Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fassbinder - Capitalism, Violence, Media

I have watched a handful of Fassbinder films lately - World on a Wire most notably - but a couple other films on DVD as well.

It was hard not to think about this, from The Third Generation, during the 9/11 commemorations last week. One of the first things I thought after the towers were hit was, we are just like everyone else now - we will have to live with terrorism, the way they have in the rest of the world for decades. It's an odd thing to think, though - in the 90s, we had the first WTC attack, we had Oklahoma CIty, we had the Atlanta bombings, we had bombings and assassinations against abortion providers - we had plenty of terrorists and terrorism in the good old USA. Still - I thought it, and a lot of other people said something similar. But oddly - we didn't seem to think that maybe the rest of the world, so experienced in terrorism, might have already had a few things to say about it. We have never been so unique - we are not the first, nor the last, to deal with these things.

The three Fassbinders I watched last week - Third Generation, Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, and World on a Wire - all deal with violence - with the intersection of power and resistance. And the intersection of the individual and society - society in all its forms, from families to political groups to, well - metaphysical ontology... How one man's possibly inexplicable act (Herman Kuster's murder suicide) is pulled into the web of human relations - how do you make sense of it? What do you do about it? Mother Kusters does this directly - it is her husband, after all, who did the deed. But she does this while the rest of society pulls at it themselves. The media, the politicians, pulling at the deed, and at her, from all directions, to put it (and her) to use...

The media is the other great theme of the three films - or I could say, mediation, through technology and the media. The ever-present television of the Third Generation; the press and its abuses in Mother Kusters; and - the very premise of World on a Wire. The question, I suppose, is one of representation, representation and power - explicitly in World on a Wire (how do you represent the real world in a computer, that you can control?), but just as clearly in the others. How do you represent the world? what happens? the people in it? how are those images controlled?

Third Generation stages this question - it is in the plot, in the ways the industrialists and police manipulate the terrorists, but also in the TV sets and cameras that pervade its world. The TV set always on, haunting every scene (visibly or audibly) - and then leading to the terrorists' attempt (rather absurd, really) to control the image themselves.

And in the films themselves - they are also representations, not reality. Fassbinder keeps that close at hand - the ending of Mother Kusters, with its frozen image and cold, fatalistic text, to pull us away from the direct reality, to acknowledge the representation:

...or endings - I am not entirely sure what the history of the 2 endings of Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven is - but they create a lovely effect: the harshness of the first, followed by a different kind of harshness in the second, as everyone just walks away:

And then - what I imagine is something of a take off on the end of The Last Laugh.... though why not give her a happy ending?

No comments: