203-206 The BRD Trilogy

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Drucker
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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#51 Post by Drucker » Tue Jun 03, 2014 9:27 am

Lemmy Caution wrote: Lastly, it just struck me, that after Robert barges into the doctor's office with the authorities, Veronika gets a chance to act out her final scene. She pretends she barely knows Robert, strolling from one end to the other, playing to the small audience. Unlike the minor scene in the film she couldn't manage, here Veronika is quite convincing, and after Robert and the others leave, she breaks down in real tears, in contrast to the fake tears she had trouble producing on set. Nice.
This scene was excellent, but I did not put 2 and 2 together there like you did. Holy moly you're right. Can't believe I missed that, but that is fantastic.

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Red Screamer
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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#52 Post by Red Screamer » Wed Jun 04, 2014 12:15 am

I just saw this tonight and I'm still reeling. My first thought is just how much of a master craftsman Fassbinder was.
jindianajonz wrote:I also took notice of the lighting throughout this film. At first, I thought the sparkling on the screen was mostly contained in flashbacks, representing the rosy glasses Voss seems to wear when she thinks of herself, but as the film went on I started to noticing the sparkle more and more in modern scenes and even scenes where Voss has a moment of clarity. For the white doctor's office, I took this to be representative of the fact that this office is where Voss sees herself as she really is- a washed up drug-addict. Here, the bright lighting exposes all of her flaws (both literal wrinkles and metaphorical character flaws), while outside this office she (and Fassbinder) uses the shadows as a cloak to make her appear glamorous and starlike, and she tries to adopt a different persona to match this appearance. If I get a chance to watch the film again soon, I'd like to try and pay more attention to these elements.
"Light and Shadows. The two secrets of motion pictures." (approximately)
I was also impressed with the several ways that RWF plays with light in VV, most of which have already been mentioned. I found the lighting of Voss' close-ups to be constantly harsh and bright, almost uncomfortable. Regarding the first flashback with the glimmering lights, how is that done? Usually the glare and "extensions" aren't caught on filmstock.

As for the dark humor, I thought it mixed with the anger and seediness is part of what made the film so compulsively watchable. My favorite joke was the one about the Walter brothers, that one really got me. A strange mixture of tone and extreme watchability are pretty much the only things the Fassbinders I've seen so far have in common.

Kudos to Lemmy Caution for the reading of "cultural amnesia" and Nazi comparisons. Those thoughts really made me look at the film in a new light and, ultimately, appreciate it more.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#53 Post by Lemmy Caution » Wed Jun 04, 2014 5:50 pm

Veering slightly off, but related to the themes in Veronika Voss, Ai Wei Wei wrote an article entitled, What China Loses by Forgetting, which gets at some of what I was referring to regarding China and cultural amnesia. In many ways what Fassbinder was criticizing about West Germany, but the problem in modern China is more obvious and overt.

The most relevant part is at the end:
China has chosen to forget, or to allow forgetting -- an attitude the West will find hard to understand. This provides China a way to liberate itself from heavy self-criticism, as well as a heavier moral burden. More important, it frees Chinese from responsibility for their actions and acquiescence.

If China has pulled off an economic miracle since 1989, this self-imposed amnesia is also a sort of Chinese miracle. The mindset will not change until Chinese themselves understand that the lack of accurate information about their own past injures their well-being just as much as the polluted air or corruption.

How long can China continue on this forgetful path?
Last edited by Lemmy Caution on Thu Jun 05, 2014 2:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#54 Post by Gregory » Wed Jun 04, 2014 6:22 pm

Fassbinder's politics seem extremely vague and slippery, yet are in the foreground of most critical accounts of the importance of his films, especially this trilogy. What exactly did Germany as a society forget that he was insightful enough to be able to remind them of? It took Germany (the state) quite a while to acknowledge earlier crimes and pay reparations, but it's hardly as if the German people as a whole had forgotten anything that Veronika Voss was going to remind them about.

