Instead of writing my applied sociolinguistics paper, I'm obsessing over Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who still manages to be my all-time favorite filmmaker. Many people around me remain unfamiliar with his work despite my obsession, which is really unfortunate because most of them are pretty much his target audience.
I've been trying to get my boyfriend to watch The BRD Trilogy but I think there's a resistance in people to German film. Fassbinder is one of those things --maybe like Fellini-- where they resist it like mad because they think it's going to be a snooze and a chore but then they finally watch it and they get it and they know and it's this sort of thrilling revelation.
First of all, I decided to list my favorite of his movies for you because that's fun and I hope it will guide you toward his riches so that you may one day soon understand why every weird person you know is a fan of Fassbinder's Women on Facebook. Generally, his most well-known movies are those belonging to his BRD Trilogy, which looks at Germany's postwar economic miracle through the lens of the melodrama. Each of the three films (The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lola, and Veronika Voss) is in completely different style. The narratives are unrelated so you can watch them in any order. As you can guess from the titles, each one follows a female protagonist through this period. They're not what you're thinking though because Fassbinder is a genius. Marriage of Maria Braun is the most famous, but I love Veronika Voss the best and M---, of course, loves Lola because it's about whores... (J----, on the other hand, seems most fond of Whity, which is a fun movie, but I haven't connected to it like he did.)
If you're into lesbians or fashion or masochism you'll probably love The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.
He also made a couple of movies in English. The one you're likely to easily get hold of is his gayest film (by far), Querelle. It's possibly the gayest movie ever made. It's campy and dark and absurd and fabulous and way better than Genet's novel upon which it is based. Sadly, Fassbinder died right before he was to direct Jane-fucking-Fonda in a biopic of Rosa Luxemburg.
1. It's hard not to think of Berlin Alexanderplatz as his magnum opus. It's a 16 hour adaptation of his favorite novel and it's really like a culmination of everything else he ever did. Unfortunately it's not entirely accessible. I think you should hold off on watching it until you've seen at least like ten of his other films, because this f. The last hour or two are mindblowing and worth the hours and hours that come before it, but there are moments in the 'miniseries' that drag.
2. Veronika Voss, of the BRD Trilogy, is probably the most lurid movie ever made without the cooperation of Tennessee Williams. You've got a sports reporter taking an interest in an aging former star whose career was tainted by her association with the Nazis. The morphine addiction is only the beginning of her madness. You'll die over her masterful rendition of "Memories Are Made of This" and the mindblowing way it's filmed and edited. All in the most sumptuous black and white you ever saw in your entire life.
3. I personally think Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is the most accessible of his films, at least his earlier ones. It's a really touching story and it's not quite as weird as some of his other works. It's basically about an older cleaning lady that falls in love with a younger man, who is black and Moroccan. His work is generally characterized by an uncommonly astute understanding of the social and psychological realities of his characters but in this film it is lovely without being as disturbing as it is in some of his other movies.
4. Chinese Roulette doesn't seem to be one of his more popular movies but I loved it. He's looking at cruelty and facades and the editing is as riveting as the snappy dialogue. It's kind of stunning the way he indirectly comments on the Nazi past via his characters.
5. Lola is all pinks and blues. Pimps and ho's, but all hypocritically bourgeois. Barbara Sukowa is amazing as Lola and the songs she sings in the bordello are like crack to me. I can never get enough of the Capri fishers or the day that the rains came.
6. The Marriage of Maria Braun might be his most maturely realized film. Hanna Schygulla navigates her way through the ruins of post-war Germany and eventually ends up on top. It's a more complex film than one might imagine and it's one that you may find yourself pondering now and again for years.
7. In a Year of 13 Moons is both heartfelt and highly unusual. It's about a post-operate transsexual who pals around with hooker with a heart of gold Ingrid Caven. There's the famous scene at the slaughterhouse and a spontaneous dance sequence.
8. Querelle may be the apotheosis of camp. Pretty faithful to the Genet novel, it's about a sailor of ambivalent sexuality who likes crime and rough sex. What he doesn't like is his deranged twin brother. It's madness, honey.
9. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is one I didn't like when I first saw. It was one of my first Fassbinder films. I rented it along with Querelle and Fox and His Friends when I was 16 or 17 and I think I was probably too young and inexperienced to really understand it. It seems kind of exquisite to me now. It's also rather delicious visually, which is why I'm surprised you don't have it in your collection.
10. In Fox and His Friends a gay carnival worker wins the lottery and makes his way into the higher social classes. A nasty, astute critique of the upper middle class, etc.
Fassbinder more or less had three periods in his work. His early films are sort of like Godard films. They're very political and not very aesthetic. They tend to have a bunch of static shots of young people sitting around blabbing and such. Some people love them but I tend to prefer his later films.
During his middle period, he started to become more influenced by the melodramas of Douglas Sirk and the political nature of the films is tempered by and increased role of psychology and social psychology.
As the 70s move on he moves into the final phase of his work. The films are increasingly stylized and the production values increase. There's also a lot of excess going on. One of his primary themes throughout his career is the way people treat the other people in their lives as objects, mere means to the tangible and intangible things they want. I think it's helpful when watching his movies to think about things like that, especially as you see more of his movies. His body of work truly is much greater than the some of his parts.
Martha is a stunning film about masochism and cruelty. It makes a great companion to another Fassbinder film Fear of Fear, which is sort of a riveting portrait about a woman with bad, bad anxiety on her way to crazytown.
The Third Generation, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, and Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven are among the more overtly political of his films. They're action packed and enjoyable but they might be hard for some people to get into because they're stylized and unconventional and pretty specific to their time and place. I'm not sure if you'd necessarily understand what they were about if you didn't know about what was happening in Germany during that period. It's sort of related to the story in Baader-Meinhof Komplex, if you saw that.
Satan's Brew is a strange "comedy" I never really cared for too much. It's about this guy who is supposedly a great writer. He's also sort of a prick and a womanizer. Then he seems to be possessed by this dead gay poet named Stefan George you never heard of because you didn't major in German.
The American Soldier is probably the only early film of his I particularly cared for. It's a sort of film noir and it kind of foreshadowed some of his later work.
The Merchant of Four Seasons is another relatively early work of his that I quite like. It's about this likable produce vendor driven over the edge by the general shittiness of human beings and it has more style than many of his previous films.
Effi Briest always struck me as a dull adaptation of a novel I never read. It's worth watching for Hanna Schygulla though.
Whity, Pioneers of Ingolstadt, and Beware of a Holy Whore are weird and entertaining.
Love Is Colder Than Death, Katzelmacher, Rio das Mortes, Gods of the Plague, and The Niklashausen Journey aren't quite as entertaining. He also has two early short films that are on the DVD for Katzelmacher or something. They're okay.
I haven't seen his other movies so I can't comment much on those. What I've seen of his other English-language film Despair has me a more worried than enthused. I'm dying to see Lili Marleen and World on a Wire.
That's pretty much an intro to all of his well-known films. Go watch them now.