur allgemeinen Bewusstlosigkeit zu konstituieren. - Yaak Karsunke.

It is better to make new mistakes than to make the old ones unconsciously.  [Google translate]
It is better to make new mistakes than to perpetuate the old ones to the point of unconsciousness.  [The movie's subtitles]

For Marie Luise Fleisser.

An apartment building can get claustrophobic.  Especially when everyone knows everyone.  And spends time together.  Out front.  In the restaurant.  In the parking lot.  At the park.

And in each other's rooms.

And gossips about it.

They lean against the railing and stare forward.  They sit against the wall and stare forward.  Occasionally someone looks at a 90-degree angle to the others, but otherwise they look straight ahead.  Except during hook-ups, when the camera is low to the floor.  And they begin to undress without emotion.  Except for sudden flashes of anger.

The people live in Munich.  Five men.  Five women.  They are young and have plenty of time on their hands.  They drink.  They smoke.  They play cards.  They sleep together.  They strike each other.  They sit.  They talk.  They gossip.

Munich itself can get claustrophobic.  Especially when a foreigner arrives and disrupts things.

Jorgos arrives.  Jorgos is from Greece.  Jorgos disrupts things.

Elisabeth manages the place.

So she can let Jorgos move in if she wants to.  And she can put him in Paul's room while the empty room is being painted.  Whether Paul likes it or not.  If she wants to.

Jorgos is a katzelmacher.  Meaning something like a troublemaker.  A kind of carpetbagger.  He is a foreigner coming into this country to work.  And he needs to leave.

And to exacerbate things, Paul reports his attributes from having seen him in his room.  And Gunda speaks of his prowess in the park.  So Marie develops a thing for him.  And the others just want him gone.

And they will let him know it.

In a manner similar to the way in which Paul wanted to get rid of Helga's baby.

In a world (a microcosm, no, more like an enclosed bucket) where violence is the only expression, not to mention the only action, that these otherwise emotionless, actionless people ever show.

Katzelmacher explores themes of angst and ennui, economics and sex, misogyny and xenophobia.  One senses the influence of Sartre and Camus at one end, Godard and Bergman at the other.  One can see Fassbinder's burgeoning talent hard at work.  One recognizes the early faces of several Fassbinder company members and senses their future work eager to be born.

The film is structured in a stylistically formal manner.  It is shot in black and white.  The walls are white, and the furniture and clothing is white, cream, or light.

The camera sits on a tripod and stays static during interior and exterior shots of pairs or groups of people standing, leaning, or sitting with their backs to the wall facing forward.  They rarely look one another in the eyes.  Occasionally, someone will sit at a right angle to the others, facing in.

A refrain shot occurs where the camera dollies backwards with a pair of people, often arms entwined, walking steadily forward.

Throughout the film people speak and act with little to no affect, with occasional bursts of shocking violence and anger.

Nearly everything happens, or does not happen, on the sidewalk or in the rooms or in the restaurant.  With Marie and Jorgos in the park.

One can feel the turmoil exploding in society in 1969.  And inside of Fassbinder.

And in this unsettling, underplayed story, one can see his talent.


*                              *                              *                              *


Your wife?
No understand.

And what about love?
Not for me.  It makes you old.

I like you.  I'll never leave you.
Don't understand.  Boom Boom.
It's over now.

And then I'll go to the army.  It's better than working and having ideas that never come to anything, and nothing changes.

And in Summer he's taking me to Greece.
What about his wife?
That doesn't matter.  Everything's different in Greece.


*                              *                              *                              *


Hanna Schygulla with Rainer Werner Fassbinder
     Johanna in Love is Colder Than Death
     Marie in Katzelmacher
     Lisaura in Das Kaffeehaus
     Johanna in The Niklashausen Journey
     Johanna in Gods of the Plague
     Hanna in Rio des Mortes
     Hanna in Whitey
     Hanna in Beware of a Holy Whore
     Berta in Pioneers in Ingolstadt
     Anna in The Merchant of Four Seasons
     Karin in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
     Luisa Mauer in Breman Freedom
     Effi in Effi Briest
     Irmgard in Acht Stunden sind kein Tag
     Doctor in Jail Bait
     Maria in The Marriage of Maria Braun
     Susanne in The Third Generation
     Willie in Lili Marleen
     Eva in Berlin Alexanderplatz