The Lens of Fears and Dreams: Michael Ballhaus

German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, most famous for his collaborations with the auteurs Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Martin Scorsese, passed away today at age 81. Here are scenes from eleven films (because ten just aren’t enough!) photographed by Ballhaus, unforgettable moments that are forever imprinted in my mind.

Beware of a Holy Whore (1971, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). An unhappy actress is fired from a film project after making too many demands; we watch her departure in an extended take that Ballhaus shot inside the boat taking her away from the set. I love the blueness of the water and the soft, golden light on Magdalena Montezuma’s face as she drifts further and further away as an aria from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor plays on the soundtrack, before we are abruptly brought back to a scene of the film shoot. Perhaps Fassbinder’s choice of aria, “Il dolce suono,” which depicts the aftermath of Lucia stabbing her husband to death on their wedding night and subsequently fantasizing about marriage to a different man, is applied to Magdalena Montezuma’s farewell scene (trust me, she exhibited tremendous histrionics) by implying that after the bout of madness that destroyed her career opportunity, she can still dream of a brighter future, even if it’s one that probably won’t happen.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). In the first video, Michael Ballhaus discusses his work on Petra von Kant in an interview conducted by the Criterion Collection for a new DVD release of the film in 2015. In the second clip, we see a scene showing the beginning of the first romantic encounter between fashion designer Petra (Margit Carstensen) and a young protégée, Karin (Hanna Schygulla), who is willing and eager to sleep her way to the top of the modeling world. The ornate costumes were designed by Maja Lemcke, her only film credit according to the IMDb.

Martha (1974, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). One of Fassbinder’s greatest films was produced for TV, a melodrama in the style of Douglas Sirk titled Martha. Margit Carstensen plays the main character, a young woman whose father (Adrian Hoven) dies while they are on vacation in Italy; on the same fateful day, she falls in love with an older man (Karlheinz Böhm), whom she soon marries (with disastrous consequences for her). Fassbinder introduces Böhm’s character and shows the instant attraction in the pair’s first meeting thanks to Ballhaus’s cinematography. The camera rotates hypnotically around the man and woman, a dizzying vision of lust. You’ll also note that the scene ends on a shot of a voyeuristic interloper played by El Hedi ben Salem, who played the male lead opposite Brigitte Mira in Fassbinder’s All That Heaven Allows remake, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, that same year. Salem was Fassbinder’s on again, off again boyfriend in the 1970s and he eventually committed suicide in a French jail in 1977, having been arrested and convicted of stabbing three people in a bar fight.

Fox and His Friends (1975, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Possibly Fassbinder’s greatest masterpiece, Fox and His Friends is the tragic tale of Franz, a working-class man (played by Fassbinder) whose naive, guileless affection for his wealthy boyfriend, Eugen (Peter Chatel), allows Eugen to manipulate and exploit him. In one memorable segment of the film, Eugen convinces Franz to go on a pleasure trip to Morocco, where the couple pick up a local “guide,” Salem (the aforementioned El Hedi ben Salem). The cinematography in the scene in which Franz and Eugen cruise the “Meeting Place of the Dead” is exquisite, decorating the landscape in bars of light from the wooden slats above the market.

Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Although this clip does not have subtitles, all you need to know is that a cabaret’s emcee (Peter Kern) excitedly introduces a singer’s act (Ingrid Caven), while her new boyfriend (Gottfried John) and her embarrassed mother and brother (Brigitte Mira, Armin Meier) look on. The family considers the performance quite tasteless, given that the family’s patriarch has recently committed suicide; even in the face of personal tragedy, the daughter is too vain and hungry for fame to consider postponing her stage show. Fassbinder loved images of people experiencing shame, frustration and other variations of pain, and this scene is no exception.

Chinese Roulette (1976, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Alexander Allerson and Margit Carstensen, playing an estranged husband and wife, embrace in a scene depicted magnificently in one long dolly shot revolving around the two actors. Without dialogue, we get an intense feeling of intimacy from the swirling motions of the camera and the images of the performers’ faces, especially the expressive Margit Carstensen (one of Fassbinder’s favorite leading ladies).

