The Anarchy of the Imagination: Interviews, Essays, and Notes by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The Anarchy of the Imagination is a compilation of interviews, essays, and notes by the talented, self-confident, and versatile provocateur filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Driven by an inexhaustible compulsion to entertain as well as provide social criticism, Fassbinder sought to elevate the role of contemporary German cinema. An avid cineaste, he developed his unorthodox approach to cinema as much through his voracious habit of viewing three to four films a day as through his formal training in film school, where he was quickly singled out as both a gifted artist and an iconoclastic, opinionated troublemaker.

Fassbinder’s reverence for the films of Douglas Sirk (who, as he proudly reminds the reader, is a German of Danish origin named Detlef Sierck before changing his name and becoming a Hollywood filmmaker) is revealed through a series of appreciative essays on Sirk’s cinema. In an interview with Hans Gunther Pflaum in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder explains:

Yes, actually ever since I saw his films and tried to write about them, Sirk’s been in everything I’ve done. Not Sirk himself, but what I’ve learned from his work. Sirk told me what the studio bosses in Hollywood told him: a film has to go over in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Okinawa, and in Chicago – just try to think what the common denominator might be for people in all those places. To Sirk, something still mattered that most people in Hollywood don’t care about anymore: make sure his work was in tune with himself, with his own personality, that is, not just produced ‘for the public’, like in those films in Germany that none of us like: those sex and entertainment films that the producers think the public likes, but they don’t like themselves.

In an Ernst Burkel interview with Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk, Sirk is equally impressed: “Before I met Rainer I sensed something, and then when I saw him I recognized, with that eye every filmmaker has to have, a personality of great originality.”

On the subject of the luminous, yet often inscrutable lead actress, Hanna Schygulla, Fassbinder reflects:

Hanna Schygulla and I hardly spoke at these [student] gatherings; mostly we observed those doing the talking and, I think, were probably both trying to analyze what was said… On one of those evenings it suddenly became crystal clear to me, she would be an essential cornerstone possibly, maybe even something like their driving force.

However, this interdependence proved to be antithetical to Fassbinder’s idea of a cooperative work group. Schygulla steadfastly refused to dedicate herself completely to Fassbinder’s projects, and consequently, he learned to accept the reality that she would only appear in his films if a substantial role was offered.

What is revealed through these fragmented thoughts is a prolific artist of great imagination who approached life and creation with the same intensity of emotion and reckless abandon. A schoolchildren’s query to Fassbinder summarily portrays his uncompromising carpe diem philosophy:

How do you picture your old age?
-I don’t expect to experience it.

How do you visualize your professional and private future?
-There isn’t any past, there isn’t any present, so there isn’t any future, either.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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