Martha (1974)

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Released 12-Mar-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-by Dr. Adrian Martin, Senior Research Fellow at Monash Uni.
Interviews-Cast-The Sadist's Smile: an interview with Karlheinz Boehm
Booklet-an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum, film critic
Theatrical Trailer-Trailer for the 1995 theatrical re-release
Trailer-The American Friend
Trailer-The Child
Trailer-The Science of Sleep
Trailer-Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 111:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (71:20) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Madman Entertainment
Starring Margit Carstensen
Karlheinz Böhm
Barbara Valentin
Peter Chatel
Gisela Fackeldey
Adrian Hoven
Ortrud Beginnen
Wolfgang Schenck
Günter Lamprecht
El Hedi ben Salem
Rudolf Lenz
Kurt Raab
Elma Karlowa
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI Box Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame German Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes, Minimal throughout the film
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

        For those of you who are familiar with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's movies, you would no doubt know that he was a huge fan of Douglas Sirk's melodramatic films for Universal Pictures in the 1950s (Magnificent Obsession, All that Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, Imitation of Life to name a few). Fassbinder's homage to Sirk can be seen in Martha when the main character, Martha (played by Margit Carstensen) quotes an address at the beginning of the film as being on "Douglas Sirk Street". In the screenplay, Martha's last name is given as 'Hyer', the surname of a minor character in Sirk's last film for Universal, Imitation of Life. Where Fassbinder's homage to Sirk's work differs is in the endings, Sirk films all ended on a happy note or an act of redemption or reconciliation. Fassbinder's films however are all tragedies, the only happy characters in a Fassbinder film are the ones ignorant of the bad news that's coming or going on around them.

        Martha also stars Karlheinz Boehm, famous for his lead role in the misunderstood psychological thriller by Michael Powell, Peeping Tom. This film was savaged critically in 1960, today it has been re-evaluated as been ahead of its time, especially in the way that Boehm portrays the main character, Mark Lewis, as a sadistic person who somehow draws empathy for his character from the audience because of his upbringing. This may be why audiences were so upset in 1960, no-one wants to empathise with someone who wilfully hurts other people, either on a conscious or subconscious level. In Martha Boehm plays Helmut Salomon, a successful dam engineer and builder. He likewise is a methodical person and also sadistic in the way he controls Martha through his psychological manipulations and his implied violent, sexual behaviour. Be warned, there is no let-up in Boehm's performance, he is coldly manipulative until the end, (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) to the point that Martha is convinced that Helmut loves her yet wants to possibly kill her.

        In the end Fassbinder and Carstensen differed in their views on the outcome of Martha's marriage to Helmut. Fassbinder argued that Martha got what she wanted, a masochistic relationship, reliant upon a domineering power-hungry man, Carstensen felt that Martha becomes resigned to Helmut's manipulative display of love. Either way, this is no Douglas Sirk redemptive tale, yet it is melodramatic all the way.

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Transfer Quality


    This film was made specifically for a television release. It was shot with 16mm cameras, as a result the transfer is slightly soft and at times grainy.

    The aspect ratio is 1:33:1, the standard aspect ratio that Fassbinder used prior to his 'international' period in the late 1970s (the time when he made pictures with bigger budgets).

    The film's image is also blurry in places, again this may have been a deliberate creative decision as the cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, is a well-known director of photography who went on to do significant films with Martin Scorsese (e.g. The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York and The Departed).

    Colour is vibrant, however, it looks as though the film has the same transfer that was restored by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation found in other region releases around the world.

    There are no compression issues as the film takes up about 6 gb of disc space on the DVD with an average bitrate of 7.45 m/b per sec. There are some very minor artefacts that pop-up briefly from time-to-time. For a film that was a television release from the mid-1970s, this transfer is outstanding overall, the only significant artefacts I noticed was a white artefact at 4:36, some telecine wobble at 20:33 and a black line across the image at 37:47.

    Subtitles are optional, but they are a bold yellow colour, a softer yellow colour would have been better.

    The RSDL change if occurs at 71:20 during a scene change that fades to black so there is no noticeable interruption to the viewing of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sound quality is very good, there is no discernible hiss or distortion of audio.

    There are two audio tracks. One is the main soundtrack, a German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track encoded at 224 kbps and the other is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio commentary also encoded at 224kbps.

    Dialogue is clear throughout, there are no audio synchronisation issues present.

    Music is used very sparingly. There are some classical music pieces used by Max Bruch, Gaetano Donizetti and Orlando di Lasso. The romantic era piece by Bruch is interwoven throughout the film, it sounds deliberately discordant in relation to the visual imagery of mental domestic abuse which best summarises Helmut's and Martha's marriage. Fassbinder uses this effect consistently in his body of work, there are numerous examples of his use of using music to heighten the melodrama of a scene in many of his films.