After Hours (1985, dir. Martin Scorsese). Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a word processor who works for a publishing firm in Manhattan, experiences the worst night of his life after he meets an unusual young woman, Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette), in a diner. As the two talk in Marcy’s apartment, Ballhaus keeps the scene minimally lit, but he zooms in on Arquette’s face when she leaves the room, a typically Scorsesean shot which is my favorite in the entire film.

Broadcast News (1987, dir. James L. Brooks). Television producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) leads news anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt) through his first live show, a relationship that relies on her ability to direct his “performance” – a role-reversal of the Svengali and Trilby archetypes. Michael Ballhaus nicely conveys the depth of the TV studio, showing the distance and shifting perspectives of characters in the control room and down on the set.

Goodfellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese). One of the most celebrated scenes in the history of Martin Scorsese’s career is the unedited shot of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and soon-to-be wife Karen Friedman (Lorraine Bracco) entering the Copacabana nightclub by way of the kitchen, a handheld shot achieved with the use of a Steadicam. The scene was shot eight times; reportedly, the eighth take is what Scorsese put in the finished film.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Enjoy the lush visual atmosphere of Coppola’s Dracula set: the lighting by Michael Ballhaus, Gary Oldman’s dedicated performance as the title vampire and Winona Ryder’s underrated work as Dracula’s great love, Mina Murray. The beautiful score composed by Wojciech Kilar completes the picture.

Quiz Show (1994, dir. Robert Redford). One of my favorite moments in Quiz Show is the scene in which Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) comes close to revealing to his father, Mark (Paul Scofield), that he has been cheating during his winning streak on the TV quiz show Twenty One. Charles cannot bring himself to admit the sordid truth, though, and the cinematography reflects the metaphorical darkness weighing on Charles’s mind by displaying Mark Van Doren’s private study drenched in shadows. Michael Ballhaus’s use of close-ups, especially as Charles dances on the edge of revealing his secret, draws you in closer to the drama, but I also love the wide shot that the scene ends on, explaining without words that the brief window of opportunity for Charles’s confession has passed.

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Indelible Film Images: Gods of the Plague

Gods of the Plague (1970) – dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Hanna Schygulla, Margarethe von Trotta, Harry Baer, Günther Kaufmann, Carla Egerer, Ingrid Caven, Jan George, Lilo Pempeit, Hannes Gromball, Lilith Ungerer

Cinematography: Dietrich Lohmann

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

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“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.

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

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Whity (1971) – DP: Michael Ballhaus

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

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

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

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

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

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Chinese Roulette (1976) – DP: Michael Ballhaus

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

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

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Lola (1981) – DP: Xaver Schwarzenberger

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Veronika Voss (1982) – DP: Xaver Schwarzenberger

Indelible Film Images: Lola

I don’t know if I’ve shared this anecdote before, but my favorite memory from taking film production courses in my senior year of college is of the day our class learned how to use lighting equipment. Our professor was showing us how to use C-stands and the fabric or screen-like items that can be attached to the stands in order to alter light, shadows and shades of color coming from the light source being used. While trying out a silk that would change the tint of the classroom’s light, our professor mused aloud: “Red – like Fassbinder liked to do.” A pause. “Does anyone here know Fassbinder?” From the back of the room (where I liked to stay, ever cautious) I shouted, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul! None of my fellow students responded; there may have been a general murmur of recognition, but no other individual holler of fandom. The fun part of the story: one guy in the class, stricken with great bewilderment, asked in a mystified voice: “Fassbender? … Michael Fassbender has his own kind of lighting?” Truly a golden – or, more appropriately, scarlet – moment.

Lola (1981) – dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mario Adorf, Matthias Fuchs, Helga Feddersen, Karin Baal, Hark Bohm, Rosel Zech, Sonja Neudorfer, Günther Kaufmann

Cinematography: Xaver Schwarzenberger

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More Diegetic Music: Ten Movies, Ten Scenes

Inspired by my recent post about uses of diegetic music within the worlds of new movies I saw in 2015, I have come up with ten more examples of music performed or listened to by characters in other films I watched last year – except these are all films made before 2014/2015. Enjoy!

