Back in 1974, I walked into Inner Sanctum Record Store, which was the unofficial headquarters of the country-rock-blues-singer-songwriter thing going on in Austin clubs. There, I overheard Cowboy James Cooper raving to someone about this great album by Frummox. There was a stack of vinyl with a sign about how this record was out of print but the store had fallen upon a bunch. I bought the record and loved it, a powerful and evocative album for the times. I'm not sure how well it has aged, it has been awhile since I listened to it. But at the time, I played it almost every day.
The duo known as Frummox had broken up long before I found the album, but Steven Fromholz was playing all over town. In Austin, he was a star. Since then, I've continued following Fromholz's career, considering him an underrated songwriter, author of such great songs as "The Texas Trilogy," "Dear Darcy," "Bears," "I'd Have to Be Crazy," and many more. On his new CD, Lyle Lovett recorded the three songs in "Texas Trilogy" as well as "Bears." When Jody Denberg offered Music Editor Raoul Hernandez a transcription of an interview he had done with Lyle Lovett for KGSR, this seemed the ideal time to honor Steven Fromholz. Lee Nichols, taking a break from riling media types, does a great job with his profile on this Texas original.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is one of the most powerful and important film directors of the last third or so of the 20th century. Neither a minor cult figure nor simple cinematic iconoclast, the crazed Fassbinder made 41 films in 14 years. More than almost any other director, the body of Fassbinder's work is more important than any individual film; his work constitutes a rethinking of cinema. He does not offer one style or one mise-en-scène, rather, he assaults the very history of film, adapting and abandoning cinematic styles and narrative strategies. After Fassbinder, it was impossible to think about film the same way; there was nothing fragile about its texture.
Most importantly, for a decade and a half, almost every working filmmaker watched Fassbinder – the generation already working as well as the generations behind them, dreaming about being filmmakers. His body of work constituted a seminar on film, and it was a seminar that was attended by creative talents around the world. Fassbinder's work informs current visual media, from mainstream Hollywood filmmaking to commercials to TV skit comedies such as Saturday Night Live. As Jean-Luc Godard did in the Sixties, Fassbinder changed film language. More obsessed by narrative than Godard, Fassbinder's best films have an awesome humanist power. Fox and His Friends and The Merchant of Four Seasons are neo-melodramas, Hollywood completely re-imagined but never denied. Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? and Katzelmacher are among the more conceptual films ever produced, while Beware of a Holy Whore and Satan's Brew are fingernails-on-chalkboard cinema at its most aggressive (Richard Linklater defends Holy Whore, but he's a filmmaker and it's about filmmaking, so he would).
The current Austin Film Society Fassbinder retrospective (Tuesdays at the Alamo Drafthouse, admission is free) is a chance to experience unadulterated cinematic brilliance. Extraordinarily influential, Fassbinder reinvented the Hollywood melodrama as a social problem film, but he also expanded the very notion of narrative. Fassbinder's work has been so influential that his cinematic consciousness has come to permeate mainstream media. Arguably, this should make his work seem stilted, certainly Godard's work suffered as his influence increased – what was once daring ended up seeming hackneyed. Fassbinder's films are so deeply about people that the stylistic innovations seem almost like affectation. Whether it be the compassion of Fox and His Friends (a masterpiece, one of my all-time favorite films) or the narrative hysteria of Satan's Brew, Fassbinder is still forcing the audience to deal with him on his own terms.
This is the most important cinematic retrospective Austin has recently seen. If you get the opportunity, check out these Fassbinder films. Be warned, he's always different and often difficult and just because you liked or didn't like one movie, that isn't necessarily the way you're going to feel about any other work. The more you see the better, though if you're a novice you might begin with The Merchant of Four Seasons (9/29), Veronika Voss (11/24), Fox and His Friends (12/1) and/or Effi Briest (12/8).