A few weeks ago, I watched The Tenderness of Wolves, which bears the credit "Directed by Ulli Lommel" (or the German equivalent). I find this to be a curious credit, for a few reasons. One is that the film was produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder -- so produced by him, in fact, that he goes all the way to "presenting" it, too -- and features many members of his regular cast, such as Kurt Raab, El Hedi ben Salem, Irm Hermann, and others. Also, it looks just like a Fassbinder film, with its deceptively plain and casual camerawork, colors that are drab except when they're not, and so on. Further, while I haven't seen any other Ulli Lommel films, I did see a trailer for his movie Curse of the Zodiac, which looks like it was shot on camcorder by Jess Franco, when he was doing image tests in order to get Snake Woman just right.
I realize that all of this means less than nothing, but there are a couple of other clues that, while also meaning nothing in themselves, contribute to my belief that maybe Fassbinder was behind the camera during shooting of The Tenderness of Wolves more than anybody is letting on. One bit of evidence is nothing, a mere trifle: on the DVD commentary track, which Lommel shares with Willim Lustig, Lommel says, over a particular shot, "Isn't that a beautiful shot?" Now, yes, he could very well be tooting his own horn, but the tone in which he says it makes it sound more like he was admiring someone else's work. The cinematographer, Jürgen Jürges's work, quite possibly, though I don't remember him being mentioned.
Meaningless, I know. But early on, when Lommel is explaining how the film came about, he says that Kurt Raab was fascinated by the film's subject, serial killer Fritz Haarmann, and through German tax shelter/film funding laws, Fassbinder had a surplus of cash, and wanted to make a movie fast. Raab pitched the idea to him, but Fassbinder demured, saying the material was "too controversial", and took the producing position instead, passing the directing reins off to Lommel. And I'm sorry, but when did Fassbinder ever give a shit about appearing too controversial? I'm hardly an expert on the man, but it has always seemed to me that Fassbinder always made precisely the kind of movie he felt like making, controversy be damned, and, in fact, knowlingly courted that kind of reaction not a few times. So why in the world would this material suddenly make him blanch?
Of course, there is precedent for this sort of thing in Fassbinder's career, although going the other way. Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is credited to two directors: Fassbinder and Michael Fengler. However, I've been told by people more educated than I that Fengler really was the director on that film, and Fassbinder was happy to co-write the script and then occupy the sidelines. And that film, even if it was helmed solely by Fengler, looks and feels exactly like a Fassbinder movie, as well.
So who knows? I don't, but do any of you?. It's curious, and is made even more so when I think that a case could probably be made that Raab directed the damn thing himself.