You Were Never Lovelier (1942, dir. William A. Seiter) – “The Shorty George” – In this romantic comedy set in Buenos Aires, the second pairing of Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth (the first being You’ll Never Get Rich in 1941), Astaire plays an entertainer wooing Hayworth, who is the daughter of a nightclub owner. Astaire works in the club along with famed bandleader Xavier Cugat and his orchestra, who are seen in the clip and provide the tuneage for this scene. The song itself, composed by Jerome Kern and written by Johnny Mercer, is a paean to jive and swing music popular in America at the time, in particular the “Shorty George” step attributed to African-American dancer George “Shorty” Snowden. Rita Hayworth’s singing was dubbed by Nan Wynn in this and other scenes in You Were Never Lovelier, but clearly Hayworth worked hard at being able to dance at Astaire’s level, making her one of his finest partners in the post-Ginger Rogers years.

Kiss Me Kate (1953, dir. George Sidney) – “Too Darn Hot” – Ann Miller and her backing orchestra perform a number that serves as Miller’s audition for the show-within-the-film, a Broadway musical also titled Kiss Me Kate. The number is one that that we never see performed again in the film, evidently cut from the finished production before opening night. But how could any subsequent staging possibly top this fabulous presentation? Miller is on fire, putting every corner of the cramped apartment space to use, which is even more fun when you see the film in 3D and her accessories fly out of the screen toward the viewer.

Chinese Roulette (1976, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder) – Mahler’s Eighth Symphony – This scene is our introduction to Chinese Roulette; opening credits don’t appear until several minutes later. We don’t know who these characters played by Margit Carstensen (the woman) and Andrea Schober (the girl) are; we don’t learn that they are mother and daughter until later in the scene, after the doorbell rings. As always, Fassbinder composes his shots like paintings, arranging his frames very thoughtfully and considering details like costumes, set design and his actresses’ makeup with great care. The use of Mahler, in conjunction with the neatly constructed design of both the house and the outfit that Carstensen wears, has a lush grandeur that reminds me of Douglas Sirk, whose American films Fassbinder loved so much. (Fassbinder once wrote that “Sirk has made the tenderest films I know, they are the films of someone who loves people and doesn’t despise them as we do.”) I see an additional connection in Fassbinder’s incorporation of windows and mirrors here, elements which Sirk loved to focus on in his films. I don’t know about you, but when I first watched this opening scene from Chinese Roulette, I knew that I wanted to know more about what was going on, which I think is exactly what a film’s introduction should do.

Autumn Sonata (1978, dir. Ingmar Bergman) – Chopin, Prelude No. 2 in A Minor – World-renowned concert pianist Charlotte Andergast (Ingrid Bergman in her final film) visits her daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann) for a few days; they pretend for a while that they can be cordial to one another but we slowly begin to understand how much Eva has suffered, starting with feeling neglected and abandoned as a child when her mother went on her endless series of concert tours. Just prior to this scene, Eva plays the Chopin Prelude No. 2, filled with nervous mistakes. She tries so hard to be good enough at the piano (even in playing it as a hobby rather than as a profession) for her mother, but Charlotte – far from being impressed or even attempting to be motherly and kind – can only point out Eva’s errors, not only from a technical standpoint but in terms of the correct emotional interpretations (at least as far as Charlotte sees things). Charlotte may understand the “right” sentiments to apply to one’s mastery of the Chopin piece, but in this scene, we watch Eva and we know that she has more humanity and compassion inside her than Charlotte ever could contain. As a mother, Charlotte doesn’t know the first thing about how to behave. She has a connection to the music she plays, but she has no real, meaningful relationship with the daughter sitting next to her. We feel the weight of Eva’s silent years of bitter disappointment. She realizes she cannot play the piano like her mother, but more crucially, they cannot communicate. Worse yet, Eva’s loving husband Viktor (Halvar Björk) is there to witness the uncomfortable exchange, incapable of saying anything to ameliorate the situation.

