If there's one thing that really bothers me about Fassbinder's history is how boggled his film chronology is. For someone who improved at such a consistent rate, it's really annoying in the case of his first 11 "anti-theater" films, that no one seems to know what order they came in.
According to the information on the recent DVD issue of this movie, "Pioneers" is the last of those first 11. Now, I could have sworn that "Beware of a Holy Whore" was Fassbinder's 11th film (which would make more sense, given that movie's self-reflexive 'biting the hand that feeds you' nature). Alas, maybe this one is number 11.
On a technical level, this is very much "early Fassbinder", which is best evidenced by Dietrich Lohmann's early cinematography. When working with Michael Ballhaus, Fassbinder was able to have his camera swoop around his characters. Even if they still weren't doing anything, it at least gave some external feel to the movie. Dietrich Lohmann is the polar opposite. He just points the camera, and occasionally pans it, as in one seen that pans back and forth between two characters talking for about 5 minutes. Fassbinder always loved long takes, and always liked giving a theatrical look to his movies, especially the early ones. Michael Ballhaus was able to nail this, but Lohmann's camera work always seemed a bit amateur. It worked great in "Effi Briest", and certain scenes of "Merchant of Four Seasons" and "American Soldier", but I can see why Michael Ballhaus slowly became Fassbinder's preferred camera man going into the mid-'70s.
That said, this movie is also indicative of Fassbinder's early career in that is stars seedy low lives. Before, he usually used gangsters, here he uses whores and bored, drunken soldiers (or 'pioneers'). They sit and drink and do typical Fassbinder stuff (occasionally have sex, occasionally beat someone up). There's some plot here and there. It definitely gives you what you're looking for when renting a Fassbinder movie, but certain scenes had a Fassbinder-by-numbers quality. In one of the final scenes, Hanna Schylla starts chasing after the morally bankrupt guy she's fallen in love with. I said under my breath "she's going to trip and fall and start to cry". I was right. Maybe I've seen too many Fassbinder movies, or maybe Fassbinder was treading a bit too much water with this one.
Like I said, this movie does the trick if you're looking for a Fassbinder fix, and in that, I have to commend it. It's just a movie best reserved for the devoted fans.
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