Jordan Brooks

New German Cinema: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ‘Beware of a Holy Whore’

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The addition of color in Beware of a Holy Whore brings Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s delicate staging and intimate framing to magnificent life. Having previously explored a gritty noir series, the self-reflexive and vibrant nature of Beware of a Holy Whore marks a change of direction for the German director, and is, itself, an examination of directional and tonal change. Fassbinder swaps a tendency for silent exchanges and pensive quietude for boisterous, overlapped dialogue and abrupt scene changes. A bipolar film, Beware of a Holy Whore is an elaborate dance between stagnant ennui and frenzied outbursts of delirium.

Fassbinder uses Beware of a Holy Whore to showcase the absurdities of the filmmaking process and parodies the unusual tension of behind-the-scenes interactions. Set largely in a hotel villa on the Spanish Coast, the film rotates around a tight-knit cast of characters as they argue, flirt, and drink with one another. Favoring subtlety over exposition, Fassbinder’s characters are introduced and described by the hushed gossip of various others, or the screaming demands of one of the more senior crewmembers. “A film about brutality” is supposedly being shot by director Jeff (Lou Castel), who is neither present at the onset of Beware of a Holy Whore nor seems to do any actual filming. The production manager, Sascha (Fassbinder), is charged with organizing the unmotivated cast and crew; a group who would rather mindlessly sip Cuba Libres and make love to one another. As events begin to go wrong, Prima donna Jeff becomes increasingly unhinged — derailing the entire production — and sends the auxiliary members into lawless dissipation.

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Fassbinder never seems to cut into the beginning of conversations, as he prefers to enter while lurid detail is contended with or during the scathing debasements of surrounding persons. Surely a more interesting way to frame conversations, this approach allows the director to focus more on individual character intentions and personality. We learn from heresay, production roles and sexual histories; each tidbit coming long before the characters themselves begin to inhabit these narrowly-defined, farcical roles.

While Beware of a Holy Whore symbolizes a voice for Fassbinder’s many criticisms of the filmmaking process, he uses aspects of the film to parody his own life and dispositions. Jeff wears his trademark leather jacket and has a sexual relationship with nearly every cast member. Fassbinder’s own tumultuous relationship with Irm Hermann is on full display when Jeff has an ugly falling out with the comically made-up Magdalena Montezuma (aptly named Irm), to whom he has made promises of marriage, and without whom he would never have gotten where he is in life.

Imbuing Beware of a Holy Whore with the same stuttered energy of a film shoot, Fassbinder gives it an odd sense of balance — teetering on the edge between madness and tedium. No transitional periods exist among these conditional extremes, every cut an equal chance of being thrown back into action or lulled into depressed calm. Fassbinder plays with these tonal opposites, building an overall sense of interest rather than injecting tension. Because anything can happen at any time, the audience becomes enamored with the unassumingly simple narrative. In a way, Beware of a Holy Whore becomes a means for Fassbinder to deal with the complexities of his chaotic life through a grand satire: art as a (direct) reflection of life.

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Marking the end of Fassbinder’s “Avant-garde” period, Beware of a Holy Whore shows just how acutely self-aware he was during this period of his life. Struggling against the conventions of cinema and theatre, Fassbinder recognized that, despite his best efforts, even he and his loyal crew could fall into the same farcical roles as any other German filmmaking entity.

Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of sunny San Diego, California. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.

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