Lorenz on Fassbinder – From ‘‘Despair’’ to ‘‘Querelle’’

Lorenz on Fassbinder

Editor Juliane Lorenz talks about life with filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

THENEWCINEMA: Tell me about the first time you met Fassbinder.

JULIANE LORENZ: I was working as an assistant to Ila von Hasperg who was editing ‘‘Chinese Roulette’’ for Rainer. They were shooting in the countryside in a village where the family of Michael Ballhaus had a little castle. Ila was already editing, she had an editing table out there and I was in Munich preparing the rushes.  So the first time I met him was when he came to watch a first cut in the Munich editing room. I will never forget that moment… I was horribly shy and he was a person who, everyone said… ‘‘he is a monster’’…but turns out he was not a monster, but a very sweet and calm man. He watched the cut, laughed a few times, then got up and said thank you. That is when Ila introduced us.


TNC: What was he like as a person, I mean the man, not the filmmaker?

JL: The person I met… he was twenty-nine at the time and I was nineteen… he had made over 26 films and obviously had a life behind him. What I noticed and what I always will remember is that he was a man who was trying to make a break with a complicated private life and a difficult past.  He longed for something new and to separate from a negative period… things that weighed on him… a man tired to care all the time for other people. So the person I met was someone going in a new direction and you can see that in his work, “Satan’s Brew” for example. But when I met him he was in the process of recovering his confidence and had decided to concentrate on his future and his films. He was famous in France, he was famous in America, but he still had to fight in his own country. There were critics who really loved his work, but he didn’t have that kind of recognition in Germany. He wanted to reach people and also be a normal working director not a public spectacle. In the public view he was still this guy who wore a leather jacket and sits in bars and is a homosexual or bisexual or neither. Public opinion was mostly focused on that, not on him as a filmmaker and artist. Basically he was not fitting the mold of German society.

TNC: What is one character trait that defines Fassbinder the filmmaker?

JL: (Laughs) A serious man, absolutely honest, someone that explored the craziness and talents of other people and incorporated them in his work. Someone who gave a lot of work to other people… gave a lot of people an opportunity to be involved in something meaningful.  Generous.

TNC: What was the first Fassbinder film that you edited?

JL: “Bolwieser” was shot as a two part TV series and Rainier asked me to be by his side to edit the feature version, which we did. But “Despair” was the first film I edited all by myself.  He had first asked me to be the previous editor’s assistant, but they didn’t get along. After shooting ended, he had come with Michael Ballhaus to see the first rough cut and was completely unhappy with it… he had expected to have a finished cut. Rainer was not this kind of auteur directors who sits beside the editor. For him an editor was someone’s job and that person’s job was to create. So he expected that he would get a proposition… that he would have a nearly finished film.  The first rough cut was three hours long… way too long.  So he said  to me “well now we go on and edit the film ourselves” and we did it, in one night. I don’t know really what happened, but we were sitting on two tables and we worked… as if we had been working together for twenty years. So we really co-edited the first version and presented it the next day to the producers. Rainer presented me as his editor and that’s how it started… I was only twenty at that time. When they asked who was going to be the official editor… Rainer said Juliane will be my editor and she will edit all my films from now on… and that was that. I thought he was crazy, but if Rainer decided you could do something, then you could.


TNC: Tell me about ‘‘In a Year with 13 Moons’’?

JL: This was shortly after his ex-companion Armin Meier killed himself.  I had decided to take some time off as I wanted to do a language course in Paris. Rainer said he was ok with that, but that he would like for me to be present for the edit, but he wanted to do it himself… obviously knowing Rainer I had to laugh a bit.  I came to visit him one day towards the end of the shooting and there was an assistant and Rainer and all the material.  We sat together on the table and looked at the rushes and I said ‘‘ok I will be your assistant’’, if he wants to edit it, then why shouldn’t he. But at the same time he was rehearsing ‘‘Othello’’ as an actor for the Frankfurt Theater by Turm… he was a wonderful actor you know and that was something he really wanted to do more of. So on the first day we started discussing how the beginning would be and then suddenly he got up and said ‘‘ I have to go to rehearsal” and finally never came back.  So I edited that film in six days.


