Tag Archives: Kurt Raab

SATANS’S BREW/ SATANSBRATEN (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1976)


Fassbinder continues to surprise, this time with an all-out comedy, a high-pitched farce, dealing with the vulgar, explicit and extreme in a way that’s designed to be offensive and to push as many of the audience’s buttons as possible. How did he get away with it? In the first ten minutes of the film, we get fellatio with gun à la CHANT D’AMOUR, a murder enhanced by poppers during coitus, a dildo-drawer with a gun, a woman slapping down her brother-in-law’s erection in close-up, a prostitute getting her nipples tweaked for a laugh… It’s like a grunge explicit version of boulevardier farce about masochistic power relations, drained of any trace of elegance. I found it discomforting and funny.


The plot revolves around Walter Kranz(Kurt Raab), once the poet of the revolution, now suffering from writer’s block, and in constant need of money. He has a long-suffering wife, several mistresses, a brother who’s not all there (and who seems to be modelled on the fly-eating Renfeld, Dracula’s side-kick). He takes adoration as his due and exploits all his inter-personal relationships, including his long-suffering parents, whom he tricks out of the money they’ve saved for their funeral.

designed to be offensive

After two years when he hasn’t been able to write a word, he finally recites some lines he likes. He’s delighted at the break-through only to be told that the lines are not his but those of Stefan George, the famous symbolist poet. So he decides to become George by performing him, by hiring a coterie of young gay men to worship his poetry readings and by becoming gay himself, something he ends up not being too successful at. Performing identity, performing society’s expectations of identity and finding liberation in madness are key themes in the film.

male full frontal

Like in a good farce, everything is over-turned and comes full-circle in a ‘happy’ ending. Walter, who’s surprised when his brother likes the whipping he gives him, ends up finding his own masochistic side, thereby losing the provincial acolyte he’s been dominating, Andrée (Margit Carstersen) but getting together with Lisa, who previously enjoyed an open marriage with Rolf, who has now gone off with the newly liberated Andrée. He finally ends up writing a novel: NO CELEBRATION FOR THE FÜHRER’S DEAD DOG, a book who’s thesis is that Fascism will triumph, a hit with his publishers.


The film is book-ended by a quote from Antonin Artaud: ‘What differentiates the heathens from us is the great resolve underlying all their forms of belief, not to think in human terms. In this way, they are able to retain the link with the whole of Creation, in other words with the Godhead’, ie thinking from a non-hiuman point of view is a way of maintaining contact with the divine. Fassbinder described the film as a ‘comedy about me if I were what I perhaps am but don’t believe I am” Thomas Elsaesser found the film “a rare attempt at comedy from a filmmaker who, as most commentators have noted, is entirely devoid of humour’. A bit harsh I think, though how funny people find it might depend on how far they are willing to be pushed.

José Arroyo




FEAR OF FEAR/ ANGST VON DER ANGST (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1975)

FEAR OF FEAR is a made-for-tv movie, a ‘woman’s’ film, a chamber piece in which a small set of characters and their inter-relationships are used to evoke a world, a social setting, a condition and an individual’s relationship to that world. As the film begins, Margot (Margit Cartensen), a middle-class housewife, beautiful and competent, happily married to an understanding husband (Ulric Faulhaber), is expecting her second child and understandably anxious. That anxiety turns to full-blown depression once the baby is born. Her in-laws live upstairs and whilst sometimes a help with baby-sitting, her mother in law (Brigitte Mira) criticises her housekeeping, her sister in law (Irm Hermann) is jealous and aspish, and her brother-in-law (Armin Meier), whilst kind and supportive, might also have sexual designs on her. The in-laws here are basically the Küsters but with their worst aspects highlighted and brought into focus: narrow-minded, petty, judgmental; an agent of social control; and heaven protect those that deviate from the narrow constraints they hold to be proper.

