Second Time Around

Why Did Herr F. Run Amok?
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the prolific and profligate German filmmaker who died in 1982 after having logged just about as many films as years he was alive (37), began his career rattling off 10 features over 12 months of 1969 and 1970. Appropriately, the Pacific Film Archive's all-but-complete retro, which starts this Thursday and lasts through August, begins with those 10 obscure early works spread out over this weekend and next. While these early films lack the glossy veneer and melodramatic appeal of Fassbinder's later, more famous work, they have remarkable qualities of their own. In a 1975 essay published in City magazine, Patricia Patterson and the late Manny Farber wrote specifically of Fassbinder's fourth feature, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, that its "raw presentation" of "this crackup of a petty bourgeois" caught most of what the director was driving at, both in 1969 and as it happens for the rest of his career: "The shopkeepers of life treated without condescension or impatience," the endless humiliation of same, and unease both uncanny and endless. "The essence of Fassbinder is a nagging physical discomfort." To my mind the best of the early Fassbinders is the director's third feature, Katzelmacher (1969), a pained, casually brutal tale of an immigrant "guest worker" and his misadventures in the New Germany. Fassbinder himself plays the hapless Jorgos, the director's hidden tenderness creeping out from its shell in a town without pity, filmed in a straight-on deadpan style and co-starring the very young Hanna Schygulla, the filmmaker's muse, at her most angelic. The other films screening this weekend are two never-before-seen shorts plus his first two features, the Hollywood gangster parodies Love Is Colder Than Death and Gods of the Plague (also all from 1969).

-- Gregg Rickman

The retrospective "Rainer Werner Fassbinder" runs through August at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and July 25 to Aug. 7 at the Castro in S.F. For a complete schedule, see Reps Etc., Page 76.

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