Fassbinder, after THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, once again handling the camera as well as directing, and in a more Godardian mode: a searching intelligence trying to make sense of the world he lives in and unafraid to use whatever is within his reach to try to understand, dramatize, critique and convey.
The film has a collage-y dimension: the use of graffiti from men’s rooms, a class that begins by asking the significance of the revolution of 1848, a phrase from Schopenhauer used as code (“the world as will and imagination”), readings from Bakunin, discussions of Bresson and Tarkovsky. Fassbinder in intellectual mode and with a very precise setting — the place and dates of shooting: Nov. 1978 to Jan 22, 1979. The narrative nonetheless still clearly conveyed, the collage-y aspect in tension with the precision of the setting and a relatively linear narrative, with aspects clearly meant to irritate: there are overlapping sounds that become difficult to distinguish; the burnt-in text passing too quickly to fully comprehend.
At the beginning, the film promises: “A comedy in six parts about social games full of suspense, excitement and logic, cruelty and madness, like the fairy tales told to children to help them bear their lives unto death”. The plot revolves around a rich industrialist, P.J. Lurz (Eddie Constantine) who works in computers and surveillance, but his stocks are down as there is currently no demand for the services he provides. To fix that he’s funding a terrorist cell made up of ordinary middle-class people — a secretary (Hannah Schygulla, record shop assistant(Harry Baer), pianist (Udo Kier), housewife (Margit Carstensen) and teacher (Bulle Ogier – to kidnap rich industrialists, increase fear and thus increase demands for his products. What we see is a divided nation, a police state where truth is mediated through images. It’s a society of spectacle where, taking of from and reversing Godard’s famous dictum, ‘Film lies 25 times a second’, the extra second to take into account films on tv running a second faster. This is the film that begins with a computer screen and ends with an action and a television screen’s mediation of that action. within the same frame.
According to Thomas Elsaesser, ‘after the first generation of idealists and the second of pragmatists comes the third generation of opportunists’. Here that third generation is a disorganised idealist bunch, alarmingly quick to submit unquestionably to the rules set hierarchically by the group, in all aspects of their lives, including sexually. Volker Spengler is the double agent, in Lurz’s pocket financially, and the one who betrays the groups in a Shrove Tuesaday that turns into a bloody carnival as cameras record a relatively open-ended ending. It’s a film I’ll need to think about some more.
Lies 25 frames a second
Ian Penman, worth quoting at length (from THOUSANDS OF MIRRORS):
“140. The triumphant rise of the Consumer Society is interrupted by its apparent nemesis or antithesis: terrorism. But is it really threatened by this danger – or ultimately strengthened? Isn’t terror in fact its mirror-image doppelgänger or twin? Ready at a moment’s notice to prop up its threatened values and unreliable economy. This is why Fassbinder’s The Third Generation is such a eky text: Consumer Society + Terror State x Digital Info +Surveillance = The Future. “