Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fassbinder is still dead

Because the Sheila is learning German, we've been watching a lot of German films over the past few months. Last night we polished off Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy with Veronika Voss. It's actually the second one, sandwiched between The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola, but we watched it last.

The story of a morphine-addicted, washed-out movie star in 1955, Veronika Voss may well be the Fassbinder film in which his debt to Hollywood melodramas is the most obvious because it goes well beyond themes and structures: The aesthetic of those b&w Warner Brothers women's films of the 1940s is emulated to a degree that borders on the religious. Emulated and amplified, actually: Some scenes look so overexposed that they're literally blinding.

To achieve that effect, Fassbinder used Orwo, an East German film stock that provided extremely deep contrasts between black and white. (Kieslowski also purposefully used Orwo in the 1977 doc From a Night Porter's Point of View and apparently it was also used in the 1999 noir Night Train.) Indeed, VV has got to be one of the best deliberate uses of b&w I've ever seen. In the scenes in the apartment of the doctor who "takes care" of Veronika, the characters, dressed in black, glide across eye-searing white. The effect is both hypnotic and shocking, a visual device that calls attention to itself and yet doesn't come across as being ironic.

The Veronika Voss DVD includes a chat between lead actress Rosel Zech and Juliane Lorenz, who now more or less runs the Fassbinder Foundation—much to the dismay of many of the director's old friends and associates, such as actress Ingrid Caven and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who think Lorenz is self-servingly distorting Fassbinder's life and legacy. (Check out this fascinating interview with Caven, in which she lashes out at Lorenz.)

Next stop: Berlin Alexanderplatz.

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