Criterion Collection: Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy

Criterion Collection: Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy

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Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cast: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

     
 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder died in 1982 at the age of 37, thanks to his appetite for drugs and his obsession with work, and while the filmmaker was at the height of his fame at the time of his passing, the sheer bulk of his cinematic legacy -- over 40 films completed between 1969 and 1982, two of which were actually television miniseries -- made it difficult to evaluate… See more details below

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Overview

Rainer Werner Fassbinder died in 1982 at the age of 37, thanks to his appetite for drugs and his obsession with work, and while the filmmaker was at the height of his fame at the time of his passing, the sheer bulk of his cinematic legacy -- over 40 films completed between 1969 and 1982, two of which were actually television miniseries -- made it difficult to evaluate it all and place his work into proper context. That's still the case to some degree, but Criterion's recent release of their box set The BRD Trilogy -- consisting of his late-period masterworks The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss, and Lola -- is not just a superb presentation of some of Fassbinder's most memorable work, but a fascinating and enlightening examination of the man's life, art, and working methods. The "BRD Trilogy" (which stands for "Bundesrepublik Deutschland," or "The Federal Republic of Germany") consists of three stories about women forced to make their way through the ethical landscape of the post-World War II "Economic Miracle," in which survival walks hand in hand with various sorts of moral compromise, and both technically and aesthetically, Criterion's team have gotten the details just right. All three films have been given letterboxed transfers in their original aspect ratios -- The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola at 1.66:1, Veronika Voss at 1.78:1 -- and all have been enhanced for anamorphic playback on 16 x 9 monitors. The films all look simply superb in these transfers, which is all the more impressive given how different their visual styles happen to be -- Maria Braun's muted and realistic color scheme, the high-contrast monochrome of Veronika Voss, and the bright candy-hued images of Lola. The audio for all three films has been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono from original magnetic elements, and if the improvement is less striking than the visuals, the cleaner audio does make a real difference, especially in Fassbinder's use of vintage radio broadcasts in all three films (which receive adequate subtitling there, which wasn't the case in previous issues). The set's collection of supplemental material is both informative and suitably exhausting. All three films have been given distinct audio commentaries: Maria Braun's is a patchwork of observations by friend and filmmaker Wim Wenders, reminiscences from cameraman Michael Ballhaus, and extracts from writings by and about Fassbinder, while Veronika Voss features a detailed running analysis from critic Tony Rayns and Lola is paired with a biographical commentary from Christian Braad Thomsen. Each disc includes bonus interviews and documentaries. Maria Braun features an interview with leading lady (and frequent collaborator) Hanna Schygulla, as well as author Eric Rentschler. Veronika Voss includes a conversation between actress Rosel Zech (who played Veronika) and Fassbinder's frequent editor Juliane Lorenz, as well as an hour-long documentary on Sybille Schmitz, the UFA star who inspired the character of Voss. And Lola is accompanied by an interview with Barbara Sukowa, who played the title role, and Peter Märthesheimer, who co-wrote the screenplays for the BRD films. And as if all this wasn't enough, Criterion has added a fourth disc to the package, which includes a conversation between editor and Fassbinder Foundation director Lorenz and Laurence Kardish of the Museum of Modern Art's Film and Media Department; an interview with cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, who worked on many of Fassbinder's later projects; a feature-length documentary on Fassbinder, Ich Will Nicht Nur, Dass Ihr Mich Liebt (aka I Don't Just Want You to Love Me), and an hour-long chat with Fassbinder himself (chain-smoking and looking more than a bit worse for wear), filmed for German television in 1978. Add a beautifully designed 52-page booklet with original and reprinted essays on Fassbinder's life, work, and the BRD films, and the final result is an exhaustively thorough package that's remarkably executed even by Criterion's high standards. Given the size of his oeuvre, a definitive Fassbinder collection on DVD is either impractical or impossible, but The BRD Trilogy is as intelligent and well-executed a study of one of the crucial periods of his career as anyone could hope for, and essential viewing for anyone with an interest in his work.The first of a trilogy about women in post-World War II Germany, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) turns the melodramatic story of the titular heroine's climb up the economic ladder into a historical allegory about both the post-war German "economic miracle" and 1970s West Germany. Evoking Joan Crawford's forceful lead in Mildred Pierce (1945) and the visually stylized 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Fassbinder combines theatrically composed lighting and camera moves with accurate recreations of war and post-war settings, decor, and dress to dramatize Maria Braun's rise at the expense of her integrity. Driven by the memory of her brief marriage to create her own "economic miracle" by any means, Maria's final betrayal by her husband is linked through photos and radio broadcasts with the moral betrayal of Germany by its postwar leaders. The most prominent (and prolific) director of the 1960s-70s New German Cinema, Fassbinder finally had his first international box office success with Maria Braun, confirming his place as one of the most striking filmmakers of the 1970s. Hanna Schygulla won Best Actress prizes from the Berlin Film Festival and the New York Film Critics' Circle for her performance as Maria. Lucia Bozzola