Margot is anxious and afraid, tired, and in such a deep funk she thinks she’s going mad. Her husband works during the day; studies at night; and though sympathetic to her, is not quite there for her or the children. Fassbinder shows us Margot, in frames within frames, hemmed in by the doorways of her ugly apartment, filmed at an angle to show her disassociation from her environment. There are lots of shots of her looking at mirrors where she questions the person she sees. Who is she? Who is she to her self? What is her ‘self’? Her inner state is often indicated in point-of-view shots where what she’s seeing is indicated by a blurred, wavy image as if she’s not quite there, and can no longer be objective about what’s out there either. The loss of her grip on reality is often signalled by an electric version of the type of score typical for melodrama.


Margot’s husband is concerned and they go to a doctor, who prescribes Valium, which helps, but soon she’s hooked on it and has to supplement the Valium with alcohol. Her sister-in-law catches her drinking in the middle of the day (the slattern!);, her mother in-law finds her dressed up with full on make-up in the daytime (it makes her feel better); her brother-in-law sees her in the swimming pool doing frenzied laps (what’s wrong with her?) and soon the in-law are checking on her constantly: has she fed the children, does she cook, does she need aspirin?: she’s a bad wife and mother who always though she was superior to everyone else. Is Margot mad? Or is this what trying to live up to impossible social norms that make no space for the wishes and dreams of women like Margot do to women like Margot?


Soon Margot is a drug-addict and a drunk, whoring herself out to the neighbourhood pharmacist (Adrian Hoven) for Valium. One afternoon, she tells him she wants to leave her family to be with him and he basically tells her she’s wonderful but that’s not an option. When she gets home, she slices a wrist; not to commit suicide, there’s her children, whom she loves. But just to feel something.


Kurt Raabe appears as Mr. Bauer, with all the charisma and creepiness of Peter Lorre, as a neighbour; her doppleganger – he’s just come out of an institution —  or her worst fear? He’s the only one who recognises what she’s going through. But every encounter with him on the street brings trauma. At the end of the film, when Margot has gone to a sanatorium, received help, and is back to normal, she looks out her window and sees that Mr. Bauer is in a coffin and hasn’t made it, the image begins to blurr and get wavey again. Is this a spark to regression? It’s ambivalent.


A tight, well-made film, like an un-glossy Sirk, that still feels relevant and lingers in the mind.

José Arroyo


WORLD ON A WIRE/ WELT AM DRAHT – Part II (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973)


In the second part of WORLD ON A WIRE, Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) finds that an ‘identity unit’ called Einstein is the contact person a between his world and the computer program. But it then occurs to him that his own world might itself be a computer program. Is he smoking a cigarette or someone’s idea of a cigarette? Is the coffee he’s drinking brown or has it been programmed to be brown and is really purple? Moreover, someone now has financial skin in the game, the program is not just being used for scientific purposes but also for commercial ones. As soon as he suspects he too might be someone else’s construct, an identity unit like those he’s programmed and overseen, the show takes on the form of the conspiracy thrillers then so in vogue (THE PARALLAX VIEW, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, THE CONVERSATION). Is Fred mad or does someone want to kill him because of what he knows. He keeps getting headaches, losing consciousness; is someone out to erase him?

Michael Ballhaus, who so dazzingly filmed this, was executive producer along with Roland Emmerich, of THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (Josef Rusnak, 1999) an American adaptation of the novel that is also WORLD ON A WIRE’S source material, SIMULACRON-3 by Daniel F. Galoueye. Rusnak’s is a handsome, expensive looking film, but it gets nowhere near the philosophical complexity, social critique or the dazzling play with form that we get in WORLD ON A WIRE. It has some attractive and skilled actors (Armin Mueller-Stahl, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D’Onofrio), a loud score, quick editing, a focus on the individual; an easy nostalgia for the past (the constructed world is 1937 Los Angeles) and a rather naïve optimism about the future. The group, a sense of collective, of politics, of competing economic forces, none of this is to be found in what can feel like an overly individualistic quasi monadic exercise; pretty and banal.

