Bright Lights Film Journal

The Unusual Life of Juliane Lorenz

How about this for a life story? A 19-year-old girl is hired as an assistant editor working for one of Europe’s greatest filmmakers, and he soon promotes her to editor. At the age of 21, she is cutting what is probably the filmmaker’s masterpiece, a 15-½ hour epic made for television. Midway through the production, the director elopes with her to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (!), and they are married there. Two years later, her filmmaker husband is dead of a drug overdose.

The young editor was Juliane Lorenz. The filmmaker was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, known publicly for his astonishing productivity (41 films in 13 years) and privately for his flamboyant bisexual lifestyle. She began working with him on Chinese Roulette (1976) and edited most of his films thereafter, including Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980, the 15½ hour urban epic), and Querelle (1982) which she finished editing after his death. It was she who found him dead in his private bedroom of the Munich apartment they shared. He was 37 at the time. She was 24.

What’s a real-life Fassbinder heroine to do? If she is anything like Maria in The Marriage of Maria Braun (Fassbinder’s most successful film, which Lorenz edited) she is going to keep on going, which is what Ms. Lorenz did. She became the editor for Werner Schroeter (Malina), another of Germany’s leading filmmakers. She also became keeper of the flame, as it were, for her deceased husband. Since 1992, she has been head of The Fassbinder Foundation. She published a collection of interviews with Fassbinder collaborators entitled Chaos as Usual. She directed a feature-length documentary about Fassbinder, Life, Love and Celluloid, which is included as an extra on The Merchant of Four Seasons DVD. She also directed and narrated Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz: A Mega Movie and its Story, a fine documentary about the making of the epic, and she recently oversaw the digital restoration of Berlin Alexanderplatz along with Xaver Schwarzenberger, its cinematographer.

Here’s Juliane Lorenz today.

And here’s a YouTube clip of Lorenz talking about Fassbinder.