I'm not sure that Fassbinder really had any particular insight into what was potentially lost when the US wouldn't permit a unified Germany to exist after war, nor into the Marshall Plan and the whole postwar order, or at least his films don't seem to place such concerns at their center. He certainly wasn't part of any opposition to all that. He wasn't specifically anticapitalist, was he? And he doesn't seem to have been particularly familiar with political countercurrents of the time of this career. Instead he seemed to traffic in sterotypes like Voss's washed up UFA star, and in overwrought stories of people who are miserable for reasons that are more apolitical than anything else. This is part of why I've attributed a kind of apolitical cynicism to him: he can show human degeneracy within a period context that is sure to resonate with us historically, but no coherent politics seem to inform these plots other than what viewers are inclined to read into them.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#55 Post by accatone » Thu Jun 05, 2014 3:45 am

Gregory wrote:What exactly did Germany as a society forget that he was insightful enough to be able to remind them of? It took Germany (the state) quite a while to acknowledge earlier crimes and pay reparations, but it's hardly as if the German people as a whole had forgotten anything that Veronika Voss was going to remind them about.
Of course not everyone forgot everything and of course not everyone was involved in the war/crimes/etc. - same goes for China (Lemmy above). Still there is a historical consensus about post war Germany that Fassbinder made "us" aware of through a very personal, naive, every day life point of view. Its not by accident that he mixes actors, music and styles (melodrama, Kammerspiel…) from the 50s (Papas Kino, escape from the past WWII attitude…) with stories of people who are rotting from the inside as the (restrained) past is eating them up. I think it is/was very effective as people were already fed up with drastic images and stories of the war/crimes. Its the "make film political and not political films" i guess. To get back to the actual question as to what he reminded the people of: The past is never just the past. You may try to restrain it, but its a weak medicine. It will come back with bang, be it physical or psychological.

As for Fassbinder and politics, its very safe to say that he was fully aware of what was going on at this and his time only did he transform it into something very personal (see Deutschland im Herbst) in his art.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#56 Post by Lemmy Caution » Thu Jun 05, 2014 4:25 am

I'm not sure why you feel that Fassbinder should be endorsing some specific course of political action. He's offering up a critique of the society. It's all geared towards money and avoiding/lying about/burying the past. What they've lost is a connection to the past, to the truth, to morality. At the end, the doctor and her cohorts enjoy the fruits of a happy respectable middle upper class existence, but underneath they are soulless monstrous people. It might seem unfulfilling to you, but I could see Robert at the end as a stand-in for Fassbinder, observing these modern Germans, cringing and shrugging. They've won, this is the way things are in West Germany, but it's a wounded amoral, ahistorical society, built on deceit.

Also, I don't think you can read just anything into the film. Very specifically the end is all about forgetting, and the past being buried. Veronika denies that she knows Robert, killing their relationship and her last hope of salvation. Back at work, Robert fails to write the story of what happened, killing off the truth of the situation. Veronika sings about memories, right before she is offed. And the final scene shows the Dr. Katz crowd in full amnesiac mode, oblivious to their crimes and monstrosity. It's clearly there, as well as earlier signposts such as Veronika probably having lied about her involvement with the Nazi regime.

Moreover I think the use of an old UFA actress is perfect, because all of society is now acting. Contrast Veronika the old washed-up actress, with Dr. Katz, a new sort of real-life actress. Acting, artifice, role-playing has become the societal norm. It's all fake and acting now. Apparently the film didn't work for you or irked you in some fashion.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#57 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 05, 2014 11:01 am

I didn't argue that Fassbinder should have endorsed a specific course of political action in his films. My point is that the politics of his films seem rather nebulous and fraught with cynicism about any possibility for a society in which people don't endlessly manipulate and abuse each other, or lapse into despair. The negative charges are well placed, but it's hard to see any clear political implications to them that deal specifically with postwar Germany moving forward.
Apparently the film didn't work for you or irked you in some fashion.
Yes, and I've tried to explore some of my problems with Fassbinder as clearly as possible (in particular his later, more 'serious' works). But while I haven't been playing the devil's advocate in this discussion, I have been focusing on this critique to bring out some other perspectives like yours. It's been a good conversation.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#58 Post by accatone » Thu Jun 05, 2014 11:21 am

I think the political implications on postwar Germany are very clear. The film is an appraisal of a society that lost a war it was responsible for and how it tries to move on from this. As for "Real Politik", this is the Konrad Adenauer era of the 50s but implies sociological, artistic and many more facets of society (amnesia etc.). Also i do not see cynicism involved. I am curious as to where you see that at work?

