“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was born in Bavaria in 1945, and made his first feature, Love Is Colder Than Death, in 1969 at the age of 24. Between 1969 and his death in 1982, this astonishingly creative filmmaker directed a total of 41 features, more often than not from his own original screenplays. Among them, the 15-1/2 hour Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), made for German television, stands as his magnum opus.
Given its extraordinary length and innovative use of the television medium, Berlin Alexanderplatz was a groundbreaker. But it was not unprecedented. What most sources call the first true miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man, appeared on American television in 1976, followed by the international phenomenon of Roots in 1977. However, neither of these series was the work of a single auteur. In that sense, Berlin Alexanderplatz‘s real predecessor was Ingmar Bergman’s long, multi-chaptered Scenes from a Marriage, which made its initial appearance on Swedish television in 1974.
Going back even further, in 1921, Austrian-born actor/writer/director Erich Von Stroheim filmed his nine-hour Greed, adapted from Frank Norris’s McTeague, an 1899 novel of grim social realism. Fassbinder’s epic was adapted from another long novel of “grim social realism,” Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf, published in 1929, and the similarities between Von Stroheim’s mega-film and Fassbinder’s epic may not be entirely coincidental. The protagonists of both works are big (and big-hearted) working class lugs who find themselves out of their depth. Both films center around triangles — two men and a woman — and in both films one of the men ends up killing the woman in a crime of passion. Both films are attempts to create the cinematic equivalents of lengthy novels, much admired by the filmmakers, without leaving anything of significance out.
But there the resemblances end. Norris’s McTeague is a typical 19th-century novel (think Balzac, Dickens, Victor Hugo), while Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz is a product of 20th-century modernism, published in the wake of Joyce’s Ulysses And John Dos Passo’s U.S.A. And like those works, it employs such modernist techniques as stream-of-consciousness; a narrative voice that moves from the inside of one character’s head to another; and montage, cutting and pasting in advertisements, statistics, medical texts, and items from the newspapers of the day. Fassbinder mirrors the modernist aspects of the novel by incorporating large sections of Döblin’s prose into his film as voiceover narration. For example, over a flashback that shows how Franz beat a former girlfriend, Ida, to death in a domestic argument, a crime for which he was imprisoned, Fassbinder as narrator reads from the novel a scientific text describing Newton’s laws of motion — forces meeting objects — which dryly counterpoints the images of violence and emotion we see on-screen. (As the scene concludes, a title card pops up illustrating Newton’s equations.) The other big difference between Greed and Berlin Alexanderplatz is that Von Stroheim’s film was never publicly shown at full length — the studio famously butchered it, cutting it from 9 hours to 140 minutes — while Fassbinder’s mega-film was screened exactly as Fassbinder and his 21-year-old editor/spouse, Juliane Lorenz, intended.1
Visually, Fassbinder’s urban epic evokes the entire history of German and German-American film making. It’s filled with dense, entrapping compositions reminiscent of Fassbinder’s mentor, Douglas Sirk,2 as well as camera movements and long takes that recall Max Ophuls, another film artist who specialized in images of entrapment. (In a possible homage, Fassbinder cast Ivan Desny, one of the stars of Ophuls’ Lola Montes, as the crime boss, Pums.) However, far more than Sirk or Ophuls, Fassbinder uses telephoto lenses that place us intimately close to his characters. Television is, after all, a medium of close-ups. Where Ophuls’ favorite camera movement was the crane or lateral track (both of which certainly appear in Berlin Alexanderplatz), Fassbinder’s preferred movement is to have the camera encircle his characters. The whole film is shot with an amber tint (even more apparent in the DVD restoration), like watching life through the bottom of a beer glass.
In Germany, the film was shown on television in weekly chapters — a 90-minute opening followed by 12 one-hour chapters, and a two-hour Epilogue (14 parts in all).3 When it premiered in American theaters, it was shown either as a 15-1/2 hour marathon — which is how I saw it at Los Angeles’ Vista Theater — or in two parts, lasting roughly 7 to 8 hours each, shown on consecutive days.
Seeing it originally as a marathon, starting in the early evening and concluding sometime around noon the following day, I’ll admit I sometimes had trouble keeping my eyes open. Regardless, I was bowled over by the ambition and complexity of the work, the astounding ensemble performances, and what were for me at the time the film’s two standout sequences: the harrowing death of Mieze (Barbara Sukowa) in Part 12, and the controversial Epilogue, a surrealistic tour-de-force that takes the film to a whole other level — from naturalism to the symbolic and abstract.
