Recent months have brought news of a several deaths of figures connected with the life and work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. On June 1, for example, Margit Carstensen, one of the most important and distinctive actresses to appear in Fassbinder’s films, passed away. Carstensen’s best-known leading roles include the serial killer Geesche Gottfried in BREMEN FREEDOM (1972), the narcissistic, tyrannical fashion designer in THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (1972), and the masochistic title character in the melodrama MARTHA (1974). Following RWF’s death, Carstensen continued to pursue a productive career, working with directors such as Leander Haußmann and Christoph Schlingensief and showcasing both her dramatic and comedic talents.
In his obituary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Andreas Kilb writes, “With her red-lipped, ‘man-eater smile’ (Benjamin Henrichs), her upswept hair, and a way of moving that ranged from stiff and doll-like to lithe and serpentine, she was the very image of the mutilated soul.” The article also quotes her response to the claim that Fassbinder intentionally portrayed her characters negatively: “But that was me. I drew them negatively. Because I don’t trust any woman – not even myself. In other words, no one.” The full obituary is available at: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/kino/zum-tod-der-schauspielerin-margit-carstensen-18940816.html . Our own obituary can also be found in the FAZ: https://lebenswege.faz.net/traueranzeige/margit-carstensen.
We will also sorely miss film historian and author Hans Helmut Prinzler. Director of the Deutsche Kinemathek museum for 16 years and of the Berlin Film Museum for six years, Prinzler curated numerous retrospectives for the Berlin International Film Festival. Among his numerous publications are several texts about Fassbinder, some of which can be read on Prinzler’s expansive and lovingly maintained website: https://www.hhprinzler.de/archiv/texte-und-reden/
Praising HHP’s openness and curiosity, Fritz Göttler writes in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “Hans Helmut Prinzler was a film-lover without a rigid canon. He liked to go to the movies, even to the new action cinema. He let himself be seduced and yet always saw the images on the screen in their socio-historical context.” The full obituary can be read at: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/hans-helmut-prinzler-nachruf-1.5947127
In April, we sadly already had to say goodbye to costume designer Barbara Baum, who was responsible for the period costumes in Fassbinder’s late work in particular, for example in films such as BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (1980), LOLA (1981) and QUERELLE (1982). Baum, who also designed costumes for stars such as Meryl Streep, Jeanne Moreau and Burt Lancaster during her career, pointedly summed up the sensual quality of her approach to design with the phrase, “I think in fabrics.” In 2018, the Deutsche Filminstitut und Filmmuseum (DFF) in Frankfurt am Main dedicated a major exhibition to her entitled “Close-up.” In our obituary, we remember her unique “zest for life and joy in creating” and her unforgettable “echoing laughter.” The obituary is available at: https://lebenswege.faz.net/traueranzeige/barbara-baum.
Like his cousin Rainer Werner, publisher and gay activist Egmont Fassbinder was born in 1945. He was a founding member of Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (HAW), came out in 1978 along with almost 700 other men in an issue of “stern” magazine, and for 24 years ran the gay publishing house rosa Winkel, which published writings by Magnus Hirschfeld as well as early comics by Ralf König. He passed away in May, and Nadine Lange recalls his achievements in the Tagesspiegel: https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/queerspiegel/verleger-und-schwulenaktivist-egmont-fassbinder-ist-tot-9837365.html
Like Fassbinder, director Peter Lilienthal was a co-founder of Filmverlag der Autoren. During a career that spanned more than five decades, Lilienthal filmed several television adaptations of theatre plays, directed Joe Pesci in the film DEAR MR. WONDERFUL, and made DAVID (1979), a film about the son of a rabbi who survives the Nazi regime, for which he won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International film Festival. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, with whom he worked several times, recounted that it was Lilienthal who first turned him into a cinephile.
Claudius Seidl describes the director, who fled the Nazis with his mother in 1939, and who died in April this year, as a “man who, despite his experience, his cosmopolitanism and his history with the Germans […], was always able to convey to a German and much younger interlocutor the feeling that they were each other’s equals.” https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/kino/regisseur-peter-lilienthal-im-alter-von-95-jahren-gestorben-18856964.html
The online media library of the German broadcaster ZDF is currently showing the directorial debut of Wolf Gremm, who went on to make the science fiction film KAMIKAZE 1989 (1982) with Fassbinder in the lead role. ICH DACHTE, ICH WÄR TOT (I Thought I Was Dead, 1973) tells the story of the 17-year-old Caroline (Y Sa Lo), who is driven to suicide by professional and family pressures. It was also the first film produced by Gremmer’s wife, Regina Ziegler, who would go on to have a highly successful career as a producer of film and television. https://www.zdf.de/filme/filme-sonstige/ich-dachte-ich-waere-tot-100.html
After a two-year delay, the Udo Kier film SWAN SONG was recently released in Germany on DVD and video-on-demand. The tragicomedy, directed by Todd Stephens, is based on the true story of Pat Pitsenbarger, a retired star hairdresser and one-time drag legend in a small town in Ohio.
To mark the release, Kier spoke to Elbe-Jeetzel-Zeitung about enjoying dressing up as Caterina Valente when he was a child and his ongoing enjoyment of acting even at the age of 79. In the interview he reveals that it was only by chance that he met famous directors such as Fassbinder, Paul Morrissey and Gus Van Sant. https://www.ejz.de/blick-in-die-welt/kultur/interview-udo-kier-gutes-leben-id291097.html
The British journalist Ian Penman has just published a book titled “Fassbinder Thousand of Mirrors” with Fitzcarraldo Editions. Among other things, the book deals with the question of why, even more than 40 years after his death, RWF remains unsuited to a conventional monument. Penman approaches the resistance of his subject to appropriation in a style that is at once fragmentary, kaleidoscopic and autobiographical. Addressing Fassbinder’s films very personally, he writes, “These are exploitation movies, and what he is exploiting is his own life.” A review of the book is can be read at the Los Angeles Review of Books: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/no-monuments-on-ian-penmans-fassbinder-thousands-of-mirrors/
Finally, a note on the new film by the endlessly prolific François Ozon. MY FABULOUS CRIME has been showing in German cinemas since July 6, a humorous adaptation of a stage play from the 1930s, which Ozon ties in with today’s MeToo debates. (A trailer is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lc4jyP0nnY4
In addition, Ozone’s penultimate film is currently available in the broadcaster ARD’s online media archive. SOMMER 85 ostensibly tells the story of a first love, but increasingly turns out to be a reflection on how much this experience is based on projection and illusion. The film can be viewed here: https://shorturl.at/pxCOU
We will now take a break for the summer holidays. We wish our readers and friends all the best over the coming weeks and will be back in autumn with more news from the world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
More on the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder:
Photo left: Margit Carstensen in MARTHA © Deutsche Kinemathek
Photo right: Udo Kier in Todd Stephens’ SWAN SONG © Plaion Pictures