Fassbinder was employing the materials of melodrama, but with a bluntness and love of arbitrary plot development that showed a freedom from the form. What was he saying? That our lives are made of clichés and melodrama? That the movies are made of them — and the more aware of that we are, the better?
Later, after encounters with Fassbinder at the Cannes and Montreal film festivals, I began to understand that his films, apparently so cold, apparently manufactured so cynically out of parts taken off the shelf, were in fact a direct expression of his own personality: His pain, self-loathing, loneliness, compulsiveness, and restless energy. Look here, he seemed to be saying, at these pathetic creatures trapped in a web of someone else’s weaving. They do not know they are clichés. And even worse, the clichés themselves are not well-behaved, but break in the middle, leaving them without even the consolation of predictability.
When Fassbinder died in 1982, at 36, of cocaine abuse, I felt a real sense of loss and anger. He was young, prolific, the author of an original vision. He made movies that forced you to deal, not just with them, but with the idea of watching a film. In 13 years he made more films than most directors make in a lifetime, and threw in the 14-part TV series “Berlin Alexanderplatz.” What would he have done next? Or was his work so linked to his self-destructiveness that one would not have been possible without the other?