A generation after the fall of the Third Reich, the wounded bear of German cinema came roaring out of hibernation. Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders and that mystic genius Werner Herzog revitalized the nation's movie art. But no one could match, in quantity or searing cynicism, the output of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who startled the world with his prolific prodigality, writing and directing four films in 1969 and seven movies in 1970, when he turned 25.
In The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and The Marriage of Maria Braun, in Martha and his 15 1/2-hour masterpiece Berlin Alexanderplatz, Fassbinder pursued the theme of man's (and woman's) inhumanity to man (and woman).
He span cautionary tales of anomic youth and loveless adults, snazzing up these intimate tragedies with plot pyrotechnics filched from the Hollywood melodramas he adored. His movies might have been summed up by the title of his first feature Love Is Colder Than Death except that his love of on- and off-screen conflict lent them all a white heat.
To his actors, whom he humiliated and, in at least two cases, helped drive to suicide, Fassbinder was no hero. Yet his stable of sirens Hanna Schygulla, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven (who was once married to the openly gay filmmaker) were objects of ravishment in film after brilliant, brutal film. If he depleted them, moviemaking exhausted him. He died of a drug overdose at 37, leaving a legacy as corrosive as it is lasting.