The publication of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s play Der Müll, die Stadt und der Tod (Garbage, the City, and Death; 1976) constitutes one of the major scandals in German cultural history. The play was accused of being anti-Semitic, because one of its key characters, a real estate speculator, was merely called the Rich Jew. Furthermore, some (negative) dramatis personae in the play openly express anti-Semitic views. When asked to respond, Fassbinder retorted that philo-Semites (in the West Germany of the time) are in fact anti-Semites, because they refuse to see how the victims of oppression can at times assume the roles and positions assigned to them by pernicious social structures. Fassbinder’s vilification on the part of the right-wing press prevented the play’s staging; subsequently, in 1984 and 1985–86 two Frankfurt productions were banned due to the reaction on the part of the local Jewish community. A similar controversy sparked off by the film adaptation of the play Shadow of Angels by Daniel Schmid. During the film’s screening at the Cannes Film Festival the Israeli delegation walked out, while there was also rumor of censorship in France. Gilles Deleuze wrote an article for Le Monde titled “The Rich Jew” defending the film and the director. Deleuze’s article triggered a furious reaction from Shoah (1985) director, Claude Lanzmann, who responded in Le Monde and attacked the cultural snobbery and “endemic terrorism” of the left-wing cinephile community. Lanzmann saw the film as wholly anti-Semitic and suggested that it identifies the Jew—all Jews—with money. While the author acknowledges the complexity of the subject, he revisits the debate and the film to unpack its ethical/aesthetic intricacy and propose a pathway that can potentially enable us to think of ways that political incorrectness can function as a means of exposing the persistence of historical and ethical questions that are ostentatiously resolved. He does this by drawing on Alain Badiou’s idea of militant ethics and Jacques Rancière’s redefinition of critical art as one that produces dissensus.
Militant Ethics: Daniel Schmid’s Film Adaptation of Fassbinder’s Garbage, the City, and Death
Angelos Koutsourakis is an associate professor in film and cultural studies at the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures, University of Leeds. He is the author of Rethinking Brechtian Film Theory and Cinema (2018) and Politics as Form in Lars von Trier (2013) and coeditor of Cinema of Crisis: Film and Contemporary Europe (2020) and The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos (2015).
Angelos Koutsourakis; Militant Ethics: Daniel Schmid’s Film Adaptation of Fassbinder’s Garbage, the City, and Death. Cultural Politics 1 November 2020; 16 (3): 281–302. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-8593494
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