Tag Archives: Arrow

Fear Eats The Soul/ Angst essen Seele auf (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1974)


I’ve seen FEAR EATS THE SOUL umpteen times now, and it never ceases to move me. Emmi (Brigitte Mira), a sixtyish charlady, walks out of the rain and into a bar and a new life when she meets Ali (El hedi Ben Salem), a much younger Moroccan ‘guestworker’. They like talking to each other, soon fall  in love and get married. The first third is all about the understanding two lonely people share, the building of a life, and the basking in a particular type of happiness, until now long forgotten,  that they both partake in: They love each other.  Brigitte Mira is so transparent in her needs, her common sense, her understanding of the hurdles to come that she’s heart-breaking to see. We know she will suffer because we know this is a melodrama where individual desires crash against the family and other repressive social forces that won’t allow the existence of an inter-racial coupling of such divergent ages. What is moving in the film is the delicacy of individual feeling against the harshness with which the social opprobrium is expressed.

In the second third of the film, her co-workers shun her; the shop-owner refuses to serve her; her own children are outraged, kick-in the television and call her a whore. It gets to the point Emmi can’t take it anymore. She’s so happy to be with Ali but breaks down at how punitive society has been and they decide to go away.

When they return from vacation in the last third of the film, social need reasserts itself and alters the mode and intensity of opprobrium. Her children need a babysitter; her neighbours need her cellar space; her co-workers need an ally. As Emmi re-gains her previous place in society, she becomes more like the people who oppressed her and soon she’s refusing to make cous-cous for Ali, berating him for not integrating better into German Society, and reducing him to a prized fetish she can show off to her friends. The more she does this, the more he strays. They become cruel to each other.

All seems about to be lost again, but in an end that almost responds to the beginning, Emmi walks back into that bar once more, they dance again and re-assert their understanding with fresh wisdom. In a typical Fassbinder twist on melodrama, this is just before Ali’s ulcer kicks in and an ambulance has to be called. Life will not be rosy; these attacks might recur every six months; it’s the stresses of an immigrant life says the doctor. But Emmi asserts that they will face these challenges together.

The film is shot very simply and elegantly, in frames within frames, so that we sometimes get a partial view, or it is indicated that the neighbours are spying, society is intruding, or that their little bit of happiness is just an illuminated part of a much harsher much colder world. Elements are repeated in the same way to quickly indicate changing circumstances; so for example when Emmi is shunned she is framed alone through a staircase; later in the film she does the same to a Yugoslavian immigrant; or earlier in the film when, in private, she sees Ali’s body in the mirror and tell him ‘You are so beautiful,’ in the last third of the film becomes the scene where she is asking him to show off his muscles to her co-workers: public, self-involved and demeaning. I love the way Fassbinder leaves a shot hanging rather than quickly cutting to the next scene, which underlines the filming of frames within frames in depth, conveying a feeling of danger, alienation and sadness, even when the occasion is meant to be a happy one, like the wedding meal at what was Hitler’s favourite restaurant.

Fassbinder had clearly been  thinking on this material as early as THE AMERICAN SOLDIER where we’re told a slightly different version of it. And one of the fascinating things about this film is how it’s similar to but also so different from ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, a film which clearly inspired it, and Todd Haynes’ FAR FROM HEAVEN, a film that was in turn influenced by both the Sirk and the Fassbinder. All great film, all great in different ways. FEAR EATS THE SOUL is the only one in which this story is told in an unapologetic working class setting, and very powerful for it.

The Arrow blu-ray contains a fascinating documentary on El hedi Ben Salem, an interview with Jürgen Jürges and much more. It’s a beautiful restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation as well.

José Arroyo

Jessica Jones (created by Melissa Rosenberg, Netflix, 2015-)

jessica jones

The best of the comic-book-connected series that I saw last week was Jessica Jones on Netflix. It initially reminded me of Sarah Paretsky’s V.I. Warchowski novels: a solitary female detective scouring the nights of the city to solve crime, often of a corporate nature, sometimes drinking herself to oblivion, interested in men and sexually active but in a series of failed relations and with a neighbour in the building that appears regularly to comment on the action, provide a change of tone, and not help. Warchowski used to get beaten up a lot in the novels too if I remember correctly.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.03.06Jessica Jones is smart. and sexual; she’s not afraid to ask for what she wants. She can take it, she says. Jessica’s drinking way more than what’s good for her, trying to forget something terrible that’s happened which is clearly indicated as some kind of rape though what we’re shown is a mental violation —  to the point of physical possession and erasure of will — and  with jarring but indistinct sexual overtones. So here we have a woman, just like men in the best noir’s, trying to survive in a dangerous world, drinking to forget someone who’s bruised her beyond repair, doing her best to earn a living, and screwing with whatever looks tasty and doesn’t cause too much trouble: It saves on the drink. The opening line in the series, spoken in voice-over, is a great one: ‘New York may be a city that never sleeps but it sure does sleep around. Not that I’m complaining. Cheaters are good for business. A big part of the job is looking for the worst in people.’