There are so many things I love about this second part of WORLD ON A WIRE: the carnality of what are meant to be identity units. Lowitsch is constantly filmed with his shirt off, his sexual potency winked at through a play of mirrors and statues in the mise-en-scène(see above).

And I love Barbara Valentin as the ur-blowsy bruised blond, madly in love with someone who doesn’t deserve her but happy to play around; she knows the ways of the world all too well but doesn’t quite seem to be fully in it (see above).

I love how the figure of Marlene Dietrich is deployed to bring up ideas of spectres and simulations and how that’s tied to power (see above). There’s a clear sense here that computer programmers begin to think themselves as God, can too easily get to love totalitarian power, and have no moral compass about the effects of their decision on others – something entirely lacking in the THIRTEENTH FLOOR.

I love also the extraordinary long take with Fred on the run (see above), where we see Klaus Löwitsch do extraordinary physical feats jumping through fences, but unlike with someone like Burt Lancaster who does it with such grace, power and ease, here you also see the effort it costs: Fred is tired, he’s fit but these feats cost; and he might not make it.

And always the queerness seeps through; in the filming of Lōwitsch, the use of Marlene, the scenes set in the nightclub with the musclemen cooks, and the grotesque men who appear with bright lipstick like something out of a painting by George Grosz or Otto Dix.

I love Kurt Raab’s design (see the extraordinary take above), which seems to be made of cling film and aluminum foil, shiny, reflective but not quite real, flimsy and on the verge of disintegrating. I love the use of Eddie Constantine (see below), part of what the show tries to achieve by using old movie stars with strong personas to indicate a constructed world, and partly also a nod to ALPHAVILLE.

There are some dazzling 360 degree long takes, and quite astonishing images with guns and mirror, distorted multiple reflections, always expressing a feeling and a point-of-view on the world it’s filming (see a mere sampling, below).

Made on a tight budget, for television, an appreciation of its achievements – intellectual, political, aesthetic, as a viewing experience only grows when comparing it to what was remade in THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR. I’s influence on THE MATRIX now seems  unquestionable.

José Arroyo



Fox and His Friends/ Faustrecht der Freiheit (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1985)

A film that frightened me when I first saw it as a teenager. Richard’s only now seen it. Does it hold up? Made at a time when there was a real dearth of representation, this is a daring work, as queer as a film can be, on many levels. The problem is not homosexuality but bourgeois exploitation, including by gay men. Why hasn’t Fassbinder been canonised by all the young queer boys? We speculate on that and much more in the accompanying podcast.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

José Arroyo


Fassbinder continues to astound, this time essaying science fiction, for television, in a two-parter, each of feature length. What is the world? What is the self? What is real? How do we know? The world of WORLD ON A WIRE is one of simulation and simulacra dramatised a decade before Baudrillard published his book philosophising the concepts. Ideas and situations from WORLD ON A WIRE can be seen in later films like BLADE RUNNER (Ridley Scott, 1982), TOTAL RECALL (Paul Verhoeven, 1990), STRANGE DAYS (Katherine Bigelow, 1995), DARK CITY (Alex Proyas, 1998) and the MATRIX films, amongst many others.

Creating a sci-fi world

Set in the near future, the action revolves around the Institute for Cybernetics and Future Science’s supercomputer, here called the Simulacrum, which hosts a simulation of a world with over 9,000 ‘identity units’, who live as human beings unaware that they and their world are just computer code, a world on a wire. Government, industry, and lobbying groups are in cahoots to use whatever findings they discover from the identity units in that world, indistinguishable from humans, so they can sell more stuff, foretell or rig elections results, etc.

