"> Name: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's play "The Garbage, the City, and Death" censored in Germany

Date:  1951 - 1975 , 1975 - 1984 , 1995 - 2005

Location:  Europe



Artist: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Confronting Bodies: German government, Jewish and anti-Semitism groups

Date of Action: 1975, 1976, 1984, 1985, 1998, 1999

Specific Location: Germany

Description of Artwork: In "The Garbage, the City, and Death" Fassbinder deals with such themes as Nazism, fascism, terrorism, homosexuality, and homophobia. In this play he suggests that a number of Jews were involved in corrupt property speculation because Jews could easily carry out the dirty work of corrupt municipal authorities because they were "above criticism". The main characters of the play are all depicted as alienated outcasts isolated in a cold, urban world. The play is about a sadomasochistic pimp who beats his wife, a sickly prostitute. His wife hardly earns enough money to support them until she meets "The Rich Jew", who makes huge amounts of money off property speculation. Her father is a Nazi who works as a transvestite singer in a nightclub. "The Rich Jew" comes to suspect the father was responsible for killing his parents in a concentration camp so he uses his daughter against him. Meanwhile the pimp is unable to cope with his wife's sudden success and leaves her for another man. In desperation the prostitute convinces "The Rich Jew" to kill her. Because "The Rich Jew" is in cahoots with the police he avoids being charged with her murder, and the pimp is charged instead.

Description of Incident: In 1975 Fassbinder planned to premiere "The Garbage, the City, and Death" at a theater in Frankfurt where he had formerly been the director. The play attracted hardly any public attention until the city authorities said they were not willing to risk a scandal and Fassbinder dismissed the cast before rehearsals were finished. In 1976 the major controversy erupted when Suhrkamp Press released review copies of the play. The press attacked it as anti-Semitic and fascist, they denounced the sexual and racist language, were offended by the stereotypes, and the unnamed "Rich Jew". Fassbinder denied the charges of anti-Semitism and proclaimed his right as an artist to depict reality. Two years after Fassbinder's death, in 1984, Ulrich Schwab, general manager of the Old Opera in Frankfurt tried to stage the play. The head of the city administration's cultural department said the Old Opera could not stage non-musical plays. Schwab cried censorship and was dismissed from his post. The next year Gunther Ruhle, director of the Schauspielhaus again tried to stage the play as a gesture of the normalization of relations between Germans and Jews. The Jewish community spoke out against the play and the dominant party in the Frankfurt city administration, the Christian Democratic Union, passed a resolution protesting the play. Members of the Jewish community took over the stage on opening night. A performance of the play was given to theater critics and representatives of the Jewish community with the public excluded, but after further talks the play was abandoned. The director of the Maxim Gorki theater in Berlin made a fourth attempt at staging the play by announcing his intention to include it in the program for the following theater season. Members of the Jewish community in Berlin reacted with protests and the senator of the cultural department of Berlin initiated a round table talk between the conflicting parties. No agreement was reached, however, and the play was taken off the program.

Results of Incident: "The Garbage, the City, and Death" was never officially banned, but the play has not yet reached a German audience. The 1976 film by Daniel Schmid "Shadows of Angels" was co-written by Fassbinder and closely based on the play. In the movie Fassbinder plays the pimp. The movie has aroused far less controversy. There were protests when it was screened at Cannes and Paris but the screenings went on. It was eventually shown in Germany as well.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia

Submitted By: NCAC

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