Originally Die Sehnsucht de Veronika Voss, this Rainer Werner Fassbinder spin on Sunset Boulevard stars Rosel Zech as film actress Veronika Voss. Once the toast of Germany, Veronika had allegedly been an intimate of Joseph Gobbels. But the Third Reich is dead...and Veronika may as well be. Playing to an increasingly diminishing fan following, Veronika turns to drugs to cushion her against the cruelties of life. Her self-destruction is accelerated by her "Doctor Feelgood" Annemaire Duringer, who plys Veronika with morphine in order to gain control of the actress's money and property. Well-meaning sportswriter Hilmar Thate tries to save Veronika from herself, sacrificing his own personal happiness -- and the life of his girlfriend Cornelia Froeboess -- in the process. Hal Erickson

Lola centers on a seductive cabaret singer and dancer in 1950s who is romantically involved with a straight-arrow building inspector who has just been appointed Building Commissioner. In his new capacity, he is committed to eradicating corruption in his field. He knows nothing about his lover's tawdry profession until he is called into inspect the brothel/club where she works. He is so shocked to see her dancing that he goes a little crazy and flees into the street. It does not help that the building's owner is one of the most crooked in town. Still, though angry and disappointed, the Commissioner cannot deny his attraction for her and so his lust wrestles with his ethical obligations until he works out a dubious compromise. Sandra Brennan

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Product Details

Release Date:
09/30/2003
UPC:
0715515014427
Rating:
NR
Source:
Criterion
Presentation:
[B&W, Wide Screen]
Sound:
[Dolby Digital Mono]
Time:
5:39:00

Cast & Crew

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Scene Index

Side #1 -- The Marriage of Maria Braun
   Play
   Chapters
   Color Bars
   Commentary
      Commentary: Off
      Commentary: On
      Index
   Subtitles
      Subtitles: On
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   Hanna Schygulla Interview
      Play
      Index
   Eric Rentschler Interview
      Play
      Index
Side #2 -- Veronika Voss
   Play
   Chapters
   Color Bars
   Commentary
      Commentary: Off
      Commentary: On
      Index
   Subtitles
      Subtitles: On
      Subtitles: Off
   Rosel Zech With Juliane Lorenz
      Play
      Index
   Dance With Death (Tanz mit dem Tod)
      Play
      Index
Side #3 -- Lola
   Play
   Chapters
   Color Bars
   Commentary
      Commentary: Off
      Commentary: On
      Index
   Subtitles
      Subtitles: On
      Subtitles: Off
   Barbara Sukowa Interview
      Play
      Index
   Peter Märthesheimer Interview
      Play
      Index
Side #4 -- The Supplements
   Juliane Lorenz With Laurence Kardish
      Play
      Index
   Life Stories: A Conversation With R. W. Fassbinder
      Play
      Index
   I Don't Just Want You to Love Me
      Play
      Index
   Xaver Schwarzenberger Interview
      Play
      Index
   Trailers
      Play All
      The Marriage of Maria Braun
      Veronika Voss
      Lola
   Subtitles
      Subtitles: On
      Subtitles: Off

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