“Genius or madman?” That question was often flung Fassbinder’s way, back in the 70s when the Munich Wunder-brat was leading German cinema to its first great period since the Weimar years. The answer is not ours to provide. What’s certain, whatever his eccentricities and cruelties, is that he had the focus to write and direct 40-some coruscating melodramas in a 13-year blast of creative energy that drew equal inspiration from Germany’s political past and Hollywood’s Golden Age. His biggest film, likely his masterpiece, is this 15-1/2 hr. made-for-TV adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel, which had thrilled Fassbinder since his teen years. In the lumpen figure of Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht), the filmmaker found a passive, pathetic non-hero around whom dozens of predators and victims could swarm. If you’re looking for a Fassbinder starter set, try The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant or Martha or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul or The Marriage of Maria Braun. But I suggest you rise to the challenge. Put a weekend aside to savor the director in full fester. What may seem like an ordeal will end in enthrallment.
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