TNC: This is also around the time Fassbinder and Ballhaus stopped working together.  What happened, why did that relationship end?

JL: Rainer and Michael had a very long and fruitful artistic cooperation. After ‘‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’’ there were some irritations between them and Michael saw that he had to take a break. So even though Rainer had offered Michael ‘‘In a Year with 13 Moons’’ and they were already preparing the shooting of ‘‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’’ Michael wanted a break, not forever but… Rainer never forgave him for not being at his side, in a very hurtful time after Armin’s death. Michael is a really lovely person and I know he had to make this break for his own sake. Every director is jealous when somebody he worked with for a very long time, suddenly decides to go his own way.  Obviously Rainer was very sensitive in that time, but this was the end of that working relationship.  As I said, Rainer was on a new path in his artistic development and then Xaver Schwarzenberger joined the team.


TNC: Did Fassbinder prefer to do his own camera work?  It seems from that moment on he really had a very particular style of lighting, one that remained even when working with Xaver Schwarzenberger?  Had he found his visual style?

JL: He always had his own style but for the camera work one also must mention Dietrich Lohmann and Jürgen Jürges from the early days, who were also an important part of what became the ‘‘Fassbinder-style’’. But the special relationship with Michael Ballhaus was that they really developed together. They were both in their early years of experimenting when they met and were trying to explore together a new cinematic language. They influenced each other greatly and it is this that makes these films so special from a visual point of view. But the separation was also fruitful for both of them.  Michael made a wonderful career in America and Rainer evolved as a cameraman, as we can see in ‘‘In a Year with 13 Moons’’ and ‘‘The Third Generation’’.


TNC: How long did Fassbinder shoot “In a Year with 13 Moons” for?

JL: Six weeks


TNC: How big was his crew?

JL: Very small… very, very small.  He was the DP and camera operator all in one, he did the set design… he and Volker Spengler looked for locations. In the beginning there were only the two of them doing the pre-production. He wrote “In a Year with 13 Moons” first as an essay for Volker Spengler. Some time later, an actress who was always running after Rainer to get parts, offered to help with the film and he ‘‘cast’’ her as the production manager. Rainer raised some of the money from different sources and arrived at a budget of 150.000 German Marks*. To finish the film however he had to put a lot of his own money, with the final total being about 600.000 German Marks*.  So he did it all by himself practically… I mean he told his production manager and assistants what to do and his mother did the accounting, but the principal jobs he did himself. I know Volker really helped him and gave him a lot of the energy to go on and finish the film.  But the crew was small, a few assistants, one grip… the sound was done by a guy who had never done sound before. When I came I couldn’t believe that he had really done it. He once told me that he would have killed himself, if not for this film. This work was for him a kind of “surviving”…


TNC: What did a Fassbinder shooting day look like? What time did he start? What time did he end? Was it chaotic or organized?

JL: All these stories people tell about his productions being chaotic are bullshit. He was very organized and for him the most important thing was to have professionals around him.  We could have been friends, but we had to be professional, even more so if you where a friend.  So the day was like any other shooting, with the actors arriving at six in the morning and the cameraman making his preparations, as well as all other departments.  I mean could he ever have made so many films and not be prepared? Maybe in his early years with the “Antiteater” there was maybe a kind of anarchic chaos. But even then, he was the one who forced them to be professional. I know his early production manager which most of the time was Christian Hohoff was very, very organized and professional. He later became a professor at the Berlin Film School.


TNC: Tell me about his ‘‘one take’’ thing?

JL: Rainer shot many shots of each scene, close ups, medium shots, masters… but most of the time he did only one take of each category.  Sometimes two or three, when it was a complicated shot or there was a technical problem.  But out of this he would still only print one take, that he would send to his editor.  So the editor would have one take for the close up, one take for the medium etc. except for those exceptional scenes.  Like this it was also possible for me to have a cut for him at the end of each day with the previous day’s material because there were not a lot of rushes. For “Berlin Alexanderplatz” for example he shot a ratio of about 1 to 5 of actual screen time. He would say to his actors that the first take he shot had to be perfect. He didn’t like to do three or four…  or even more, so that means his actors had to be really prepared.  At the same time he wanted a fresh performance and didn’t want it overly rehearsed. He often said “actors should not think too much about what they were doing as actors in a scene”.  Cameraman and technicians had to be perfect as well, but he let them redo a take if they desired or needed it.