Pretty in Pink (1986, dir. Howard Deutch) – “Try a Little Tenderness” – I always wonder if it was secretly the point of the films that John Hughes wrote (as in this case) and sometimes directed that the characters played by Molly Ringwald should always be so thoroughly unlikeable. This is certainly the case in Pretty in Pink; her character, Andie, is desperately in love with a rich kid and therefore cannot see that her best friend, eccentric Duckie (Jon Cryer) pines for her. Even in this over-the-top scene of lipsyncing to Otis Redding in the record store where Andie works (the boss, Iona, is played by Annie Potts), Andie is totally clueless and thinks Duckie is just an irrepressible goofball with a knack for doing odd stuff without any reason. Poor Duckman!

Before Sunrise (1995, dir. Richard Linklater) – “Come Here” – Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy had no way of knowing that this romantic drama was a seed that would blossom into a trilogy spanning eighteen years of their lives (Before Sunset was released in 2004 and Before Midnight in 2013). This first film has all the sweetness of two complete strangers falling in love in the course of one day. After sharing a brief chat on the train they took to Vienna, Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) make the impulsive decision to continue their conversation by spending the rest of the day together in the city. In this scene, when they visit a record shop, Delpy recognizes the name of an obscure American singer-songwriter, Kath Bloom, whose music she has never heard but which has been recommended to her. Celine and Jesse go into a booth in the store, listen to the LP, and you see all the longing, tension and hope existing between the two people for what their potential future might hold – each wondering when the right moment will be for them to kiss for the first time.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996, dir. Robert Rodriguez) – “After Dark” – Salma Hayek, playing a mysterious dancer named “Santanico Pandemonium,” makes her dramatic entrance in a film that starts out as a heist/hostage-taking flick but takes a turn for the weird when the main characters, brothers played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino (their hostages include Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis), flee to Mexico. Swaying to the beat of the song performed by Tito & Tarantula, the moments when Hayek sticks her foot in Tarantino’s mouth are definite highlights (not a surprise – he did write the screenplay, after all!), but my favorite part is the confused and disgusted look on Juliette Lewis’s face at the end.

Bread and Tulips (2000, dir. Silvio Soldini) – “Tu, solamente tu” (“You, Only You,” recorded by Tiola Silenzi in 1939) and “Franska Valsen” (accordion piece composed by Lars Hollmer) – A romantic comedy about taking chances, Licia Maglietta plays a housewife, Rosalba, who escapes her boring family (including a husband and a son) in the Italian countryside and takes an apartment in Venice, starting a new life for herself. This includes befriending Fernando (Bruno Ganz), a maître d’ who has begun to realize that he is in love with Rosalba as he listens to a Tiola Silenzi song on his hi-fi (hence the beginning and ending parts of the clip above), and also learning to play the accordion, a passion that Rosalba demonstrates for Grazia (Marina Massironi), a friend who lives in her building. Grazia, needless to say, is amazed by her neighbor’s newly discovered reserves of talent.

Hustle & Flow (2005, dir. Craig Brewer) – “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – The winner of that year’s Academy Award for Best Original Song, this rap/sung collaboration is written by protagonist DJay (Terrence Howard), who is recording demos for what he hopes will be a successful breakthrough in the music world. The story he tells is his own, the grueling tale of a pimp who has to work hard to keep his personal life and his business in order on the streets of Memphis. One of the women who lives with and works for DJay, Shug (Taraji P. Henson), is given the opportunity to sing the chorus of the song, and hearing her voice played back for the first time is a kind of validation that she has never experienced before.

I Love You, Man (2009, dir. John Hamburg) – “Tom Sawyer” – Friendless, uptight Peter (Paul Rudd) meets weird, wild Sydney (Jason Segel), and because opposites can attract, the two end up becoming besties who spend more and more free time together, to the growing annoyance of Peter’s fiancée Zooey (Rashida Jones, who is nothing but supportive in this clip because it’s still early in the film). Their shared love of the rock band Rush, specifically the song “Tom Sawyer,” leads to them playing it in Sydney’s garage, which allows for director John Hamburg to include a montage of other shining moments from the newfound bromance.

