Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Filmmaker, Writer, Actor
New German Cinema
Born: 1935 Germany
Died: 1982 Germany
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a German movie director, screenwriter and actor. He is one of the most important representatives of the New German Cinema.
Fassbinder maintained a frenetic pace in film-making. In a professional career that lasted less than fifteen years, Fassbinder completed 40 feature length films, two television film series, three short films, four video productions, 24 stage plays and 4 radio plays, and 36 acting roles in his own and others’ films. He also worked as an actor (film and theater), author, cameraman, composer, designer, editor, producer and theater manager.
Underlying Fassbinder's work is a strong provocative current. His phenomenal creative energy when working was in violent contrast with a wild, self-destructive libertinism that earned him a reputation as the enfant terrible of the New German Cinema, as well as being its central figure. He had tortured personal relationships with the actors and technicians around him who formed a surrogate family. However, his pictures demonstrate his deep sensitivity to social outsiders and his hatred of institutionalized violence. He ruthlessly attacked both German bourgeois society and the larger limitations of humanity.
Fassbinder died at the age of 37 from heart failure resulting from a lethal interaction between sleeping pills and cocaine. His death is often considered the mark of the end of New German Cinema.
Fassbinder was entangled in multiple relationships with women, but more often with men. His personal life, always well publicized, met with gossip and scandal. Early in his career, he had a lasting, but fractured relationship with Irm Hermann, a former secretary whom he forced to become an actress. Hermann, who idolized him, was tormented and tortured by him for over a decade. This included domestic violence: "He couldn't conceive of my refusing him, and he tried everything. He almost beat me to death on the streets of Bochum ...."
Fassbinder's main love interest during his early period as a film director was Günther Kaufmann. Kaufmann was not a trained actor and entered cinema in 1970, when Fassbinder fell madly in love with him. The director tried to buy his love with movie roles and expensive gifts, but Kaufmann managed to destroy four Lamborghinis in a year. Like Salem, Fassbinder's next male partner, he was married and the father of two children.
Although he claimed to be opposed to matrimony as an institution, Fassbinder married Ingrid Caven, a regular actress in his films, in 1970. Their wedding reception was recycled in the film he was making at that time, The American Soldier. Their relationship of mutual admiration survived the complete failure of their two-year marriage. "Ours was a love story in spite of the marriage," Ingrid explained in an interview, adding about her former husband's sexuality: "Rainer was a homosexual who also needed a woman. It’s that simple and that complex."The three most important women of Fassbinder’s life, Irm Hermann, Ingrid Caven and Juliane Lorenz, his last partner, were not at all disturbed by his homosexuality.
In 1971, Fassbinder fell in love with actor El Hedi ben Salem, a Berber from Morocco. Their turbulent relationship ended violently in 1974. Salem, cast as Ali in Fear Eats the Soul, hanged himself in jail in 1982. Fassbinder, who barely outlived his former lover, dedicated his last film, Querelle, to Salem.
Armin Meier, a former butcher who was almost illiterate and who had spent his early years in an orphanage, was Fassbinder's lover from 1974 to 1978. He also appeared in several Fassbinder films in this period. After Fassbinder broke up with him, Meier committed suicide on Fassbinder’s birthday.He was found dead in their apartment only days later. Devastated by Armin’s suicide, Fassbinder made In a Year with Thirteen Moons to exorcise his pain.
In the last four years of his life, Fassbinder's companion was Juliane Lorenz, the editor of his films during this period. They were about to marry on several occasions, and even had a mock wedding ceremony while they were in the United States, but never actually did so. According to Lorenz, Fassbinder was at that point no longer sleeping with men; they were still living together at the time of his death.