TNC: Did he rehearse with his actors?

JL: Yes he did, but not much.  It was more like ‘‘You come in, and there is the camera. It moves from this point to that, and then you look in that direction..’’.  He was a very concentrated and calm director and he had an incredible memory. He knew exactly what was coming next in the script… he rarely had to look at it.  He was like a general, but in a very smooth way, I never heard him shout… well sometimes I heard him when people didn’t work quickly enough (laughs). He needed people who worked as quickly or as creatively as him… people that could keep up with him. Not everybody had the strength of course, but that is only human.


TNC: Did he do a lot of script changes during shooting?

JL: Sometimes, but not much. I mean the end of “The Marriage of Maria Braun” is totally different from what was written in the script, but he kept parts of the dialogue and added some new parts. For example, for the end of the film he decided during shooting that he would add a reporter’s commentary of the soccer world championship game of 54’ over the scene. But he always changed some things during shooting, even when he had written the script himself. It was the kind of freedom he needed, but he didn’t change sets or principal scenes. An exception to that was “In a Year with 13 Moons” and ‘‘The Third Generation’’, where he had not written a script but wrote every scene and dialogues the night before it was shot. Those were the most spontaneous films, but because the crew was so small, he could do that.  Also he was the cameraman, so it was possible. The actors though had to learn from one moment to the next. That was Rainer’s way,.. ‘‘You’re an actor, you have to know your dialogue. Learn by heart… but quickly’’.

TNC: Did he often have to reshoot scenes to fill in gaps in the story or something that was missing?

JL: No only very seldom… almost never.


TNC: When you guys finished editing “In A Year With 13 Moons”, what did he feel privately about the film?

JL: Rainer didn’t talk much about his feelings concerning his films… often after a personal crisis he transformed his pain into a film, or in his earlier period, into plays… But he couldn’t talk about his feelings in public and only rarely in private. The suicide of Armin was a stab in his heart… and he felt guilty. Making this film was his way of getting over it.  If one was able to understand this kind of transformation process, then one could understand him, without even asking him. Maybe it is a man thing not to talk much about feelings and pain, but Rainer’s way to express his, was to transform them into his art. Somehow like that he could get over it… and then it was done.


TNC: Did he know that he had made a masterpiece?

JL: Of course, but Rainer was not the guy who said ‘‘Didn’t I do a good film, a masterpiece?’’ It was a good film, that’s it. In any case the next one was coming and maybe it would be better.  But he was very proud of this film. I mean it was his most honest film, but he would never have looked you in the face and said ‘‘Isn’t it good?’’ He was a very grounded person and he knew what he did… he was never pondering if he is good or not. He would suffer, like when “Despair” was not well received in Cannes, but he knew when he was good, of course he knew…


TNC: Another Fassbinder myth, he never slept, was drunk half the time and smoked a thousand cigarettes a day?

JL: Well, let’s say Rainer was not really thinking about health before we met. Maybe that was my influence, but I didn’t see him drinking a lot and he didn’t hide his habits from me. When we lived together the last four years, I could see what he did, or didn’t do.  He was never drunk during work, but he liked to drink beer, very good wine and champagne… but he was not a drinker. He smoked three packages of cigarettes a day, which makes about sixty cigarettes not a thousand. I remember us going swimming a lot, biking and doing much more for our health during our shooting breaks. Rainer had a hard time with cocaine, mainly between 75’ and 77’, but he stopped a lot of these bad habits in my time and especially during our relationship. But this is what young women are for maybe. I argued a lot with him about his dependencies and I know it helped, but the only drug he was dependent on till the end was sleeping pills. This was his disease and also the reason of his death, not an overdose of cocaine. It’s all written down in the investigation report of his death.


TNC: What is your favorite Fassbinder film?

JL: “In a Year with 13 Moons” and “Berlin Alexanderplatz”.


