A year before his death in 1982, Fassbinder compiled a list of his 10 favourite films by other directors and his favourite 10 of his own films. Published in the book The Anarchy of the Imagination: Interviews, Essays, Notes – Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1992) edited by Michael Toteberg and Leo A. Lensing, here are his fascinating choices..
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982)
Fassbinder’s 10 Favourite Films:
1. The Damned (1969, Dir: Luchino Visconti)
2. The Naked And The Dead (1958, Dir: Raoul Walsh)
3. Lola Montès (1955, Dir: Max Ophüls)
The last film of Ophüls was, reluctantly, the only one he shot in colour and widescreen. It’s a spectacular artificial extravaganza told with unmatched cinematic flair in which the story of Lola unfolds from the confines of a circus. In flashback we follow her progress through life, her many ups and downs, all captured by the director’s mobile camera which scales the elaborate decor. A ravishing feast for the eyes.
4. Flamingo Road (1949, Dir: Michael Curtiz)
5. Salò, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom (1975, Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini)
As a fan of Fassbinder I became curious to see this notorious film after reading that the German maestro chose it in his list of the 10 best films ever made. And after having now seen it all I can say is.. well, words fail me.. There’s no denying it’s fearless work, brillianly directed. It’s riveting but at the same time extremely difficult to watch. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (black humour intentional)..
6. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, Dir: Howard Hawks)
7. Dishonored (1931, Dir: Josef von Sternberg)
After Gary Cooper in Morocco, Dietrich had the rough and ready McLaglen to contend with for her next foray in front of the lens of von Sternberg’s loving camera. It’s a glorious espionage melodrama in which Marlene plays a Mata Hari-type figure who calmly adjusts her lipstick as she prepares to sacrifice herself at the denouement of the absurd antics. This was one of Fassbinder’s favorite films and it’s uniquely brilliant..
8. The Night Of The Hunter (1955, Dir: Charles Laughton)
9. Johnny Guitar (1954, Dir: Nicholas Ray)
Ray may have made more distinguished movies than this lurid drama but it’s still a tremendous effort and arguably the best of the handful of westerns that he shot. In one of the finest films of Republic Pictures a great cast of veterans of this most American of genres like Borgnine, Carradine and Hayden ultimately play second fiddle to the inevitable climactic showdown between Crawford and McCambridge. Exhilarating.
10. The Red Snowball Tree (1973, Dir: Vasili Shukshin)
Fassbinder’s Top 10 Of His Own Films:
1. Beware Of A Holy Whore (1971)
This autobiographical film, based on the experience of filming Whity in Spain, deserves to stand alongside Godard’s Contempt and Truffaut’s Day For Night in the list of revered films about filmmaking. Fassbinder satirizes himself in the character of Jeff, the tyrannical director on a troubled film shoot. In a noteworthy ensemble cast Constantine and Schygulla play variations of themselves.
2. In A Year With 13 Moons (1978)
Fassbinder was in utter despair in 1978 after the suicide of his lover but somehow he managed to rouse himself from grief to write, direct, produce, design, shoot and edit this intensely personal film. Ironically, Spengler gives possibly the best ‘male’ performance in a Fassbinder film as the transgendered Elvira.
3. Despair (1978)
Fassbinder was out of his comfort zone when he made his first film in the English language so it must have been reassuring for him to cast so many actors in supporting roles who had worked with him several times before. Adapted by Stoppard from a Nabokov novel, Bogarde gives a fine performance as the chocolatier who hatches a plan to escape his troubled life.
4. The Third Generation (1979)
Following the success of The Marriage Of Maria Braun, Fassbinder was at the peak of his popularity when he made this ensemble piece. It’s a black comedy about terrorism in which a gang of middle-class radicals plot to kidnap an industrialist.
5. Gods Of The Plague (1970)
This fascinating second part of his loose gangster trilogy, bookended by Love Is Colder Than Death and The American Soldier, is low on plot but high on atmospherics. Fassbinder considered this to be one of the most personal films he ever made. Personally, I consider it to be the second best of a trilogy which improved with each successive installment.
This film is based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, author of Rear Window, and Hitchcock himself would have been proud of the torments Fassbinder inflicts on his leading lady. Margit Carstensen is sublime as the woman who marries a sadist and is slowly stripped of her dignity and freedom. As her husband, Peeping Tom’s Karlheinz Bohm is chilling. I expected this to be good but it’s much more than that. It’s a masterpiece.
7. Effi Briest (1974)
Fassbinder was determined to bring an adaptation of Fontane’s classic novel successfully to the screen and the results certainly justify his efforts as this is one of his most acclaimed films. Each scene is perfectly composed and choreographed and there isn’t a wasted shot in the entire film. Schygulla gives her best performance for Fassbinder as the young bride whose marriage to an older man proves unsatisfactory.
8. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974)
Shot quickly in less than two weeks, this film is an undoubted masterpiece. Brigitte Mira gives a heartbreaking performance as the lonely middle-aged cleaner involved in a love affair and later marriage with a Morrocan immigrant more than twenty years younger than her. Facing hostility from friends, family and work colleagues, will their unlikely love story survive? Superlative.
9. The Marriage Of Maria Braun (1979)
This landmark melodrama, influenced by the films of Douglas Sirk, was Fassbinder’s most commercially successful attempt to make a ‘German Hollywood film’. In the title role of one of the key films of the New German Cinema, Schygulla is sexy and mesmerising as the woman trying to make her way in Post-Second World War Germany whilst waiting for her husband’s release from prison.
10. The Merchant Of Four Seasons (1971)
Widely considered to be one of his greatest melodramas, this film was a turning point in Fassbinder’s career and marked his entry into the international film arena after two years of prolific activity in his native Germany. Several of his regular stock company of actors appear in the heartbreaking story of a fruit seller whose lowly status costs him the woman he loves and leads to a life of quiet despair.Read less