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The Use of Color in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Lola: An Academic Analysis

Image used on grounds of fair use

Image used on grounds of fair use

The Film

Lola (1981) is the next film of the so-called BRD Trilogy Rainer Werner Fassbinder released after his equally canonical Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). The film is very loosely based on The Blue Angel (1930), sharing the narrative that a good man meets a cabaret singer named Lola and finds himself corrupted by loving her. The leading man, Von Bohm, is the newly hired building inspector. He finds a town that is very corrupt at the top, particularly the shady businessman and whorehouse patron Schuckert. Shuckert pays for the exclusive services of Lola, the film's leading lady and eventual love interest of Von Bohm. She seduces Von Bohm without his knowledge of her profession, and he falls in love before he knows any better. Unlike The Blue Angel, however, this film is thematically far more concerned with the perceived evils of capitalism and the debauchery of the post-war era. Fassbinder ties together the narrative, themes, and aesthetic brilliantly. Von Bohm, cast in a blue light with unprecedented frequency, is the stalwart of some vague, yet fair system of economics and morals. The rest of the town, embodied principally in Lola, is cast frequently in orange or red light and represent a crony capitalism that is very closely tied to sexual immorality as well. In the end, Von Bohm finds himself in the wrong light and the future appears bleak for the newly married couple and the town as a whole.

Von Bohm cast in blue.

Von Bohm cast in blue.

Von Bohm ventures into the "red"

On Lola and Von Bohm's second date, during which he will propose, they seek reprieve from the rain. A typically ominous sign, it does not appear so as the two are rather playful as they run to a nearby barn. The lighting outside the barn appears natural, with a blue tint. On the loft, where Von Bohm and Lola will presumably have sex, there is a red light casting down from above. As Lola climbs up to the loft, Von Bohm hesitates for a moment in the blue-tinted outside air. The camera moves in a circular, tracking motion around him until Lola reaches the makeshift bed and, at this new angle, the unmoved Von Bohm then appears to be partially cast in the red light as well. She tells him that she has a "present" for him as he has for her, and the camera cuts to a medium close up of him looking up at her. His face is entirely cast red from the light. His present, the engagement ring, is acceptance of her while her present, sex, will make him an almost unwilling participant in the debauchery. At this point, he still does not know that she is a prostitute. However, between the engagement and their newly sexual relationship, he has very well unwittingly committed himself to whatever unknown facts about her that he has yet to discover.

Lola chillingly cast in her typical red.

Lola chillingly cast in her typical red.

Lola is not the only corrupting influence.

Lola's seduction is not the only culprit for this gradual corruption of Von Bohm, however. As a matter of fact, Lola seems to be more of a vehicle for the corruption than the source of it. She is a victim or bystander of the corrupted capitalists like Schuckert. Von Bohm gets seduced by consumerism, too, and this is best seen when he gets his television. When he greets the deliveryman, he comes out of one of his normally well-lit rooms. The TV is put in the room in which it belongs, where the room is quite literally cut in half vertically by a red light. The lower half, as seen previously in the film when he plays the violin, is the red half. This division is rather symbolic of the seeds of corruption laid in Von Bohm, who was previously clearly on the blue side of the division of lights in times like his first meeting with Lola. Moreover, the lower half being the red/corrupt half further suggests the lustful way in which he is tempted by Lola and consumerism. Once the TV is turned on, Von Bohm sits in his chair, completely mesmerized by the test image on the screen. He is half-cast in red light while his American housemate walks in and informs him that his American home has 12 more channels than Germany has. Von Bohm lamely tries to come back with a comment about German programming, but the American has gone. Americans are seen as the source of the corrupt capitalism and influx of consumer goods like televisions in Germany, and Von Bohm becomes a quick victim of consumerism. He is not only addicted to his own TV, he also seems rather defensive when the American boasts of his superior television programming, meaning that he will likely purchase whatever is needed to match that when he is able.

No happy endings...

Following their wedding, Von Bohm goes to the barn where he had been previously with Lola. He stands in the same place, out of the reddish light from above, looking outwards. Mariechen, Lola's daughter, climbs up to the loft in much the same way Lola had done. The camera makes the very same circular tracking movement as it had in the moments before Lola and Von Bohm first had sex. Once again, it cuts to show Von Bohm look upwards, cast in the red light. He answers Mariechen, who had asked if he was happy, in the affirmative. In this moment there is a confirmation that nothing in the town has changed; only Von Bohm. Von Bohm has become just like everyone else, cast in red light, and the future looks bleak as well; after all, the young Mariechen is laying in the very same pose, place, and lighting as her mother who has come to embody the problem with the town. Fassbinder ties the ending very closely to history by ending the film with a lingering image of Chancellor Adenauer, further suggesting that the story told is not isolated to the fictional city. Rather, it is symptomatic of all Germany and Adenauer is convicted of perpetuating this sort of society.

Lola is considered one of the finest of Fassbinder's many films.

Lola is considered one of the finest of Fassbinder's many films.

Concluding Thoughts

The film gives a profoundly negative feeling to the recent past and implicates the present by making the child in the film seem just as complicit as the adults. Fassbinder associates immorality with the shortcomings of capitalism that were exposed during the economic miracle. Lola becomes the symbol for the problem despite not necessarily being the source of it. As she says, she adapted to the situation. Fassbinder warns against mere adaptation in the face of immorality by showing that blame gets spread around to everyone. This is a warning one would hope Germany would not need, since this same capitulation can be said to have been responsible for the Nazi takeover in the first place. The film is an artistic achievement in the way it integrates its various narrative and Brechtian aesthetic aspects (none more obtrusive than the lighting) into a coherent thematic message. Moreover, the message is one that was needed. On the other hand, it raises important questions that remain unanswered about who is to blame when the majority fall in line with the corruption of one or a few.


Images of the film and the movie poster are used on the grounds of fair use for instructive purposes.


Arun28 on September 10, 2020:

Nice Analysis! I really liked Fassbinder's grip over style and aesthetics.

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Veronika Voss stands out for me among his films.

Please do check out my take on one of my fav films: Oslo, August 31st

Beata Stasak from Western Australia on June 22, 2013:

Interesting, thanks for sharing:)

Kenneth C Agudo from Tiwi, Philippines on June 20, 2013:

Wonderful and very interesting

Jacob Long (author) from Memphis, TN on May 28, 2013:

Indeed, Fassbinder was really something else. I have been fascinated by his personal life and political views and he seemingly even predicted his own early death. The only good fortune is that he was unbelievably productive in his lifetime so there is much of his work left behind.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

amandajoyshapiro on May 28, 2013:

You present interesting contrasts between the different lighting techniques. I haven't see this film but from how you describe the plot, it sounds a lot like the Broadway play Sweet Charity and its original the Italian film Nights of Cabiria. Wasn't Fassbender ahead of his time?

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