Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Merchant Of Four Seasons (1971)

WHO: Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote, directed, and appeared in a small, uncredited acting role here.

WHAT: The story goes like this: after making almost a dozen feature-length films for cinema and television in 1969 and 1970, Fassbinder attended the Munich Filmmuseum's six-film retrospective dedicated to Hollywood director Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Interlude, The Tarnished Angels, A Time To Love And A Time To Die and Imitation of Life). A new style began to be injected into his work due to Sirk's influence, starting in The Merchant of Four Seasons, which Wim Wenders claims was in fact the only film Fassbinder made in 1971 (although several films he'd shot the previous year, presumably prior to his Sirk exposure, were released before it that year.) As E. Berry writes: "More certain now of his abilities, he deploys a wider range of cinematic tools to his own ends. No more hiding behind avant-garde minimalism. This is the Fassbinder we talk about when we talk about Fassbinder."

Since one of the most commonly-cited pieces of evidence of the Sirk influence in Fassbinder's work is the similarity in story between the latter's Ali: Fear Eats The Soul and the former's All That Heaven Allows, it's interesting to contemplate that the basic story of Fassbinder's film was recited by a character in The American Soldier, which was released in the last months of 1970. Since the Munich Filmmuseum's Sirk retro is usually cited as having occurred either in late 1970 or early 1971, and since it's frequently said to be Fassbinder's first exposure to Sirk's films, it seems that he had Ali: Fear Eats The Soul well in mind before he ever saw All That Heaven Allows. Unless one of the pieces of this chronological puzzle has been misreported, it may be that upon seeing that Sirk film Fassbinder recognized similarities between it and a story he already had in mind. In which case, he may have been drawn to Sirk because he saw the director as kindred to his established approach as much or more than because he saw him as an alien influence that could be assimilated into his own style.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 2PM this afternoon at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts and Friday, October 25th at the Pacific Film Archive.

WHY: Last Thursday the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts began its 10-title Fassbinder series with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Merchant Of Four Seasons is the first title in the set that YBCA will screen before it comes to Berkeley's PFA, though in this case the East Bay won't have to wait very long as the film screens Friday along with Fear Of Fear at the latter venue. The PFA is also showing Written on the Wind as part of a concurrent series of films at one time or another considered personal favorites by Fassbinder.

HOW: 35mm print.

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