DEFA Film Library
at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Cinema of East Germany
’72, ’82, ’92 – Jörg Foth in Conversation with Irm Hermann
This interview conducted and introduced by filmmaker Jörg Foth was published in Film und Fernsehen (4/ 1992).
In the early 1970s, we in our dorm, out in the sticks in Babelsberg, devoured everything by Fassbinder that was broadcast. In Warsaw, Prague and Budapest we spent whole days at the cinema, where we also saw Fassbinder on the big screen. Subtitled in Polish, Czech or Hungarian. In one of our cinematography exercises, Thomas Plenert and I re-shot the camera-circle in Fassbinder’s Martha: Doris and Lars met, while I pushed Tommy and his camera around in a circle on a bicycle for several minutes. We lived with Fassbinder, not DEFA. Our later hopes of combining the two failed completely. We had to arrive at the age at which Fassbinder died before having our debuts.
Fassbinder’s balance between private uncommittedness and…
He was not uncommitted.Fine. Curiosity. Was this curiosity freed from the order, discipline, rules and rituals of his work?
He was curious. He was not uncommitted.
Rainer was very concentrated.
In the end, he did everything—for better or worse—consciously.
He was an extremely hard worker.
It only seems like that. Even in his private life, Rainer had a kind of order: in the morning he got the paper from the newsstand and had breakfast, sat in the café with confidants and discussed what he was planning.Yes.
He never separated work and life.
He did what everybody wants to do.
Everyone who, in the morning, picks up their briefcase, goes to work
and relinquishes their soul.
That is the tragedy. This separation.
We sell our souls for money.
And what do we do with the money?Didn’t soccer function this way for him?
We serve the state with it again.
We are compliant again.
We go to a travel agency, book a trip to someplace we have no business being.
And Rainer could not do that.
Shutting off just wasn’t in him.
I don’t know,The cheers from the stands as a study for a scene.
even there he was ambitious.
Climbing mountains, he always wanted to be faster than I was.
And even though he smoked a lot, he was faster.
With concentration you just are.
In the years before the Group existed, we went to the stadium on Saturdays.Did Fassbinder approach the foreign—that is, old, different, often inferior figures; actors from different backgrounds and generations; every imaginable writer and script; all possible genres and production forms; and, thus, also the greatest possible audience—out of a need for integration and family?
Rainer was a Bayern-Munchen fan.
And a “kleines Müller” fan.
Mass phenomenon, the atmosphere—yes, it could be.
There’s something there, like with Lili Marleen.
Yes, that’s one reason.The identity of the Anti-Theater must have included protest—the rejection of having one’s own permanent performance space, as well as of traditional topics, performance styles and partners.
He had that. And his dreams.
Rainer was crazy about the stars of the ‘50s and of course Hollywood stars. We preferred watching American B-movies.
Barbara Stanwyk, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich—he especially liked these tough women.
Later, when he had the chance to cast stars from the ‘50s and ‘60s, he did.
Politically it was an awakening.If Fassbinder were among us today…
Springer and Ohnesorg. That was the rejection.
Not great theater.
He did not reject this, because this was his goal.
He wanted to get to one of the big theaters, he never denied it.
It was simply: how can you get started, as an unknown? It only works with your own group.
And at that point in time this worked for him.
He needed us and we needed him.
What he really rejected was the political situation. It transcended a change in the political situation. Revolution. This moved him.
And it literally pained him that Benno Ohnesorg was shot to death.
This is speculation.Was this burn out, the drug-supported work tempo, a form of suicide?
I don’t know.
Minorities are having an even harder time today than in the past. Not one theme that
Rainer treated in his films has become irrelevant. On the contrary.
But drugs had already alienated him a lot.
Everyone who knew him, who was close to him, wished he’d stop taking speed so he wouldn’t burn out.
I think so.Was suicide Fassbinder’s answer to the unresolved and increasingly pressing question (put on hold during the making of Berlin Alexanderplatz) of his leaving Germany?
You can’t put it like that.In a conversation with Peter W. Jansen, Fassbinder lamented the missed opportunity of 1945, the retention of old structures. When I sat here at your kitchen table in early 1990—hoping to win you for our first independently produced film—that missed opportunity was more tangible than ever. The opening of the Wall could have been the beginning of a powerful surge of change—politically, culturally, humanly. I thought: now we only have to pull together, then a better world will come to pass.
I never took his threat to leave Germany seriously.
He always threatened this when public criticism was particularly intense.
Maybe this too was only a tactical maneuver, to test the reactions, to find out to what extent he was loved and needed.
I had the same sense of happiness as you.We also had the good fortune to immediately have to pay rent to a new landlord, who announced a luxury renovation—with elevator and penthouse.
The same hope.
I was really just that naïve.
The fall of the Wall, its opening and your immediate appearance. That remains, that counts in my life.
And I still cannot believe what came of all that, what’s going on politically and economically.
Since then, every third person has a house in the East.
They’re getting bought up a row at a time.
This excess.In that conversation with Jansen, Fassbinder said that you became holy, you had a child. He said: “Irm is, I hope, satisfied.”
That people are so excessive, that rents go up so excessively, that everything gets so excessively expensive.
Why don’t we defend ourselves against this?
After all, as citizens we have the power.
We would have the power to all get together and say: this is not alright, no.
When?It aired on March 18, 1978, probably recorded at the end of 1977.
He wanted a child.Are you—as he said at that time—satisfied?
He always wished for a child.
He formally proposed to me when I was pregnant
With a contract, marriage, clauses and everything.
But then I would not be sitting here today.
What is satisfaction?Why were you born unhappy?
Who is satisfied?
I am always restless.
I also feel I have little time.
Somehow I was just born unhappy.
I have never felt right in the family into which I was born. My family members were allStrange, I have loved you from the moment I set eyes on you. Since Katzelmacher. You were always close and familiar to me —the whole time, despite the Wall.
strangers to me. Even my mother told me that I am strange to her.
I find that astounding—considering the roles I played. But this is another level, that has to do with wavelengths.Yes.
The strangest person is not strange to me. Do you understand? I can love people on the street. I can love them with all their handicaps and frustrations. I can become friends with everyone on the street and everywhere in the world, if the thinking and feeling is the same. Rainer said if you shake somebody’s hand, you can also sleep with him.
We had long discussions about marriage and conventional relationships. You don’t have to be promiscuous to be happy. I think this is false. Fidelity has another value.
Through loyalty you also can grow.
And I am not at all sacred.How do you deal with the extreme pressure of the media, with the attack on the senses, the increasingly rapid change of stimuli?
I only try to see things spiritually. This has changed, my consciousness, my will, so it is less oriented towards the material world and more towards the spiritual… I would like to know more.
My fury at the bourgeoisie, at narrow-mindedness and ignorance remains.
Where does the material world lead?
What else can we buy ourselves, what should we live on, in order to become even better, richer and more beautiful?
I don’t watch television.In your view, what advantages do Fassbinder’s little people in grand style, his incredible blend of pop song and opera have over present productions?
And for years I have rarely gone out.
That’s your only chance.
I don’t have to consume to be creative.
You don’t have to race from one premiere to the next to know who you are and what you are capable of.
Everything is in you and comes from you.
Provocation.Was Fassbinder’s loneliness the price or goal of this provocation?
He never revealed it.
He turned everything productive outwards.
He never could let go, never allowed himself to relax.
Death was Rainer’s relaxation.
Translation and republication by permission of Jörg Foth
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