Tag Archives: Fassbinder


I’ve never seen a filmmaker expose themselves to this extent, a slab of meat, naked and poisoned on the outside and dramatizing quite extreme character traits and forms of behaviour, ones people normally prefer to hide. It’s a fascinating example of Fassbinder’s genius as a dramaturge, as it’s an episode where nothing seems to happen yet much is revealed.

A nice authoritarian ruler

It’s a piece of structured biography in which Fassbinder returns from Paris to his boyfriend Armin in Munich. It’s Autumn of ’77; an industrialist has been killed by terrorists, a plane has been hijacked and three terrorists have conveniently been killed under suspicious circumstances. Fassbinder tries to make sense of this through conversations with Armin, who doesn’t have the cultural capital to respond in a reasoned manner; with his mother, who is very cultured but is also a living embodiment of the legacy of Nazism —  she thinks the solution to these problems is a nice, kind-hearted Führer; and with his ex-wife, Ingrid Caven, who is a help but who is in Paris and doesn’t know very much about what is going on.


Fassbinder’s mother and Armin, are structural opposites in terms of class and education. Interestingly.  Tony Rayns claims Armin was the result of one of the Nazis’ genetic experiments to breed the perfect Aryan but who was then left to be raised on his own, becoming a functionally illiterate butcher and former rent boy. Fassbinder’s mother is the German translator of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Yet their opinions do not diverge by much, though Fassbinder’s mother articulates hers much more clearly.

Armin consoles.

The Fassbinde episode begins with Fassbinder talking to a journalist about marriage, how he depicts it in his films, why he is against it, and how he hopes the representations of the institution in the films will make viewers’ question their own. The depiction of Fassbinder’s own relationship with Armin is as brutal as I’ve seen. Fassbinder treats Armin as his slave, demanding coffee, food, waking him up to dial his phone calls, kicking him out of the house when they disagree because it’s ‘his’ flat. Many of the episodes starts with Fassbinder bullying like a big powerful baby, and end with him crying, with Armin reaching out, consoling, understanding. In spite of his awful behaviour or as part of his awful behaviour, Fassbinder is also needy, jealous, desiring of Armin. As bleak and complex a depiction of a relationship as I’ve seen.



Throughout all of this, another layer in the drama, and further proof of Fassbinder’s genius for dramatizing, Fassbinder is in the midst of addiction. He’s ostensibly quit but calls his dealer for more coke. He’s paranoid. By the state of the mess on his kitchen table he’s clearly in the midst of a binge, we see both withdrawal and vomiting. How much are his rages against Armin connected to his drug dependency? He paints himself as an unreasonable bully, completely selfish, obsessed with work, keen to understand the world and completely oblivious to the needs of those around him. It’s almost as they exist only as a function of his needs rather than people in themselves. Armin and Fassbinder’s mother might reveal traces of fascist ideas, but the authoritarian Führer presented in this episode is Fassbinder himself.

How he presents himself is at least as interesting. In some sections he’s got a big fat, puffy face, further distorted by being filmed as reflection of his coke mirror. He films himself naked, stroking himself whilst he’s discussing political issues on the phone with others. If the genitalia are upfront and close-up, the moments of feeling, of break-down of need, are filmed in long-shot, in Sirkian frames-within-frames that highlight, contain and restrict. It’s an episode that palpitates with anger, and need, a mind searching whilst a body breaks apart. Nothing that comes in the rest of the film matches its force.


PS whilst much has been made of Fassbinder’s cruelty to Armin Meier, it’s worth pointing out that the credits of Germany in Autumn don’t even bother to spell his name right. The disdain for the lower-class outsider is not attributable solely, if at all, to Fassbinder.

José Arroyo






Katzelmacher (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1969)


It’s hard to imagine that Fassbinder was only 23 when KATZELMACHER was released in 1969; That it was his second feature; and that he’d made it in spite of his first – LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH – being greeted with opprobrium and shouts of ‘Narcissist’ at the Berlin Film Festival. By then, Fassbinder had also written, acted, and produced many plays, including KATZELMACHER, staged at Munich to accompany Jean-Marie Straub’s condensation of Ferdinand Bruckner’s three-act SICKNESS OF YOUTH.


In KATZELMACHER, a gang of young people sit on a railing outside an apartment and shoot the shit; they talk about sex and money, not always truthfully. Sometimes they continue the chat in a park bench, or they move to a tavern. These mainly static scenes are punctuated by mobile shots of two people, usually women, taking short walks towards the camera as the camera pulls back, and talking about their lives as Schubert’s German Dance, Op. 33. No. 7 plays over the soundtrack.

The youth are disaffected, trying to find love, sometimes selling themselves for money, including the men, but mainly judging each other. Halfway through the film, their bored sullenness is pierced to action when a Greek immigrant enters the scene. Soon they begin to whisper that he’s filthy, sex-crazed, one of the women claims to have been molested by him, moreover he’s a communist. All the group’s not-so-latent fascist tendencies are brought to the fore and it all erupts in violence.

KATZELMACHER was filmed in only nine days and remains potent. I was struck by the kiss between men and wondered what seeing that might have meant in 1969. I was also struck by the gendered structures of feeling expressed in the film. Women are constantly slapped around, causally, as if the men had a right to; and the women also take it nonchalantly, as if the men did indeed have a right to exert that violence on them. The Greek guest worker, played by Fassbinder, though indeed a victim, is, as a man, no better than the German ones, starting an affair whilst denying he has a family and children back home. Part of Fassbinder’s success is that the characters work as both social types and as flesh and blood people.


It’s going to be interesting watching these films in order.


For a more extended discussion of the film you may want to look at Jonathan Rosenbaum’s excellent piece: https://jonathanrosenbaum.net/2022/10/the-example-of-katzelmacher/

José Arroyo

Postcards from London (Steve McLean, 2018)

postcards from London.jpg


The type of queer film sure to set some of my friends’ teeth on edge: gloriously poncy, self-conciously pastichy, super-stylised, delightfully artificial, all about sex, beauty and art. Jim (Harris Dickinson) is an Essex boy who arrives in London to make his way in the world, ends up on the streets and becomes a rent boy. But not just any rent-boy, a high class one, part of The Raconteurs who service rich artists and intellectuals by offering them not only sex but informed conversation on art. The film’s London is a queer one of myth and legend seen through a particular lens, more Jarman, less McInnes. Jim goes from being a rent-boy to being a muse to becoming so sensitive to art he faints when close to the real thing, a service that ends up being very useful to auctioneers and antiquarians. Finally, Jim goes from being the talk of the town, the most beautiful boy in London, to an active agent, from being beautiful to creating beauty. Threaded through this narrative are discussions of art, of Dyer and Bacon,  of Caravaggio and baroque painting, of Fassbinder and Jarman, on the pleasures of reading Stendhal, the glories of the Colony Club etc. I can already hear some of you screaming but I loved it. The film’s Soho is sketched in through neon lights, a bit like the Girl Hunt number in The Bandwagon and is glorious to see, as of course is Harris Dickinson, for whom this is must have been a brave choice after Beach Rats.


José Arroyo