The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

This scattergun book on a great director

- By Tim Robey


199pp, Fitzcarral­do, T £10.99 (0844 871 1514), RRP £12.99, ebook £5.99


It’s hard to come by a filmmaker with a more ravenous appetite for his medium than the German cult hero Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He worked at a staggering rate, averaging about four films a year over his short career. Among these 40-odd production­s were such brutal melodramas as The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Ali: Fear Eats

The Soul (1974) and Fox and His Friends (1975), the last of which starred Fassbinder himself as a frequenter of leather bars who hits the big-time then loses everything, including his life. It foreshadow­ed the drug overdose that claimed Fassbinder’s own in 1982, aged just 37. (In the typically unsparing ending, Fox lies dead in a subway tunnel, while schoolboys ransack his pockets for everything he has.)

The British critic Ian Penman, more commonly a music writer, was heavily involved in London’s 1970s post-punk scene, which explains why he was obsessivel­y drawn at that time to Fassbinder’s raging output: vital, apocalypti­c jam-sessions in cinematic form.

Almost 50 years on, Penman has absolutely no desire to be “some kind of amiable, reasonable, encyclopae­dic curator of the archive”, or to write a respectabl­e tome summing the man up. The book he has written instead decides what it’s doing as it goes along. Penman began with what he admits was a mistake – trying to rewatch a pile of the films during lockdown, notebook in hand. “It turns out, however, that being stuck inside an airless room for what might well be an eternity is not the best formula for watching films about… people stuck inside cheerless rooms tearing lumps out of each other for what might well be an eternity.”

He struggled particular­ly with Berlin Alexanderp­latz, which Fassbinder adapted from Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel into a

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