Although he joined the enduring if highly troubled band following the extremely difficult but equally gifted German film master Rainer Werner Fassbinder fairly late in the game, Spengler made an indelible mark as actor in several key films. A tall and typically lumpy man with small, beady eyes and perennially tousled hair, Spengler first worked for Fassbinder in 1976. He made an immediate impression as part of a sinister mother-and-son team of caretakers hovering about the tight web of lovers peopling the artful "Chinese Roulette." That same year, Spengler also shone in a Renfield-like turn as the bug-eating, breast-grabbing, mentally retarded brother-in-law in the kinky and absurdist sex farce "Satan's Brew."
Spengler has often played characters who never seem quite at home with their bodies. He has displayed a high-energy, outlandish performance style, sometimes broad, but invariably striking. His parts in some later Fassbinders ("Lili Marleen" 1981, "Veronika Voss" 1982) have been small, but as a variety of weird, perverse types, often knocked about by fate or the cruelty of others, he has been at once vividly stylized and surprisingly realistic. Spengler also earned screen credits scouting locations and doing art direction for several films. He was part of an excellent company in one of Fassbinder's most intelligent films, "The Third Generation" (1979), as one of the neurotic, unfocused middle-class protagonists who become terrorist guerrillas. Best of all, Spengler gave an outstanding tour de force performance, incorporating all the aspects of his Fassbinder-shaped screen persona, in one of the master's most personal and startling films, "In a Year of 13 Moons" (1979). As Elvira (formerly Erwin), Spengler beautifully pulled off the bizarre but moving saga of a man who has had a sex-change operation in an attempt to hold onto his male lover. That same year, another powerfully idiosyncratic directorial voice, Ulrike Ottinger, also had him cross-dressing for her "Ticket of No Return."
Spengler continuing appearing regularly in Fassbinder's films through the director's last, "Querelle" (1982; with Spengler as one of the bystanding Armenians). Since then, Spengler has worked only intermittently in films, appearing as a Soviet agent in the wacky "Peng! du bist tot!/Bang! You're Dead" (1987) and performing in minor cult director Christian Schlingensief's satirical spoof, "The German Chainsaw Massacre" (1991). His outsize qualities and penchant for bleak humor and melodrama later led Spengler to be cast as Nazi Hermann Goering in the grim international co-production "The Ogre" (1996).
Cast (Feature Film)
Art Director (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
First films for filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, "Chinese Roulette" and "Satansbraten/Satan's Brew"
Received credit for art direction in Fassbinder's "The Third Generation"; also played a role
Last collaboration with Fassbinder, "Querelle", which was also Fassbinder's last film
Appeared in the German TV miniseries "Bismarck"
First major film role in seven years, played Hermann Goering in "The Ogre"