Jan 8, 2014
One of German New Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s greatest accomplishments as a filmmaker is that he managed outdo his hero Douglas Sirk and revitalize the old school Hollywood woman's film and make it palatable to people aside from elderly bourgeois female anglophiles and fickle old queens. Indeed, I have a rather low tolerance for busybody bitches babbling incessantly about nothing and scheming in a superlatively shadowy slave-morality-driven fashion that no heterosexual man could fathom any sane human being was capable of. Of course, Fassbinder was not a heterosexual man, even if he attempted to portray butch boys in films like The American Soldier (1970 and Whity (1971), so he was able to understand women in a rather unique fashion and he was able to transfer his personal insights on the oftentimes less fair fairer sex via his plays and films. In fact, with his early masterpiece The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Fassbinder managed to transsexualize his own failed romantic relationship with married black Bavarian Günther Kaufmann, ultimately having Margit Carstensen portraying himself and Hanna Schygulla portraying his negro lover! Undoubtedly, Fassbinder’s greatest accomplishment in terms of a ‘women’s picture’ is his made-for-television work Women in New York (1977) aka Frauen in New York. A teutonized (anti)adaptation of American playwright turned Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce’s hit play The Women (1936)—a work that was previously adapted by Yiddish queen George Cukor in 1939, made into a musical entitled The Opposite Sex (1956), and most recently updated in tasteless trash form in 2008 by Diane English—Women in New York is among one of Fassbinder’s most aesthetically bizarre works (Peer Raben's discordant yet ethereal musical score only accentuates this) and also, aside from his quirky early mess of a movie Rio das Mortes (1971), sardonic self-denigrating masterpiece Satan's Brew (1976) aka Satansbraten, terrorist-themed satire Die dritte Generation (1979) aka The Third Generation, and Wirtschaftswunder-themed late-period work Lola (1981), the tragic filmmaker’s only cinematic excursion in comedy. Like the original Broadway production of Luce’s play from the 1930s, Fassbinder’s Women in New York has the distinction of featuring an all-broad cast (40 of them!) with not a single male actor (though unseen male characters are constantly belittled by the women). Like Das Kaffeehaus (1970), Bremen Freedom (1972), and Nora Helmer (1974), Women in New York is essentially filmed theater, but unlike the previous three films, the play was shot on actual film (as opposed to archaic video) and features rather elaborate sets pieces taken from Fassbinder’s actual original theater production, not to mention the fact that all the actresses from the original stage performance reprised their roles for the film. In its theatric tableaux, Women in New York is like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) meets Fassbinder’s own World on a Wire aka (1973) Welt am Draht, albeit with a quasi-campy gynocentric stench and a fashion sense that anticipates the sci-fi cult classic Liquid Sky (1982). One of Fassbinder’s most difficult works in the sense that one has to endure fast-talking Frauen chattering amongst one another in a shockingly sophisticated fashion, Women in New York is, as Fassbinder’s Danish filmmaker friend Christian Braad Thomsen once wrote, a film that “occupies an important place in Fassbinder’s work,” even if only a handful of people have seen the film and it is nearly impossible to view today, at least by any official means.
