Rainer Werner Fassbinder: “I ask you to take note….”

There are two narrative strands to the current let’s call it “retrospective” on and with Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Bonn’s Kunsthalle. No, there are of course many more, but two initially come across as dominant.

On the one hand, rubbing up against the term “retrospective,” the criticism that one cannot see the films, when it is precisely these that he is concerned with. A criticism that of course falls very short, because that’s what the film series in the cinemas and at film festivals are for – although, as a Cologne resident, you have to allow for that much restriction: unfortunately, only if there is still a functioning cinema landscape that provides you with vital films like those by Fassbinder.

Nevertheless, it is of course absurd that an exhibition, which obviously aims somewhere completely different, is criticized for this. In Bonn, according to the second main narrative thread, one gains access to the back end of Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s film work, to a meandering river of passion, the urge to communicate, a lack of understanding, longing, power games, and, yes, also delusions of control – but above all passion. One gets insights into correspondence, scripts, internal and external work and social processes, and – especially in the case of the Fassbinder family – also into personal sensitivities about time and other people. The somewhat simplistic but not wrong reading of this second narrative strand: it is a collection of material.

Whether one can really read the “method” out of this, we will now come to that. For all the other narrative threads that are laid out in the exhibition – the title “A Retrospective” already marks the many narratives and interpretations that Fassbinder has left us – rather result in the overall picture of an actor between diverse streams of influence.

For me, the central element of the exhibition is a letter from Fassbinder’s mother Liselotte Eder to her son, in which she, exhausted from typing up a screenplay and above all from the work she had been assigned to keep his finances, warns him that the system of the state in persona of the tax office will soon cause problems. Her request that he finally start collecting receipts seems naïve, of course, because the receipts for food, drink and let’s call it flowers were surely only the last drop on the hot geyser of Fassbinder’s financial system.

With the best will in the world, one cannot imagine Fassbinder as an accountant of his own unbridled creativity. How could one? The bureaucrats themselves are already failing because of the system, so how can someone who has ultimately shat on this state play it successfully? – In this context, it’s also nice that he refused the “Prize of the Federal Republic of Germany,” which some state authority wanted to give him for “Germany in Autumn,” with reference to the inner contradictions (or rather connections) between the work and the state’s praise.

This state praise in the form of predicates awarded or not awarded to films runs through the entire exhibition. One can read various pamphlets where some official, whom certainly no one knows anymore, jerked off to explain to the wild, leftist filmmaker that his story was not told stringently enough, the constellations of characters and places did not work properly or simply his messages did not fit – the same letters exist, and that is already more significant in the historical location, also of various television editors and producers, in view of whose ducts I had to think some times of the Andreas Dorau song “Größenwahn”:

“Größenwahn kam zum Treffen pünktlich 20 nach 8 / Er hatte wie immer neue Ideen mitgebracht /  Er redete wild und wir hörten brav zu
Bedenken und Zweifel warn für ihn ein Tabu /  Falls wir was sagten war ihm das egal /  Ihm zuzuhören wurde langsam zur Qual /  Was er auch sagte es war ein Muss / Als wir alle nickten war endlich Schluss …”

What Fassbinder and his people must have suffered in the let’s call it dialog anyway with this personified mediocrity of the German cultural establishment, who, with the ego of double-digit incomes and without a hint of self-doubt, spouted their ideas to them, not as stimulating input, but as a gateway to the next round of financing – because without the money from the pots of film funding and television, the budgets of Fassbinder’s films were at some point, of course, hardly manageable.

A timeless topic. In film, it always has been, but in music, too, hardly anything works without funding these days. The subcultural market in particular is collapsing bit by bit, and the pandemic is only accelerating the fire. The fire-fighting mishmash of emergency aid, grants and project funds is of course a blessing, but as with every blessing, it doesn’t come down on you from altruistic hands, but from a Kafkaesque world with x forms, Excel lists and deadlines. And then the artists lose themselves in applications, invoices and reports, and either have to adapt their ducts themselves so that the system approves the rates or get staff on board for this (which then eats up a not small part of the budget – I know what I’m talking about, I’m partly this staff for artists, but I therefore also know how much time it takes to play the system). What this does to the artists is also shown between the lines in the Bonn exhibition: Bureaucracy eats up time like fear eats up the soul.

Short insertion: that it can go also differently, of it testified during the Pandemie the NRW-Soforthilfen, artist inside scholarships, which were assigned on basis of a brief concept by Expert:innen and with those a short final report was sufficient and evenly not an extensive accounting and vouching that is above all one: A vote of no confidence against the artists; and lo and behold: the results of these NRW-Soforthilfe grants can be seen and heard, because, who would have thought it, artists want one thing above all: to work and to realize works.

I’m drifting – but also not. Because if there’s one thing Rainer Werner Fassbinder did, it was to push his work manically: Film after film, screenplay after screenplay. Never satisfied with the last film, always already working on the next. And in every second against the system.

RWF was, of course, by no means only a victim of the West German lack of culture. He may have chafed against it, and to a certain extent it was there that he picked up many of the physical-spiritual injuries that caused him to deteriorate so rapidly, but like any good cultural anarchist he also beat the system at its own game. At least that’s what the endless, often wonderfully scribbled film calculations suggest, where every now and then an item falls very absurdly off the grid, so that you don’t have to be a rascal to guess what might be hidden behind it. In these moments I always had to think of “Fuck the system” by Die Sterne, so aptly texted by Frank Spilker:

“25.000 müde Knochen aufgepunpt zu neuem Leben / Mit Mitteln für die schnelle Tour / Die letzten drei Zellen in Reihe geschaltet und Sinn produziert / Ich konnte das immer, jetzt nicht mehr / Manchmal ist zugedröhnt besser als nichts / Atmosphäre verdorben, in den Luftschacht gepisst, verflixt (…)  Nur kein Pathos, ratlos, harmlos, keinen Pathos /  Tote werfen keine Schatten, keine Parolen, keine Blöden wie die: Fickt das System / Ist das der Eingang den der Architekt benutzt /  Oder nimmt er die Hintertür / Zeigt sich das Arsch in der Öffentlichkeit /  Oder findet man nur seine Spur …”

The traces of the asses in “The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Method” have long since been blown away by the sands of history, but the films of RWF continue to resonate, on the one hand as a memorial to an era in which West German culture already had a lot of sand in its gears, but had not yet come to the dogs the way it has today, and on the other hand and much more importantly as grand utopias for a better reality, in the realization of which the protagonists themselves have often failed, which does not devalue their attempts, but makes them all the more precious.


“Eine Retrospektive”
noch bis 6. März 2022 in der Bonner Bundeskunsthalle

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