TNC: What was his favorite film of his? And why?

JL: It alternated, sometimes “Despair”… but definitely “Berlin Alexanderplatz”.


TNC: The Third Generation”, tell me about the making of that film.

JL: It was a kind of film between… made during the waiting time before “Berlin Alexanderplatz” and it was in response to the political situation in Germany in 77’ and the RAF. It’s about the whole police apparatus and the craziness of the West German government in hunting down the terrorists. The film was Rainer’s response or a kind of meditation on the political decisions and situations in Germany at that time.  He didn’t take sides, but just kind of exposed the craziness of it all.


TNC: How long did he shoot for?

JL: Six weeks


TNC: What was the budget?

JL: About 500.000 German Marks*. Also, we had no money at the beginning as we couldn’t get any film funding or TV money. It was Rainer’s personal money and a co-production with the “Filmverlag der Autoren”.


TNC: What were the working conditions?

JL: As with ‘‘In a Year with 13 Moons’’ the team was very small, as the budget was very limited.  I did not only edit, but also worked as the assistant director, continuity girl and translator of the dialogues for the foreign actors. The production team was small with Harry Baer as both production manager and actor. But everyone, even Volker Spengler, Raul Gimenez and Udo Kier had secondary jobs as crew or assistants etc. There was a make-up person and a camera assistant and Rainer’s mother did the financial part. My close friend Karin Viesel was the production secretary, she was very good and later became Rainer’s assistant.  We had to be very resourceful.


TNC: How was editing a Fassbinder film different then working with other filmmakers?

JL: I very seldom worked with the help of a director. The truth of a film is in the material the director creates with all the other artistic collaborators. But the editor has to be like a second director in a way, and bring all these talents and parts together into a unified whole. He used to say that if he needed three hours to shoot a scene, I shouldn’t take much longer to edit it. Also he never was beside me during the editing so that made me very free but at the same time taught me to be independent and professional.  This is sometimes unbearable to other directors who like to be present in the editing room, but I always must do a first cut of a film by myself, before I present it.  Some filmmakers like that very much, some not.


TNC: If you were to give one piece of advice to a young editor, what would that be?

JL: Be in your mind also a kind of director and be aware that you are the last person in the chain of film making who really has a lot of responsibility. Be aware that you have many ways to get to a point.  Give the director your passion, but if he doesn’t accept it, just go on and look for a better opportunity.


TNC: Did Fassbinder ever get to see the finished version of “Querelle”?

JL: We did a final cut, but he didn’t see the sound mixed version. I did that together with the mixing department. It was a good film when we offered the finished two and a half hour cut to the producers. But we had to cut it down by thirty more minutes from that.  I don’t have rights to that film, so unfortunately I don’t have the power to do the director’s cut, even though I have the only tape of the original two and a half hour version.  The heir to the rights of the film, Mr. Gundram Göring is not a wise man and the version that we wanted to release never happened as he didn’t included me in any of the DVD editions… I wish this guy was a cineaste and more respectful to the directors vision, but he is not.  Since the beginning when I started to do the foundation I tried to get in contact with him, but he does not get it that I am the only one who knows how the film originally was intended to be. But it was a horrible situation after Rainer’s death because the producers wanted to change the film and I fought so much, even just for the version we have today. The version that’s out, is the one we cut down to two hours. Even Gaumont, who has the French rights never called me. And I am not sure if the new Sony version included the outtakes, maybe as a supplement. I am very sad about that situation, but there have been so many other problems. Rainer wanted to have a different score, an oratorio by Peer Raben, which he didn’t get. Two days before Rainer died we listened to the music Peer Raben had made and Rainier was out of his mind because it was not the music that he asked for. “I didn’t want to make a gay opera” he said. For him it was not a film about homosexuality, it was a film about love and about myths and human rituals … something totally different.  He asked me not to use most of the music so that’s what I did.


TNC: At this point he was very famous, but did he feel successful?

JL: He was not very famous… the word fame was not important for him … he was known all over the world as one of the main directors of the New German Cinema but he was still a working class man.  But he didn’t want his work to be forgotten, he knew that what he was doing was important.


