Fassbinder at different ages
Fassbinder at different ages

“Germany in autumn” is exceptionally important work for international audiences because more and more countries are targeted by terrorists with various ideological motivations and because it compares two alternative governmental responses to the terrorist attack. One is solid, rational and psychologically mature – in agreement with democratic principles, and the other is impulsive, hysterical, indiscriminately vengeful – a conservative one that targets not so much perpetrators as the peaceful population.

But the main accent of Fassbinder’s short is the depiction of how polarization of the country (Germany reacting on terrorist attack) on a growingly aggressive and extremist conservatives and a growingly fearful and desperate liberals, makes creative and culturally/politically active individuals (personified by Fassbinder playing himself) traumatized, disheartened and unable to think and create in full capacity. Serious art is the child of a democratic worldview, it needs a democratically fertile environment to thrive and any totalitarization of the atmosphere is destructive for both – for the very psychological substratum of democracy and for the very heart of art.

As an actor (and self-director) Fassbinder finds an expressive means unique to him, to characterize his frustration and helplessness in front of a growing totalitarization of his country in the autumn of 1977. His own mother, Liselotte Eder (who acted in many of his films) and Armin Meier (his partner in life and one of his regular actors) play themselves as Rainer’s political opponents as they were in real life. L. Eder plays a philistine with a passively democratic views, and Armin – a person with a conservative sensibility and simplemindedly narcissistic reaction on the political events. The heated arguments between Fassbinder and his mother and his close friend became the semantic skeleton of the film. The clash of opposing logics and ideological orientations as they are described is very close to the political climate in U.S., in the 21st century and it is highly illuminating for the American viewers.

Fassbinder’s painfully frank, without any embellishment of glamour and sentimental cosmetization, representation of a film-director (who dares to express critical truth not about the past but the actual present of his country), who is reduced by the decision-makers’ intolerance for critical speech – to his private life, is not easy to see. Instead of being satisfied with his status of super-star of the German society, Fassbinder refuses that role as a miserably fake one and instead shows on his own example how tragically helpless “super-stars” are in front of wolves in democratic clothing. The depiction of his desperate situation throughout the film is a drastic contrast to the embellished by multicolored wrapping papers and ribbons pop-images with which American movie-makers make themselves objects of idolatry for consumers hooked on fame, wealth and glamour.

Fassbinder’s self-representation in “Germany in autumn” as a person reduced (by the government’s intolerance for critical speech) to a banal nudity of an entrenched isolation and despair and who moves around his apartment like a caged animal is his heroic deed as a human being and as an artist.

Fassbinder’s short film is tormenting to watch, but after further contemplation it becomes an incredibly stimulating feat that teaches us how to overcome escapist vanity of running after fame and wealth while democracy slips away, and how to live with the truth

Fassbinder is disappointed… in us, the viewers of cinema, the inhabitants of democracy, petty philistines proud of their material prosperity

Posted March 26 2013 –   Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Episode in “Germany in autumn” (1978) – Rainer and Armin During The Leaden Times*  by Acting-Out Politics