Painting the Art of Life: 12 Shots from Films by R.W. Fassbinder


“I hope to build a house with my films. Some of them are the cellar, some are the walls, and some are the windows. But I hope in time there will be a house.”

(R.W.F. photographed by Daniel Boudinet, 1978.)

In honor of the German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was born on this day in 1945, here are images from a dozen films of his that I have seen. Each shot, so artistically composed because Fassbinder had a meticulous eye for detail, could stand on its own apart from cinematic context and tell a story as well as any painting or drawing could. Light, shadows, color (or stark black-and-white), set design,  camera angles and the uses of doorways and windows to create multiple frames within the camera frame are all important parts of Fassbinder’s mise-en-scène, as are the costumes and makeup worn by his actors. Whether depicting a waltz in the desert, a melancholy rendezvous in an empty outdoor café, a decadent dinner party or a lively cabaret performance (by a character who is an updated version of Lola Lola from The Blue Angel), Fassbinder’s creativity is always evident. Each entry also lists the director of photography, or DP, for the corresponding film.

Thanks to his distinct and inimitable style, the structure of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “house” is long-lasting.


Love Is Colder Than Death (1969) – DP: Dietrich Lohmann


Whity (1971) – DP: Michael Ballhaus


The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971) – DP: Dietrich Lohmann


The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) – DP: Michael Ballhaus


Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) – DP: Jürgen Jürges


Fox and His Friends (1975) – DP: Michael Ballhaus


Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975) – DP: Michael Ballhaus


Chinese Roulette (1976) – DP: Michael Ballhaus


In a Year with 13 Moons (1978) – DP: Rainer Werner Fassbinder


The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) – DP: Michael Ballhaus


Lola (1981) – DP: Xaver Schwarzenberger


Veronika Voss (1982) – DP: Xaver Schwarzenberger

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