The voice-over, the tone, and the graphics all place us firmly in a noir world, one which interestingly seems like of an inverse negative of the up-to-now more successful DC series like Supergirl and The Flash;  Arrow also, for though the latter is visually coded in noir, it’s a noir that looks to light and sunshine.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.03.09Jessica seems less mentally strong than Warchowski. In fact she’s been the victim of a man’s mindfuck — he took over her mind and made her do ‘things’– and then the episode reveals, discretely, some superpowers which we don’t yet know the extent of. It has a great noir look too, at least as imaginative at that of Daredevil and is more interstingly polysexual and multiracial than the series on ‘The Man Without Fear’. The object of desire here is who will be revealed to be Luke Cage, a hunky black bartender, made to seem lusciously desirable, who we are shown to have slept with a black woman before Jessica. The series is treading carefully on the politics of representation.

This seems a more complex series than Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow or even Daredevil; it’s less camp than Gotham, and a lot more enticing than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The plot revolves around rescuing a young athlete from the same series of events that seem to have only recently crushed her and has a wonderful twist at the end.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.03.38Krysten Ritter has an intriguing look of crumpled intelligence. Her face seems poised in a state of smirky disappointment and can look very beautiful and also quite down-at-heel. Carrie Anne Moss appears as a two-timing lesbian corporate lawyer who sometimes throws crumbs of work Jessica’s way. The first episode moved really well,  with the editing evoking a sense of a dangerous past impinging on the present, something that could be a memory but could also be a presence and in either way dangerous. It’s very sexy too, with the sex being a context for an exchange of tough-talking dares that reveal as much as they hide. I look  forward to the following episodes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.03.53 (1)

José Arroyo


My TV This Week, 21st November


ballet 422

I installed Now TV, Google Chromecast and also subscribed to Netflix last week so much of my cultural consumption this week has been spent trying to explore their offerings. I very much enjoyed seeing Ballet 422 in which Justin Peck, a member of New York City Ballet’s ‘corps de ballet’ is chosen to choreograph a new work. The series follows Peck from the moment he starts his choreography to the moment the work is premiered at Lincoln Centre.

I find ballet glamorous and moving in its idealisation of art in posh settings. Here are all these young people, totally committed, totally absorbed, totally disciplined; sacrificing their youth, their beauty, their health and most likely their future earning power for art in full knowledge that even the very best in the world can mostly only expect to eke out a living in that milieu for a few years, that that form is ephemeral and disappears at the very moment of enactment, and that only the rich or the fanatically committed have access to that art they serve. At the end of Ballet 422 there’s a moment when Peck is in front of the house with the audience — proud Mom by his side — as he thrills to see his work onstage; then as soon as the houselights dim, he dashes backstage, changes into costume, and joins all the other background dancers onstage for the next ballet, ego submerged, the collective over the individual, always part of a company, now back to anonymity within it. I found it moving.

hollywood singing and dancing

I also loved seeing Hollywood: Singing and Dancing on Sky Arts, a thirteen-episode history of film musicals narrated by Shirley Jones. It’s one of those series that not only has clips from the main figures — Garland, Astaire, Chevalier etc– but also includes delicious rare clips from B musicals featuring the likes of The Andrew Sisters and the Big Bands and Peggy Lee; the filmmakers prove very knowledgeable. All styles of the genre are well represented and the long form means the series is luxuriously peppered with glorious numbers. It’s also great to see Mickey Rooney’s appreciation of Eleanor Powell, hear why Leslie Caron didn’t like Busby Berkeley musicals (all the strict formations reminded her of the Nazis) and hear Shirley MacLaine’s views on Maurice Chevalier, whom she worked with on Can-Can with Frank Sinatra and Louis Jourdan: ‘’Chevalier was a supreme narcissist. He knew who he was; jeez he never forgot it. He was Mr. France and knew it but after all he *was* Chevalier. I liked him very much’.



Supergirl is the reason I subscribed to Now TV: I was so eager to see it! And I so wanted to like it. It’s perhaps the most overtly feminist series on television ever. It’s got a female superhero with a sister who in spite of not having super-powers also does daring things. They look after each other. Jimmy Olson is now black. It’s got Calista Flockhart doing a Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and in fine form…and yet. I didn’t quite get into Arrow either though I haven’t fully given that a chance yet. Likewise the few episodes of The Flash I have seen doesn’t tempt me to see more. Perhaps I’m now too old for this kind of thing. And ye, as i’ve written here previously,  I happily sat through the whole first series of Daredevil….

The best of the comic-book connected series that I saw last week was  Jessica Jones on Netflix on which more later…


José Arroyo