If you’d asked me back then what I thought Berlin Alexanderplatz was all about, I would have pointed to the triangle of Franz (Günther Lamprecht), Mieze, and Reinhold (Gottfried John), the film’s homme fatal. Franz and Mieze, for all their faults, are innocents. Franz loves Mieze, but in a way he never fully understands he loves Reinhold even more — so much so that he sees only the bond between Reinhold and himself and is blind to Reinhold’s inherent maliciousness.4 The result is inevitably tragic. Reinhold betrays Franz twice — first, by causing the amputation of his right arm, and then, after Franz (incredibly!) forgives him, by murdering Mieze.
Thus, the two major themes of the film — (1) the irrational love that exists between Franz and Reinhold, which neither man can fully acknowledge, and which therefore manifests itself in only the most twisted of ways; and (2) the destruction of innocence by evil. At least that’s how I saw it back in 1980.
Watching Berlin Alexanderplatz on Second Sight’s DVD 27 years later, a chapter or two at a time, casts the film in a different light. For one thing, Franz and Mieze aren’t nearly as “innocent” as I remembered them — Franz, for all his essential good-heartedness, is a pimp, a rapist, and a murderer. Mieze is a whore. Franz’s nemesis, Reinhold, isn’t even introduced until Part 5. Mieze doesn’t show up until Part 8. So what else is going on?
Primarily, Fassbinder is interested in the creation of a world, the working class Alexanderplatz neighborhood of 1928 Berlin, and in the people who inhabit it. As a man of the theater, Fassbinder loved his actors, and there are parts for 100 of them in this film, almost everyone who ever worked with the director — not to mention 3,000 extras. Film noir, as I have written elsewhere, arose from the collision of German expressionism with documentary realism, paralleling the emergence of “the city” as a character. Berlin Alexanderplatz in both its written and filmic incarnations is a classic proto-noir, emerging from the same zeitgeist that produced Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1928) and Lang’s M (1931) in Germany, and Mervyn LeRoy’s I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Two Seconds (both 1932) in the United States.5 Saving a huge chunk of money, Fassbinder was able to shoot his 1920s street scenes on the standing sets left over from Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg (1978), another tale of pre-Nazi Weimar Germany. Given its length and scope, the best way to approach Berlin Alexanderplatz — to see how certain themes are introduced and developed — is to examine it episode by episode.
Part 1 — The Punishment Begins
The first shot is an exterior of the Tegel Prison. Cut to a medium close-up introducing Franz (shot with telephoto lens) sustained for one full minute as Franz walks past the interior brick walls of the prison and reaches its exit gate. Once he reaches the gate, however, something paralyzes him — he cannot leave.6 A kindly guard helps him over the threshold where immediately Franz is assaulted by the sights and sounds of THE CITY.
Several motifs are introduced here. Although we meet him leaving a jail, Franz remains metaphorically imprisoned throughout the remainder of the film by socioeconomic circumstances and other forces, sexual, emotional, and spiritual, beyond his understanding. Essentially, the entire film shows us Franz in prison and asks, “What is the nature of his cage?”
The exit from Tegel Prison is also a birth. Franz is introduced to a new world at the same time as we, the viewers, are. Physically and psychologically, Franz resembles a big, chubby baby — one reason why we are able to forgive him so much.
The helpful guard introduces another motif. Throughout the film, Franz will meet people who treat him with unexpected kindness, and others who will treat him with equally unexpected malice. In reaction to the glaring light and grinding traffic noises of the city, Franz covers his ears and screams (a baby’s birth cry). He is rescued by two Hassidic Jews, brothers-in-law, who represent opposing views of life, the first encouraging Franz with the idea that a man can survive and succeed by simply looking forward and moving straight ahead, the second arguing that life crushes you in the end, no matter what you do.
We also meet some of Franz’s oldest friends: Eva the high-priced prostitute (Hanna Schygulla), a former lover from the days when Franz was her pimp, who still loves him and acts as his Guardian Angel throughout the film, and Meck (Franz Buchreiser), a decent-seeming fellow with unsavory criminal connections. Eva brings Franz back to the apartment where he lived prior to his four-year imprisonment. There he is greeted warmly by his landlady (Brigitte Mira, the star of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), notwithstanding that she witnessed Franz pummel his last girlfriend, Ida, to death in that very apartment. Meck brings Franz back to the bar that is their favorite hangout. Franz takes up with a girl, Polish Lina (Elizabeth Trissenaar), whom he meets in the bar, and swears an oath to her that henceforward he will live an “honest life.” We know it won’t last.