TNC: Maybe what I am getting at is did he feel that he had achieved what he wanted to achieve?

JL: Well he was on his way… he would have wanted to have the Palme D’Or at Cannes of course…(laughs). He would have loved to go on and make more films… but his body or God or whoever said ‘‘let’s relax’’.


TNC: Before his death he was working on a script. What was it about?

JL: A film about Rosa Luxemburg was already in production. Jane Fonda had been suggested by the production company and although Rainer liked the idea he wanted to talk to her first. She called I remember, and it was a very funny dialogue. When they introduced themselves she said: ‘‘This is Ms. Fonda herself…’’ and Rainer answered: ‘‘This is Mr. Fassbinder himself…‘‘. However after the conversation Rainer was a little worried that she might want to be treated too much like a star, so he preferred to do the film with Hanna Schygulla. There was also a big project he wanted to do titled “Cocaine’’  that had been proposed to him and he had already written the script for, it was a big budget project. The third project was a script from a German novel ‘‘Hurra wir leben noch’’ by Mario Simmel. He had written the script already, but he didn’t want to do it anymore because it was to be produced by Bavaria Studios and they were not being fair to him. He wrote a very long script and they asked him to cut it down. Rainer said, that after forty-three films he knew how to make films and that he wouldn’t cut it.


TNC: There are several Fassbinder films that are still unreleased or hard to get. Why is that?

JL: Mostly it depends if the Foundation has rights to it or not. When I have to negotiate with someone else, an original producer or co-producer, it’s always a long winding road. If they are cooperative like the WDR or Bavaria Studios where I could convince them to either finance the restoration themselves or let the Foundation take care of it in exchange for the exploitation rights, it works out pretty well. But it’s always a question of money and a long process to get people on board, clear subsidiary rights for music and other legal issues. There are only about ten films unreleased to date. Bavaria Studios is in the process of releasing ‘‘I Only Want You To Love Me” and soon after that “Bolwieser” and “Despair” are coming out as well. We have just started to negotiate with WDR for “Eight Hours Don’t Make A Day”, the five part series Rainer did for WDR in 72’. A wonderfully funny TV series about the life of working class people in Germany.


TNC: Depending on who you ask the picture people give of Fassbinder are so different. Sometimes the accounts are downright contrary to each other.  Why do you think that is?

JL: I can only tell you what I experienced in the nearly seven years we worked together and in the years we were a couple and lived together.  I saw him from a totally unprejudiced angle, a loving view until today. But what I know from my conversations with his early collaborators and friends is, that Rainer’s way of directness and his total openness, could be both helpful, but sometimes also hurtful. As I told you, when I met him he was in the process of separating from a self-destructive and what were for him masochistic relationships. These separations were sometimes very hurtful for these friends as well as for him. When Rainer died, three books came out immediately after, written by friends and collaborators, like Kurt Raab, Harry Baer and Gerhard Zerenz. The book of Kurt Raab was probably the one most read in Germany and gave rise to a lot of fantasies about the life of Fassbinder. Some scholars and film scientists did interpretations of Rainer’s life and his films based on those books.  Over the years I have gained more insight in these relationships, and all I can say is this, “can you write a book in one or two months about a man as complex as Rainer?”  Also, I think a lot of people like the so-called bad side of Rainer, it is a better selling story than if the guy is normal and solid. Let me put it in another way. The early life stories about the life of Rainer, are very influenced by a perception of the times he lived in. The sixties until the early eighties were roaring years, and everything was exciting and crazy. Obviously people like stories of bad boys, but things are not that simple.  I think people often choose to see Rainer somehow through the “lens” of his films, and while a lot of ‘him’ is in his films, it is not necessarily who he is as a man.


TNC: A final question, when you think about him today, what memory comes to your mind?

JL: Well… what shall I say…what a mess that he is not alive! But whatever I do, he is still in my heart… I lived with him, I lived with his work, his art.  I am here to stand guard over his legacy and his work, so in a special sense I still live with him. He will turn sixty-five on May 31st this year… he got older and wiser, and so did I. They are good memories…he gave me a lot to go on with.  A lot of people miss him.