Apr 16, 2011

The Third Generation

After watching the 2008 German film The Baader Meinhof Complex directed by Uli Edel - a work that romanticizes the German left-wing extremist terrorist group Red Army faction (RAF) - I figured it was about time for me to watch Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Third Generation (1979); a black comedy that lampoons a fictional German left-wing terrorist cell. Unlike The Baader Meinhof Complex, The Third Generation simply portrays its subjects as degenerates, buffoons, and irrational tools of German capitalists. Fassbinder directed The Third Generation right after The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979); a film that earned the German New Wave auteur critical and commercial acclaim on an international level. Although The Third Generation was championed by critics in American and France; the film was hated by critics and general audiences in Germany - probably due to its sadistically playful and less than flattering portrayal of German left-wing terrorism. In fact, during a screening of The Third Generation in Hamburg, Germany - a projectionist was beaten unconscious, and various other theaters in the Fatherland received death threats. German leftist terrorists would later be stigmatized in the Hollywood blockbuster classic Die Hard (1988) directed by John McTiernan; a film that presents the German terrorists as traitors to their own political cause; trading in their political idealism, ergo becoming their greatest professed enemy: greedy capitalists. In The Third Generation, Fassbinder attacks left-wing terrorists with a clever array of situational theatrics skits, thus making for a hilarious romp into the imbecilic idealist froth of soulless Marxist materialism. 

Despite fighting for the worker and the proletariat; virtually all of the leftist revolutionaries featured in The Third Generation are from the bourgeois class. In fact, one of the revolutionaries is an aristocratic who regrettably carries the noble name: Bernhard von Stein. Although the cannibalistic class consciousness of these upperclassmen may seem to be strikingly odd and downright irrational; it is undoubtedly historically accurate. In apolitical Italian philosopher Vilfredo Pareto's revolutionary work The Rise and Fall of Elites; the inspirational thinker (who influenced Benito Mussolini's fight for power) proves through historical trends that virtually all bygone political elites played imperative role(s) in their own destruction. Over time, individuals from the aristocratic and bourgeois classes become passive due to their leisurely and pampered existences, thus eventually (out of a feeling of nihilistic worthlessness) fighting for the lower classes. As Pareto explains in his book (providing examples from Ancient Greece to modern Italy), it was, indeed, members of the bourgeois who originally published Marxist anti-bourgeois literature and it is always the self-loathing bourgeois failures (Karl Marx was a failed bourgeois and Lenin was a failed nobleman) who have historically led genocidal revolutions against their own people. In The Third Generation, the leftist terrorist group is made up of the following individuals: Musical composer (the group leader), a quasi-lesbian feminist history teacher, a banker and his housewife, and a record store clerk. Obviously, none of these individuals have ever done a second of real working-class labor in their entire lives, yet they are leading a pathetic nihilistic revolution for the proletarian.  Naturally, the funniest aspect of the left-wing terrorist group is that it is secretly funded by Lurz: a capitalist who wants to boost sales for his security computers, thereupon funding the leftist extremists to commit terrorist attacks. In fact, August, the leader of the leftist terrorist cell is a double-agent for Lurz. Indeed, Rainer Werner Fassbinder certainly assembled a vicious satire with The Third Generation; a film where leftist terrorists become unsuspecting capitalist pawns. As the once influential German philosopher Oswald Spengler once wrote, "There is no proletarian, not even a Communist movement, that has not operated in the interests of money, and for the time being permitted by money - and that without the idealists among its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact."

The secret code for the terrorist group's campaign is: "The World As Will as Idea" - which is taken from The World is Will and Representation; one of the most important works written by the great German pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. During the beginning of Fassbinder's The Third Generation; the Grandfather of terrorist Edgar Gast tells his grandson that Schopenhauer once stated, "Man's existence is no more important than that of a stone." Grandfather Gast goes on to insult Schopenhauer and he eventually says to Edgar in an idealistic matter-of-fact manner, "Every generation needs a war." Whether they realize it or not, Edgar and his terrorist friends have contrived a war in the form of left-wing terrorism, thus fulfilling Grandpa Gast's (who Edgar constantly mocks) dream of generational war. It is no secret that many of the real-life German left-wing terrorists were inspired to wage class war as an act of rebellion against their Nazi parents/grandparents. Despite attempting to reprieve Germany from Nazi infamy, these German terrorists would go on to further taint the name of their homeland, as so vividly expressed in Hollywood films like Die Hard. After meeting aristocratic terrorist Bernhard von Stein, Grandpa Gast mentions to the young man that ever since he was a little boy, he wanted to be an aristocrat. Being a self-loathing aristocrat, von Stein tells Grandpa Gast that the title is nothing special nor is it worthy of admiration. Through their regretful, yet unintentionally comedic interaction, Grandpa Gast and Bernhard von Stein symbolically express that values have been turned upside down and have reached total inversion in post-World War II Germany. 

The Third Generation may not feature the aesthetic prowess of Fassbinder's final work Querelle, nor the erotic melodramatic depth of The Marriage of Maria Braun, but the film is manifestly the German auteur filmmaker's most witty and humorous effort. Like Fassbinder's Whity, The Third Generation is a brutal and unflinching indictment on a totally hypocritical and impotent upper-class. Also, like Whity, The Third Generation features Fassbinder's ex-lover and acting regular Günther Kaufmann (the Mulatto Bavarian), who plays Franz; the best friend and protector of candy-ass aristocrat Bernhard von Stein. Out of all the communist terrorists featured in The Third Generation; Franz is the only one that expresses authentic human emotions, as opposed to soulless, yet fanatic, nihilistic left-wing idealism. When a junkie girl living with the terrorists accidentally overdoses on big H - Franz is thrown into tears and resembles a sad teddy bear - as he and the girl had recently started a romantic fling. Unfortunately, Franz will eventually pay the ultimate price for his down-to-earth personality and selfless empathy. By the conclusion of The Third Generation, the capitalist is still on top (albeit as a hostage of the terrorists) and most members of the original left-wing terrorist cell are six feet under.  Fittingly, the remaining members of the terrorist cell dress up as circus clowns at the end of the film. As so hilariously expressed in The Third Generation; anyone looking to lead an unpredictable life of aimless left-wing terrorism is bound to make an inevitable blunder, therefore never fulfilling the impossible and ultimately ostentatious dream of founding a classless Utopia.  Despite being a leftist himself, Rainer Werner Fassbinder proved he was an equal-opportunity offender with The Third Generation; a work that is patently the greatest satire ever made on German left-wing extremist groups (and leftist extremism in general). 

-Ty E


Unknown said...

Fantastic and intelligent overview of one of the more underlooked works of Fassbinder.

Craig T. Nelson said...

Happy Easter lads, from "HEATHER" (O`Rourke not Mondo) and "THE HAMSTER".

Jobeth Williams said...

Craig DID molest Heather on the set of Poltergeist but no-one had the guts to tell.