EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY: Fassbinder’s Rarely Seen 1972 Epic Melodrama

The astonishingly prolific German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982) helmed over 40 movies in 15 years. Yet one of his most sprawling works has remained unreleased in the U.S. until now: the 1972 epic Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day.

Commissioned to make a working-class family drama for public TV, the then up-and-coming director embraced the assignment completely, upending in the process his own and his critics expectations by depicting social realities in West Germany from a critical yet non-cynical perspective, whose goal was to sympathetically portray the multi-layered functioning of one clan.

Over the course of five episodes, the project tracks the everyday efforts, triumphs and travails of the young toolmaker Jochen (Gottfried John) and many of the people populating his world, including the woman he loves (Hanna Schygulla), his eccentric nuclear family, and his fellow workers, with whom he bands together to improve conditions on the factory.

Rarely screened since its popular but controversial initial broadcast, EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY is a true discovery, one of Fassbinder’s earliest and most subtle experiments with the genre of melodrama.

Like most of Fassbinder’s good movies, this early work is multi-faceted, provocative, resonant drama about one eccentric family, which may be typical or atypical of many others, and the socio-economic-cultural contexts in which it exists.  While aiming to be critical in its insights, director Fassbinder never forgets that the primary function of melodrama is to emotionally involve (and yes, entertain) the viewers.