    As this is presented with the original German mono track, there is no surround channel usage from the speakers.

    The Subwoofer is also not utilised.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary by Dr. Adrian Martin, Senior Research Fellow, Film & Television Studies, Monash University and Co-editor of Rouge film magazine,

    Dr. Martin provides another informative, well-researched commentary on the background to the production as well as providing an analysis of key scenes from the film. He also mentions subtle aspects of the film that are easily missed, for example, Fassbinder's use of mirrors copied from Sirk, a psychological analysis behind the actions of Martha in relation to other key characters, the choreography of movement from the actors in certain scenes to fill the frame of the camera and some insightful observations behind the actions of Helmut and his motivations for being so cold and manipulative. Dr. Martin's commentary is an excellent addition to a viewer's enjoyment and understanding of the movie.

Interviews-Cast- The Sadist's Smile: an interview with Karlheinz Boehm (19.20)

    This is an engaging discussion with Karlheinz Boehm on a number of topics, ranging from his film roles in the 1950s, his work on Peeping Tom and the the influence of Fassbinder on his career. He shares how easily he worked with Margit Carstensen and how he enjoyed that work. This interview is a good addition as an extra but I would have liked Madman Entertainment to have included the interview with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus that is found on other regional releases also.

Booklet - Martha: Fassbinder's Uneasy testament, an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum, film critic for the Chicago Reader (1987-2007)

    Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay emphasises the sadistic and masochistic nature of the film and the lack of empathy or compassion towards the main characters' motivations means that the film leaves us with a lot of questions at the end. He argues that this was Fassbinder's intention, Carstensen gives her best performance in a Fassbinder film, Rosenbaum argues, because we can't say how much of her behaviour is due to willingly being a victim. The essay enhances the film in the same way Dr.Martin's commentary does, by being insightful and prompting questions from the audience.

Theatrical Trailer (0:44)

     This trailer is short, containing an image of Fassbinder and some intertitles with a voiceover narrative. This was prepared for the 1995 theatrical re-release of the film as the movie was unavailable for 20 years due to copyright disputes with a story by Cornell Woolrich from 1968, For The Rest of her Life.

Trailer (3:28)

     A Directors Suite trailer for The American Friend by Wim Wenders. This film was adapted from the novel Ripley's Game.

Trailer (1:29)

     A Directors Suite trailer for The Child by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Trailer (2:26)

     A Directors Suite trailer for The Science of Sleep by Michel Gondry.

Trailer (2:00)

     A Directors Suite trailer for Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story by Michael Winterbottom.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

        This film, unlike the first film in the On Melodrama box set from Madman Entertainment's Directors Suite label, Effi Briest, has tended to be released by itself in other regions. This may be because of the fact that the film was unavailable for 20 years due to the legal disputes with Cornell Woolrich's estate. The theatrical re-release in 1995 means Martha may be a Fassbinder work that is more familiar with cineastes than other films by Fassbinder. In summary Martha is presented:

    In Region 1 (USA) as a standalone release with a booklet containing the essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum and a documentary on Fassbinder entitled Fassbinder in Hollywood.

    In Region 2 (The Netherlands) as a single release with the film Fear of Fear and a 19-minute interview with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.

    In Region 2 (United Kingdom) as part of a box set with the films Lola and Why does Herr r. Run Amok? This box set includes the same documentary found in Region 1, the interview with Michael Ballhaus and the interview found on the Region 4 release with actor Karlheinz Boehm.

    In Region 2 (Germany) as a standalone release with the same extras as found on the Region 2 release in The Netherlands, namely the film Fear of Fear and the interview with Michael Ballhaus.

    In Region 4 (Australia) with an expert audio commentary and a booklet. All the releases use the restored master transfer undertaken by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation. In my opinion, as the Region 4 release contains the Fassbinder documentary in the box set (found on the third disc on the film Fear of Fear) and the interview with Karlheinz Boehm, yet despite lacking the interview with Michael Ballhaus it contains an expert audio commentary by Dr. Martin which makes the Region 4 release the optimal choice for fans of Fassbinder's cinema.


    This film may be the twin of the first film in the On Melodrama box set by the Madman label, Directors Suite (i.e. Effi Briest) but it is nowhere near as subtle. It has been presented in a fine package for region 4 and is comes recommended for collectors and film fans familiar with Rainer Werner Fassbinder or the New German Cinema movement of the 1970s.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Monday, April 20, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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