Whity (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1971)

A couple of days ago I came across this one. I remember sometime last year I read in Bruckner’s book about this movie and I couldn’t believe Fassbinder did a western. Now I found it on a reduced price DVD rummage table - and bought it.

Of course it’s more a family story in western clothes than a regular duster, but nevertheless I bought it and I WILL watch it!

How about you, do you know this one?

I have this too but have not yet watched it. I know the fellow who owns Fantoma (the DVD company that released this in the US) and I got it to me for free.
Not surprisingly, it looks very strange.

In a somewhat related note (regarding another Fassbinder film I have not seen): Beware Of A Holy Whore is supposed to be about a film crew who are basically stuck in a seaside Spanish town trying to make a movie whose funding is interrupeted. Wonder if it was a Spaghetti western they were making… ;D

I think they did “once upon a time in the west”.

Heeheeeee. :slight_smile:

Just curious…has anyone seen this one and any thoughts on the film ?

I saw a lot of Fassbinders … some 35 years ago
No idea if I saw this one

I have to wath it then…

I wrote something about it:

Original title: Whity

Year: 1971
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Günther Kaufmann
Ron Randell
Hanna Schygulla
Katrin Schaake
Harry Baer
Ulli Lommel
Tomás Martín Blanco
Stefano Capriati
Elaine Baker
Mark Salvage
Helga Ballhaus
Kurt Raab

It’s 1878.Whithy serves as a butler in the Nicholson Mansion somewhere in the west. He’s the illegitimate son of Master Ben Nicholson and the black housekeeper. The other inhabitants of the mansion are Katherine, Ben’s second wife, and the sons Davy, a lunatic, and Frank, a homosexual psycho. Whity is a devote employee and bears all the insults and injuries obediently. He has also got a kind of girlfriend in the town, a singer and prostitute, who wants Whity to get away from this decadent family. Each member of this clan - except for the mentally limited Davy – cabals against the others and wants Whity to be the loyal assistant. Eventually Whity revolts against this rotting kin calmly shooting one after another. In doing so he strangely accomplishes the different killings his masters commanded. In the end he’s free – somehow.

This western is one of the best, one of the worst and no western at all.

Of course “Whity” is quite a bad western ignoring all the conventions of the genre. You can say, that it simply is a typical Fassbinder drama about the abysses of the soul and the social inabilities of man – Anti-theatre spaghetti-style. The actors fit well into this story, most of them are the usual suspects (Lommel, Schygulla). Kaufmann gives a solid performance as the bastard son.
Nevertheless it’s more than this. Whity is the first collaboration of Fassbinder and “his” director of photography Ballhaus. His pictures are the fascinating part of the movie adding an epic quality to the calm family portrait. Those sequences got an almost Leonesque quality. Unfortunately the story as un-Leonesque as possible. With an adequate plot – even if it was the lamest revenge plot you can imagine – this would have been a really good spaghetti, since Fassbinder was a really good filmmaker and Ballhaus still happens to be a league of its own.

Bit this is just dreaming – the flick as it exists calls for the ff-button on some occasions.

[font=arial][size=2]A slow and delibrate sort of pace film which is full of sexual desires and tension. I was more interested looking at the sets which at times seemed to have nothing out of place. The camera lingered on irrelevant things to me at times like unusual looking childrens dolls and exotic looking items.[/size][/font]

Fassbinder conveying his typical themes in a stylistically Leonesque film,

*** For people who haven’t seen the film I recommend to skip the first part of the comment and to start reading right at - The Style -, the stuff before that contains spoilers. ***

What’s noteworthy is how much more this relatively early Fassbinder has in common with his later films such as the BRD trilogy than with anything he did before. For example the fact that the main character is trying to integrate into a family/society against all odds, with fatal consequences. Not only do those families/societies reject the main characters of the RWF films in question, but those systems turn out to be miserable and integration into them turn out to be undesirable. The propagated Weltanschauung is downright pessimistic, with no realistic hope anywhere in sight.

So the movie’s title character Whity is trying to integrate, even to the point of lacking much of a personality. He doesn’t care if he is black or white, or even straight or gay, he just wants to be a part of something that is bigger that himself.

  • The Themes -

Interestingly the film doesn’t seem to be much concerned with racial issues. I don’t see Whity to be representative of the black man in America, but rather it uses a black man in the West as an example of slavery and a man who tries to integrate into a system that doesn’t want him for superimposed reasons, all the while he is more competent than most other people around him.

The (white) members of the Nicholson family all have makeup that makes them look sickly pale, which could be to empathize those people’s degeneration, compared to Whity. They are free, he is not, they have power, he hasn’t, purely because of superficial reasons and not because they are actually stronger.

What’s also important is the capitalism versus love theme. In the family everyone is ridden by greed, money is their biggest concern and this reflects their decadence. Whity doesn’t have much desires at all, he is the best example of happiness in slavery. He doesn’t know a better life, so he is satisfied with his position. That was until he found love. It’s partly through this love that he realizes the degenerated state of his family (the Nicholsons) and it’s love that is enough of a substitute that it makes him want to radically leave behind his family in the end.

But the movie doesn’t give a solution for Whity’s tragic situation, in the end he leaves the system that he fought to be a part of all along, just to go into the vastness of the desert (a non-system, if you will, a place where money and power doesn’t matter), just to die, suggesting that there in fact is no solution, other than death. This is why I find the film to be extremely pessimistic. Whity has found love, but not only is it not considered a solution, but it implies that there is none, by Whity consciously deciding to end his life, basically.

  • The Style -

As for the style, obviously the film is much more inspired by Spaghetti Westerns than by American ones, which starts with the opening credits with the names flying towards the audience, and continues with the intentionally slow-paced nature of the film, its melancholic atmosphere, and the exaggerated ambient sound. In fact, it’s directly reminiscent of Leone, but the big difference is the small scale of RWF’s film. I found the slow pace more tedious than anything else. It’s too much of an imitation and not enough its own thing.

As good as Ballhaus’ camera work is on its own, the concept of frozen subjects captured in fluid images doesn’t work well if there is little (appropriate) content to back it up, not to mention that this is pretty much the opposite of Leone’s cinematography, which is mostly rigid camera where even the smallest protagonist movement looks epic. If Leone’s camera moves it is to follow the protagonist, not to pan to another protagonist. He fearlessly employed a cut to show another character, which made every character the star of his own shot.

  • The Resume -

Although the film certainly isn’t devoid of appealing themes, the way it is I can’t say that it tells an interesting story. Apart from Whity all the characters are just too empty, they are just pawns in Whity’s story, which wouldn’t be as bad if there weren’t so many scenes in which he isn’t much more than a spectator or isn’t even present.

As implied before, the content simply doesn’t lend itself to a Leonesque Western. A Leone Western lends itself to strangers being unpredictable, danger-laden atmosphere and situations, and gunslinging, it doesn’t lend itself to internal family affairs, everyday life and character studies. I would consider ‘Whity’ a failed experiment, Fassbinder’s story-telling sensibilities combined with an imitation of Leone’s style is a system into which integration is undesirable.

Here’s the film’s page:


I think the above comments by Dillinger and Systematicer give you a good introduction to the film’s world.