Beautiful design by Kurt Raab, and always with a queer element

As the action begins, Professor Vollmer (Adrian Hoven), the technical director of the program, has made a new discovery that would mean ‘the end of this world’ should it get out. He dies soon after in mysterious circumstances. Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch), the Professor’s replacement has a discussion with Günther Lause (Ivan Desny), the head of security, about what happened but Lause seems to disappear before his very eyes. Moreover, when Stiller asks others about Lause, no one seems to know of him: he seems to have been erased from the world. Stiller seeks answers by donning an electronic cap that permits him to travel within the simulacra as an ‘identity unit’ where he sees the Lause that non one in his world now seems to know talking to a mysterious figure, Einstein (Gottfried John), who seems to be able to simulate identity across various simulacra. Could it be that Stiller himself is an identity unit and that his world is simply a different level of simulacra?

Sinewy Tracking shots

Fassbinder and cinematographer Micahel Ballhaus use the modernist banlieus and shopping centres then being built outside Paris as a setting. They film in sinewy tracks and dollies, some thrillingly barely an inch above the floor, using mirrors or through windows and glass to create a sense of doubling and doubt, of estrangement. Indeed the first image in the film is shot slightly out of focus with a wobbly quality to indicate that the world is unstable and might dissolve into code at any moment.

A world of screens

Old stars

This feeling of estrangement is also added to by the cast, Fassbinder’s usual repertory (Margit Cartesen, Wolfgang Schenk, Ulli Lomel, Ingrid Caven, El Hedi ben Salem) here deliberately enacting the kind of stiffness they were often accused of, but also in the casting of old movie stars from another era (Adrian Hoven, Ivan Desny, Elma Karlowa) bringing their personas and what they represented into this futuristic pastiche of past, present, and future; of the world being the same but different, now peopled by strange mythic creatures from other eras and thus slightly fantastic and unreal; something also added to by evoking powerful moments of historical memory in new contexts (here a Marlene impersonator, using her voice, in a nightclub setting, singing ‘See What The Boys in The Backroom Will Have’. A thrilling and surprising work, very beautiful to look at, with gorgeous design by Kurt Raab and and unsettling electronic score from Gottfried Hüngsberg. I’m eager for the second part.

Marlene Simulation.

José Arroyo

EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY: EPISODE FOUR – HARALD AND MONIKA (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973)


Fassbinder, like Sturges, Ford, Almodóvar and many other directors, seems to use the same company of actors over and over again, and part of the pleasure of watching their films is in familiarising oneself with the troupe and revelling in their skill and effectiveness as they play different roles over time. There’s no one I look forward to seeing in Fassbinder’s work more than Irm Hermann, so wonderful as the forceful presence that never speaks in THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT. Like Eve Arden she doesn’t need a big role to make her character felt.

This fourth episode has a twinned structure in that as Jochen (Gottfried John) and Marion (Hannah Schygulla) head to marriage, Harald (Kurt Raab) and Jochen’s sister Monica (Renate Roland) head to divorce. The tenderness, uncertainty and discussion of the first couple is juxtaposed with the patriarchal control, physical violence and lack of communication of the other. Luckily for Monica, she has the support of her female network, and though her mother isn’t very understanding, her grandmother, her aunt and Marion, all help devise a plan to get Harald to agree to a divorce and let her keep their daughter. It’s female solidarity in action.

The other story-lines are a bit clichéi-sh here: will Marion’s mother (Brigitte Mira) approve of Jochen, will they move in to the mother’s apartment or get their own place. Marion and Jochen fight over the wedding itself. He doesn’t want Irmgard (Irm Hermann) to be maid of honour. She’s too stuck up, certain, disapproves of Marion’s marrying a blue-collar worker who gets her hand dirty. Needless to say, and after many. Tears, Marion gets her way. Irmgard’s haughty condescension, her certainty, and the way her convictions melt with liquor and desire at the wedding itself are the episodes’ high point.

The wedding party takes up the last 30 minutes of the 95 minute episode and is a tour de force of staging, keeping up all the various relationships in play, dramatizing their alterations, and playing off social structures against individual desires and circumstances in ways that are easily legible to the viewer. Another marvellous episode, this one with a superb closing shot.

