Fassbinder. Fassbinder. Fassbinder. To many film enthusiasts, the name Rainer Werner Fassbinder is like a god burned into the mind of children after reading the Bible, allowing for the creation of a filmmaker of mythic proportions, especially given the difficulty in obtaining some of his films in decent quality. Thankfully, Arrow Video has begun to issue box sets of his pictures, with Volume III covering his lesser-seen films.
The set covers seven movies in total, ranging from early cinematic efforts to television films, from existential crime dramas to comedy adventures. The films included are Gods of the Plague (1970), Rio Das Mortes (1971), The Niklashausen Journey (1970), The American Soldier (1970), Mother Kusters Goes To Heaven (1975), Fear of Fear (1975), and Satan’s Brew (1976). Four of the features – Gods of the Plague, The American Soldier, Mother Kusters Goes To Heaven, and Satan’s Brew have all been given high-definition transfers by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation.
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It’s a fascinating look at these lesser-seen films, and while one might be tempted to just say “oh, they’re all masterpieces”, well, they’re not. What they are is a window into the development of Fassbinder in form and style. And they are all interesting in their own ways, whether it’s the attempts at comedy that don’t always come off or the reinterpretation of Hollywood iconography and narrative. For example, The American Soldier begins with a noir setting with policemen playing poker in a dark room, but the mood is offset immediately by them being distracted because they’re playing with pornographic playing cards. Rio Das Mortes is a weak film, but it has a brilliantly unique title sequence, one of the many things Fassbinder seemingly liked to play with.
I’ll be perfectly honest, though. This is my first dive into the world of Fassbinder, something I’ve been curious about since seeing his name practically in lights in a book about cult films I read as a youngster – obviously I never followed that up but I have watched Jaws 3-D about a hundred times, which tells you who I really am. Nevertheless, it’s not been an easy journey, and maybe I put him on a pedestal too much and expected everything to be the greatest thing ever. It may also be the fact that I haven’t been exposed to his more famous films such as Ali: Fear Eats The Soul or The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, which are presumably more accessible as they appeared in the previous box sets by Arrow.
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Saying that, most of what is in this set is fantastic, even if it can be difficult to get into and absorb Fassbinder’s stylistic tendencies and idiosyncrasies. Gods of the Plague, The American Soldier, The Niklashausen Journey, Mother Kusters Goes To Heaven – these are absolutely fascinating films and can be rewarding, especially when researching and investigating the context of the New German Cinema and the ideas behind Fassbinder and other filmmakers’ manifesto. Thankfully, Arrow has provided a great deal of this context with this box set, including audio commentaries with the likes of the great Tony Rayns (who has written books on Fassbinder) and Olaf Möller, as well as interviews with people from Fassbinder’s circle such as actors Harry Baer and Michael Konig and writer Renate Leiffer.
Going even further are two prized documentaries included; The 1976 film The Culture Industry Needs Something Like Me: Views of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Christian Braad Thomsen’s 2015 film Fassbinder: Love Without Demands. Both of these are crucial looks into the director and the people who worked with him. It’s features like these that are essential supplements to the films, especially to newcomers like myself.
As mentioned previously, Gods of the Plague, The American Soldier, Mother Kusters Goes To Heaven, and Satan’s Brew were all given new 1080p transfers courtesy of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, and they look fantastic. His films have such a certain look and here they just look perfect, with such a depth in the image, especially the black and white films like The American Soldier. All of the films also have uncompressed mono soundtracks digitised from the original analogue sources, and they sound perfect.
It’s a difficult one to sum up. It’s a brilliant box set in its own right, although you might want to do some reading on Fassbinder just to enrich your viewing. Sorry, I’ve never given homework in a review before. I won’t mark it.
The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Collection Vol. III is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.