A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder ed. by Brigitte Peucker (review)
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A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Edited by Brigitte Peucker. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. xiv + 639 pages + many b/w illustrations. $199.95.

This anthology is an invaluable new resource for scholars of film, media, and German studies. It is devoted to the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945–1982), the West German filmmaker whom the editor of this book, Brigitte Peucker, rightfully calls the “preeminent filmmaker of the New German Cinema” (1). In its 639 pages, the volume brings together 29 essays from a wide variety of theoretical approaches, representing important new scholarship on Fassbinder on a par with the best analyses of his films written in the 1990s by Thomas Elsaesser, Kaja Silverman, and the scholars collected in New German Critique 63 (Fall 1994), a volume devoted to Fassbinder.

The essays take many different stands on the aesthetics and politics of the forty-plus feature films made by the enfant terrible of the New German Cinema: some read him in a more Brechtian fashion, some in a more “Sirkian” fashion (that is, in reference to his admiration for the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk/Detlef Sierck); some are more psychoanalytical in approach, some are more concerned with aesthetic form, some with politics and ideology; and many represent queer approaches to Fassbinder. In terms of their utility for a course on Fassbinder or German cinema, these essays are characterized by a theoretical sophistication that makes them better suited to a graduate seminar than to an undergraduate film class (although advanced undergraduates who have already studied film analysis would benefit from them). Overall, the essays represent some of the best work in film and media scholarship, but some also indulge in one of the more annoying characteristics of such work, [End Page 732] namely the tendency to be more focused on the discussion of a particular cultural or aesthetic theory rather than on the specific film or films being analyzed, or at any rate at times not tying the theoretical discussion persuasively to a sustained analysis at the level of the “enunciation,” that is, at the level of specific, stylistic language of a particular film. On the other hand, one welcomes the fact that Fassbinder’s films lend themselves so well to intense theoretical and philosophical discussion.

The volume has four parts. The first part has four essays devoted to Fassbinder’s “Life and Work.” The authors are: Juliane Lorenz, former partner of and film editor for Fassbinder and the current president of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation; Thomas Elsaesser, who has studied Fassbinder for decades; Leo Lensing, who positions Fassbinder’s cinema between “Literature and Life”; and Wayne Koestenbaum, a poet who responds as a gay man to Fassbinder’s films in a radical, autobiographical manner.

Part II is titled “Genre; Influence; Aesthetics.” Highlights include Laura McMahon’s analysis of Fassbinder’s early films and the influence of Godard on them; Claire Kaiser’s bold essay focusing on the representation of the body in Fassbinder’s work; John David Rhodes persuasive reading of Fassbinder’s relation to Sirk in terms of “Queer Labor”; and Brad Prager’s essay on Fassbinder’s made-for-television science fiction film World on a Wire (1973), which he contextualizes historically in terms of its relation to other science fiction films of the era such as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) as well as to Fassbinder’s own production difficulties in his previous work for West German television.

“Other Texts; Other Media” is the title of the third part of the book, with essays focusing on the “intermedial” aspects of Fassbinder’s films, that is, their engagement with other artistic media, above all literature, painting, theater, and music. Especially impressive in this group of essays are the two contributions of the volume’s editor, Brigitte Peucker, the first analyzing the complicated transformation of Nabokov’s novel Despair in Fassbinder’s 1977 film adaptation, the second devoted to The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), including a sustained analysis of the significance of Fassbinder’s framing of a painting by Poussin at the center of the film’s action. Caryl Flinn develops...