365 Day Movie Challenge: 2015

For the third year in a row, I gave myself the task of watching at least 365 films between January 1 and December 31. I passed the test with flying colors: 404 movies seen in 2015! Here is the complete, chronological inventory.

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1915-1919: ’49-’17; The Ocean Waif

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1920-1924: Dr. Jack; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Kid; The Penalty; The Sheik

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1925-1929: The Gold Rush; It’s the Old Army Game; The Son of the Sheik; So’s Your Old Man; Why Be Good?; A Woman of Affairs

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1930-1934: Ace of Aces; Baby Face; Counsellor at Law; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Devil to Pay!; Downstairs; Fast Workers; Feet First; Five and Ten; Happiness Ahead; I Am Suzanne!; Liliom; The Man with Two Faces; Penguin Pool Murder; Red-Headed Woman; The Road to Ruin; Shanghai Express; Strangers May Kiss; This Side of Heaven; Three Faces East; Topaze; Waterloo Bridge

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1935-1939: Bachelor Mother; The Big Broadcast of 1936; Bonnie Scotland; Born to Dance; Bride of Frankenstein; Bulldog Drummond Comes Back; Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge; The Crime of Monsieur Lange; Dodge City; Dracula’s Daughter; The Garden of Allah; Intermezzo; Little Miss Broadway; Love on the Run; The Lower Depths; Mad Love; Magnificent Obsession; The Man in the Iron Mask; Mysterious Mr. Moto; Never Say Die; Raffles; Show Boat; Smartest Girl in Town; The Soldier and the Lady; Son of Frankenstein; Splendor; Stage Door; Steamboat Round the Bend; Stella Dallas; Stowaway; Trade Winds

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1940-1944: Blossoms in the Dust; Boom Town; Cobra Woman; Desperate Journey; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; From Mayerling to Sarajevo; How Green Was My Valley; The Ghost of Frankenstein; The Great Dictator; House of Frankenstein; June Night; Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman; Ladies in Retirement; The Little Foxes; The Long Voyage Home; Louisiana Purchase; The Mask of Dimitrios; Ministry of Fear; The Moon and Sixpence; Moontide; Mrs. Parkington; The Mummy’s Hand; The Mummy’s Tomb; No Greater Sin; The Sea Hawk; Son of Dracula; This Above All; This Land Is Mine; You Were Never Lovelier

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1945-1949: The Banquet; Berlin Express; The Big Clock; Cornered; Criss Cross; Desperate; Easy Living; The Enchanted Cottage; The Gangster; High Wall; Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar); House of Dracula; The Killers; Lady on a Train; Ma and Pa Kettle; Macbeth; Monsieur Verdoux; Nora Prentiss; Red Light; Royal Rabble; Thieves’ Highway; Too Late for Tears

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1950-1954: Ace in the Hole; The Affairs of Dobie Gillis; Bad for Each Other; The Crimson Pirate; Early Summer; Executive Suite; The Gambler and the Lady; Girl with Hyacinths; Give a Girl a Break; The Glass Wall; Gun Crazy; The I Don’t Care Girl; Ivanhoe; Kiss Me Kate; Limelight; Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town; The Men; Million Dollar Mermaid; The Narrow Margin; Pandora and the Flying Dutchman; The People Against O’Hara; Small Town Girl; So Big; Split Second; The Star; Susan Slept Here; Tomorrow Is Another Day; Too Young to Kiss; Woman on the Run

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1955-1959: Aparajito; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; The Defiant Ones; The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing; Imitation of Life; The Journey; The Man Who Never Was; The Mummy; Party Girl; Pather Panchali; La Paura (aka Fear); La Pointe Courte; The Proud Rebel; Separate Tables; The World of Apu; Zero Hour!

