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I've refrained from lauding the Austin Film Society's Rainer Werner Fassbinder series at the Alamo because, quite honestly, many Fassbinder films are hard to take. Few directors exploit monotony in the same way as Fassbinder. Ozu and Ray celebrated it; Antonioni denied it (there is nothing boring about nothing), Fassbinder uses it as a weapon. Rarely is the idea of any of his films to provide a seamless narrative experience for the audience. Fassbinder is seeking confrontation, offering monotony and repetition as a defining modern rhythm. In Why Does Herr Run Amok?, the first hour chronicles in precious detail the numbing blandness of a truly boring life. In the last 10 minutes Herr R. runs amok. People ask why. We in the audience are almost amok ourselves by that point.

This all said, Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends, showing at the Alamo on December 1, is a masterpiece by any standard. The more you watch Fassbinder, the more you appreciate how great a body of work it is and that the work itself is greater than most of the individual films, with some notable exceptions, especially Fox.

I had read about Fassbinder in one of the Boston alternative papers before I came to Austin. A critic named Stuart Byron loved him; Byron was the first critic I read who took exploitation and low-budget films seriously. At first I hated his opinion, but then I began to see the films (I "knew" about them without seeing them before). Gradually, I came around to Byron's point of view, and he loved Fassbinder. Byron, however, was gay and Fassbinder a gay filmmaker. It wasn't that I thought Byron was wrong, I just figured these were films I wouldn't be interested in watching.

My first year in Austin was a rocky, strange time during which I think I missed most of what was going on. It was also the year I became friendly with the CinemaTexas folks. I had a 16mm sound projector and they would lend us films to watch at home. One night we borrowed Fox, set the projector up in the living room, invited friends, and watched it.

I don't remember what I expected but I'm pretty sure I didn't expect much. It was a devastating experience, a gay melodrama, yes, but a surprisingly dramatic, emotionally sweeping work. This was one of those magic nights, where film became alive and was, itself, a way of life. Not just the story but the way it was told, the attention to detail and the bizarre relationship of director to actors.

At the heart of the story was Fassbinder's Fox, a streetwise, low-level hustler who wins the lottery. Now rich, he attracts an upper-class gent who previously had laughed at him. This was a story of class and love -- an economic romance; a romantic Marxist assault. Fassbinder's performance drives the film and, with little reason to like his character, we find ourselves attracted. But this is no easy narrative.

I'm getting too wordy here. I love watching this film, the characters, the story, and the rhythm. This is a great melodrama by an artist operating at his peak. And it's free.

The weather belies the season, but this issue goes to press on Tuesday and will be distributed on Wednesday. Chronicle offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will reopen for business on Monday, November 30.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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