EPISODE TEN OF BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ: LONELINESS OPENS CRACKS OF MADNESS EVEN IN THE WALLS
Fassbinder sub-titled BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ: ‘A Film in 13 Parts With an Epilogue’, and I’m now beginning to realise that this is not just some aggrandising claim for the series. Certainly, as his work in EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY or WORLD ON A WIRE demonstrate, Fassbinder embraced the medium of television, worked easily in it, and knew how to use its forms. I finally clued in to how BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ is different – and I’m a real dummy; it took me a while; this is the tenth episode – when the title of the episode appeared almost exactly halfway through rather than, as is usual, near the beginning. For a while I thought my attention had lapsed and I’d missed it. And then it struck me that the consistency of structure from episode to episode that one expects of TV series was missing here. Episodes began differently, sometimes ended abruptly. There are a series of settings that get revisited (Max’s bar, the newsagents in the tube, Franz’s flat, etc.) but each episode can go in wildly varying directions. What is consistent is that there is a linear narrative, sometimes accompanied by almost incantatory flashbacks, such as the murder of Ida, and that that is accompanied with an underlaying of synchronic elements (songs, passages from the bible, the politics of the day, news headlines) to contextualise this particular story at a very specific historical moment: to evoke ‘the structure of feeling’ of a specific historical moment in the telling of this story.
This is a tragic and moving episode whose affect comes from an undercutting of expectations: Mieze wants to give him a baby but can’t so arranges for Eva to do so; Franz is obsessed with how the loss of his arm is the loss of his manhood but the only thing that seems to be working for him is his dick; he’s found love but is asked to give up his friend Willy, politics, and alcohol, i.e give up what has so far made life bearable; Mieze is in love with him and willing to ‘work’ for him; his tragedy is he’s now her pimp but he loves her so much he can’t bear for her to be with anyone else. The episode ends with Franz weeping as Mieze goes off with her John, ‘cause a girl’s gotta work.