Irm Hermann in action


José Arroyo

THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES/ Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (Ulli Lommel, West Germany, 1973)


THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES / Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (1973), is a film directed by Ulli Lommel but produced by Fassbinder, written by and starring  Fassbinder stalwart Kurt Raab, and peopled by everyone who seems to have appeared in previous Fassbinder films, including his lover (El Hedi ben Salem), his current and future wives (Irm Hermann and Ingrid Caven), the stars of THE MERCHANT OF THE FOUR SEASONS (Hans Hirschmüller) and ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Brigitte Mira); and many others. There is a real sense of Fassbinderlandia about this film and a reminder of the influence of Warhol’s factory on his style of filmmaking. Fassbinder’s own appearance in this film as a fat pimp and small-time crook, sexually and physically confident in spite of his size, crotch thrust out, is a signifier of how confrontational Fassbinder liked to be.

And confrontational this film certainly is. It’s inspired by the same ‘Vampire of Düsseldorf’ that was the basis for Fritz Lang’s M (and there’s an homage to it here, the bit with the young girl in the playground) but set in the aftermath of WWII rather than the interwar years after WW1. Kurt Raab’s look is a combination of Peter Lorre in M and Max Schreck’s in Murnau’s NOSFERATU. THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES brings out the homosexual dimension to the fore. Here the serial killer is gay, in love with a no-good pimp (Jeff Roden), living in an underworld of petty theft, black marketeering and prostitution (both men and women) that brings to mind John Henry Mackay’s THE HUSTLER: THE STORY OF A NAMELESS LOVE FROM FRIEDRICHSTRASSE. Lommell’s film also brings out the vampiric dimension to the fore as Raab’s serial killer, though with no special super-natural powers, likes to bite his victims in the neck and suck their blood before dismembering their bodies and selling their flesh to restaurants through the black market where the customers adore the ‘pork’.

THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES is a very impolitic film, one that I doubt could be made now. Jack Babuscio began his review in Gay News (Gay News No 06, June 3-16th, 1976) by asking: ‘Ulli Lommel’s TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973) is a film that will certainly set the blood of many Screen Gay readers boiling. Does this mean you?’ (See below and thanks to Andrew Moore for the images).

A creepy gay man luring adolescent runaways to his home with promises of money and employment, then having his way with them (in this film before or after he kills them, with their naked bodies splayed out) must have fed into all kinds of prejudices of homosexual men as predatory paedophiles. It’s a film that would have been a gift to people like Anita Bryant had she been aware of it then. And I wonder to what extent Fassbinder, Lommell or Raab took this into account or whether the social impact of any of these particular narratives and representations on already vulnerable queer communities still living under the repressive Paragraph is something that would have entered their minds. Was it freedom or thoughtlessness?

Frank Noack tells me that, ‘TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES was attacked in West Germany, by gay activists and gay-friendly straight reviewers, for its sinister portrayal of the gay world, but Fassbinder couldn’t care less. His point, more explicit in PETRA VON KANT and FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, was that gays and lesbians exploit one another as much as straight people do. Neither Fassbinder nor Raab, who has written a deliciously lurid tell-all book right after the maestro’s death, expressed any interest in or sympathy for the gay movement. Because of its explicit male nudity, the film nevertheless won a gay cult following’.

The film’s perspective is that an oppressive world creates its own monsters. Raab’s character (Fritz Haarmann) is arrested by the police under paragraph 175 and made to be a police informant. But his compulsion for young male flesh is his own. I suppose the achievement of this handsome-looking film (Jürgen Jürges first job as dop, deploying a whole arsenal of expressionist devices) is in so well evoking a particular underworld of petty criminals, cheap taverns, dark railways, and dangerous attic flats; in shocking and frightening like a good horror film should, and in arousing sympathy for a queer serial killer.

I suspect Raab’s appearance here had a role in inspiring the skin-head look that would become so prevalent a decade later in London and Berlin.

From the handsomely produced Arrow Box Set of Fassbinder films (vol 1.) chock-a-block with great extras, including interviews with the director, actors, cinematographer.

José Arroyo