The late Rainer Werner Fassbinder, arguably the most important director of the New German Cinema, deserves a better treatment than he gets in I Don't Just Want You to Love Me, a vastly disappointing documentary that contains too many glaring omissions. Nonetheless, being the first docu about Fassbinder, who died in l982 at the age of 37, and offering some valuable insights about his work, if not personal life, it has good chances for a limited theatrical release and, of course, showings on public TV, cable, and other venues.
Written and directed by Hans Gunther Pflaum, docu might as well have been titled “Observations on Fassbinder,” for it's not a chronological or systematic account of the filmmaker's career or life. Instead, its awkward structure consists of nine chapters, divided along thematic issues.
Fassbinder's mother provides some anecdotal material about his childhood, most notably his stubbornness (“he would not be ignored”), loneliness, and sensitivity, which was expressed in writing poems and stories at a very young age.
Useful information is conveyed about his stage career and the company, “Anti-theater,” he established in l967. Always the pragmatic, Fassbinder's aesthetic philosophy evolved out of economic necessity and what he called the “external and internal confinements” of theater and film as art forms.
The most pertinent observations are offered by director Volker Schlondorff, actress Hanna Schygulla, and camerman Michael Ballhaus. Singly and jointly, they (and others) dispel some prevalent myths about Fassbinder as a director.
Schygulla, who did her best work with him, claims that Fassbinder wasn't spontaneous or instinctual, as was held by many, but rather precise, conscious and calculating. “He was just faster than most,” she says, “he always had the cuts in his head.” One reason why Fassbinder was so prolific was his competitive urge–told that Jean-Luc Godard made 3 films in one year, he determined to make 4, and he did. In a career that spanned 15 years, Fassbinder directed over 50 films and TV dramas.
Other actors talk about the vital function of his stage troupe, and later crew and cast, as substitutes for the intimate family life he never had. For his part, Fassbinder relates how all his life he was around people “looking for both father and mother.” Schlondorff singles out Fassbinder's “clarity” in working with artists and his film politics, which had nothing to do with party politics.
Docu includes several scenes, with visual and textual analysis, from Katzelmacher, Effie Brest, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Despair, and others. Despite the fact that a whole sequence is shown from Fox and His Friends, the most overtly German gay film, in which Fassbinder plays the lead, there is no discussion of the director's homosexuality and how it was reflected in his distinctive gay sensibility.
Other conspicuous oversights include failure to acknowledge the influence of Hollywood's melodramas, specifically the work of Douglas Sirk, on Fassbinder's style. Finally, even though it was public knowledge that Fassbinder died from an overdose of cocaine, docu just states his excessive drinking; drugs are never mentioned as integral part of his lifestyle.
Flawed as it is, I Don't Just Want You to Love Me deserves to be seen–until a better, more thorough docu is made about the versatile director, who revolutionized post-WWII German cinema and helped put it on the international film map.