RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER [Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), 1973]
"I would like to build a house with my films. Some are the cellar, others the walls and others again are the windows. But I hope that, in the end, it will be a house." -RWF-
Genius. Troubled. Disturbed. Workaholic. Passionate. The possibilities are endless. In his book, Christian Thomsen, a close friend of Fassbinder, illuminates Fassbinder’s body of work while revealing his insider views of a man who, despite a furious temper, manic working habits, and rampant drug addiction, supported an extended family including his mother, a string of male lovers, lovelorn women, and even a pair of frustrated wives - with his intoxicating and prolific imagination. His doppelgänger is the core in much of his work, specifically often-used image of the mirror, a metaphor representing the double nature of personalities, illusions separating reality from appearance, sexual, political, overwhelmingly human contradictions inherent in the life of this intensely creative man and the remarkable films he directed.
“If depressing circumstances are merely reproduced in a film it simply strengthens them. Consequently the dominant conditions should be presented with such transparency that one understands how they can be overcome.” -RWF-
Fear Eats the Soul toed the line between sentiment and self-awareness, a bitterly ironic social statement wrapped up in a humanist call for compassion—or vice-versa. It is not an easy movie to warm up to. It’s no May-December romance that tugs at the heart. It is, rather, another quite courageous attempt by Fassbinder to develop a film style free of the kind of realistic conventions that sentimentalize life’s mysteries. Like all his films, he ruthlessly attacked both German bourgeois society and the larger limitations of humanity, and his films detail the desperate yearning for love and freedom and the many ways in which society defeats that desire.
Thomas Elsaesser goes so far as to suggest that in Fassbinder’s films,“all human relations, all bodily contact, all power structures and social hierarchies, all forms of communication and action manifest themselves and ultimately regulate themselves along the single axis of seeing and being seen.” (Julian Savage: Thomas Elsaesser, Primary Identification and the Historical Subject: Fassbinder and Germany, Cinetracts, no. 11 (Fall 1980), p. 43-52)
Fassbinder is not interested in offering simple solutions to his character’s woes or depicting their decision making as consistent. The impact of Fear Eats the Soul lies in the way all of the characters are shown to be fallible and flawed. We are made aware that the human being who can show with a single look sympathy, affection and love beyond the dictates of the society is also socialized in a way that makes them susceptible to delivering looks of prejudice and hatred. The complexities of negotiating an identity or role in a multi-cultural society are wrought asunder as questions of race, racism, gender, self-preservation and more are confronted in the flux of existence.
Christian Braad Thomsen, Fassbinder:The Life and Work of a Provocative Genius, University of Minnesota Press, 2004 – Book & Review [CHB-F]
Julian Savage, The Conscious Collusion of the Stare: The Viewer Implicated in Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul, Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 59, 2011 – (Essay)/Review [SC-F]