Critics’ Picks

Runa Islam, Garden, 1998, video and 16 mm film, color, sound, 6 minutes.


“Fassbinder Now”

Gropius Bau
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
May 6–August 23

Had he not bowed out of the party at the age of thirty-seven from the workaholism demanded by forty feature films in fifteen years, all fueled by a toxic combination of cocaine, booze, and Valium, the filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder would have turned seventy this year. Although Berlin was not his hometown—Fassbinder was born in the more conservative city of Munich, where he shot nearly all his films—he did transform one of the city’s canonical texts, Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, (1979–80) into celluloid magic with his fourteen-part adaptation for television. This summer has seen a flurry of Fassbinder-related activities in the German capital, from screenings of his extensive oeuvre at the Kino Arsenale to a group exhibition at Egbert Baqué of artists exploring Volker Schlöndorff’s film Baal (1969), in which Fassbinder played the leading role. The pulse of all of these activities, however, has inarguably been this exhibition, “Fassbinder Now.”

It opens with excerpts from years of television interviews with the filmmaker, and from there one can choose to proceed on one of two paths through the show, though I’d recommend doing both. To the left is an excursion into Fassbinder’s archives including a selection of original costumes from the films, his infamous leather jacket, typewriter, and a dictaphone into which he recorded most of his screenplays as well as his entire treatment for Berlin Alexanderplatz. To the right are works by a handful of contemporary artists inspired by Fassbinder’s films and themes, including Runa Islam’s multichannel film installation Garden, 1998, which deconstructs the circular tracking shot employed frequently by Fassbinder as a drama-building device. Elsewhere, Ming Wong stages an uproarious drag “orientalization” of Fassbinder’s films The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974).