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Perlmutter 79 Ruth Perlmutter Real Feelings, Hollywood Melodrama and the Bitter Tears of Fassbinder's Petra von Kant Between the lines of Fassbinder's interviews and writings, we perceive his obsession with Hollywood movies. From the films he admired—by Sirk, Walsh, Hawks—he extracted the subtextual psychosexual mechanisms and the social/familial configurations that show characters lying, defending, emoting—mostly evading. Thus he found affinities with Raoul Walsh's White Heat, because he shared the "same relationship of his heros and mothers," and he interpreted Hawks' films as "gay stories," because of their concealed male relationships.1 In the early '70s, particularly, he turned his attention to domestic melodrama, the garden variety woman's weepies. In films like The Merchant ofFour Seasons , Martha , AU: Fear Eats the Soul, and The Bitter Tears ofPetra von Kant (as well as the play Nora Helmer, an adaptation of Ibsen's Doll's House), he explored notions of the Unkage between cinema and social relations. Through the "tears" of melodrama, he could, as he phrased it, "create a union between something as beautiful and powerful and wonderful as Hollywood films and a critique of the status quo."2 He could explore the political and economic grounding of sex, race and class constraints, while also exposing the hysteria, fetishization, and voyeurism underlying the Hollywood text. Linked to his belief that all people are oppressed (male, female, gay)3 was his conviction that masochism and being a woman are primary conditions of life—and movies.4 That he could translate these masochistic tendencies into a professed preference for female characters,5 can be interpreted in the light of postFreudian views of masochism as the guiltr stricken results of bisexual desires.6 A Fassbinder character may manifest the jealousy and narcissistic self-insistence that arise from an indeterminate sexuaUty, but s/he is nevertheless also bound by a fixed social and aesthetic situation. What it feels like to be a woman in a Fassbinder movie (whether male or female, victim or dominatrix) and to be punished for that feeling, is governed by the culture's exploitative class and sexual ideologies, myths, and modes of representation. One of the most important influences on Fassbinder was Godard's Vivre Sa Vie (which he saw 27 times).7 Its spectrum of avant-garde practices , all employed to rework and intensify the pathos of Anna Karina's 80 the minnesota review suffering as exploited prostitute and Godard's own "star"/love object (she had just become his wife) had an enormous impact on Fassbinder's style. His filmmaking career actually began in 1965, three years after Godard's fUm. If Fassbinder learned from Godard's film how to manipulate the genre with a multi-leveled self-critical text that exposed real oppressions in the form of ambivalent viewing structures and states of submission, helplessness, and muteness, the masochistic text also provided him with a context for his own postmodern contribution—character transgression or what Bakhtin called "character hybridization.'" In character hybridization, traditional positions are shifted and characters war against entrapment in their narratives, effectively effacing the author and transgressing unity of character. Hybridization further assaults the simulated "truth" established by conventional mechanisms for character interaction—point of view and diegetic unity; constancy of character traits; refraction of elements drawn from the real-life events of actors, author and/or the culture. Instead of their subjugation by the text as self-projections of the author, characters are let loose. They contest their traditional roles as realizers of the fiction, they mock the power of their creator as weU as the manipulations of editing and mise-en-scene that invite viewer identification. Acting as perceivers and interpreters of the double meanings that contain them, the actors assume traits characteristic of the viewer or director and often contend for control of the film.' Call it "narcissistic narrative" or "metafictional paradox,"10 parodie texts with characters who function differentially and allegorically—as agents of a fictional text who also produce it (refracted actor, author) and receive it (refracted viewer, interpreter)—serve to re-accentuate the cinematic pieties implicit in auterurism and in the viewer's transactions of involvement, identification, and voyeurism. Fassbinder's gueriUa...


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