"Who needs the revolution?" asks Rainer Werner Fassbinder, his black-jacketed back to the camera, in a stark Antiteater tableaux against a red brick wall. The people, of course, and in this early call-for-arms curio, co-directed for German TV with Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? pal Michael Fengler, Fassbinder mines a feudal past for present-tense guerilla fare -- for him, as for Godard and Glauber Rocha around the same period, the possibility of revolution still throbbed. Ostensibly set in the 15th-century, the story follows a hippiefied shepherd (Michael König) who claims visions of the Madonna, rallies up the masses (or at least a bunch of Fassbinder axioms, including Hanna Schygulla, Günther Kaufmann, Margit Cartensen) against an epicenely oppressive ruler, and gets crucified and burned for his trouble. Bourgeois lucidity is the first casualty of the movie's recklessly anachronistic agit-prop, so that the rehearsal of a Virgin Mary soliloquy gets interrupted by news of the killing of Black Panthers founder Fred Hampton, the shaggy Messiah caps an al fresco sermon with a fervid "Long live Lenin, smash fascism!" and the conceptual audacity of the director's camera movements far outweighs the resources of cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann. In his most explicitly politicized (though far from best) film, Fassbinder suggests a temporal continuum of thwarted upheaval that can only be addressed (and, thus, confronted) by way of frontal artistic attack -- or, as one of the languid sleepwalkers in the opening sequence puts it, "agitation through instruction and militant example." With Kurt Raab.
--- Fernando F. Croce