Part 2 — How Is One to Live If One Doesn’t Want to Die?
Lina is now living with Franz. Franz gets a job selling tie-clips on the street, but he’s not cut out for it. A news dealer friend suggests that Franz can make a living selling pornography. This leads to an odd scene where Franz reads to Lina a story from one of the pornographic books about an older homosexual who picks up a young man in the park whom he calls “my sunshine.” Is Franz bi-curious?
Rejecting pornography, Franz attempts to sell another kind of literature, published by Nazis, who insist he wear their Swastika armbands while selling. This enrages some of the socialists that Franz used to hang out with. A group of them corner Franz in the bar, and it looks like he’s going to be beaten to a pulp until he starts singing crazily at the top of his lungs. Two episodes so far, and Franz has suffered a mental breakdown of some kind in each of them.
Part 3 — A Hammer Blow on the Head Can Injure the Soul
Lina suggests that Franz get a job selling shoelaces door-to-door with her Uncle Lüders (Hark Bohm). Franz knocks on the door of a young widow who invites him in — he looks just like her late husband. They make love. Franz tells Lüders about the encounter — a mistake. Lüders returns to the widow’s apartment alone, rapes her, and steals her money. Franz feels betrayed by Lüders — breakdown number 3! — foreshadowing the even more catastrophic betrayals of Franz by Reinhold later in the film. Franz disappears. Lina takes up with Meck.
Part 4 — A Handful of People in the Depths of Silence
A remarkable episode — precisely because so little happens in it. It’s a study in entropy. Franz hides from the world in the cheapest flophouse he can find, sitting alone in his room surrounded by bottles, drinking, passing out for days on end. He wakes to find one of the other roomers, the Abraham Lincoln-bearded Baumann (Gerhard Zwerenz), cleaning up his vomit. “I was a medical orderly during the War,” explains Baumann, “I used to clean up worse things than that.” Baumann watches over Franz in his alcohol-fueled delirium, and plays cards with him as he recovers. Is he a saint? Baumann suggests he may, in fact, be Satan: “If I heal you, how will you settle with me?” The film’s rarely acknowledged metaphysical dimension7 becomes explicit in the following speech delivered by Baumann, as “Satan,” to Franz, as “Job”:
God and Satan, angels and men. They all want to help you, but you don’t want it — God, because he loves you, Satan, to possess you later, the angels and men, because they are God’s and Satan’s helpers. But you don’t want it.
Having sweat out the poisons in his system, Franz leaves the flophouse and rejoins his old friends.
Part 5 — A Grim Reaper with Powers from Almighty God
Franz and Meck are at their favorite bar. For the first time, we meet Meck’s criminal associates, the crime-boss Pums and the oddly compelling Reinhold (below). Immediately, Franz senses some kind of bond between Reinhold and himself: “What sad eyes that guy’s got. I bet he’s done time.” Reinhold denies any connection. Later, as both men are standing at urinals, the first “love scene” between Reinhold and Franz occurs. Reinhold has a girlfriend, but he’s grown tired of her. Can Franz take her off his hands?
Thus the Franz/Reinhold relationship begins as comedy or farce. Reinhold’s ex-girlfriend moves in with Franz. The sexually compulsive Reinhold acquires a new girlfriend, Cilly, and after a couple of weeks, he is asking Franz to take Cilly off his hands. Franz agrees, but not before setting up girlfriend number 1 with his friend, the old news dealer. One evening, Reinhold asks Franz to accompany him to the Salvation Army. There, kneeling at the sinners bench, the stuttering Reinhold reveals a surprising vulnerability: “I want to give up b-broads.” He begs Franz to take a third girlfriend, Trude, off his hands. This time, Franz refuses.8
Part 6 — Love Has Its Price
Back at the bar, Meck talks Franz into joining Pum’s gang on a job. Franz naively fails to realize it will be a robbery. Everything goes wrong. Franz and Reinhold are sitting together in the back of the getaway van. Reinhold is sweating with panic. Franz just grins. Reinhold shoves Franz out the back of the van into the path of a speeding car. Franz’s right arm is run over. Reinhold, suddenly wanting Cilly again, informs her that Franz is dead.
