THE THIRD GENERATION (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979)

Fassbinder’s Godardian/doubly Melvillian Die Dritte Generation dazzles with slapdash brilliance while it hilariously pursues its satirical aims. The title refers to a post-Baader-Meinhof group of Leftists terrorizing West Berlin. A bunch of bourgeois bumblers led by a mercenary, they plot the kidnapping of Peter Lurz (Eddie Constantine, parodying Yves Montand in Costa-Gavras’s State of Seige), an industrialist the sale of whose computers has fallen off. Unbeknownst to the ersatz radicals, Lurz himself manipulates matters behind the scenes, engineering his own kidnapping. He can taste the outcome: refreshed profits.
     A Leftist, Fassbinder nonetheless stands against terrorists and their tactics, not least of all because they fortify, not undo, the reactionary power structure. He thus stated the film’s theme: “terrorism is an idea generated by capitalism to justify better defense measures to safeguard capital.” It’s as if he had in mind Bush/Cheney, for whom the word democracy always means capitalism.
     In the opening shot in Lurz’s office, two screens-within-the-movie screen appear: a turned-off computer monitor (a sign of the magnate’s business malaise); a turned-on television, which secretary Susanne, a member of the terrorist cell, watches. This profusion of screens sets off its aural equivalent, Fassbinder’s use of layered sound almost throughout; while people converse, either movie dialogue, conversation or music emits from a TV set. This overload of distraction helps explain how the times undercut the terrorists’ hewing to a political course of action. Along the way, Fassbinder suggests that identity is largely imposed on individuals rather than being the result of self-discovery.
     Very late in the film, on “the last day of carnival madness,” the kidnapping finally occurs, with the terrorists dressed up as clowns. As he is videographed reading (and re-reading) the text his kidnappers have prepared for him, Lurz is most obliging.

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