"It isn't easy to accept that suffering can also be beautiful ...it's difficult. It's something you can only understand if you dig deeply into yourself."
I am not really a fan of Teutonic art, music, theatre & film. I don’t need to sit through a piece by Brecht or listen to Wagner, but the Germans do invade the Poland of my senses on occasion: Kurt Weil, Kraftwerk, Marlene Dietrich, Heidi Klum, a certain German prison porn film.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a German filmmaker who enjoyed international fame, a flamboyant lifestyle filled with fervent fierceness, filthy sex, & flamboyant generosity. He was obsessed by the movies, making 35 feature films in just 13 years. He was openly homosexual, married twice, once with his boyfriend as best man, & supported a 30-grams-a-day cocaine habit by demanding his salaries in cash.
Fassbinder’s goal was win the Oscar for Best Director & "to be ugly" on the cover of Time magazine. He almost got his wish. In1982, after finishing work on the controversial film- Querelle, Fassbinder died from a combination of cocaine, barbiturates, alcohol & an agenda consisting of overworking & over-consuming.
Fassbinder surrounded himself with talented & overwrought artists & performers, manipulated & loved them. They loved & hated him. He was vilified by the political Left & Right. Film critics & film goers abhorred & adored his work. He was a cultural icon who was discarded as a washout.
At the apex of his career, Fassbinder was a household name in Europe. His work was shown regularly on German TV. He won top awards at major film festivals. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) broke box office records in Germany & an enormous international hit.
The first Fassbinder film I encountered was Fox & His Friends in 1975. It is a cruel, churlish cruel film in which gay characters were placed at the center, but one in which homosexuality is simply taken for granted. An illiterate, down on his luck circus worker- Franz, played by Fassbinder, wins a fortune in a lottery & then loses it all when his rich boyfriend has him invest in his family’s failing business. Poor once more, Franz is deserted by the boyfriend & ODs on sleeping pills in a subway station.
Oddly, I loved Fox & His Friends & I was captivated by flamboyant Fassbinder, always in his worn leather jacket & fedora, shocking the status quo, the bad boy of cinema. I liked bad boys back in the 1970s.
But I wasn’t to see another of his films until 1982’s Querelle, with Brad Davis based on Jean Genet's brutal & erotic stories. The imagery from Querelle haunts me to this day. I had the film’s poster, torn from Interview magazine, on my fridge until it yellowed, turned brittle & fell apart, just as I would eventually.
Researching Fassbinder, he seemed to have been paranoid, vicious to his lovers; a shy young boy in a grownup, grotesque, giant body, a thoughtless user of his fellow artists’ talents & emotions, & a sort of genius who overindulged in drugs, alcohol, food & sex. Fassbinder was unable & unwilling to escape the things that were consuming him, the things he loved the most. Who of us has not?
"Homosexuals have been very self-pitying, & also most of them are dominated by a sense of shame, which the Jews haven’t had. The Jews have never been ashamed of being Jews, whereas homosexuals have been stupid enough to be ashamed of their homosexuality."