Part 7 — Remember: An Oath Can Be Amputated
At Pums’ Art Deco headquarters, the gang learns that Franz is not dead — he just lost an arm.9 They decide to take up a collection for him. (Reinhold refuses to contribute.) Meanwhile, Franz is holed up in the apartment of his former lover, Eva, and her boyfriend, Herbert. When Bruno, a member of the gang, shows up to give Franz the money the gang has collected for him, Franz and Eva think that Bruno has come to kill him and they freak out (a great scene for actress Hanna Schygulla).Franz gets tired of convalescing in Eva’s apartment and decides to step out for a night on the town. First, he visits “Babylon Street”, a Felliniesque alley of pimps and bare-breasted whores, then a cabaret where Cilly, his ex, is singing on-stage. Cilly recognizes Franz. She confronts her lover, Reinhold, in the dressing room: “You knew he wasn’t dead, you swine!” Franz befriends a young thief, Willy, and invites him to his place to discuss business.
Part 8 — The Sun Warms the Skin, but Burns It Sometimes, Too
Franz concludes he cannot make an honest living with only one arm. He makes a deal with Willy the thief to fence whatever Willy can steal. Eva, observing Franz decline into sardonic bitterness, decides what he really needs is the right woman. She finds one for him! Enter Mieze — sweet, a virtual child, ready to give Franz her heart the instant she sees him. Franz resists Mieze’s unconditional love, but not for long. “The girl is so tender, it’s unbelievable.” He takes her rowing in the country, proudly showing off his strength as he rows with first one oar, then the other, using his one good arm. They play blind man’s bluff in the woods; Mieze panics momentarily as blindfolded Franz trips and falls. (Later, Mieze will be murdered at this very spot.) Mieze brings home a gift for Franz, a canary in a wooden cage. They are happy.
Then a note of discord. While Mieze is out, a love letter arrives addressed to her, and Franz reads it. Upset, he runs to Eva, who explains. Mieze has been whoring on the side, but it doesn’t mean anything. Mieze just wants to feel like she’s paying her own way. A girl can’t stay home alone keeping house all day, can she?
Part 9 — About the Eternities Between the Many and the Few
Upon learning that Mieze is hooking to pay household expenses and to buy him gifts, Franz throws a fit. He doesn’t want to be a pimp again. Eva calms him down.
Franz and Mieze’s reconciliation recalls silent film, in particular the poignant conclusion of Chaplin’s City Lights. Because the scene is wordless, it depends entirely on the extraordinary physical expressiveness of Günther Lamprecht as Franz and Barbara Sukowa as Mieze. The couple see each other from opposite sides of a busy street. There is an exchange of close-ups, a flurry of shifting emotions. Franz motions to an old woman selling flowers. He buys a little bouquet for Mieze. He crosses the street and presents it to her. They embrace.
Followed by another “love scene” between Franz and Reinhold. Franz rings Reinhold’s doorbell. Reinhold answers holding a gun. “You don’t need that,” says Franz, “I don’t want money or anything else from you.” Reinhold asks Franz to show him his stump, which he does. Reinhold is fascinated by it.
At home, Mieze happily shines Franz’s shoes. Franz and Willy attend a workers’ meeting and argue politics.
Part 10 — Loneliness Tears Cracks of Madness, Even in Walls
Mieze visits Eva at the richly furnished apartment of her wealthy patron. What impresses Mieze the most is a large monkey cage. (Again, the cage/prison motif.) Eva’s patron wants to have a baby with Eva, but Eva doesn’t want it. She would rather have a baby with her boyfriend Herbert (who is sterile) or with Franz. Mieze screams with delight, and begins hugging and kissing Eva. “What’s with you, Mieze,” asks Eva, “are you a dyke?” No, she’s not. It’s just that Mieze can’t have a baby either, and it would make her so happy if Eva and Franz, the two people she loves most, could conceive a baby together.
Mieze’s love, encompassing anyone and everyone, is like a current of ’60s utopianism that flows beneath the film’s outcry against the human condition and the status quo. If only society didn’t confine love to couple relationships, if only gender roles weren’t so rigidly defined, then maybe relationships wouldn’t be poisoned by possessiveness, and the need to be loved wouldn’t lead so often to cruelty and exploitation.
Meanwhile, everyone is telling one-armed Franz he shouldn’t drink so much, he should avoid politics, he shouldn’t hang out with Willy. Does he want to end up like before? (Referring to the murder of Ida that led to Franz’s imprisonment.) Eva and Franz happily attempt to conceive a baby, just as Mieze wants. Mieze and Franz get drunk together, but suddenly Mieze realizes she promised to accompany one of her patrons to an apartment he has set up for her. “It’s my job, Franz. I have to do it.”