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#59 Post by Lemmy Caution » Thu Jun 05, 2014 12:11 pm

Gregory wrote:My point is that the politics of his films seem rather nebulous and fraught with cynicism about any possibility for a society in which people don't endlessly manipulate and abuse each other, or lapse into despair. The negative charges are well placed, but it's hard to see any clear political implications to them that deal specifically with postwar Germany moving forward.
I'm also not that comfortable with Fassbinder's view of human nature as one of exploitation, where the weak frequently aid in their own victimization. But I usually consider that Fassbinder's psycho-sexual interpretation that humans mainly engage in power relationships. It does make for some good and often odd plotlines.

It's your second sentence I underlined I have trouble with. I see Fassbinder more exposing the underbelly of a complacent greedy society, rather than offering up solutions. I don't make the leap that there should be political implications or prescriptions in Fassbinder's work. Just doesn't seem to be what he is going for. Often times you have to expose a problem before it can be dealt with. Essentially, Fassbinder looks at Germany's best, most prosperous, most harmonious decades of the 20th Century (up to that point, and uh, ignoring East Germany for the moment), and proclaims it all rotten and a sham.
It's been a good conversation.
Yes*. It's helped me organize some thoughts on the film, and appreciate even more what Fassbinder accomplished. I really like the look and feel of the film, the shaggy search for justice, even the despair and defeat. But I think the social critique is brilliantly integrated into the story.

* I wish more had joined in. I tried to direct some folks in the 80's thread over this way.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#60 Post by Lemmy Caution » Thu Jun 05, 2014 12:17 pm

To continue my modern China parallels, there are numerous articles on the 25th anniversary of what my friend likes to call the Tinman Square Incident. A few samples that seem to fit right in with Fassbinder's critique of post-war West Germany:

"I’m disappointed that so many young people seem to care only about money. The soul of China feels missing, and so far nothing has been able to bind it together."

Repressing the memory of June 4 has itself become a fresh motive for repression elsewhere. As Freud (and Nietzsche before him) argued, forgetting is not a natural process. It takes continuous effort.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#61 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 05, 2014 2:18 pm

accatone wrote:Also i do not see cynicism involved. I am curious as to where you see that at work?
I've tried to explain this in my earlier posts, and if I make another attempt I may end up repeating myself or muddying the waters further, but I'll touch on it again here:
Lemmy Caution wrote:I see Fassbinder more exposing the underbelly of a complacent greedy society, rather than offering up solutions. I don't make the leap that there should be political implications or prescriptions in Fassbinder's work. Just doesn't seem to be what he is going for. Often times you have to expose a problem before it can be dealt with. Essentially, Fassbinder looks at Germany's best, most prosperous, most harmonious decades of the 20th Century (up to that point, and uh, ignoring East Germany for the moment), and proclaims it all rotten and a sham.
I agree with you about what Fassbinder seemed to be doing (and not attempting to do: offering solutions), and there is value in this. It's "all rotten and a sham" may very well be true, but it seems to be (appropriately enough) the social criticism of an artistic mind that ends up in a fairly apolitical place. If everything is wrong with how Germany attempted to move into its new era, not only on the part of the federal republic but the people within it, and there are no avenues toward anything different, then it ends up being a complacent (and thus politically disengaged) picture of an actual social/political problem.

So I don't think the film is cynical because it doesn't provide any solutions but rather because, like so many other Fassbinder films, the characters have no real agency or choices that could lead to anyone's empowerment or breaking free from corruptive influences. When a character makes a choice, it predictably leads to things becoming worse, not better; they just wallow in disgusting and destructive ways of relating and interacting, and things that start off fairly bad progressively degenerate, and it feels inevitable, like they were doomed from the start in Fassbinder's world.

Political films deal with choices that effect different outcomes, and with changeable ways of ordering society and its institutions. An fateful downward spiral of people doing little but undermining each other and themselves has little to do with that.

