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The Weird Spaghetti: How Fassbinder Subverts Genre-Typical Notions of Race and Gender in “Whity”
With comic characters splattered with make-up plaguing the film with horrid acting it’s difficult to take Rainer Werner Fassbender’s “Whity” seriously. So difficult, so, that the viewer cringes with awkwardness at realizing the artist behind this film may have, in fact, taken this movie seriously upon making it. As much as I could go on at how much of a failure this film is, there is something to be learned from it, and discussed. “Whity” takes on the spaghetti western/melodrama generic, from which it spins a loose narrative around subverting american ideals of racism. The Nicholson’s represent the whole of rich america, their faces painted pure white to exaggerate their ethnicity. Whether their zombie-like appearance was intentional or not it stills works well for their decay of humanity ethos also represented by their perversion with sexuality, transvestitism, incest , and their superiority complexion. Whity’s mother is also plastered with a charcoal black make-up and plays almost no
for a hero. The manly quality in most western male characters is to stand up for yourself and to be your own boss. Whity is often bossed around and degraded. you would not see a western hero openly be intimate with another man such as Whity did in the staples with the halfwitted brother. Furthermore. Whity also doesn’t stand up for the women in this film. Whity is hardly masculine. Yes.role in the film other than to illustrate the black ethnicity and to illustrate how Mr. he places the lead character. but we also see Whity doing things you would never see a hero do in a spaghetti western. a definition of a male’s identity through a mastery of social standing and the wild. which surely did not sit well with Fassbinder’s critics. This moment occurs when Whity walks in on his mother singing while working in the kitchen. Also. a universally understood symbol for fragility and feminism in his hand as an obvious defiance of the male myth he is expected to reinvent by accepting the genre of the western to drive his narrative. but Fassbinder wouldn’t be Fassbinder if he did not ruffle a few feathers. Nicholson could be Whity’s father. but . there is nothing Fassbinder kicks in the groin more than the male identity in “Whity”. at least not in the stereotypical manner. Fassbinder further corrupts the spaghetti western by really digging into what a western essentially is. Whity scolds her for “singing black songs”. All western heros will stand up and fight for a girls honor. the hero of the story. relating to the viewer that black people in the film are not allowed to “act black”. For one. Even the opening scene is evident of Fassbinder’s efforts to not conform. Stirring controversy with a spaghetti western is just part of Fassbinder’s ability to blast a genre from its expectations. we do see him standing up for the less fortunate such as the half-witted brother by taking his whipping for him. facedown in the dirt clutching a flower. The viewer is able to see early in the film one example of Fassbender’s subversion to Race.
Which brings us back to the opening shot of Whity laying facedown in the dirt clutching the flower in his hand. it doesn’t explain the motivation behind the shots. of course. one shot for Mom. “Two shots for daddy. The brother does display some sexual deviances such as spying on his parents during sex and an odd attraction to horses. Continuing by looking at the bar singer. Why then did Whity kill him along with the rest of his family? One argument would be that Whity would be unable to take care of the brother while on the run. is the halfwitted brother. two for my brothers. the very flower his love interest. though. Fassbinder. rarely does a character with such promiscuity appear in a western as a protagonist. does this by killing everyone. yet another example of Fassbinder resistance to conformity within the genre. the singer in the bar. all the while prostituting herself out to men. and it’s the motivation that really defines Whity for the character he is and why the Half-witted brother had to die. but the film continues to paint him in an innocent light. Although the song serves as something of an overture for the film. The one element Fassbinder chooses to adhere to in the western genre is that cowards and unrighteous people die. Another more interesting theory is that he needed to die in order to parallel the song lyrics in the opening credits. Normally a leading female character displays ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’ qualities. but this can be too easily explained away by Whity’s mother simply taking care of him as she always has. five shots for them”. One character that does not seem to meet retribution through death.when faced with this situation in the bar when Whity’s love interest is thrown to the floor Whity only stands and allows himself to be thrown from the bar. This is assuming that Whity and the Bar Singer do in fact die of thirst in the dessert as suggested by the films ambiguous ending. Throughout the film Whity had been . gave to him. whereas the bar singer has a scene where she explicitly walks around without shame with her breasts protruding from her top.
Aside from some cheesy variable length zooms in the film the camerawork is masterfully manipulated. it does not seem like justice is being dealt to them. Even so. though in the fashion that Whity and the bar singer die. Fassbinder seems to take camera work to a fantastic level in this film. was the scene with Whity on the bar singers bed. Apart from narrative and characters. Right before Whity was about to finally murder the father. and though not very complex it was well done and aesthetically pleasing. Not westerns so much as spaghetti westerns seem to be lacking in complex lighting and camera movements and Fassbinders director of photography. one changes how they see this act of Whity’s. At one moment during the scene Whity’s character freezes completely on the bed with his hand outstretched as the camera dollies around the bed. Judging by Fassbinder’s tendency to buck the system. but only carrying out what it was he was told to do whether there was justice to it or not. keeping Whity in focus the entire time then reframes so Whity and the bar singer are now both in frame. My personal favorite. the father gave him the order to murder the rest of the family. including the half-witted brother. They appear to be rejoicing in their newfound freedom from the society and appear to accept the fate that the dessert has ready for them. Whity is no longer playing the hand of retribution. All action holds until . Two scenes come to mind when thinking about the camera work in this film. I would say Whity acted more along these lines as opposed to the old western ideal that killing can only be done if motivated by justice. Michael Ballhaus as well as his lighting designer should be recognized as the most talented in the crew. it could still be said that Whity dying of thirst in the dessert with the bar singer can be justice for killing the family and the half-witted brother. Under this belief. It is because of this order that Whity killed everyone in the family.commanded by various members of his family to murder the father.
One. It may take several passes to realize its merit but this film set on with a purpose and for the most part achieved those purposes and was created under a style unique to the filmmakers beliefs. although the film really is quiet bad. I look forward to watching another Fassbinder film to see how it compares to “Whity”. During the take the camera pans tirelessly between all the members of the family. the camera was able to cross the line of action all the while maintaining the spatial awareness of the viewer. The ability of the operators to pull focus so quickly and accurately in this scene is more evidence of someone talented behind the lens. and two. but the decision to actually show the move did two very important things. once again a sign of brilliance rarely seen in the spaghetti western genre. This shot could have easily been done in two separate shots. it seems to transcend time with the viewer.the camera reframed itself. it is on some level really brilliant. The other impressive shot I mentioned is the long take of the will reading. The length of the scene actually comes out to around ten minutes long. In all. When just watching the scene it does not seem to be as long. There is also something else special about this shot. All the members of the family and Whity stand in a room while the father reads off his last will and testament all in one take. . This shot is evidence of at least some intelligence going into the making of this film. it was creative and engaging and added much value to film as a whole.
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