(Visual) Notes on Culture

Fear of Fear, 1975
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
R1 DVD from Wellspring

Fear of Fear is an underspoken moodpiece very much unlike anything produced today. Neither hyper "stylish" nor slavishly naturalistic, it is indicative of the serious, ambiguous concerns of the New German Cinema.

Margot (Margit Christensen) is a young, slender, pretty, pregnant and bored housewife. Husband Kurt (Ulrich Faulhaber) is some sort of vague, disinterested academic and requires a quiet life of solitude in order to complete his work. The two have a child, Bibi (Constanze Haas), and live in the same apartment building as Kurt's mother and sister. Margot begins to notice that she is prone to intense anxiety attacks. Despite giving birth, she feels under-appreciated and increasingly constrained. Turning to drugs, alcohol, adultery, and self-laceration, Margot desperately seeks a way out.

Fear of Fear sounds like the sort of film that could easily lapse into melodrama. Instead, this chamber drama breeds its acute alienation through slightly disembodied acting. Margot has moments of intensity that are signified by a visual ripple of the film stock. Fassbinder uses calculated zooms in order to isolate characters and situations as necessarily, never to the point of abuse. Her moments of affect are rendered all the more powerful by the containment of the settings. Most of the film is contained within a single apartment, and Margot's life is mostly limited to a series of interiors. In this respect, it is fair to compare Fear of Fear - a tale middle class woe, loneliness, and terror during a period of great social and industrial change - with the plays of Henrik Ibsen. Fassbinder (here the writer and director) and Ibsen bring phenomenal fidelity to their female characters, a rare conceit for male genius.

Though shot for television and on a small budget, Fear of Fear shows the ground zero matter of New German Cinema - relationships, fear in time (often of the past, equally of the future), and personal freedom poised against social expectation. Wellspring's DVD is approved by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and probably exhibits this work in as good a form as its ever going to be. Even a seemingly minor work like Fear of Fear, as opposed to canonized experiences like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), confirms Fassbinder's irreproachable genius.
"Fear of Fear" - I liked your review very much Kevin. I will seek this movie out. It sounds like one Kathryn would really like too.

What fascinated me about your review was your description of how the zoom technique is applied. As you know, the zoom is most often considered an out-of-date technique. It is also often woefully overrused. But you find and delineate a valid "meaning" and purpose for it here; and that fascinates me.

I'm going to try that on THB 3 or whatever project I do next, if it fits.
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