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1960-1964: Band of Outsiders; Bikini Beach; Boys’ Night Out; Can-Can; A Child Is Waiting; The Connection; The Killers; Lolita; The Manchurian Candidate; Mr. Sardonicus; The Premature Burial; Requiem for a Heavyweight; The Suitor; Topkapi

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1965-1969: Another Day, Another Man; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Bonnie and Clyde; Grand Prix; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Indecent Desires; The Ipcress File; Love Is Colder Than Death; Mississippi Mermaid; My Brother’s Wife; Paint Your Wagon; Point Blank; The Sex Perils of Paulette; A Taste of Flesh; Thunderball; Too Much Too Often; Topaz; Witchfinder General

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1970-1974: Aguirre, the Wrath of God; The Amazing Transplant; Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Count Dracula; Deadly Weapons; Deliverance; Double Agent 73; The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick; The Heartbreak Kid; Kelly’s Heroes; The Last House on the Left; The Last of Sheila; Ludwig; McCabe & Mrs. Miller; The Merchant of Four Seasons; The Murder of Fred Hampton; Super Fly; Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; Two-Lane Blacktop

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1975-1979: Apocalypse Now; Autumn Sonata; The Boys from Brazil; Chinese Roulette; Every Which Way But Loose; Fox and His Friends; The Gauntlet; Girlfriends; God Told Me To; Harlan County U.S.A.; The Hills Have Eyes; In a Year with 13 Moons; The In-Laws; Killer of Sheep; Kings of the Road; The Last Wave; Men in Orbit; Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven; Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht; Prophecy; Rocky II; Time After Time

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1980-1984: Body Double; Footloose; Halloween II; The Loveless; Mrs. Soffel; My Brother’s Wedding; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Night Shift; A Night to Dismember; Paris, Texas; Private Benjamin; Risky Business; Rocky III; Stranger Than Paradise; Variety

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1985-1989: Bull Durham; Children of a Lesser God; Cookie; A Dry White Season; The Last Temptation of Christ; Mississippi Burning; Pale Rider; Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Pretty in Pink; Red Scorpion; Rocky IV; Runaway Train; Salaam Bombay!; Strapless; Tapeheads; True Love; The Unbelievable Truth; The Untouchables; Without a Clue

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1990-1994: Basic Instinct; The Bodyguard; Captives; Cliffhanger; Dead Again; Ghost; Greedy; I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel); Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles; I.Q.; Jacob’s Ladder; JFK; Joshua Tree (aka Army of One); Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.; The Lawnmower Man; A League of Their Own; Menace II Society; Mississippi Masala; My Own Private Idaho; Peter’s Friends; Pulp Fiction; Reservoir Dogs; Rocky V; Scent of a Woman; Trust; Wayne’s World

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1995-1999: Affliction; Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me; Before Sunrise; Bulworth; La Cérémonie; The End of Violence; Eve’s Bayou; Forces of Nature; From Dusk Till Dawn; GoldenEye; Home for the Holidays; Jawbreaker; Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love; Nixon; Pleasantville; Primal Fear; Private Parts; Restoration; Rounders; Saving Private Ryan; Showgirls; The Truman Show

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2000-2004: Blood Work; Bread and Tulips; Bride & Prejudice; The Caveman’s Valentine; 8 Women; Femme Fatale; Frida; The Gift; Girl with a Pearl Earring; House of Sand and Fog; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Million Dollar Baby; Mission: Impossible II; Monsoon Wedding; My Life Without Me; Mystic River; Pootie Tang; Proof of Life; Queen of the Damned; Satan Was a Lady; Space Cowboys; Vatel; What Women Want

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2005-2009: Amelia; The Beaches of Agnès; Before Sunset; The Black Dahlia; The Devil Wears Prada; The 40 Year Virgin; Hustle & Flow; I Love You, Man; The Incredible Hulk; Mission: Impossible III; The Namesake; Notes on a Scandal; The Omen; RocknRolla; Rocky Balboa

