As revealed in the book The Queer German Cinema (2000) by Alice Kuzniar, agitprop-oriented queer kraut auteur and all-around homo-agitator Rosa von Praunheim (Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts, Horror vacui) was apparently quite relieved when his nemesis Rainer Werner Fassbinder—the true heart of German New Cinema and arguably the most important Teutonic filmmaker of the post-WWII era—dropped dead from a drug overdose in 1982 at the premature age of 37. Indeed, while von Praunheim is probably the most important and influential figure of German Queer Cinema, Fassbinder was the most important figure of German cinema in general, hence the former's undying jealousy. While still alive, Fassbinder made it quite clear that he was no fan of von Praunheim either, ultimately remarking regarding his enemy in an article he wrote in defense of Werner Schroeter (von Praunheim's ex-boyfriend): “Rosa von Praunheim, a man who is so progressive, whose consciousness is so liberated from all our bourgeois longings that he actually believes he alone has the right, almost a monopoly, to use the film medium to reflect his or anybody else’s homosexuality.” Of course, many things can be said of von Praunheim, but being a total ‘pansy’ is not one of them, at least as a filmmaker, as he had the gall to make what is probably the best documentary ever made about his rival Fassbinder’s personal life, Fassbinder’s Women (2000) aka Für mich gab's nur noch Fassbinder - Die Glucklichen Opfer Des Rainer Werner F aka Fassbinder Was the Only One for Me: The Willing Victims of Rainer Werner F. As von Praunheim would state regarding his ex-enemy Fassbinder and his decision to make a documentary about him, “Fassbinder, I knew him when he was starting out, and I couldn’t like him. I was jealous of him, envious, and I never liked melodrama. It was only after his death that I really became aware of his qualities. I was fascinated by his wild life – contrast with bourgeois dramas – and his courage to live out the most extreme situations.” For Fassbinder’s Women, von Praunheim managed to interview most of Fassbinder’s closest friends, acquaintances, and collaborators and dig up some new gossipy gay dirt about the dead film director. Needless to say, Fassbinder’s Women reveals a man that was no less complex, melodramatic, erratic, deleterious, and paradoxical than his films. Indeed, converting ostensibly heterosexual comrades to cocksucking, causing countless men/women to fall in love with him for the mere narcissistic pleasure, and turning friends on to drug addiction are just a couple things you will learn about R.W.F. while watching von Praunheim’s tell-all scandal-ridden doc. While not featuring a single frame nor excerpt from any of Fassbinder's films, Fassbinder's Women is also loaded with countless rare photographs of the filmmaker in his natural habitats, which range from leather-fag S&M bars to nude beaches, thus making the documentary essential viewing for any serious fan of R.W.F. and his wayward celluloid ‘Weltanschauung.’
In terms of all the many beauteous ladies in Fassbinder's life, actress Irm Hermann was apparently “the woman that probably loved him most” as demonstrated by the fact that she financially supported him when he was a nobody, took out a life-destroying loan for his first film, and even attempted to prostitute herself for the filmmaker. Nowadays, Hermann, who typically played bitchy and sexually repressed women in the filmmaker's films, finds great joy in just visiting Fassbinder's grave and reminiscing over the not-so-good days. As a lesser known Fass-bande actress, Ursula Strätz, happily states, “Fassbinder was the only one for me,” which is a sentiment that most of her contemporaries seem to also share. Indeed, apparently Fassbinder “loved being loved,” even if he was apparently incapable of reciprocating said love and spent his entire filmmaking career obsessing over the innate inequality that comes with virtually all romantic relationships. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Fassbinder's first feature film was entitled Love is Colder Than Death (1969). On top of having a short-lived love affair with his future musical composer Peer Raben, Fassbinder managed to convert his assistant director/actor/right-hand man Harry Baer, who originally intended to get married and have kids, to homosexuality during a trip to Paris. Indeed, the portrait of Fassbinder that appears in Fassbinder’s Women is that of a hysterical hyper-asshole and self-consumed control-freak, but as the director’s one-time cameraman Michael Ballhaus (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, The Last Temptation of Christ) stated regarding his working relationship with the filmmaker, “My attitude has always been that if someone is good they can get away with it. I’d rather work with someone complex and brilliant, like Fassbinder or Scorsese, who aren’t so nice, than with someone who is nice but boring.” Additionally, Fassman’s main