There is an interesting interview, billed as an appreciation, included with this small collection of early films from German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Ulli Lommel, an actor who appeared in many Fassbinder films, relates his experiences of working with the notorious director for the first time. Already an established performer, Lommel recalls those early days on set, with no script present and no shot list planned; in many ways, no plan at all. Just a few days into production Fassbinder asked Lommel if he could bring his brand new, red MG sports car to set the next day. When asked why, Fassbinder said they needed to sell it in order to raise funds to continue filming. That Lommel did just that despite having reservations each day as to whether to even continue with the film is testament to the strength of the director’s influence, and the belief he ultimately inspired. The film, Love is Colder Than Death, initially booed at the Berlin Film Festival, is now one of Fassbinder’s most revered, and the one that demonstrates his raw early promise.
Notably a stripped-down gangster film, Love is Colder Than Death contains all of the hallmarks that would make Fassbinder such an interesting and frustrating filmmaker. Languid, overly-long scenes shot with implied disinterest portray characters shamelessly unaffected by their lowly position in life. Fassbinder plays central pimp Franz who, after befriending Bruno (Lommel) in prison, invites him to his home where they plan a heist. Messy, unpredictable and full of those long tracking shots for which the director would become famous, Love is Colder Than Death feels like a student calling card; a film made by a director confidently announcing himself.
Undeniably tedious in places, and pessimistically morose throughout, Fassbinder’s second feature, Katzelmacher, continues the tropes established in Love is Colder Than Death, and adds themes that the director would return to in future work. Adapted from his own play, this is a film of failing youth, as a disaffected group moan, argue, get drunk and indulge in some of the most passionless sex ever committed to film. Katzelmacher is Fassbinder testing his audience, and taunting his early critics. The camera holds for even longer this time, and characters offer little in the way of likeability, as Fassbinder’s obsession with equal opportunity presents all as selfishly morose.
With two short films, and some intriguing behind-the-scenes footage and press conference material, this small collection is a perfect introduction to one of cinema’s great enigmas. Dead at just 37 years old, Fassbinder completed 40 feature films and 24 stage plays in a career that lasted just 15 years. Ultimately self-destructive, yet driven with an artistic fervour rarely seen, he is the filmmaker synonymous with the New German Cinema of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Not always enjoyable, but impossible to ignore.
Special Features: Two short films / End of the Commune? documentary / Interviews / Original theatrical trailer for Katzelmacher
THE EARLY WORKS OF RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER / SCREENPLAY: RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER / STARRING: HANNA SCHYGULLA, ULLI LOMMEL, CHRISTOPH ROSER, RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 15TH