3 min

Extreme tastes

From Hollywood to holy whores

BITTER TEARS. "A must for clinical depressives and fashion enthusiasts;" the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Credit: Xtra files

Actress Hanna Schygulla summed up the myth of Rainer Werner Fassbinder when she asked: “Did he die so young because he was in such a rush, or did he rush so because he was destined to die young?”

The fact remains that before his premature death at the age of 37, Fassbinder made more than 40 films, and lived the wild gay life that could only be lived between 1967 and ’82.

Various theories exist attempting to explain why Fassbinder worked at the rate he did. Some suggest it was because he was tied to the German film industry and had to put out more and more movies in order to finance the next one, in an endless cycle. Others say it was because filmmaking provided a catharsis for Fassbinder, after not one but two of his male lovers committed suicide more or less on account of him.

Over six weeks, beginning Fri, Oct 17, Cinematheque is screening a huge number of Fassbinder’s films, including his 10 personal favourites. Certainly, the story of his life is mirrored in these films, and by watching them we can pick up clues to the mystery of this legendary man.



This is the best known of Fassbinder’s movies, and many a gay man has likely rented it because they wanted to see Brad Davis in a sailor suit. As it happens, Querelle is also one of the most complex and troubling depictions of gay male desire ever put on film. Docked at the port of Brest, the muscular young Querelle starts to explore his desire for other men and somehow becomes a murderer in the process. Jeanne Moreau, who Fassbinder called “the embodiment of woman” plays the mistress of the brothel where the handsome sailor has his criminal adventures. (Querelle is the last film in the series, screening at 6:30pm on Wed, Dec 3.)



This movie has some of the best crying I have ever seen. Margit Carstensen plays Petra, a jaded fashion designer who falls desperately in love with Karin, one of her sassy young models. Irm Hermann (Fassbinder’s first wife), plays Petra’s pale tight-lipped servant, who seethes with jealousy over her mistress’ affair. There are lots of costume changes but the whole movie takes place in Petra’s room, which she never seems to leave. This is a must for clinical depressives and fashion enthusiasts (8:30pm on Tue, Oct 21).



Volker Spengler plays Elvira, a woman formerly known as Erwin, who has been rejected, over and over by the men she loves since changing her sex. The movie charts Elvira’s last five days before she commits suicide. Of note here is the scene in the abattoir, where Elvira delivers a whopper of a speech as the cows are bled by butchers. Obviously not a very perky take on what it was like to be a transsexual in 1978, In A Year Of 13 Moons was one of the first films to unflinchingly deal with the subject. It’s Fassbinder’s second favourite film (8:30pm on Thu, Oct 23).



Though Fassbinder is commonly regarded as an art filmmaker, he actually adored the films of Hollywood and longed to make movies as glamorous and popular as the imported American ones he poured over as a kid. Veronika Voss is a sparkling black and white movie about a washed up actress, enslaved by evil nurses who feed her morphine and steal her money. It features the memorable line, “Maybe instead of morphine, I should give you a prescription for a person to love you” (6:30pm on Sat, Nov 15).



The Cinematheque guide says that, in this movie, “every frozen emotion finds its icy image reflected, fragmented, distorted, multiplied in a mirrored surface.” If that doesn’t convince you, you should see it for the malicious crippled daughter Angela and her whacko doll collection. Anna Karina plays the mistress of Angela’s dad, who is stuck at the family castle for a deadly game of “truth” (6:30pm on Wed, Oct 29).

Cinematheque is also screening Fassbinder’s favourites by other filmmakers, including his first choice, Luchino Viconti’s delirious epic The Damned (3:30pm on Sun, Nov 16). The selection is a regular camp fest with Sunset Boulevard, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Johnny Guitar, All About Eve and a program of Douglas Sirk melodramas. Other classics in the series are Jean-Luc Godard’s beautiful Vivre Sa Vie (6:30pm on Fri, Oct 17) and Pier Pasolini’s Salo, Or The 12 Days Of Sodom, one of the most disturbing films, ever (8:45pm on Wed, Dec 3).

* All screenings cost $9.60 and are at the Jackman Hall (317 Dundas St W); call (416) 968-FILM or visit