Interview Juliane Lorenz “Rainer had already become a cult director”
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945–82) is one of the most polarising and influential figures of the New German Cinema. Juliane Lorenz was the editor and long-time partner in Fassbinder’s later career. Together they produced film classics such as ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ and ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’. Today, as president of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, it is Lorenz’ task to preserve Fassbinder’s heritage.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder died at the age of 37. A haunted man who created 39 films in 15 years. “I can sleep when I’m dead” his slogan says it all. What was it like to live and work with a man like him?
I don’t think it is wise to reduce Rainer’s artistic oeuvre to simple numbers of titles. The titles often include more than a simple feature film: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979/1980/2007) is a fifteen and a half hours film, produced with the budget of a TV series and Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (1972/2017) contains five parts making up an eight-hour screening. There are about 124 titles of works, including film scripts, theatre plays and writings, song texts, essays — and that doesn’t even include his early work.
To answer your main question: I do not agree with the expression ‘haunted’. Rainer was never haunted. Rather, he was inflamed about the political situation in his country from 1848 onwards. To say it in his own words: “There could be a kind of ‘madness’ in the sense of psychoanalytic terms, which makes me do my work so intensely and one after the other. But there is nothing that I like better than creating films and telling the story of my country, and asking myself why it became a fascist country after the Weimar Republic.”
So, if you keep in mind that Rainer was born in 1945 and lived until 1982, you need to see his film and theatre work in a much wider range and consider the very special development Germany went through.
I DIDN’T HAVE TO LIBERATE MYSELFFassbinder and women — this is a very special topic, but we are interested in your life in the seventies: you were a young, professional woman in a male domain — even today it is difficult for women in the film business. Not only did you work as a producer, you directed, acted and gained experiences in almost all areas of film. What would you advise young women in the industry today?
When I met Rainer in 1976 at the age of 19, I was already inspired by the protests of 1968 in West-Germany which were reflected by the New German Cinema Movement on the one side and politically by the student’s movement on the other side. Altogether, it was a productive and fantastic time for a young woman. I must admit: I didn’t feel like I had to liberate myself. Studying political science at the University in Munich, I felt liberated already. Becoming Fassbinder’s editor at the age of twenty seemed almost normal to me.
Juliane Lorenz and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. | © RWFF I saw international films very early on, as my stepfather was a short-film maker. He often took me to screenings, where I secretly sat beside the projector, watching films that were not appropriate for my age. I saw Chaplin, Renoir, and Visconti but also very bad German and American B-Movies. It made me think! If films were literary adaptions, I read the books. I also started reading the German newspaper Die Zeit, which had fantastic film critics.
These sources were a major part in my cinema education. And of course there was Fassbinder who recognised my self-taught education. This will always be my advice to young people who want to experience and participate in cinema: take your chance to watch films, then go and learn the craft! Don’t be arrogant and think that sitting in an editing room or assisting an editor or director is minor work. I had great luck meeting a master of cinema very early on. It surely is a special story. But still, it didn’t just come naturally. It was seven intense years of working and living with Rainer, doing fourteen films together. It was the basis of all I do until today.
Fassbinder exerts a great fascination for following generations of filmmakers. What was so special about him? What distinguished him from other German directors at that time, and do you believe that his films are understood differently today?
When we were in New York City for the opening of The Marriage of Maria Braun, screened at the New York Film Festival in 1979, there were a lot of ‘followers’, as we could call it in times of Facebook and Co. I remember the young Martin Scorsese, still in his early years as a filmmaker, coming up to congratulate Rainer. Richard Gere, Susan Sontag and a lot of other young directors, actors, writers, and other artist came. Rainer had already become a cult director.
He became an inspiration for a movement in the US cinema which was later called The Independent American Cinema. He was proud of being a mentor. And of course he was a star. Fassbinder was part of the (West-) German New Cinema Movement, and it was him and Werner Herzog who were the most admired directors worldwide at that time. Rainer could walk the streets in NYC and people surrounded him like football players today. He was regarded as a kind of hero then.
HIS FILMS STILL TOUCH THE HEARTToday, I recognise it differently. When we presented our newest restoration of Fassbinder’s Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day in NYC, we made it to the front page of the NY Times. What I discovered during the 36 years after Rainer’s death: his films, his characters remain and his themes still touch the spectator right in the middle of the heart.
As president of the Fassbinder Foundation, it is your life’s task to preserve the heritage of Fassbinder. Please tell us about this work!
The foundation is a not-for-profit organisation with the mission to preserve and maintain the estate and creative work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder as well as to promote and support developments in film and theatre.
The first complete retrospective of Rainer’s cinematic oeuvre took place in 1992 as part of a big exhibition in Berlin, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Rainer’s death. It was a huge success, financially supported by the city of Berlin, the Berlin Lottery Foundation and the Goethe-Institut head office in Munich, which then sent a smaller exhibition of Fassbinder films around the world.
Shooting of 'Die dritte Generation', 1978, 1979. | © RWFF The most important point was that German TV stations showed his films again, which meant that we were able to create new 35mm prints and had enough income from all the TV licenses to invest in new material, which then became the basis for new international licenses. This made me come up with the idea to ask The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to think about a complete retrospective. The result was a huge event with all Fassbinder film stars at the opening night in 1997 in NYC. This was followed by a three-month retrospective and a tour through the US with almost 50 locations, supported by the Goethe-Institut.
Of course, this brought along new projects for the foundation — both in the US and abroad. Something similar happened to Fassbinder’s theatre oeuvre. Today, the third generation of artists are directing his original plays or films adapted for the stage. DVD and Blu-Ray editions are available in about thirty countries. It was hard work to bring Fassbinder back to Germany. We continue to convince producers to digitalise and restore more titles for other DVD editions.