Fassbinder's Germany. History Identity Subject

By Johnson, Sheila K | German Quarterly, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Fassbinder's Germany. History Identity Subject


Johnson, Sheila K, German Quarterly


Elsaesser, Thomas. Fassbinder's Germany. History Identity Subject. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP 1996. 396 pp. $49.50 hardcover, $24.95 paperback.

This volume reassessing Fassbinder's ceuvre, published in the Film Culture in Transition series, is pure Elsaesser-his first fulllength book since 1990. Fassbinder's Germany represents, according to the author, "some twenty years of thinking and writing" (11) about one of Germany's most intriguing filmmakers, or better yet about the enduring meaning of his films. Elsaesser adds that "it was not until the centenary [sic] of his death in 1992 that I started to rethink Fassbinder's Germany" (12). The results of this reconsideration by one of our best scholars of German/European film offers a great deal not only to Fassbinder aficionados, and students of film generally, but also to those concerned with Germany's cultural history in the broader sense.

In contrast to previous books on Fassbinder, which have dealt largely with biography, Elsaesser focuses on Fassbinder's work as auteur, director, actor, dramatist and critical thinker. Through close reading of groups of films within a framework of the complex argument that Fassbinder's oeuvre displays a definite trajectory, a "central theme," Elsaesser makes a convincing case for the integrity of the filmmaker's work as a whole. That is: Fassbinder manages to represent questions of his times and of Germany's past through his absolute investment of self, of his own body, "taking up a moral space and function [...] central to his universe" by embodying "rather than merely identifying with" (258) the mediator figure-from the "strong" woman, through the "bad" Jew and "victimized" homosexual, but also the recurring Franz Biberkopf Elsaesser concludes that Fassbinder was able to realize his theme because he "possessed one of the very few genuinely new visions of how the Germans he sought to reach might make contact again with their past, [...] without shunning the price needed to be paid for assuming a history from which in 1945 they had decided to cut themselves off, after seeing how far it had cut them off" (256). This sums up Fassbinder's importance as an artist, encapsulates Elsaesser's contribution to Fassbinder studies and is thus what makes this book special.

Elsaesser asserts that Fassbinder has a unique ability to alter (he "undermines," 67) the perspective of the viewer "by enveloping [her/him] with another gaze that takes away the false security [generally offered by melodrama] of gazing at the other as victim" (67). …

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