I finally watched this late Fassbinder a few weeks ago and took some screenshots in anticipation of writing about it. Now, I’m not so sure I have anything worthwhile to say (that isn’t already more succinctly put here), but at least I’m making use of the stills…
I can remember trading for some Fassbinder on VHS toward the end of my VHS-by-mail trading career (this was in the late 90s, if you care). A particular collector graced me with Chinese Roulette (still a favorite), Satan’s Brew, and a couple of others I can’t seem to recall right now. I had asked about this film as well, but he cautioned me that, in my limited number of choices (movies were traded 1 for 1, after all), this film was not necessarily a good place to start with Fassbinder. I agree.
The Third Generation is definitely more complex politically than some of his other films, though ultimately a lesser work of his comparatively (in my perhaps incorrect opinion). Perhaps, if one is to believe Juliane Lorenz in her interview on the DVD, he was less interested in this one than she was, especially after his related documentary Germany in Autumn.
The idea is an interesting one; it’s a satire of the upcoming generation of radical-liberals who say they continue to use terrorism in the name of social justice, but really seem to do it to satiate their boredom and utter lack of purpose in the world (or more sinisterly, as the film alludes to, as mere pawns to the machinations of corporate company controls). This is probably a gross oversimplification of the intent of the film, but it is a curious one nonetheless, having been made after the height of the Red Army Faction‘s (so-called ‘second generation’) attacks within Germany. Seen within this current context, this is a radically controversial film. It is also, apparently, one that is also frequently misunderstood (like A Clockwork Orange, though perhaps on a smaller scale?, there have been claims that this film has been sorely misunderstood by some to be in sympathy with this so-called third generation reality). Having seen enough Fassbinder, I’m fairly certain people are mistaking sympathy for a kind of economic mourning.
There are sublities to this film that I don’t understand: both cinematic, in the references to Bresson that I’m not smart enough to synthesize (right now or later), especially in featuring The Devil, Probably within the film; and political, that have to do with the situation in the East and West Germany of the time.
It would be foolish of me to try to make any sort of relevant analogy with our current state of terrorism, though it is interesting that the fact that as a subject of satire the film presupposes the need for some sort of comment on its widespread acceptance as the state-of-things in Europe at the time.
Fassbinder and crew layout the workings of a farce-like satire, then throw the results in our face with a brutal, senseless killing and a kidnapping that is alluded to be more beneficial for the kidnapped than the kidnappers….
There are pieces here that work, such as the scene with Gunther Kaufmann (standing in for RWF’s usual Franz Walsch alias character) trying to find honest work using his years of military training in explosives. He (through Fassbinder) does ask a question relevant to all new civilians of societies-in-war: “What am I supposed to do now?” Fassbinder, of course, has him (rather whimsically) join a band of terrorists who need stuff blown up.
However, there is a lot in this film that just doesn’t work (for me at least). Lorenz speaks about the actual kidnapping scene which was apparently not planned by Fassbinder (also one of the most out-of-place action-oriented ones), in which terrorists prance around in clown-like outfits shooting and throwing firecrackers. Perhaps it was intended to be absurdly ironic, but it just comes off as cheap provocation.
For a man who has a gift for social commentary (absurdist or not), I was disappointed in this film, though I appreciate its boldness. I learned well before this film to proceed cautiously with Fassbinder. You can’t fault a man who made over 40 films in 16 years (not even including countless plays and other works). I heartily recommend Fox and His Friends or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul to anyone; Chinese Roulette, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, and Fear of Fear to some; and Martha to those select few who are giddy for Douglas Sirk psychodrama amped up to 11. And those are just some of the best that I’ve already seen…