Criterion scores ones of the most immersive additions to their prestigious collection with the recuperation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972-73 eight hours plus five episode mini-series Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day, which received a restored premiere during the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival. Initially sparking controversy upon its unspooling on West German television, the project was commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, which gave Fassbinder free reign to run amok with his expertly characterized portrait of a cluster of working-class denizens, aptly termed “A Family Series.”
Broken up into five chapters centered on the lives of a family of toolmakers, this was Fassbinder’s first major mini-series, eventually overshadowed by his monolithic fourteen-hour extravaganza Berlin Alexanderplatz in 1980. By 1972, Fassbinder had already completed over a dozen noted projects, a combination of theatrical features and television productions, having competed four times for the Golden Bear and on the eve of his first Cannes competition in 1974 with the seminal Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Although the series contains many of Fassbinder’s signature elements of melodrama, it is surprisingly bereft of the usual bleakness and moral degradation his characters are usually grappling with, instead prizing the portrayal of a group of resilient, hopeful people struggling through relationship and various economic issues.
At the heart of the series is the inventive factory worker Jochen (Gottfried John), whose manipulations of a necessary work tool enhances the output of his colleagues (which includes Wolfgang Zerlett, Hans Hirschmuller, Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Wolfgang Schenck, and even El Hedi ben Salem in a small role) but allows for the company to deny them an expected bonus, throwing the workplace into rapid descension. As this unfolds, Jochen’s nuclear family unit is undergoing similar transformative changes. His alcoholic father Wolf (Wolfried Lier) and painstaking mother Kathe (Anita Bucher) are beginning to weary of living with his spry and overbearing grandmother Oma Kruger (Luise Ullrich). Living atop one another and treated to constant bickering, a recent birthday party spurs the elderly woman to seek her own apartment with the help of her subservient new beau Gregor (Werner Finck). A chance encounter with the beautiful Marion (Hanna Schygulla) leads to love at first site for Jochen just as his sister Monika’s (Renate Roland) unhappy marriage to Harald (Kurt Raab) begins to unravel.
To revisit Fassbinder’s broad character palette in Eight Days is to witness a dizzying and meaningful cavalcade of his favored collaborators. Already by 1972, he had already cast many of the principles in previous productions. Of the several standouts, Hanna Schygulla was perhaps never before or after allowed to be as vibrantly resplendent here as Marion, working in the local press office (alongside Irm Hermann) eventually becoming Jochen’s main squeeze. A newcomer to the family fold, she’s placed in the usual situations of the Fassbinder heroine, forced to use her body and her beauty for certain favors, but never to the degrading extent we’re generally accustomed to in his narratives. This allows her a certain untarnished quality, an innocence which lends itself to the film’s hopefulness despite the odds of surviving working-class toils and general disappointments as concerns upward mobility. Her relationship with Jochen is a juxtaposition with his sister Monica’s crumbling marriage as well as a Grandmother’s golden years romance with older suitor Gregor.
Actress Luise Ullrich is perhaps the most notable discovery of Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day, an actress who would only appear in three more television features before her death in 1985. The Austrian born performer was a noted thespian in the 1940s, taking hoping the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in the 1941 Venice Film Festival for Josef von Baky’s Annelie. As the grand matriarch Oma Kruger, Ullrich is a continually gregarious breath of fresh air as a kooky grandma who is never afraid to speak her mind, finding inventive loopholes to obstacles in the way of her happiness. The production also marks the first collaboration between Fassbinder and Gottfried John, hereafter usually cast as more sinister characters. Inheriting some of his grandmother’s hutzpah, his contributions to factory conditions allow for the constant background of the film’s pro-union stance towards workers’ rights (and need) to organize.
Plenty of zooms and close-ups add a frenetic intensity to these character’s interiorities thanks to Dietrich Lohmann’s cinematography (who lensed both of Fassbinder’s debuting 1969 features Katzelmacher and Love is Colder Than Death along with several other prominent titles of the filmmakers throughout the 1970s). A jaunty score from Danish composer Fuzzy enhances the lighter direction Fassbinder takes with his material, while a production design filled with artificial plants (which are often used to obfuscate the characters) reveals Fassbinder’s penchant for juxtaposing characters within the impossible artificiality of their environments.
Criterion presents Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day as a new 2K digital restoration courtesy of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation. Presented in 1.37:1 with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, picture and sound quality are impressively rendered in this pristine new transfer. The two-disc set includes a 2017 documentary amongst the extra features.
Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day – A Series Becomes a Family Reunion:
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation president Juliane Lorenz directed this forty-two-minute 2017 documentary about the making of the series which features new interviews with Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Wolfgang Schenck, and Hans Hirschmuller along with archival footage of Fassbinder and producer Peter Marthesheimer.
Criterion interviewed Jane Shattuc, author of Television, Tabloids, and Tears: Fassbinder and Popular Culture and professor of visual and media arts at Emerson college in 2018 in this nineteen-minute segment. Shattuc speaks to the tradition of television in Germany and how it influences the rise of New German Cinema.
A treasure for any of Fassbinder’s staunch completists, Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day was previously a missing cornerstone from the early oeuvre of one of the New German Wave’s most infamous acolytes.
Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