an introduction to an unfinished essay about a romantic anarchist.
“i don’t know….except my communication with myself, the earth and it’s (sic) beings is getting weirder everyday…it seems as if i could replace all of the shit in my head, my troubles relating to humans back to the earth and it’s (sic) beings’ troubles relating back to me i think that’s what this record is about”
– liner notes by Lisa Germano for her 2013 studio album, No Elephants
In 1980, (visionary filmmaker) Rainer Werner Fassbinder responded to a questionnaire compiled by German students—published for general review later that same year: among the many probing questions (ranging from “When and why were you last embarassed” to “Do you think suicide can be justified on principle?”), one of his many memorable answers came in response to the following: “Do you allow yourself to be influenced by others in your choice of topic, or do you pick everything for yourself?” Fassbinder’s reply: “From the moment you make up your mind not to live on a desert island you no longer pick everything for yourself.”
I have been trying to compose my thoughts and feelings about the fascinating artistry of Rainer Fassbinder for roughly a year, and I still can’t shake the feeling that I am (still) only just beginning. Ultimately, the case might be that one is always “only just beginning” when interacting with the film texts which he created. They are essentially—beneath layers of apparent sadomasochism, anarchy, and desperation—films about beginnings: films that trace the origins of human function and dysfunction; the rise and collapse of social institutions; the starting point(s) of our collective joy and mutual misery. They are equal parts anatomical dissection and aerial perspective: as faraway from their subjects as they are close. The more I contemplate this reduction, however, the more I realize these films are just as much about processions and endings: they are seldom (though, fortunately, sometimes) naïve about the possibilities in life for starting over; they refuse to flinch from the realities of the human procession, embracing the end in its many (though, ultimately, singular) variet(y)es because, well… there’s no other choice, really.
If I had to further summarize these disorganized thoughts, I would say that it’s all about perspective. About the act of seeing and, more importantly (perhaps?), the act of reacting. About awareness—or the lack thereof. About the space between things; about the things themselves. About the people who are trapped by these things, and the spaces between these people. About everything and everyone. About every thing and every one. About one thing. About every. About one.
I find the study of Fassbinder to be an almost therapeutic endeavor, in light of the frustrations inherent to twenty-first century living. And by frustrations, I refer largely to the Internet: that silent behemoth from which, I daresay, none of us are able to disconnect, yoked as we are in a parasitic relationship that hovers over every area of our lives—from our work, to our free time, to our communication with friends and acquaintances, to our consumption of information. Although it has (ostensibly) granted greater freedom and mobility (to those with access to it), it has proven itself equally capable of compartmentalizing—thereby deadening—human thought, emotion, creativity, and activity. This extraordinary reservoir of information has the potential to be liberating and illuminating, but its benefits hinge largely upon the consumer’s ability to detach oneself from the guiding forces of Internet technology: in other words, the true quality of an individual’s use and consumption of online information originates from the individual’s framing and selective incorporation of said information, not from an automatic acceptance of the information as presented.
The danger (as I see it) of self-cultivation via the Internet arises from the fact that the mechanism orchestrating the arrangement of information is not as visible as a lecturer standing at a podium—or as harmless as the neutered, alphabetical/decimal organization of library materials. In the classic information delivery model, there was a listener (receptor), a moderator (filter), and a curriculum (content); a similar breakdown could be found in the classic form of journalism—a now largely extinct pursuit. But in the self-education model presented by the Internet, the consumer is allowed the illusion of being in control of his/her reception of content. The consumer is constantly having to check oneself—to reassert oneself of the presence of an invisible filter controlling the variety and selection of information being presented. The consumer must reassert control of his/her virtual reality, or risk slipping away from the greater reality.
The creative act can be a method of reasserting control, and this concept is evident in all of Fassbinder’s films (as well as the films of many other “auteurs”). What separates Fassbinder from the bulk of films bearing the stamp of a single filmmaker is the manner in which he openly dispersed control of the work’s creation among the various members of his cast and crew. There is no amount of evidence to substantiate the oft-presented theory that his mode of film-making was authoritarian or dictatorial in nature: if anything, the production of his films appears to have been a truly democratic process, whereby each collaborator (from the actors to the cinematographer) could—and would—bring to the table whatever ingredients he/she felt appropriate. And in turn, Fassbinder would arrange the ingredients in unique recipes that reflected his individual perspective and aesthetic, while allowing for each flavor to remain intact in the finished product.
This is the attitude that has driven the creation of my personal tribute to the artist in question (an album of music inspired from his work), and I hope it will prove a testament to the validity and integrity of his creative stance. In crafting the song cycle, Welt Am Draht, I have chosen to collaborate with three individuals to add shape and breadth to this project: initially, by collaborating with the percussionist (who composes the other half of the band Dirty/Clean, and brings a constant sense of immediacy to the songs); secondly, by working with the visual artist and graphic designer (who composes the visual pieces to complement the sound of the band); and thirdly, working with the photographer, who captures the reality between the abstractions of the music and the art—thus grounding them in the moment of their making. Though every component is ultimately in service of the creation itself, they each maintain (at least, I hope they maintain) the individual elements of their construction.
If done correctly, the completed result should be as far from its inspiration as it is close; as integral as it is broad; as sincere as it is removed. A creative work that balances all of the forces from which it was pieced together, restoring a sense of harmony among those who contributed to its making and (with any luck) among some of its listeners. Though states of utopia are impossible to achieve (much less to maintain) in daily existence, there is always the possibility of creating order through art—and if done properly, such order can be applied to areas of daily existence with the intent of making it more lucid and bearable. If done properly, we can create moments of such clarity that they allow for the abstraction of ourselves.
Because, as emphasized in Fassbinder’s response to the students’ questionnaire, it is impossible to choose everything for ourselves. We can, however, strive for better, healthier, and more productive interactions with others. We can constantly reexamine the status quo and make an attempt to improve upon it. Through the creative process known as art, we can, quite simply, become better human beings—and this is the angle from which I would like to commit my thoughts on Rainer Werner Fassbinder to writing. But first, I must return to the beginning; and then, I must begin again…