A Blend of Genius and Lunacy

Remembering Rainer Fassbinder

Basil Freydkin

World Press Review correspondent

Munich, Germany

Aug. 8, 2002

German filmmaker Rainer Fassbinder
in an undated portrait (Photo: DPA/AFP).

Theo Hinz, the longtime producer
of Rainer Fassbinder’s films, gives details of the controversial German
filmmaker’s life.

WPR: For many years, you
were very close to Fassbinder and knew him well. Do you still think he
was „a mixture of a genius and lunatic,‰ as you once called him? What was
it like to work with him?

Hinz: When I met Rainer Fassbinder
for the first time I didn’t know that there was to be a lot of joint work
ahead of us, including several films that transformed Rainer into a world-famous
director. My first impression was accurate: I was dealing with a fanatic,
a man who was ready to sacrifice anything to create a good film. Until
the shooting was over he would work for months without a break. Life for
Rainer was an endless movie in which he played the roles that formed the
lives of the people around him.

He lived at the very edge
of sacrifice and self-destruction, as if he had decided to realize in a
short span of years the fantasies and illusory dreams created by his astonishing

Rainer Fassbinder usually
worked with the same crew. They knew his weak and his strong points.

We were overwhelmed by his
working style: the German film world spoke of the director who in only
one year had created three movies of the highest caliber. Rainer possessed
a very special, unforgettable, and very individual cinema language. He
was a highly qualified cameraman and could work in the lab as well. He
was, simply speaking, a universally talented man.

And he always wanted to be
the centre of the action. Even if he sometimes happened to be involved
in a scandal.

Was the suicide of his
lover Armin Meyer such a scandal?

Indeed. This tragedy, heavily
covered by the popular press, deeply affected his personality. It was a
heavy blow that strongly affected Rainer’s life. And then there were the

Speaking frankly, drugs,
especially, cocaine, are frequent enough in the lives of the celebrities.
The scandal surrounding Constantine Wecker, a famous German singer, is
still a hot topic in the German mass media, and Rainer Fassbinder surely
was not an exception in this particular area.

Rainer considered cocaine
an integral part of his image, and saw it as a booster that helped propel
his creativity. He claimed to me numerous times that drugs gave him an
ability to perform better and faster.

Rainer thought he would be
able to stop using drugs at any time. Unfortunately, he hung on to this
belief until the very end.

During the scripting of Berlin
Alexanderplatz he stayed at his desk for four consecutive days and nights.
And then, without any rest, he started work on the scenario of a new movie.
It was self-destruction that could have led only to an early end.

He could sometimes live without
drugs. But it didn’t last long. As a result, his natural balance was irreparably
broken and we lost a man who was probably the most talented German director
of all time.

I remember how he felt after
Armin’s suicide. At the time of this tragedy, we were in Cannes, where
we were showing our new film Maria Braun. We were staying at an expensive
hotel, eating wonderful meals. You name it!

And then, we heard the news.
It literally destroyed Rainer Fassbinder. He came into my room completely
beside himself and kept asking me: “Uncle Theo, what should I do?”

I told him, “Get yourself
together and make a movie. Talk about a man you knew and loved, about his
habits, his weak and strong sides, about his tragic fate.”

“I have to go to Frankfurt
at once and I need money!”

“How much?”

“Probably a million.”

And off we went, collecting
the money for a new movie. You will not believe me, but the next day Rainer
was busy with a new scenario. He never missed an hour or a day of work˜that
was his style.

Why do you think Fassbinder
almost always picked Hannah Schygulla to star in his movies? Was there
an absence of good performers, or was she simply the best?

Rainer ran into Schygulla
when she was only beginning her career, on the stage of the “Anti-Theatre.”
He immediately recognized her great talent. Hannah, in turn, saw in Rainer
a great director who was able to give her a very much-needed boost. They
needed each other. To speak frankly, there were actresses more talented
than Hannah, but she was the lucky one who was noticed by Fassbinder.

Rainer Fassbinder was and
remains the most prolific director in the history of German cinema. The
movie The Fear That Eats Your Soul was completed in just 15 days. His incredible
work ethic produced 41 movies in just 13 years.

The Fear that Eats Your Soul
tells the story of Ali, a guest-worker from Morocco. He comes to Germany
to make his living and falls in love with a German cleaning woman, Emmie.
The relations between Ali and Emmie in many ways reflect the way German
society approaches foreigners.

Fassbinder was clearly sympathetic
to Ali. Perhaps it stems from experiences in his own background: When Fassbinder
was 15 years old, he moved to Cologne to live with his father, who had
converted several rundown buildings into housing for foreign workers. The
young boy had to collect the rent. The people he met along the way would
later be seen in his movies.

Fassbinder‚s play, The
Garbage, the City, and Death drew protests from the local Frankfurt Jewish
community, seeing in it certain anti-Semitic outbursts. Do you think Fassbinder
was an anti-Semite?

It is true that this play
caused loud protests in Germany. If I am not mistaken, the main character
was a Jewish speculator. I believe that the public’s perception of the
play was wrong, since Fassbinder did not target Jews, but the system itself,
in his play. Unfortunately, this has never been understood.

He was never an anti-Semite
and treated all people equally. Their race, the color of their skin, or
their religion played no role in his attitude towards people.

What about his political
orientation? There were rumours that Fassbinder supported the “lefties”
and, in particular, the terrorists of the Red Army Faction.

Not at all. He never belonged
to any political party, though sometimes one could have noticed in his
remarks some sympathy towards the left wing in our society. It was, probably,
a result of, or reaction to, a generally conservative atmosphere in German
cinematography, which affected our young generation. But Rainer never liked
the leftist radicals. When he finished The Third Generation, in which he
made fun of the radical left, he didn’t show up at the cinema for the opening
of the film because he was afraid of being beaten.

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.