Part 11 — Knowledge Is Power and the Early Bird Catches the Worm
Franz is working again with Pums and the gang. He brings Reinhold home to meet Mieze, to show him “what a decent girl is like.” As a joke, he will hide Reinhold under the covers of the bed he shares with Mieze. Imagine how surprised she will be! But Mieze comes home with a surprise of her own, a confession. As Reinhold watches from beneath the covers, Mieze tells Franz she has fallen in love with the nephew of a benefactor. Franz becomes enraged. Mieze tries to calm him down, “I’m still yours.” Franz starts to beat Mieze. History is repeating itself — it’s just like when Franz beat Ida to death. Mieze is saved by Reinhold, of all people, who intervenes, but his sudden appearance causes Mieze to scream, a terrifying primal scream. Franz screams along with her.
Eva tends Mieze’s wounds, “You’ve got to find out what’s going on with that Reinhold.” Franz and Mieze reconcile. He takes her to the country, first to an outdoor cafe, then to their special spot in the woods — photographed so lyrically by Fassbinder — where they played blind man’s bluff.10
Part 12 — The Serpent in the Soul of the Serpent
Back at the bar, Franz proudly shows Mieze off to Pums and the gang. Reinhold schemes to meet Mieze alone, away from Franz. He blackmails Franz’s old friend Meck into setting it up.
Meck drives Mieze to the Freienwalde woods, Franz and Miezes’ Eden, and there, waiting for her at the outdoor cafe, is Reinhold, leading to the film’s core sequence — Reinhold’s murder of Mieze.
Reinhold and Mieze are alone in the woods. She approaches and retreats from him like a bird fascinated by a cobra. The camera watches the entire dance in long shot, almost static, but with barely perceptible movements, simultaneously tracking in and zooming out (as in Hitchcock’s Vertigo) to reflect the mixed attraction and repulsion of the characters. In truth, neither Reinhold nor Mieze understand their real motivations. (This is true of Fassbinder’s characters generally.) Reinhold thinks he wants to seduce Mieze. Mieze wants to pump Reinhold for information about Franz. When the seduction fails, Reinhold tells her to beat it, “I don’t assault women.” Yet she lingers. And somehow Reinhold ends up strangling her.
The on-screen death of Mieze is one of the most heartbreaking in film. It showcases the brilliance of Fassbinder as a writer of dialogue, a director of actors, and a choreographer of their movements. One could imagine it as a theatrical performance, or even as ballet, but it is all the more devastating for taking place in a natural setting.11
Part 13 — The Outside and the Inside and the Secret of Fear of the Secret
Franz sits before a mirror, wearing Mieze’s lipstick and one of her frocks. Has she left him? Where has she gone? Eva arrives, trying to comfort him. One bit of good news — Eva is pregnant with Franz’s child.
Franz accompanies the gang on a robbery. Meck attempts to crack a safe using a blowtorch. It explodes, severely scalding Meck’s hand. Franz bandages Meck’s wounds.
Wracked by pain, inside and out, Meck confesses to Max the bartender. He was an accomplice to Mieze’s murder; he helped Reinhold bury her. Meck takes the police to the spot where Mieze is buried.
Eva brings a newspaper to Franz’s apartment. It tells all about the prostitute murdered in the Freienwalde woods. Franz’s reaction — she didn’t leave me after all, Reinhold killed her! He starts laughing hysterically.
Epilogue — My Dream of Franz Biberkopf’s Dream
With a nod perhaps to the “Nighttown” sequence of Joyce’s Ulysses, Fassbinder breaks through the naturalism of the previous 13 chapters into a metaphysical-allegorical dream world. Its nearest cinematic equivalents are the circus sequences in Lola Montes(reiterating in symbolic form the “real” events we see in Lola’s flashbacks) or the moment we pass through the Star Gate in Kubrick’s 2001 and what had been up to that point a somewhat linear narrative turns abstract and avant-garde.12
Franz wanders through an interzone somewhere between life and death, accompanied by two Wagnerian angels, Terah and Sarug (played respectively by Margit Carstensen, the star of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, and Helmut Griem from Fosse’s Cabaret). Every significant character, living or dead, who appeared in the previous chapters, reappears and confronts Franz in various symbolic settings. Franz and Reinhold square off in a boxing ring before a cheering crowd. Franz and Mieze are butchered in a slaughterhouse like cattle. Mieze’s carcass is replaced by the body of the lover that Franz murdered in a fit of rage. Franz transforms from victim to butcher and back again. He crawls through Hell. He is crucified like Christ. Peer Raben’s superb musical scoring (a cross between Kurt Weill and Ennio Morricone) is replaced by Nazi marching songs and contemporary pop tunes — Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, Leonard Cohen . . .
In the real world, Franz sits in a mental institution, with doctors pondering what to do about his catatonic state. Reinhold, now in prison, feels genuine love for the first time in his life — for another male prisoner. These scenes from reality are intercut with Franz’s symbolic death.
And rebirth. Broken Franz is fixed. He is asked to testify at Reinhold’s trial, but still can hardly say anything negative about his former “friend.” Reinhold smiles at the sentence he receives — 10 years for manslaughter.
Franz has learned something, but what is it? Fassbinder’s subtitle for this chapter is “The Death of a Child and the Birth of a Worthwhile Human Being.” Franz accepts a job as an assistant gatekeeper at a factory. He seems to have adjusted to life.
Is he really better off?
About this release
The estimable UK company Second Sight’s Region 2 release of Berlin Alexanderplatz runs 910 minutes and is spread over 6 discs. The extensive extras package includes documentaries (The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz, A Mega-Movie and Its Story; The Restoration — Before and After; and Fassbinder’s Women, directed by Rosa von Praunheim); stills and production photo galleries; the original recaps; and the Berlinale 2007 trailer. There is also a U.S. edition coming in November 2007 from Criterion.
- Berlin Alexanderplatz was shot in 16mm. The 2004 digital restoration was overseen by editor Lorenz, now head of The Fassbinder Foundation, and its cinematographer, Xaver Schwarzenberger. [↩]
- In 1978, Sirk directed Fassbinder in Bourbon Street Blues (based on a Tennessee Williams play), one of three short films Sirk made at the Munich Film School using students as interns. Shot in 16mm with typically exquisite Sirkian lighting, these films, I suspect, confirmed to Fassbinder that he could shoot a film as visually and otherwise ambitious as Berlin Alexanderplatz in that format. Note to Criterion, Second Sight, Kino, et al.: When, oh when, will these three short Sirk masterpieces be released on DVD? [↩]
- German viewers complained, justifiably, that many scenes were shot too dark for their television sets. Viewers who watch Berlin Alexanderplatz on a small screen will also miss the full effect of Fassbinder’s vertiginous camera movements. [↩]
- Strangely, Fassbinder is much more sympathetic to the repressed bisexuality of Franz and Reinhold than he is to homosexuality per se. The middle-class gays in Fox and His Friends are exploitative snobs. The lead in Querelle discovers his gayness at the same time he learns he likes to murder people. The transgender protagonist of In a Year of 13 Moons is a clichéd “unhappy queer” who ends up killing himself. [↩]
- The first film version of Berlin Alexanderplatz was made in Germany in 1931 from a screenplay by Döblin himself. It was 88 minutes long and is reportedly included in the Criterion boxed set version of Berlin Alexanderplatz, which I haven’t seen. [↩]
- A number of film noirs begin with the main character being released from prison. See, e.g., Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross (Siodmak, 1949) and Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm(Preminger, 1955). [↩]
- Young Fassbinder was educated in part at a school dedicated to the principles of the German philosopher/mystic, Rudolph Steiner. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. [↩]
- Franz explains to Cilly why he refuses Reinhold’s request, “He destroys people.” So Franz’s problem isn’t blindness so much as hubris. He sees the evil in Reinhold, but thinks he’s too strong to be affected by it. [↩]
- Whenever Pums is present, his wife hovers silently in the background, serving coffee, etc. She is played by Lilo Pempeit, Fassbinder’s mother. [↩]
- The spot has cinematic resonances as well. It calls to mind the forest Siegfried rode through in Lang’s Die Niebelungen, as well as the forest where Jimmy Stewart rendezvoused with Kim Novak in Vertigo, and the woods where Eva-Marie Sainte reconciled with Cary Grant after his shooting in North by Northwest. [↩]
- The only thing comparable to it I’ve seen in recent years was the shocking death of Maddy (Sheryl Lee) as directed by David Lynch in the second season of Twin Peaks (1990-1991), another serial drama made for television. [↩]
- Other parallels one might point to include the allegorical tableaus of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’sHitler: A Film from Germany aka Our Hitler (1978), and Dennis Hopper’s symbolic interrogation of Peter Fonda in Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967). [↩]