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Jail Bait (Wildwechsel)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Jail Bait, which had its U.S. Premiere as part of our Spring 1976 Fassbinder Retrospective, is a relatively neglected major work from the height of the director's career, made between The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. The text is based on a play by a leading German dramatist, Franz Xaver Kroetz, but the end result is pure Fassbinder - so much so that the original author publicly denounced the film's attitude toward his characters as “obscene.” The story is about a 19-year-old leftover from the James Dean era who “seduces” an underage 14-year-old girl. The hopelessly infatuated boyfriend finds himself shoved into a life of crime - first a jail stretch for corrupting a minor, then a gruesome plan to murder the girl's wildly disapproving father. As the teenage charmer, actress Eva Mattes is not quite what one would expect - bovine, placidly playing with dolls, guns and penises; built more along the lines of Mae West than Patty McCormack. Many European critics interpreted Jail Bait as a social protest film on the generation gap, but this is another typically over-literal misreading of Fassbinder, who creates here a very disturbing combination of a Paul Anka-style ballad of teenage anguish (“You Are My Destiny”) and a Badlands- ish case history of murderous banality.

This page may by only partially complete. For additional information about this film, view the original entry on our archived site.