PRINT March 2003


1980: Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz

SINCE MANY IN THE ’70s imagined themselves to be living in a disco-inflected version of the Weimar Republic, with all the lurking political apocalypse that implied, there was a voluptuous foreboding in the prospect of a TV miniseries by Rainer Werner Fassbinder chronicling the lower depths of ’20s Berlin. Fassbinder’s cinema of cruelty, with its equal echoes of Brecht, Warhol, and Douglas Sirk, had from the outset provided an infusion of demystifying pessimism in a climate still saturated by late-’60s fever dreams of spiritual transformation. By the time Berlin Alexanderplatz aired in 1980, Fassbinder had moved beyond the deliberately alienating manner of his grotesque spaghetti western Whity (1971) and the noir degree zero The American Soldier (1970) to adopt an approach that was more like infiltration. He wanted to stir up the emotional identification that any old Joan Crawford picture

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