Saturday, March 10, 2018

Film Forum debut for famous Fassbinder TV series: EIGHT HOURS DON'T MAKE A DAY

When TrustMovies was young and Rainer Werner Fassbinder was alive and his internationally acclaimed work was in full bloom, that work seemed to me bracing mostly because of its "newness," strangeness and transgressive qualities.

One of the tests of time regarding how well art that initially shocks actually holds up decades later involves how meaningful it remains. In this regard, most of Fassbinder's oeuvre -- for me, at least -- has certainly stood that test.

As I've grown up, slowly and haltingly to be sure, Fassbinder's films seem to have opened up to include so much more than I initially could appreciate or understand.

That funny, chubby little artist, pictured at right, who possessed such an understanding and rather dark appreciation of women, men, sexuality, the workplace and the post-war Capitalist system that was slowly strangling his own country of Germany, as well as the rest of the western world, was able to transfer his knowledge into cinema (and television) at a rate that can only be called astonishing. Fassbinder completed in all some 48 films (as writer) and 44 (as director) in only 17 years, prior to his untimely death in 1982 at the age of 37.

Though his theatrical movies made the most noise overseas, it now turns out that his best work -- Berlin Alexanderplatz and the just-now receiving-its-U.S.-theatrical-debut EIGHT HOURS DON'T MAKE A DAY (Acht Stunden sind kein Tag), to use two stunning examples -- were made for German television.

The latter of those television series, first shown on German TV in the fall of 1972, is made up of five parts and runs 478 minutes (just a shade under eight full hours). At this point I've only had time to watch the first section, a 102-minute piece entitled Jochen and Marion that details the evolving love story/work story between the two title characters, a smart fellow who labors in a tool manufacturing plant, and his new girlfriend who takes classified ads for a local newspaper.

This striking pair is played by actors from Fassbinder's "repertory": an impressive man of near-Neanderthal beauty, the late Gottfried John (above, and below, underneath), and that still-stunning actress, Hanna Schygulla (below, on top), who made her mark in the title role of The Marriage of Maria Braun.

The two performers are magic, alone or together, and their story is the focal point around which revolve so many of Fassbinder's major interests -- from politics and economics to industrial design, love, lesbianism, child abuse, workers vs the Capitalist system, bathroom usage and necessity as the mother of invention. (And that's only a very incomplete list.)

This first part ends with a funeral (in the rain, of course: Fassbinder does love cliche and melodrama, but he manages to use most of this in ways both appropriate and slightly twisted) followed by a lovely, charming, deeply humane scene in the bedroom between our two lovers.

The workplace gets every bit as much attention as do the leading characters and their family life, and the scenes on the job are full of life, anger, surprise and lots more -- including a power play by management and some blackmail from the workers, along with some very interesting takes on the relationship between men and women. To call this director prescient does not begin to do him full justice.

How Fassbinder orchestrates all this is quite wonderful. Because he was working in television, his movie never "shocks" (even a near-full-frontal workplace shower scene is modulated just enough to pass the censors) yet he is able to give us a look at this surprisingly large-yet-distinct canvas in ways that are both specific (Jochen's family is made up of quite an eccentric bunch) yet pretty universal, too.

In the supporting cast are a number of Fassbinder vets -- from Irm Hermann (above, left) to Kurt Raab -- which should only increase your appetite to view the entire project. Released by Janus Films, Eight Hours Don't Make a Day will have a 2-week engagement, March 14 – 27, at New York's Film Forum and will be screened in three parts. Part 1 (202 minutes) and Part 2 (184 minutes) are separate admission. Part 3 (90 minutes) is free of charge for the viewers of the other two parts. The full screening schedule can be viewed here. Bookings elsewhere around the country? Nothing appears on the Janus website yet, but I can't believe there won't be more cities in which this series can soon be seen. In any case, a Blu-ray and DVD will surely be in the offing from Criterion at some future point.

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