leading lady Hanna Schygulla goes so far as even stating that “in a way it was like living in a fascist regime” in terms of working with him, but at the same time he also tended to bring the best out of people and pump up their self-esteem. Of course, Fassbinder just as easily could break someone as demonstrated by the tragic suicides of two of his three great loves. While called “Fassbinder’s Women,” the documentary is just as much about the men in Fassbinder’s life as the title is more of a campy ironic reference to the fact that the filmmaker gave all his male friends/collaborators female nicknames (i.e. Harry Baer was ‘Ilse,’ Ballhaus was ‘Sonja,’ Peter Berling was ‘Mummy,’ etc.). Indeed, while most of the people in the doc seem to agree that Fassbinder was more or less predominately homosexual in persuasion, he also needed a woman in his life like most heterosexual men do, hence his short-lived marriage to actress Ingrid Caven (who only appears in the doc via telephone) and later relationship with film editor Juliane Lorenz (who is now the head of Fassbinder Foundation, which is the foremost promoter of the filmmaker’s work). Undoubtedly, if anything is for sure, it is that Fassbinder was not only less gay than Rosa von Praunheim, but also a greater filmmaker, hence why the latter went on to direct a documentary about the former. On the other hand, Fassbinder once paid ‘tribute’ to von Praunheim by naming a female character in his avant-garde gangster flick The American Soldier (1970) ‘Rosa von Praunheim.’
While missing important actors/actresses from the filmmaker’s life like Margit Carstensen (who apparently backed out of the doc at the last minute), Barbara Sukowa, Ulli Lommel, Günther Kaufmann, Gottfried John, and a couple others, Fassbinder’s Women is easily the most insightful, informative, and incriminating documentary I have ever seen on the belated Bavarian bad boy auteur. For instance, Fassbinder’s ex-wife Ingrid Caven revealed that the filmmaker somehow managed to ‘assert himself’ on her, remarking, “He was like a normal man. He really tried. He even screwed me. I think he’d made up his mind to do it. I don’t know how much he enjoyed it. He did what he had to do. It was amazing. I don’t think he forced himself.” One also learns that, quite ironically, it was Fassbinder's ‘right-hand man’ and assistant director Harry Baer that ultimately acted as the courier of cocaine that would take the filmmaker's life. One also gets to see Brigitte ‘Mother Küsters’ Mira—who despite being ½ Jewish, got her start in acting playing a villain in the Nazi propaganda series Liese und Miese and who Fassbinder made an unlikely film star with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) aka Angst essen Seele auf—describe how the filmmaker’s Arab boyfriend El Hedi ben Salem (who played Mira’s lover in Ali) would act like a wild animal when he was drunk (he would ultimately stab three strangers while inebriated). Of course, the subjects of the documentary also discuss how Fassbinder contributed to the deaths of two out of three of his great loves, El Hedi ben Salem and Armin Meier, as both of the men committed suicide after the filmmaker became bored with them (the filmmaker tended to date people that were his inferiors). Undoubtedly, out of all the subjects featured in Fassbinder’s Women, Irm Hermann seemed the most empathetic regarding the filmmaker, stating of his life and seemingly inevitable premature death, “I don’t know how things are judged in the next world, but I think he’d already been through hell on earth, despite all his fame. He was punished enough. I don’t think you have to suffer twice. He suffered enough.” If one thing is quite clear to the viewer after watching von Praunheim’s Fassbinder’s Women, it is that all those who worked with Fassbinder (with the possible exception of cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and already established stars like Jeanne Moreau), virtually none of them would go on to greater prestige and success after the filmmaker died. As Brigitte Mira confesses in the documentary regarding Fassbinder’s imperative role in her acting role, “If he were still here, I’d have had better opportunities. In an interview recently I was asked what I wanted and I said ‘An Oscar.’ But I could get one only if Rainer were alive. I’m sure of that,” thus demonstrating the actress' undying faith in the filmmaker's craft after all these years. Indeed, as a man who turned seemingly bimbo-like blonde bombshell Barbara Valentin (who was dubbed by the press as a “German Jayne Mansfield” despite the fact she was Austrian) into a serious and somewhat respected arthouse actress and who made an illiterate Moroccan laborer like El Hedi ben Salem into a memorable movie star, Fassbinder must have been doing something right. Of course, more than anything, Fassbinder's Women reminds one of all the unmade films the world has been cheated out of as a result of Fassbinder's tragic and senseless premature death.