To pose a parallel, Fox and His Friends is ostensibly all about the corrupting influence of money in a capitalist society, but does it actually demonstrate anything to do with the capitalist mode of which the film is taken to be a critique, or is it mainly just a group of characters whose part in the tragic trajectory of the story lies in their viciousness, callousness, self-destructiveness, and other personality flaws rather than the realities of the commercial world (the "market") in which they live?

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#62 Post by accatone » Thu Jun 05, 2014 4:06 pm

Gregory wrote:So I don't think the film is cynical because it doesn't provide any solutions but rather because, like so many other Fassbinder films, the characters have no real agency or choices that could lead to anyone's empowerment or breaking free from corruptive influences. When a character makes a choice, it predictably leads to things becoming worse, not better; they just wallow in disgusting and destructive ways of relating and interacting, and things that start off fairly bad progressively degenerate, and it feels inevitable, like they were doomed from the start in Fassbinder's world.
I was trying to find an online translation of this:
…Shadows, to be Sure, and no Pity: A Few Random Thoughts on the Films of Claude Chabrol
Written in 1975. First published in English in: Sight and Sound, Autumn 1976. Also in: Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Anarchy of the Imagination. Michael Töteberg / Leo A. Lensing (ed.). The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1992.

But had no luck. Its Fassbinder on Chabrol, first published (i think) in the Reihe Hanser Film "Claude Chabrol". Its the introduction to a book on Chabrol from which i quote here in a sloppy translation by myself: "In the end, its the agreement between Chabrol and his Republic. With Chabrol, France does not have a critic, nor a Balzac of the 20th century, as he likes to consider himself, proved by his films, but France has a system-innate cynic in Chabrol, a cynic with a great longing for the naive, for the lost identity."

I just wanted to post this article because i think it shows how much Fassbinder really cared for his characters (as opposed to Chabrol in his later films, as is the point in above article). I can see where Gregory is coming from but am unable to share and follow his conclusion regarding cynicism.
As Lemmy pointed out, Fassbinders agenda is oppression, “There is no right life in the wrong one.”, always watch out. So what stays beyond the negative, or maybe even cynical character play, is the longing for a better, free of oppression, addiction etc. life. For me, growing up in Germany, its quite a positive political agenda.
(with all this, i think, we are still within the topic of Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss)

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#63 Post by zedz » Thu Jun 05, 2014 10:42 pm

Well, this eventually turned into a really interesting discussion. I'm sorry I was away from a proper keyboard and couldn't participate over the last week.

Some thoughts:

Confronting Germany's immediate past was a key element of the New German Cinema, but this tends to be obscured because two of the 'big three' directors of that movement outside Germany (Herzog and Wenders) were the two least concerned with doing so. But if you look at the work of Kluge, Hauff, Syberberg, Reitz, Von Trotta, even Schlondorff, it's a major strand of their filmmaking. And the common denominator is that these directors' relationship to that immediate past is extremely complicated. It's a bleak and confusing legacy that's rarely tackled head on (unlike some of the "we're so terribly sorry about Hitler" mea culpa films that immediately followed the war), and the widespread complicity of German society is central to that complication and confusion. The problem was that the post-war German establishment was largely composed of people who were more or less complicit in the horrors that had gone before: soldiers, functionaries, or merely 'Good Germans' who famously 'stood by' while atrocities were committed (though of course that history was also much more complicated and confusing). Their sons and daughters - the New German Cinema generation - were appalled and alienated and felt immense frustration and resentment towards the preceding generation for leaving them with this poisoned legacy. These feelings found expression in art and politics, and the founding moment of the New German Cinema - the Oberhausen Manifesto - was an artistic and political statement.

For the filmmakers of the New German Cinema, dealing with those feelings wasn't simply a case of making polemical films. Decrying the Nazi regime would be redundant, because nobody was defending it. Rather, nobody was talking about it at all. Thus, that legacy tended to be addressed in more indirect and oblique ways, and the target tended to be the complacency and complicity of the post-war establishment. When the subject was addressed more directly, it was often took on an extremely esoteric form. In Perplexed: Artists Under the Big Top, Kluge goes so far to put his anti-Fascist sentiments in the mouths of a bunch of elephants; Syberberg had to come up with entirely new modes of filmmaking in order to address Hitler as a cultural figure.

