Rainer Werner Fassbinder

14 OCT – 15 NOV 2017 (PART 1) | 1 JUN – 4 JUL 2018 (PART 2) | GOMA | Cinema A


Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945–82) has been described as many things: prodigious to the point of folly; a homosexual who loved men and women equally; an unashamed exhibitionist; a tyrant in the workplace; and a radical, no matter your political persuasion. 

During his short and self-destructive life (he died of a drug overdose at 37), Fassbinder worked at a frenzied pace and fashioned a practice that was both mercurial and brutally honest. Between 1966 and 1982, he directed an astonishing 39 films (including six television movies and series) and four video productions. He directed 24 stage plays, four radio plays, acted, and worked as a cameraman, a composer, a designer, editor, producer and theatre manager. He famously claimed, 'I don't throw bombs; I make films', and cherished his position as one of the most polarising and influential figures of the New German Cinema.

This is the first major retrospective of Fassbinder's work to be staged in Australia. To allow for a complete presentation, including works based on Fassbinder's plays and those staring the director in principal roles, this program will be presented in two seasons: Part 1 runs from 14 October to 15 November 2017, and Part 2 from 1 June to 4 July 2018.

For Fassbinder, there were no taboo subjects in cinema, just taboo means of representing them and his films often deal with challenging subjects, including the politics of postwar Germany; the alienated experiences of women and homosexuals; as well as the plight of migrants, interracial couples and the downtrodden. The key trajectory through these stories is the interplay of cruelty, exploitation and victimhood, where distinctions between the oppressed and the oppressors are not clear or simple. For Fassbinder the reworking of this thematic was the very basis of his practice: 'Every decent director has only one subject, and finally only makes the same film over and over again. My subject is the exploitability of feelings, whoever might be the one exploiting them. It never ends. It's a permanent theme. Whether the state exploits patriotism, or whether in a couple relationship, one partner destroys the other.'

Fassbinder favoured an aesthetic eclecticism that allowed him to experiment with contradictory genres, styles and cultural references — from social melodramas and comedies to science fiction and thrillers, psychological dramas and literary adaptations. His early films drew inspiration from the gangster films of the French New Wave and the methodologies of Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud. During the 1970s, he was heavily influenced by the technicolour melodramas of Hollywood director Douglas Sirk. They imbued the mise en scène of his later works with lurid colours, artifice and plenty of histrionics, yet his use of melodrama was never for the sake of sarcasm: 'I don't believe that melodramatic feelings are laughable — they should be taken absolutely seriously'.

Fassbinder maintained an intense working relationship with a recurring cast of actors and technicians, which often spilt over into intimate and dysfunctional relations off set. He was accused of treating those around him as marionettes, and his combative personality and directorial style caused him to be estranged from many of his principal collaborators. Yet this group formed something of a surrogate family, and it is this working process that fed Fassbinder's relentless drive and output. His films bear a signature style and continuity through the work of longtime cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, production designer Kurt Rabb, editor Juliane Lorenz, musician Peer Raben, and the luminous presence of stars, like Hanna Schygulla and Irm Hermann, who appear throughout his filmography.

QAGOMA acknowledges the support of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, Goethe-Institut Australien and National Film and Sound Archive Australia for their generous assistance in realising this project. Special thanks to Juliane Lorenz, Sonja Griegoschewski, Antonio Exacoustos, Jochen Gutsch and Andrea Ebert. Program curated by José Da Silva, Australian Cinémathèque. Film notes by Elliott Breeden.