Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day: The Utopia Channel

<em>Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day: </em>The Utopia Channel

There is the cruel friend from Berlin Alexanderplatz, carrying himself like a German Mick Jagger, all lankness and swagger until he breaks a smile, and then he smiles fast. There is Maria Braun, slapping a vending machine. There is Ali, across a factory floor, polishing something; there is the Merchant of Four Seasons, and there is his wife, typing with only slightly more haughtiness, and less repressed rage, than she did in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. “Not to remember the name of a traditional Hollywood bit player is possible,” the philosopher Stanley Cavell wrote. “Not to remember their faces and temperaments is unthinkable.” I could say the same for the loyal troupe of performers that director Rainer Werner Fassbinder assembled.

From its beginnings in the late-1960s Munich Antiteater collective, the Fassbinder creative family was famously dysfunctional. Its members did not age together on-screen; their leader died too soon for that. Yet seeing them in the series Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day, which aired on television in 1972 and 1973, brought Cavell’s words to mind, and not only because, as I write, he happens to have died last week. Fassbinder became notorious for the mad energy with which he cast himself and his other actors into role after role, sketching a shifting panorama of postwar West German life. What is so striking about the version we see in Eight Hours is how hopeful it feels. “The figures in [old photographs] seem so vulnerable, so unknowing of what we know about them, of the knowledge in store for them,” Cavell reflected. The characters in this series give me a similar sense of tenderness. Here are people striving to build a modest utopia. For once in Fassbinder, they get it. 

“When producer Peter Märthesheimer approached Fassbinder, he described the goal as the ‘occupation of a bourgeois genre.’ ”

“The forms of irony or excess that cinephiles of the sixties and seventies were recognizing in Sirk become explicit in Fassbinder.”

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