Quick Fassbinder Question

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Nathan V, Sep 8, 2004.

  1. Nathan V

    Nathan V Supporting Actor

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    I recently watched Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. I had not seen any Fassbinder films before. The story, themes, and visual approach were very good. I liked the movie. However, the acting style, particularly from the man playing Ali, seemed remarkably mannered and stiff. As this was a post-New Wave release, I was not expecting this at all. It nearly took me out of the film. Is this style of acting typical in New German Cinema? I'm asking this because I had recently ordered Criterion's BRD Trilogy box blind. Does the trilogy feature the same acting approach as Fear Eats the Soul? Note that I am not saying this mode of acting is 'bad,' it's just that as someone whose favorite films are primarily French, Italian, and American films of the 50s-60s and onward, I'm wondering how much I'll be able to get into the BRD films.

    Please realize, this isn't another "I'm having a little trouble with classics" thread. I have a deep love for the classics, especially foreign stuff. Movies like La Dolce Vita, Notorious, Once Upon a Time in the West. It was just a little difficult to watch what I felt to be unrealistic acting in an otherwise very realistic film. If someone wants to talk about Fassbinder's methods (I understand he works like a madman) and reasoning for this style, or why New German Cinema feaures mannered acting, (if it indeed does), or about New German Cinema in general, I'm all ears. I'm only just finding out about him, and he seems like quite an interesting character.

    My point here is- did I make the right decision, purchasing that box set?

    Regards,
    Nathan
     
  2. Brook K

    Brook K Lead Actor

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    Fassbinder started out heavily influenced by Godard and Brecht and when combined with microscopic budgets resulted in a mostly rigidly mannered stylized approached as seen in films like Katzelmacher, The American Soldier, or Pioneers At Ingolstadt. This approach softened over the years as he became more influenced by Hollywood filmmakers like Douglas Sirk, Nicholas Ray, and Michael Curtiz. Also his budgets gradually increased and he began to bring in experienced professional film actors to augment and gradually replace his casts of stage actor friends, lovers, hangers-on, etc as well as those actors of his "stock company" that did stick continued to gain more experience in the "natural" style of acting.

    A middle period film like Fox and His Friends, Fear of Fear, or Chinese Roulette shows little of the regimented stiff style and will be closer to what you are used to. By the time of the BRD Trilogy, Fassbinder had achieved his goal of "making Hollywood films without the hypocracy". The films are still stylized, but it is much closer to the films you are akin to than his early period and the acting similar to many other films of the late '70's-early 80's art film period.

    Fear Eats The Soul is more of a transitional film, with Fassbinder rapidly evolving his style, but still keeping elements of the old. As for the stiffness of Ali Ben Saleem, #1 he wasn't an actor #2, It completely works for the character. Ali is not comfortable in any environment, he is suffering a great deal from depression and racism. You couldn't get the natural qualities that he brings to the role in a pro. In several ways, he was that character.

    Many people are put off by Fassbinder's stylizations and subject matter. It was love at first sight for me as he's one of my favorite directors. He brings the same sort of unique style to his work that an Ozu, Bergman, or Hitchcock bring to theirs. We enter the artists' world and are rewarded when we accept the things they reveal to us.

    As for other New Germans, I'm really only familiar with Werner Herzog and Volker Schlondorff. Volker's approach is much closer to 70's world cinema that you are used to. His subject matter may be considered a bit odd, but his style and approach are not.

    Herzog is a true visionary whose films contain unique images and often evoke a dream-like state in the viewer. Some of his films are more stiffly stylized, such as Even Dwarfs Started Small, Woyzeck or Heart of Glass (in which he had all the actors but 1 act while under hypnosis), while others are quite natural like Aguirre The Wrath of God, his remake of Nosferatu, or Fitzcarraldo.

    To answer your question, I don't think you made a mistake as it's an outstanding box set. Marriage of Maria Braun is generally considered to be one of his best films, and was by far his most popular when it was released. As for his earlier efforts, if one is a fan of Godard, Rohmer, or Bunuel, I don't think it is a great leap to absorb Fassbinder's style. He often combines biting black humor, venemous attacks on the ills he saw within German society, with tragedies of failed love, great loneliness and individuals whose greatest dream and want is to be understood, something which is usally denied. They are often gorgeous to look at thanks to the images and complex compositions of cinematographers like Michael Ballhaus; and listen to thanks to the subtle musical enhancements of the ever-present composer Peer Raben.

    I could go on and on, but I don't have the time. Another angle to remember when you look at New German film is that one reason it can seem so strange and off-putting to new viewers or those looking for the same old thing (not implying that you are one Nathan), is that the New German cinema was largely financed by the German goverment through grants and tax rebates. This gave the directors freedom to experiment artistically without the pressures of needing to please a specific audience or turn a profit. Often the director's had carte blanche within their limited financial terms.

    I find it a bit hard to believe, but IIRC on one of the extras on the Marriage disc, it says that Marriage of Maria Braun was the first New German Cinema film to turn a profit, and that was in 78-79, when the shadow of death was following on The New German Cinema. When Fassbinder died at 37, he took the NGC with him.
     
  3. Nathan V

    Nathan V Supporting Actor

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    Brook K,

    Thanks so much for the eloquent and informative response. That was EXACTLY what I wanted to hear. Your post once again shows why HTF is easily one of the most valuable resources on the net.

    The box set arrived this afternoon. As soon as I finish salivating over the packaging (no matter what they're getting paid now, the graphic design guys at Criterion deserve a raise), I'll give the films a look-see. Can't wait to go through al those extras.

    Regards,
    Nathan
     

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