Douglas Sirk: The most important thing for a filmmaker should be an image of his reality. When I see a Max Beckmann, for instance, I know it can only be Beckmann; an Emil Nolde is Nolde, and with Rainer I know it’s Rainer. He has an unforgettable signature, an unmistakable signature.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Mine is hard to mistake. There actually are people who imitate things, simply try to copy something just because they like it, rather than adapt it. After I’d seen Sirk’s films, when I made my next film—that was The Merchant of Four Seasons—I was in danger of copying All That Heaven Allows, too. Later I tried to do a remake of what I’d seen in it. That was Fear Eats the Soul. But you mustn’t simply do something over again, just because you like it; you should try to tell your own story, using your film experience. That’s why the scene in Fear Eats the Soul where the television’s kicked in is different from the one in All That Heaven Allows where the children decide to give a television set for Christmas in place of the guy. My story is set in a coarser, more brutal world; the same story in Sirk’s film unfolds in small-town America, where it works better. Yet the process of giving a television set instead of a man appears much more brutal against this background than the brutal act in my film. These are the sorts of little details where you can’t just imitate; you have to do an adaptation to fit the setting.
Sirk: Rainer, you’re absolutely right. My wife and I saw Fear Eats the Soul together and think it’s one of your best and most beautiful films, which unmistakably carries your signature. My wife, who certainly knows my films, too, never thought at the time that there was any affinity with All That Heaven Allows as far as the material was concerned.
Fassbinder: My way of making films is different. He was surrounded by the system, and had a specific amount of time for making a film. With my films I react to what I’m experiencing, how I feel. That doesn’t mean, though, that there has to be a difference in that respect. Perhaps the difference is that I’ll make a hundred films, and he’s made thirty-nine. That doesn’t mean anything; it just means that in a different situation I’ve been able to make films that were more direct and radical, that I’ve reacted differently and more spontaneously to reality than he did. He had the entire system looking over his shoulder. In view of that, it’s all the more admirable that a person could manage to create a whole personal world, in spite of that stick-in-the-mud American studio system. Not many people have pulled that off—many of them have gone under, have made generic films, have latched onto success, have sold themselves to their very depths. To sell yourself isn’t so bad; it happens all the time. But to sell yourself to the depths, down to your emotional cells—so many people have done that that I’m terribly grateful for these few people, these few bodies of work from America where I learn something about a life and time, about thoughts, about ways of thinking, about ways of feeling, about ways of telling stories. And Douglas Sirk belongs to that handful of directors, and because he’s a German he’s also very close to me personally…
Sirk: Before I met Rainer I sensed something, and then when I saw him I recognized, with that eye every filmmaker has to have, a personality of great originality. [Interview with Ernst Burkel | March, 1979]