VenueWalter Reade Theater
Never distributed theatrically but long an influential cult classic, Fassbinder’s seventh feature is a hothouse gothic melodrama shot in widescreen on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western sets in Almería, Spain. Whity (Günther Kaufmann) is the illegitimate black son of sadistic patriarch Ben Nicholson (American B-movie actor Ron Randell) and also the family’s brutally abused butler. The outrageous, even deranged Nicholson family members include a perpetually enraged gay son (Ulli Lommel) and Ben’s sex-crazed young wife, who abuse Whity every chance they get, while loving him in deeper, truer ways than they can muster for anyone else, including themselves. When Whity meets Hanna (Hanna Schygulla), a prostitute and chanteuse, their relationship sets him down a path toward the destruction of the societal and familial order that has oppressed him. This highly stylized and grandly pessimistic melodrama explodes a wide array of clichés from Hollywood films and German culture, using its loaded subject matter and primitive techniques to create a viewing experience this is, even by Fassbinder’s standards, maniacally despairing and gleefully subversive.