Listening Your Way Through the Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder

As  the l’enfant terrible of New German cinema, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was an prolific as he was notorious. Possessed with a frightening talent, he created a world of his own through his stunning oeuvre of films—crafting meticulous pictures that existed in a melodramatic world of his imaginaton, but one that always exposed the honesty and depths of human suffering.

And although his life was tragically cut short, in his time he managed to churn out over forty films, proving just what a kinetic and creatively extreme force of life he was. A grandiose nature was steeped in his blood through his love of the stage and his early work as a playwright. That theatricality took the forefront of his films, which are stunning in their structured choreography and sense of movement—taking cues from musicals and art rather than traditional stage plays and the realism of film. As we noted in our Cinematic Panic – The Bitters Tears of Petra von Kant:

Heavily influenced by Bertolt Brecht and his ideas of verfremdungseffekt, or the alienation effect, he crafted his films such that the audience is always consciously aware that they are watching a film, never losing themselves completely in the emotions and psychology of his characters. Rather, the viewer is consciously observing the work at hand, understanding that the world before them is a fiction they’re peering in on.

His early films work as an extensive of his theatrical career, whereas his later work plays more to melodramatic conventions, rooted in influence of American director, Douglas Sirk. But throughout his films, there was a certain through line—whether it was desperate women in love or science fiction parables— that was formalistic in structure, examining the importance of power structures in everyday life, family, love, friendship. He had a sensitivity for misfits and outsiders, a penchant for exploring sexuality, and an affinity for portraying a macabre view of contemporary German life. Kent Jones notes that Fassbinder once famously said that he was “trying to construct a house with his films.” Each of his films build a level of this house, a each picture a tier of the foundation built on desperation, hypocrisy, and love, “where desire plays a major supporting role but the will to power is sadly dominant.”

Fassbinder was an extreme person in every aspect of his life; passionate and opinionated, he was a subversive force that made an effort to divert from societal convention that yearned for love and, like his characters, wanted to possess the world around him. His hunger to work and his ability to produce films in the rapid style that he did was one of the positive side effects of the incessant fire that burned inside of him. His films were populated with the surrogate family he created through the recycling of actors and crew that were extremely close to him and his work, yet his relationships were often violent and tortured.

And as one of the most vital elements of Fassbinder’s world, the element of music and the sonic texture of his pictures plays a large role in our experience of it all. Helmed by  Peer Raben whose, “musical choices perfectly complement Fassbinder’s narratives,” we hear his, “parodic twists to light entertainment (in places, an outright indulgence in conscious schmaltz), or else mock-dramatic music,” working as the perfect simpatico to Fassbinder’s aesthetic sensibility and dramatic tone.

And now, after you’ve indulged in a massive offering of the director’s work (streaming on Hulu) you can listen your way through his features thanks to UbuWeb. From the theme to Berlin Alexanderplatz and the “Serenade of Franz” in Fox and His Friends to the “Faux-Pas Waltz” in Chinese Roulette to Lili Marleen, light your chandelier, black the windows and enjoy HERE.

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