Family & Companions
Great art is often held to be created by people who are not only great artists, but also great individuals. Conversely, artists are assumed to have great egos, and consequently may be expected to be difficult, yet they are often excused because misbehavior seems a small price to pay for their talent. The strange case of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and a regular member of his acting company, Irm Hermann, confirms some of these beliefs, yet at the same time exposes them to be cliches.
Fassbinder was surely a great artist, but he could be more than difficult; his temperament, fickleness and charisma led him to be very cruel as well. Under his guidance, Hermann appeared memorably in several key Fassbinder works and performed capably enough for others to suggest that she, too, possessed artistry, or at least eventually developed it. But it took some time before she developed anything that could be considered an ego, at least where Fassbinder was concerned. For Hermann's love for the director was such that no matter how badly he treated her, he could always bring her back. She, meanwhile, always believed in his feelings for her and, what is more, seemed to need his harsh handling to achieve the effects he elicited from her in his films. Her acting career was due largely to him, and their collaboration became a case of art imitating life. In cinema and in life, Hermann was Fassbinder's favorite doormat. She eventually found the strength to break free, but she never stopped loving him. She never kidded herself about his cruelty, but she never stopped supporting his greatness either.
Hermann had worked as a secretary before meeting Fassbinder through some mutual acquaintances, and she became hooked on the spot. She was an early member of his avant garde theater company and she even for a time acted as his agent to find him acting work in order to raise money so he could move into film directing. At one point, through sheer persistence, Hermann actually did get Fassbinder a lucrative offer to work on a German TV series, but he was unable to accept it--he was doing time in a Turkish prison for driving stolen cars in order to raise some quick cash! Fassbinder also became romantically involved with Hermann for a time; even though for most of his life he was essentially homosexual, Fassbinder did have affairs with several women. Hermann wanted to marry him and bear his child, but the only child that came to pass was their work together. Fassbinder was determined to use Hermann in his films, and she played a role in his initial effort, the short "Der Stadtstreicher" (1965).
A tall, large-boned woman with small eyes, thin lips and very light (or frequently no) eyebrows, Hermann was often a morose, quiet presence in Fassbinder's films. She was sometimes a sensuous presence, and sometimes a mean-looking or bitchy one, but more often the long-suffering role she played in Fassbinder's life seemed to translate to the screen. In other cases, though, her roles were strictly functional and rather nondescript bits which were useful to the plot; such casting also mirrored the off-screen relationship the two shared. One of her most memorable roles in Fassbinder's canon came in his remarkably powerful and downbeat "The Merchant of Four Seasons" (1972), with Hermann receiving awards and acclaim from German critics for her part as the miserable protagonist's faithless wife. Her other most famous part came that same year in Fassbinder's bizarre and riveting lesbian triangle drama "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant," as the completely silent and much-abused servant of a haughty fashion designer brought low by her love for her model. At the film's end, Hermann's character leaves the mistress who has completely abased herself for love. Hermann, too, would eventually find the strength to pull away from her master.
Despite the acclaim Hermann received in several Fassbinder efforts, he also cast her as the maid in "Nora Helmer" (1973), his version of "A Doll's House," and in a rather abbreviated rendering of the key role of Miriam in his strange adaptation of "The Women," "Frauen in New York" (1977). Hermann eventually gave up smoking, discovered Buddhism and vegetarianism and became involved with an artist, finding the strength to stand up to Fassbinder and refuse some of the humiliating roles he wanted her to play. She did, however, continue to haunt his oeuvre, playing small iconic roles in later films including "Lili Marleen" (1981). After his death, Hermann kept busy in a wide range of German media, and was more active in film than a number of the other Fassbinder company members. Experimental lesbian filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger used her iconically as well in her "The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press" (1984) and "Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia" (1989). Hermann also played medium-sized supporting roles in films including "Edith's Diary" (1983), "Welcome to Germany" (1988) and "Hades" (1995), bringing to her work a patina of the intensity and craftsmanship she had learned the hard way.
Assistant Direction (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Appeared in the short, "Der Stadtstreicher", the first film made by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
First appearance in Fassbinder features, "Gods of the Plague", "Love Is Colder Than Death" and "Katzelmacher"
First prominent roles in major Fassbinder films, "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" and "The Merchant of Four Seasons"
Received credit as Fassbinder's assistant director on the film, "Jail Bait", in which she also acted a role
Early acting credit in a film not directed by Fassbinder, "The Sternstein Manor", directed by Hans W Geissendorfer, the first of several films Hermann would make with him
Became romantically involved with writer and painter Dietmar Roberg; became pregnant by him; received proposal of marriage from Fassbinder, who also offered to adopt the child; she turned him down
Last acting role in a Fassbinder film: played a small role in his "Lili Marleen", starring Hanna Schygulla