Today’s Fassbinder is on CHAOS AS USUAL: CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER (Applause: New York, 1997), edited by Juliane Lorenz, the editor of all of Fassbinder’s films after DESPAIR, and his ‘wife’, in quotation marks only because their marriage was not legally binding. They did live together for the last few years of his life; she’s the one who found his body; and she succeeded Fassbinder’s mother as the head of the Rainer Werner Foundation.
After reading it, I wished all my favourite filmmakers would get a book like this, an affectionate but critical account of what working with a director was like, of how the personality impinged on the work, and the various trials and attractions of working with such a compulsive and demanding workaholic. Most of the interviews are conducted by Lorenz herself; and she writes of how in the first interviews she was overly sensitive to perceived slights of Fassbinder and how she learned to loosen up so that people could speak freely. These are interviews by people who knew each other, who all worked with him. Mainly, there’s real affection but interviewer an einterviewee each know the other is all too familiar with the faults as well. In any case, the interviews are about the work, the working together and what that was like and what that produced. Though of course, it’s impossible to leave the man’s personality out of it altogether. And who would want to? Interestingly the only interview that is reproduced from another source is Ingrid Caven’s CAHIERS interview and I did wonder if Caven being Fassbinder’s first wife had anything to do with it.
If my first impulse was to wish this type of book for other favourite directors; the second one was for me to undertake a similar project on Almódovar; and then the third was the realisation of its impossibility. This book can exist in its present form, partly because the subject died so young. If one waits until the filmmaker dies to undertake such a project, most of his collaborators would also be six feet under. Indeed ,even though Fassbinder died when he was only 37, key people in his life and in his work had already preceded him (Armin Meier, El Hedi Ben Salem) and others would die before the book was conceived (importantly, Kurt Raab).
If one undertakes such a project whilst the director is active, producers, actors, dop’s etc will not speak freely if they hope to get work or if they’ve got an axe to grind because they haven’t received work. Thus this remains a unique discussion, a frank discussion by people who knew him well, some who worked with him consistently (Michael Balhauss, Peer Raben, Dietrich Lohman, Peter Märthesheimer); friends from the early days (Daniel Schmid, Hannah Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Ursula Strätz); his actors (Margit Cartensen, Brigitte Mira, Barbara Sukowa, Armin-Müeller-Stahl, Gunther Lamprecht, Gottfried John); his fellow directors (Werner Schroeter, Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta), even a relative (Egmont Fassbinder). And I found it genuinely interesting about a mode of making cinema and insightful about individual films.
For those who’ve been watching the Arrow collection of Fassbinder’s work, Julia Lorenz is the warm, clear-eyed, organised and liberal woman who appears in quite a few of the extras, talking about the shoots of individual films, their context, and occasionally brining out a copy or two of contracts for particular films to flesh out memory with concrete detail.