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2010-2014: August: Osage County; Before Midnight; Birdman; Clouds of Sils Maria; The Drop; The Expendables; Footloose; Fruitvale Station; Girlhood; Gone Girl; Happy, Happy; Kingsman: The Secret Service; Learning to Drive; Love & Mercy; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; My Week with Marilyn; 99 Homes; Passion; Pitch Perfect; Ride; The Rover; Thanks for Sharing; That Awkward Moment; Two Days, One Night; Under the Skin; Unknown; Welcome to Me; What We Do in the Shadows; Winter’s Bone

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2015: Aloha; Amy; Ant-Man; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Bridge of Spies; Ex Machina; Fantastic Four; Jurassic World; Magic Mike XXL; The Martian; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Pitch Perfect 2; Run All Night; San Andreas; Sicario; Spy; Tab Hunter Confidential; The Walk; The Wolfpack; Woman in Gold

The RWF Quintet: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Love Is Colder Than Death (1969)

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…And finally we come to Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982) himself.

If the essence of Jean-Luc Godard’s stylish but icy brand of cool could be bottled up and liberally sprayed on a younger filmmaker’s debut at the tail end of the 1960s, the outcome would have to be Fassbinder’s first feature, Love Is Colder Than Death. The young auteur’s cinephilic passions (the film is dedicated to directors Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jean-Marie Straub, among others) justify why the three main characters in Love have such intellectual perspectives with regard to government management and capitalism. These disaffected criminals use philosophical contemplation and rationalizations as excuses for their shared lives of petty crime and their subsequent enjoyment of the benefits from the money that they have stolen. (By the way, this clip of the mixed reactions to Love Is Colder Than Death when it was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival is worth seeing for some historical context and a sense of Fassbinder’s outlook on his life and work.)

As was sometimes (perhaps often?) the case in Fassbinder’s films, he did not credit himself as a member of the cast. What he contributed to Love Is Colder Than Death was not so much “acting” as it was “performing”; Fassbinder performed certain attitudes for the camera without really displaying emotion, except maybe contempt (a very Godardian state of mind to occupy). Regardless of this analysis, Fassbinder is never boring to watch. In real life he seemed to consider himself unattractive, even ugly, but there has always been something inexplicably appealing about his onscreen presence and in the way he delivered dialogue (particularly when he snarled insults), making him irresistible to the viewer’s eyes and ears. Plus, of course, he wore leather jackets like nobody else.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Fox and His Friends (1975)

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Six years later, Fassbinder gave a remarkable lead performance in Fox and His Friends. At the time, much was made of the fact that the leading characters were gay men (described as “homosexuality without tears” on some posters), but Fassbinder saw his narrative a different way, stating at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival that Fox “is certainly the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem. In films, plays or novels, if homosexuals appear, the homosexuality was the problem, or it was a comic turn. But here homosexuality is shown as completely normal, and the problem is something quite different, it’s a love story, where one person exploits the love of the other person, and that’s the story I always tell.” In Fox and His Friends, Fassbinder is the dumb, gullible lower-class guy who falls for Peter Chatel’s sociopathic sophisticate, and the results are heartbreaking. Simple yet extraordinarily effective.

Despite what I wrote earlier about Love Is Colder Than Death, it should not be surprising that, when he chose to do so, Fassbinder could play a naive, well-meaning character, the antithesis of the type he had played in Love. He had written characters like “Fox” before, such as the roles played by Brigitte Mira in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975). Fassbinder understood people and was probably acutely sensitive to psychological pain. It’s true that the stories about what a nightmare Fassbinder could be on and off of his film sets are well-documented – he was emotionally and physically abusive to his male and female partners, probably preferring to hurt them first before they could do it to him – and his various addictions (alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, sex) fueled his violent manias and furious work ethic (he churned out more than three dozen films and TV productions between 1969 and 1982). But evidently Fassbinder could channel his fears and insecurities, even do full-frontal nude scenes like in Fox and His Friends, and just once be a tenderhearted guy looking to love and be loved in return… even if it only lasted as long as the cameras were rolling.