The Third Generation (1979)

How amusing that just the other day I was talking about how sound in film is something I don’t normally pay much attention to, and yet here’s a film where the soundtrack is kind of hard to ignore; the almost overdriven sound of this film is a big part of it, full of background noises and voices, a lot of what seems to be sounds from the television or radio, that sort of thing (parenthetically, would this have been one of the very first films in which a VCR featured prominently?). There’s just so damn much of it that even I had to notice it. The story this background noise underscores is about terrorism, which was, of course, the hot topic in Germany at that end of the 1970s thanks to the activities of the RAF/Baader-Meinhof mob; Brian Gibson’s commentary on the Madman DVD often talks about play-acting, and that’s kind of what Fassbinder’s characters are doing (Gibson uses the scene where they break into a government building in “gangster” clothes as an illustration; cf. also the climactic kidnapping and the scenes of disguising themselves to escape capture—oy, some of that “facial hair”!—play-acting at being different people, “I’m not Edgar any more”)… they’re not “real” terrorists, they just think they are. And, unbeknownst to them, they’re being underwritten by a figure who they adopt as their target at the end, a corporate boss who needs them to commit some atrocity to try and boost his own business in selling computers. This was a hard film for me to get a grip on at first cos the cast of characters is so large and not easily kept track of; however, the rather black vision at the heart of it—of terrorism essentially being co-opted by the powers that be to prop up their own existence—makes it an interesting watch, and, obviously, the relevance of the subject hasn’t lessened any in the last decade…

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