Interview with the President of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, Berlin: Juliane Maria Lorenz
She edited fourteen of Fassbinder’s film and was his companion. She has furthermore headed the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation (RWFF) since 1992: Juliane Maria Lorenz talks with the Deutsches Filmmuseum about film culture, the challenges of digitization and restoration, and about the RWFF’s work in Berlin.
Deutsches Filmmuseum (DFM): Ms. Lorenz, you have been working productively with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for years, which among other things is contributing to the cost of restoring the WDR television series EIGHT DAYS DON’T MAKE A DAY (Germany 1972, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder). In the meantime we now have the Filmerbe Content subsidy program that producers of German feature films have been able to apply to since 2013. However, there still might be obstacles to overcome with respect to the five-part classic produced for television whose rights are with the RWFF. That’s rather crazy: does the support in the United States also reveal that Rainer Werner Fassbinder is better tolerated abroad than in Germany? And if so, how do you explain this?
Juliane Maria Lorenz: To put it positively, because one is always afraid of one’s own potency. In Germany, many people regarded Fassbinder as crazy simply because of his creative power. The Americans see things differently: they think so-called geniuses are great! I’m not saying that he was a genius; Rainer wouldn’t have said that about himself. But he was incredibly hardworking and had charisma, and he assembled the right, very talented young people around him. And he was enormously well organized. You notice that in his films. You notice that in his texts. He was extremely structured.
DFM: You were nineteen when you met Fassbinder. How did it actually come about that you took on the editing for fourteen of his films?
Lorenz: I stumbled into it. I wanted to become a filmmaker, or a writer. He said: you do this now. He threw me into DESPAIR, and I had to swim. He was pretty tricky when he assigned you a task: he often tested out how far he could go, how far he could put a strain on you. Of course he didn’t do that with Hanna Schygulla or with Peter Märthesheimer, but with Irm Hermann he did it in the extreme. He tried it with her. For LOLA (Germany 1982) I was suddenly supposed to be the executive producer. I resisted.
DFM: So he needed resistance?
Lorenz: Yes, and how! Someone like Irm surely had a terrific capacity for suffering, but she also resisted; she shouted, cried, threatened: “I’m going to kill myself!” And jumped onto the windowsill. I don’t think she really wanted to jump. He just calmly said: “Jump out!” However, he later said to me: “Hey, if there’s anyone who can complain, it’s Irm.” He couldn’t bear for anyone to submit to him
DFM: Did that ever happen to you?
Lorenz: Not to that extreme, but with LILI MARLEEN (Germany 1980) I was initially completely overwhelmed and started to panic. On August 2, 1980, I mixed the last episode of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, and the first reels of LILI MARLEEN were already rolling in the next cutting room: an unbelievable number of rushes. I was twenty-three, and all alone except for an assistant. He said to me: Xaver [Schwarzenberger] also told me it might be too much for you.” Fassbinder—a wonderfully lubricated machine that ran permanently. I didn’t find it that bad otherwise. But with this film I needed a break, and I was off. When I returned ten days later, I could edit—as if in a trance. He said: “You got it again.” If I hadn’t had so many other mentors, for example the wonderful sound mix master Milan Bor, things wouldn’t have ultimately turned out so well.
DFM: What kind of requirements did you have when you began tackling the editing?
Lorenz: There never were any requirements. There was a screenplay. I was used to his shots. I knew how he edited. He also had an opinion about the profession of master editors: “The editor is an independent artist,” he always said. “But the director provides the information, and the editor has to find them.” I often suffered anxiety: “Will I bring it off? Can I do it?” On the other hand, I approached things with a great deal of naivety, and then everything was easy.
DFM: He was in no way indifferent to success. Did he want a lot of people to see his films?
Lorenz: He never gave any too complicated thought to that. On the one hand, he was fascinated by the perfection of American films, and he was inspired by French cinema, directors such as Jean-Luc Godard: that’s how he wanted to be. He didn’t have anything else in mind. “I want to be good. Let’s get started.” That’s what it was about. And then there was his unbelievable creative drive. This special kind of alienation.
DFM: Because you mention his creative drive: contemporary artists make reference to Fassbinder even more than thirty years after his death. Ming Wong, for example, whose works will also be on view in our exhibition …
Lorenz: Yes, of course, artists look at other artists. Fassbinder is very well known in China. Even Martin Scorsese has watched Fassbinder, just like Marina Abramović or Cindy Sherman and Todd Haynes, who wanted me to tell him how Fassbinder worked. That’s why I’m convinced: Fassbinder will also be cool in the future. Ming Wong dealt with Fassbinder because he wanted to learn German. And he did it with the films ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Germany 1973) and THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (Germany 1973), because they ran in China. And at this point one has to mention the Goethe Institute, which time and again screened Fassbinder’s films abroad, from the very beginning.
DFM: It’s also interesting that the performance artist Rirkrit Tiravanija used the title “Fear Eats the Soul” for the first time in 1994—two years after the major retrospective in Berlin. According to our research, he was the first artist outside the cinema that made direct reference to Fassbinder. In 1998, the year after the retrospective at New York’s MoMA, several video artists did so within just a year.
Lorenz: Yes, of course. That has something to do with it. The American Goethe-Institut contributed to making it possible for the Fassbinder retrospective to tour through fifty cities in the United States following the show at MoMA.
DFM: What is the leitmotif of your work at the RWFF?
Lorenz: Securing through preserving. Making people aware of what film culture is. That’s what I’m concerned about.
The interview with Juliane Maria Lorenz was conducted by Anna Fricke, Hans-Peter Reichmann and Frauke Haß for the Deutsches Filmmuseum