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Review: Whity

The many melodramas experienced on the set of the film would set the stage for much of Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore.

Photo: Fantoma

One of the sickest films of Rainer Wener Fassbinder’s career, Whity is a fascinating Weltschmerz spaghetti western that concerns itself with the liberation of a black slave (Günther Kaufmann) from the home of his master and white father, Benjamin Nicholson (Ron Randell). Though the genre-blasting Whity sees Fassbinder toying with classic western conventions and trying to address and subvert distinctly American forms of racism, the moral catastrophes he exposes are nonetheless played for a world-weary pathos and universality. Whity may passively accept his place in society, but does the we-shall-overcome anthem his kitchen-stranded mother, Marpessa (Elaine Baker), sing get her much further in life? In the char-darkened face of Whity’s mother and zombified mugs of the masochistic Nicholson clan, Fassbinder ghoulishly and fascinatingly evokes the respective decay and stuntedness of the human spirit. For Fassbinder, the complex pathology of the film’s racists and passive aggressors (as always, the director takes to task those who actively participate in their own victimization) is deliriously likened to various sexual perversions. The Nicholsons are sadomasochists who derive pleasure from Whity’s pain, just as the Hanna Schygulla’s seemingly liberated showgirl enslaves Kaufmann’s Mandingo in her own deceptive way (in one scene, she kisses him knowing that a gang of bar rats will no doubt beat him up). Whity is a triumphant work of political resistance, a force mirrored in the film’s aesthetic: Fassbinder’s ever-gliding camera startlingly parallels the lives of characters who don’t quite understand their function within the filmic space, and therefore their place in society. Because Whity is so technically triumphant (Fassbinder’s sensuous camera repeatedly calls attention to the many prisons the characters occupy; the actors often had to exit the film’s frame in order to put on their white-faces and re-enter a scene, sometimes in one continuous shot), it’s easy to see why this rigorousness provoked many an emotional windfall between the director and his crew. Whity was shot in the Spanish town of Alméria in early 1970 and the many melodramas experienced on the set of the film would set the stage for much of Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore, the director’s cautionary ode to his very emotional filmmaking process.

Cast: Günther Kaufmann, Hanna Schygulla, Ulli Lommel, Harry Bär, Katrin Schaake, Ron Randell, Tomás Blanco, Elaine Baker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Screenwriter: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Distributor: Fantoma Running Time: 98 min Rating: NR Year: 1970 Buy: Video

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