Of the core of performers who featured regularly in German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s movies from 1969 to 1982, two of the most compelling were Ingrid Caven and Hanna Schygulla. Both still perform, whether in front of the camera or — occasionally — in cabaret.
Caven appeared in about a dozen of Fassbinder’s films and was married to the bisexual director in the early 1970s. The complications and demands of Fassbinder’s emotional life are probably best summed up by the man himself (click ‘CC’ for English subtitles):
One of Caven’s key performances was in Fassbinder’s brilliant 1975 film Mutter Küsters’ Fahrt zum Himmel (Mother Küster Goes to Heaven), which lays bare the cynicism, opportunism and moral vacuum at the heart of the German post-war economic “miracle”. Caven plays a nightclub singer who uses a family tragedy to her own advantage:
Now in her seventies, Caven lives in Paris with the author Jean-Jacques Schuhl, who in 2000 won the esteemed Prix Goncourt for his lightly fictionalised version of his lover’s life. Caven herself has enjoyed a modestly successful parallel career as an interpreter of dark, world-weary chanson, best experienced in the 1978 live recording Au Pigall’s in which she simultaneously channels Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf.
Hanna Schygulla is, however, the actress most readily identified with Fassbinder. Here she is in one of their first films together, Götter der Pest (Gods of the Plague):
I saw Schygulla performing live in September last year, when she presented her autobiography in cabaret form which included bitter-sweet memories of her tempestuous working relationship with Fassbinder. As a singer, Schygulla has rare presence, charisma and sensitivity to text which compensate for her sometimes wayward pitch. In Fassbinder’s strange, shrill 1981 film Lili Marleen those qualities propel her character to stardom in Nazi Germany:
And finally Schygulla, as all German cabaret singers must, has a go at Brecht:
About XIIDX, the Strange Flowers XII Days of Xmas Film Festival