Second Time Around

A suitable finale for the run of films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder that has been playing in the Bay Area for the last two months. The director's awe-inspiring 15-1/2-hour TV miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979-80) will unspool in a free presentation of the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley over two days this weekend. Big sack of potatoes Franz Biberkopf (GYnter Lamprecht) is released from prison in the first episode, "Punishment Will Come," and it does. A pimp and a killer, Biberkopf seems an unlikely hero of a greatly moving tragedy; but indeed that's exactly what he becomes, pursued by his demons up the increasingly blind alleys of Weimar Berlin. The project was a dream of the director for many years; Fassbinder credited Alfred Dsblin's novel (published in the pre-Hitler Germany of 1929) with allowing him to acknowledge his homosexuality as a boy. References to it dot his career -- in the very early Gods of the Plague (1969) Harry Baer plays a character named Franz Biberkopf who shares a girlfriend with the phlegmatic GYnther Kaufmann, Fassbinder's way of indicating the two men's erotic attraction. Fassbinder's put-upon character in Fox and His Friends is also named Franz Biberkopf. The Gods of the Plague romantic pattern is repeated in Berlin Alexanderplatz, with Gottfried John and Barbara Sukowa impressively creating the other points in that triangle. Lamprecht himself utterly inhabits Dsblin's brutal, brutalized anti-hero in one of world cinema's great performances. The filmmaker's surreal two-hour epilogue renders explicit what was more artfully implicit in the body of the work, registering as perhaps a mistake; but both Dsblin's novel and Fassbinder's epic present a kaleidoscopic portrait of Germany before the fall in what is perhaps the director's greatest achievement.

-- Gregg Rickman

The Pacific Film Archive screens Berlin Alexanderplatz over two days: Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 30 and 31. The showing begins each day at 1 p.m. and stretches to about 10 p.m., with a two-hour dinner break midway through. The presentation is free. The PFA is at 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Call (510) 642-1124 for more. The film also plays out at the Goethe-Institut, 530 Bush (at Stockton), throughout the month of September. Two parts will be shown at 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday, Sept. 2-30. That's free as well. Call 391-0370.

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