Love is challenging, draining, and destructive. Love is confusing. Love is addictive. Love is consuming. Love is disappointing. Love is arguing, fighting, disagreeing. Love is frustration. Love is rebuilding. Love is debilitating. Love is distracting. Love is looking at your defects. Love is denying feelings. Love is being left in the dark. Love is unmet expectations. Love is colder than Death.
‘Love is colder than Death’ is a low key film with muted tone, long sequences, non-naturalistic acting and little dialogue. Success was not immediate. ‘Love is Colder than Death’ was ill-received at its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. The film, however, already displays the themes that were to remain present through Fassbinder‘s subsequent work: loneliness, the longing for companionship and Love, the fear and reality of betrayal.
Fassbinder had sexual relationships with both men and women. He rarely kept his professional and personal life separate and was known to cast family, friends and lovers in his films. Early in his career, he had a lasting relationship with Irm Hermann, a former secretary whom he forced to become an actress. Irm Hermann idolized him, but Fassbinder tormented and tortured her for over a decade.
In 1969, while portraying the lead role in the TV film Baal, Fassbinder met Günther Kaufmann, a black Bavarian actor who had a minor role in the film. Despite the fact that Kaufmann was married and had two children, Fassbinder fell madly in Love with him. The two began a turbulent affair. Fassbinder tried to buy Kaufmann’s Love by casting him in major roles in his films and buying him expensive gifts.
Kaufmann relished the attention and became more demanding. Fassbinder bought Kaufmann four Lamborghinis over the period of a year; Kauffmann wrecked one and sold the others if they failed to meet his expectations. The relationship came to an end when Kaufmann became romantically involved with composer Peer Raben.
Although he claimed to be opposed to matrimony as an institution, in 1970 Fassbinder married Ingrid Caven, an actress who regularly appeared in his films. Their wedding reception was recycled in the film he was making at that time, The American Soldier.
Their relationship of mutual admiration survived the complete failure of their two-year marriage. Fassbinder was a homosexual who also needed a woman. It is that simple and that complex. The three most important women of Fassbinder’s life, Irm Hermann, Ingrid Caven and Juliane Lorenz, his last partner, were not disturbed by his homosexuality.
In 1971, Fassbinder began a relationship with El Hedi ben Salem, a Moroccan Berber who had left his wife and five children the previous year, after meeting him at a gay bathhouse in Paris. Over the next three years, Salem appeared in several Fassbinder productions. Their three-year relationship was punctuated with jealousy, violence and heavy drug and alcohol use.
Fassbinder finally ended the relationship in 1974 due to Salem’s chronic alcoholism and tendency to become violent when he drank. Shortly after the breakup, Salem stabbed three people (none fatally) in Berlin and had to be smuggled out of Berlin. Salem eventually made his way to France where he was arrested and imprisoned. He hanged himself while in custody in 1977. News of Salem’s suicide was kept from Fassbinder for years.
Fassbinder‘s next lover was Armin Meier. Meier was a near illiterate former butcher who had spent his early years in an orphanage. He also appeared in several Fassbinder films in this period. Fassbinder ended the relationship in April 1978. During the week of Fassbinder’s birthday (31 May), Meier deliberately consumed four bottles of sleeping pills and alcohol in the kitchen of the apartment he and Fassbinder had previously shared. His body was found a week later.
In the last four years of his life, his companion was Juliane Lorenz (born 1957), the editor of his films during the last years of his life. She can be seen in a small role as the film producer’s secretary in Veronika Voss. According to Lorenz, they considered getting married but never did so. Although they were reported drifting apart in his last year, they were still living together at the time of his death.
Genius at its best – but dead just as the second act was beginning.
By the time he made his last film, Fassbinder was using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with his unrelenting schedule. On the night of 9–10 June 1982 he was working on notes for a future film, Rosa L, based on the life of revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg. That night Fassbinder died from an overdose of cocaine and barbiturates. He died of a cerebral stroke, a last line of coke lying unsniffed at his bedside, a cigarette butt between his fingers.