|Rainer Werner Fassbinder.|
I call them gangster films, but they’re more like gangster pastiches, or the archetypes of gangster movies. Men of few words drift through a sparse, late-60’s Munich (sparse both in terms of the setting and in terms of the population; there are very few people in Fassbinder’s Munich) and drink, start fights, collapse in seedy hotels, buy pornography, and have sex with women who inexplicably love them. Then they blow it all on a heist gone wrong (and that’s not a spoiler; the heist never goes right, it just comes with the territory).
It’s interesting that these movies are made in black-and-white, because by the late ‘60’s, most filmmakers had made the transition to color. At this point, if you were going to make a film in black-and-white, it wasn’t just a matter of economy or convention; you were doing so as a conscious artistic choice. For Fassbinder in these early works, I think it lends them an icy depth and beauty that they might have lacked otherwise. There’s an anecdote (which I may have related before) that goes like this, and it comes from Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com: Martin Scorsese is hanging out with Lars von Trier (because that’s what glamorous directors do, they hang out with each other) and Scorsese says to von Trier (paraphrasing): “I really liked the opening sequence of Antichrist. It was very beautiful,” and von Trier says (paraphrasing): “Well of course it was beautiful. It was in black-and-white and slow motion.” Now, these Fassbinder films may not be in slow motion, but they’re in black-and-white, and I think that’s one of the tragedies of the sixties (cinematically speaking), that they transitioned to color—often of a poor, grimy quality—just as black-and-white was looking better than ever. Paul Simon was wrong when he said that everything looks worse in black-and-white; it looks so much better. And a film like Gods of the Plague looks like a Bela Tarr film where things happen.
|Poster for Love is Colder than Death.|
Post-script: For my post on Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, click here.