Mary Haines (Christa Berndl) is an upper-middleclass housewife in her mid-30s living in fancy 1930s NYC who is married to a hotshot stockbroker in Wall Street named Stephen Haines. Unbeknownst to Mary, who is a rather innocent and naïve little lady (quite unlike her mostly caddy and callous friends!), her husband is carrying on an affair with a low-class hussy salesgirl in her mid-20s named Crystal Allen (Barbara Sukowa). Mary is the central figures of a cosmopolitan clique of friends who spend most of their time talking shit about other people, especially each other, so it comes as no surprise that she learns of her hubby’s infidelities via her always scheming bitch friend Sylvia Fowler (Fassbinder diva Margit Carstensen in a radically repellant role). Of course, the seriousness of the situation does not hit home from Mary until she goes to get her nails done at beauty salon and the manicurist, who does not know the person she is servicing is thee Mrs. Stephen Haines, unwittingly gossips about how her friend Crystal is having an affair with a certain Mr. Stephen Haines. When Mary finally gets the gall to approach Crystal about her affair with her beloved husband, the homewrecker venomously states, “You’re just an old habit to him. If it wasn’t for the kids he’d left you long ago.” While Mary’s widowed mother tells her daughter to stay faithful to her spouse and forgive him for his extramarital indiscretions, Mr. Haines has already made up his mind and divorces his rather desperate wife so he can marry cute young cunt Crystal. Of course, Mary gets advice from various different women from eclectic backgrounds and learns that many older women, especially from working-class backgrounds, are willing to tolerate cheating and beatings from their husbands as they fear they will not be able to find a new man due to their advanced age and antiquated looks, or as one character states, “Pride is a luxury a woman in love can’t afford.” Meanwhile, Mary’s preteen tomboy daughter is turning into a staunch bull dyke and fears growing breasts, confessing to her mother, “I don’t want to be a girl anyway! I hate girls. They talk too much and they’re stupid. And boys are allowed everything and girls nothing.” Of course, Mary’s daughter is not the only gal who resents being a woman as the divorced dame’s writer friend Nancy (Angela Schmid) has decided to dedicate her life to being a stoic feminist of the frigid and seemingly lesbian sort. In the end, Mary learns to be a ruthless bitch just like her adversary and when she discovers that her ex-husband’s new wife is carrying on an affair with a fellow named Mr. Buck Winston, she decides to take her swift revenge. Although not actually depicted at the conclusion of Women In New York, the viewer infers that Mary steals back her husband by telling him that his new wife has a new boy toy in what is a ultimately a pseudo-happy ending. After all, protagonist Mary has morally degenerated to the level of her rather repugnant shebitch enemies, but apparently that is the price a woman must pay with old age.
As Christian Braad Thomsen wrote in his book Fassbinder: The Life And Work Of A Provocative Genius (2004) regarding the characters of Women in New York, “The women are less puppets in a male game than puppets in their own game to catch men.” Indeed, in its uniquely unflattering depiction of women at their most pathologically vicious, conspiring, callous, and craven, Women in New York reminded me of a thematic cross between the ideas and theories expressed in anti-Semitic Semite Otto Weininger’s masterpiece of misogyny Sex and Character (1903) aka Geschlecht und Charakter meets German-American Baltimore sage H.L. Mencken’s ironically titled work In Defense of Women (1918), yet at the same time, it is a film that is meant to be devoured by women; just not the sort who think flashing their tiny tits in public is a reasonable form of political protest. As a Fassbinder flick, Thomsen perfectly summed up its importance when he wrote: “Women in New York is the only theatre production Fassbinder preserved for posterity. He had already recorded The Coffee Shop and Bremen Coffee on video and Katzelmacher and Pioneers in Ingolstadt on film, but not with exactly the same casts, the same stage sets and the same text as in the original productions for the stage. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was not staged by him, but by Peer Raben, nor was the film a recording of the theatre production. Garbage, the City and Death also exists as a film with the title Shadow of Angels, but under the direction of Daniel Schmid.” Indeed, in no other film does Fassbinder’s telling confession, “In the theatre I staged things as if it were a film, and then shot films as if it were theatre” become more clear than in his film version of Women in New York. Admittedly, while so-called ‘women’s films’ are not exactly my cup of tea (I would rather watch the latest Michael Bay or Eli Roth flick than endure most of these films), Women in New York ultimately proved to me that, in the right hysterical homo hands, the pseudo-genre could be somewhat palatable and aesthetically prestigious. A rather wicked work depicting the 1930s NYC female upper-class as a bunch of bickering high-class whores that derive the utmost satisfaction from seeing their friends’ lives fall into shambles, Women in New York is ultimately a film that not only incriminates the fairer sex, but auteur Fassbinder as well. Indeed, it is no coincidence that 2 of 3 of Fassbinder’s great loves committed suicide and that his female friend Eva Mattes (who portrays an unsavory pregnant housewife named Edith in Women in New York who has four children despite hating children) would depict him in the diacritic biopic A Man Like Eva (1984) aka Ein Mann wie EVA directed by Radu Gabrea. For any man looking for a reason not to get married, just watch Fassbinder's Women in New York and bask in the wild wonder of booboisie bitchiness.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:31 PM
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