A Degree of Murder and
“An Uneasy Moment”
When an interviewer asked Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1974 whether any films by contemporary young German filmmakers particularly appealed to him, his response mentioned Schlöndorff's A Degree of Murder (Mord und Totschlag, 1967) (Wiegand, “Interview” 69). The affinity between the two directors was at its peak during the second half of the 1960s, when both were based in Munich and A Degree of Murder emerged. Nonetheless, why Fassbinder chose to privilege Schlöndorff's second feature film remains an intriguing question. Surely during the later sixties there were parallels between the two filmmakers' attitudes, creative stances, and objectives. In A Degree of Murder, Marie (Anita Pallenberg) recruits two strangers to help her dispose of the corpse of her lover, whom she accidentally shot in self-defense. Both Schlöndorff in A Degree of Murder and Fassbinder in Gods of the Plague (Götter der Pest, 1969) structure plots in which two men and a woman restlessly drive into the countryside.
Given his sense of rebellion, the young Fassbinder probably liked how A Degree of Murder broke with the past. Schlöndorff used the success of Young Törless as a springboard to introduce, with his second film, a new element of pop culture visual splashiness into the German film. A Degree of Murder, however, made before the institution of extensive state subsidies and television financing, also maintained certain production conventions from an earlier, more traditional generation. Schlöndorff changed producers, moving from Franz Seitz, Jr., an establishment fixture, to Rob Houwer, who was closely associated with the first generation of the New German Cinema. However, even with this younger-generation producer, financing in the traditional German system largely had to come from advances from the distributor. Schlöndorff and producer Houwer secured the considerable advance of five hundred thousand German marks from the German Constantin Verleih distributorship.