Is Fassbinder’s Working-Class TV Drama Effective as Political Art?
German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder garnered some mixed reactions with his first television miniseries, Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day. Broadcast on public television in 1972 and 1973, the show—a warm ensemble melodrama headlined by Fassbinder mainstays Gottfried John and Hanna Schygulla as Cologne toolmaker Jochen and his new girlfriend, Marion—was popular with audiences but highly divisive among critics, many of whom complained that its optimistic tone glossed over the all-too-real difficulties faced by the working classes. Proudly defying the harsh determinism that prevailed in social-realist dramas of the period, Fassbinder undertook to portray Jochen and his fellow factory workers’ successful self-organizing efforts, as well as the other blue-collar characters’ spirited attempts to improve their lot.
Among the supplemental material on our brand-new edition of the long-unavailable miniseries is a documentary that takes stock of some of the strong feelings that Fassbinder aroused. Watch the above excerpt to get a taste of some of the media commentary from 1970s West Germany, including one particularly heated talk-show discussion during which Eight Hours’ left-wing bona fides come up for debate. The clip also includes recent interviews with cast members Hans Hirschmüller and Wolfgang Schenck, who attest to the message of working-class solidarity the director sought to send.