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Wellspring presents
Gods of the Plague (1970)

"Life is expensive."
- Günther (Günther Kaufmann)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 30, 2003

Stars: Harry Baer, Hanna Schygulla, Margarethe von Trotta, Günther Kaufmann, Ingrid Caven
Other Stars: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Manufacturer: Blink Digital
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, violence, rough language)
Run Time: 01h:27m:52s
Release Date: June 10, 2003
UPC: 720917537122
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+C+B- C-

DVD Review

I readily admit that, as a writer, I am deeply suspicious of those who are overly prolific. How come it feels like every time you pass a bookstore, Joyce Carol Oates has published yet another novel? And it's with some of that trepidation that I approach Fassbinder—his flame was prematurely snuffed out, at 37, but his output was extraordinary. Part of me wonders about quality versus quantity—is it a restlessness that moves him from project to project to project, and would the films have been made with more care if there were fewer of them? (It's a similar feeling I have about Woody Allen, who just keeps churning out the damn things.) If the pendulum swings too far the other way, you're in Kubrick territory, in which a film a decade is considered breakneck speed.

Gods of the Plague is one of five films that Fassbinder directed in 1970; he directed three the previous year, and four the following one, so this was clearly the period during which he was on fire. There's a kind of sloppy recklessness to the filmmaking that's brimming with energy, but it's still sloppy—this isn't an amazingly compelling movie, and its richer on ambiance than on story, but you've got to admire anybody on this kind of a tear.

Franz (Harry Baer) has just been released from prison when we meet him, and the question that gets asked is pretty standard movie stuff: will he adhere to the straight and narrow, or fall back into a life of crime? There seems to be almost nothing that gives Franz pleasure, and Fassbinder has set himself a tough task, with a protagonist that pretty much mopes through the whole movie. He seeks out his onetime girlfriend, Johanna (Hanna Schygulla), now a nightclub performer, revisits many of his old associates, sees if some samizdat porno mags might provide a lift to his spirits, but all of this is to little or no avail. Even sex is depressing for him; he seems like a hopeless case.

Fassbinder consciously evokes many of the noir films of the past—it's easy to see Franz as a reinvention of a character that Robert Mitchum might have played, twenty-five years before, and Johanna's introduction invites comparisons with Marlene Dietrich. But it's a movie so full of its characters' ennui that it's hard to think of it as anything more than a downer. I suppose that we're intended to applaud the movie's realism—there's even a quote on the DVD case from the director, saying that the film shows "the way things really were in that peculiar postrevolutionary era of 1970"—and perhaps it's because our standards have changed, but ultimately a shot of a guy urinating is just a shot of a guy urinating—too much information without any revelation of character.

The movie is a little bottom-heavy with story—Franz gears up for the big heist, and of course things don't go off exactly as planned—but the atmosphere is really the only thing worth soaking up here, and by this time, you'll probably have had enough of it. (I know I had.) The director himself makes a Hitchcock-like cameo, though I don't ever remember Hitch on screen being in the market for hardcore porn.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is shot in black-and-white, no doubt both for reasons of cost and to evoke the movies of an earlier era, but the depth of field isn't taken advantage of, and it's evident that the film was made on the cheap. A good amount of debris and scratches further interfere with the video presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Germanno

Audio Transfer Review: There isn't much music on the soundtrack, but a few cues sound warped unmercifully. Otherwise, this is a pretty straightforward stereo track, with just a bit of hissing and buzzing.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Beware of a Holy Whore
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. catalog of other Fassbinder titles on DVD
  2. insert booklet with an essay on Fassbinder's career
  3. DVD production credits
Extras Review: Fassbinder on DVD provides cover art and brief descriptions of fourteen other films by the director; the essay by Thomas Elsaesser accompanies each of the discs in this series, apparently. The filmography is for the director, and weblinks are to the Fassbinder Foundation, the DVD distributor, and three other sites devoted to the filmmaker.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

You've got to give credit to the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation for their care and attention to the director's films, particularly with this new rash of DVD releases, but oh, my, this one is a downer, and kind of a boring one at that.


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