Although his career was cut short but his untimely death at a rather young age, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was debatably the most influential of the German new wave directors that emerged out of the 1960s and this effort from 1970, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, (which he made when he was only twenty-five years old) is one of his most impressive efforts not only in terms of technique but also in terms of storytelling. An obvious influence on more modern filmmakers such as Lars Von Trier, the 'less is more' style that he employs in the film can easily be seen as having played a key role in the formation of the Dogme 95 movement, which itself has produced some interesting work.
Herr R. (Kurt Raab of The Stationmaster's Wife and Satan's Brew) is your average, everyday man who seems to lead an average everyday life. He spends his days between the office where he works as a draftsman and his home where he lives with his wife (Lilith Ungerer from Gods Of The Plague) and their young child. At the office, the men and women that he works seem jovial enough and he puts on a happy face when he's with them, but it isn't hard to tell that Herr R. doesn't really appreciate their humor or their fake kindness. This same observation applies to the friends that he sometimes hangs out with – there's something missing in the relationship, and he doesn't really seem to be on the same wave length as many of his peers.
Adding to Herr R.'s stress level is the sheer monotony of his day to day existence. All around him he sees his friends, family members, co-workers and former school pals doing the same thing, day in and day out and doing nothing with their lives. As this mounts, Herr R. becomes a bit of a control freak and he starts to experience some difficulty dealing with things until he has no choice but to just let it all out.
First and foremost, what makes this film work so well is the amazing performance from Kurt Raab. He doesn't go too over the top or get too manic here, instead he's quite restrained until the finale where, when it comes time to unwind, he very calmly flips out. It's fascinating to watch him build the character up to that point and just as fascinating to watch him tear it all down as well. In the film we see Herr R. do everything that he's 'supposed' to do. He shares a few sweet moments with his wife, he helps his kid out with his schoolwork, and he does well enough at his job that his boss wants to load him up with some heftier responsibilities so when he finally does lose it, it's all the more poignant. To heap further praise on Raab, and onto Ungerer as well, it should be noted that much of the dialogue in the film was improvised by the actors and what we're seeing are actual conversations rather than memorized portions of a script.
Fassbinder shoots so many of these scenes without moving his camera or editing them down or even cutting them to focus on one character or the other that it starts to grate a bit – but that's the point. In doing this, he's demonstrating what it's like to live in Herr R.'s world, and as such we want something to happen. When something does happen, it's almost as if we're getting our noses rubbed in it. This works well in the context of the film, and only serves to make what happens all the more disturbing. This is not a kind movie, in fact it's not a nice film at all, but little of Fassbinder's work is. It's a bleak film, though not without plenty of darkly comedic touches that make you laugh even when you know that the finger is being pointed in your own direction. It's almost a wake up call to the working class, a warning in a sense, which makes it as frightening as it is humorous.
The 1.33.1 fullframe transfer that the film receives on this disc from Fantoma appears to maintain the movie's original aspect ratio as the compositions look just fine on this disc. There's some grain present, as you'd likely expect to see from an older 16mm presentation, but print damage is kept firmly in place the picture is quite strong. This isn't a particularly colorful film but the print used looks as bright as it needs to and the transfer does justice to the intentionally drab color schemes and cinematography designed for the movie.
The German language Dolby Digital Mono track comes with optional English subtitles. The audio on this release is just fine, without any problems in relation to hiss or distortion audible in the mix. As far as older Mono mixes go, this one sounds about as good as one can expect. There's obviously no channel separation but the dialogue is clean and easy to understand and the fantastic musical score composed for the film sounds lively enough to enhance the film but is never so powerful as to overshadow the dialogue.
The main extra feature on this release is a decent vintage video interview with Dietrich Lochman, the man who worked with Fassbinder as his cinematographer on the feature contained on this disc as well as a few of his other movies. Recorded in 1992, Lochman details how he got his start working with Fassbinder and covers the direction that their work took as they progressed in the film industry. It makes for an interesting listen as Lochman doesn't shy away from talking about some of Fassbinder's eccentricities and has a fairly critical and honest opinion of the films that they collaborated on together.
Rounding out the extra features are some liner notes from James Clark which do a great job of putting the film into context against a lot of Fassbinder's other films and of detailing the history of the production itself. Menus and chapter stops for the feature are also included on the disc.
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is not a film for all tastes but it's extremely well made and very well acted and those who can get over the rather dark subject matter should find a lot to appreciate here. Fantoma's DVD looks and sounds quite good and while more extras are always welcome, those that are provided are insightful and interesting. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.