Resentment of one's parental generation, their complicity and convenient amnesia, is central to how this reaction manifested itself in Fassbinder's cinema, which was always strongest when it translated his political / economic / social concerns into intimate interpersonal power relations. Just look at how RWF consistently casts his own mother as the representative of sinister reaction in his films. He also delights in tweaking / poisoning the forms of his parents' cinema (e.g. the fifties melodrama), and this was a common technique of other New German directors as well, with the Heimatfilm the most common target. This popular form flourished in the fifties and allowed German filmmakers of the time to look to a romanticized past and conveniently avoid the nasty truths of recent history. New German filmmakers infected this idealized rural genre with Marxist analysis (Matthias Kneissl, The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach) or existential dread (Every Man for Himself and God Against All) and presented a vision of the past that was mean and grubby and resolutely anti-escapist (nobody in their right mind would want to live in Hauff's nineteenth century). In films like Veronika Voss (though perhaps less so here than in his purer melodramas), Fassbinder is doing a similar job of messing up a version of the privileged cinema of his parents, carpet-bombing its moral certainties and undercutting the generic expectations of the audience. Martha is, again, a great example. RWF privileges his lovers with a swirling, swooning camera movement when they first encounter one another, keying in expectations of high romance, but the reality that ensues is about as sordid as it comes. He is extremely skeptical about the capacity of individuals to escape their personal traps - or even to realize that they've stepped into them - but I don't see that this is necessarily an apolitical perspective. He's still offering a political analysis, even if it is pessimistic.

Another idea to toss into the ring:

Veronika Voss has often seemed to me like a Raymond Chandler subject without a Raymond Chandler hero: dope, duplicitous doctors, the margins of celebrity, unhelpful authorities. All you need is Philip Marlowe to sort things out, but unfortunately Robert is no Philip Marlowe.

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Re: Veronika Voss (R.W. Fassbinder, 1982)

#64 Post by Lemmy Caution » Fri Jun 06, 2014 5:26 am

zedz wrote:I'm sorry I was away from a proper keyboard and couldn't participate over the last week.
Trust me, no one would comprehend zedz in Dvorak anyway.

I like your explanation of why Fassbinder is interested in subverting melodrama.
Veronika Voss has often seemed to me like a Raymond Chandler subject without a Raymond Chandler hero: dope, duplicitous doctors, the margins of celebrity, unhelpful authorities. All you need is Philip Marlowe to sort things out, but unfortunately Robert is no Philip Marlowe.
Very much so. My shorthand description above was "a shaggy search for justice."
In Fassbinder's version, Marlowe/Robert isn't even the central character. Or maybe he barely qualifies, in his ineffectual way. He's an anti-hero on the verge of disappearing for lack of relevance and ability.

Can anyone explain Robert further?
Someone mentioned that it followed a pattern of Fassbinder weak men.
I also thought he seemed like a Fassbinder stand-in in the final scene.

The very end of the film has Robert telling a taxi driver to take him to Munich Stadium. It seemed a rather flat ending to me -- I more or less forgot he was a sports reporter. So I guess it just shows that he is going to slog on with his job and nothing has changed. Is there any symbolism there?

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Re: 203-206 The BRD Trilogy

#65 Post by roderigo » Mon Jun 23, 2014 12:50 pm

any news on an upgrade on the set?

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Re: 203-206 The BRD Trilogy

#66 Post by swo17 » Mon Apr 15, 2019 4:52 pm


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Re: 203-206 The BRD Trilogy

#67 Post by domino harvey » Mon Apr 15, 2019 4:52 pm

I can’t believe this is finally coming back. Amazing month for from the grave releases

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Re: 203-206 The BRD Trilogy

#68 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:01 pm

Hope you all sold your DVD copies while you had the chance. It was quite the prize.

EDIT: Bummed Veronika Voss, my favorite of the three, only has an HD restoration rather than the 4K treatment given to the other two.

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Re: 203-206 The BRD Trilogy

#69 Post by dwk » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:09 pm

Interesting to note that this isn't getting re-released on DVD.

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