In stranglehold the German ?lm industry. The earliest

In
the years following the Second World War, understandably, inquisitive questions
concerning Germany’s recent past were mostly ignored. Public visions of their national
past were largely overshadowed by the fascist regime, the violence and
resulting surrender. In the post-war years Germany struggled to come to terms
with their country’s destruction but the culture and politics of the late 1950s
and early 1960s were to confront this order. Cinema was to play its part in the
response to the upheavals and disorder caused to their country and their society. 

 

German ?lm was hampered after the Second World War, as Rentschler noted,
‘Goebbels’s policies and Allied interventions in equal measure would bear
responsibility for the sorry state of post-war German ?lm culture, its
undeniable local and limited character’ (Rentschler, ‘Germany: Nazism and
after, p.381).  At the end of war the
western Allies had boosted their effort to re-educate and ‘denazify’ the German
people.  American films were employed as
an effective way of delivering ideas of democracy, freedom and capitalist
enterprise.  This programme led to
American producers having a stranglehold the German ?lm industry.  The earliest home-grown post-war productions in
Germany were termed Trümmerfilm (‘rubble film’). These films primarily reflected
life in the desolated Germany, with it’s both difficult and critical subject
matter.  The films delivered an initial
reaction to the events of the Nazi period to the extent of displaying documentary
footage from liberated concentration camps. Wolfgang Staudte’s Die Mörder
sind unter uns (The Murderers
Are Among Us) (1946) was the ?rst post-war German ?lm to address the
immediate past, presenting the sense of the social dislocation in the repercussion
of war, calls for justice and uncertainty about the present.  Yet, by the 1950s this attempt to tackle
Germany’s recent history was disappearing and the role of film moved to
entertainment.  The genre of the period that
was most defining was accurately summarized by Heimatfilm (‘homeland
film’), which depicted morally basic, romantic clichéd tales of love and family
set tranquil rural locations.  The films presented
an escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life and dodged the recent history of
war or existing concerns about post-war reconstruction. 

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In 1962 against this background, a new generation of German
filmmakers signed the Oberhausen Manifesto openly declaring the desire to break
with what was termed ‘papas kino’ to
pave the way a new film language in a subsidized, non-commercial ‘New German
Cinema’.  For these young, innovative,
and politically radical directors the sober standards of ‘old cinema’ output
was tainted and a deliberate denial of the realities of contemporary German
life.  Their intention was to produce
independent and artistically challenging political films that informed the
people on modern-day issues; the materialism of post-war society, the morality
of the bourgeoisie, and the moral disaster of the Nazi legacy’ (Flinn,
2004).  For many the new films were a
representing to the outside world that the country was attempting to come to
terms with its past, and that the new Germany was different from the Nazi
state. Most importantly, the directors showed contempt towards the philosophy
of ‘artistry’ and ‘entertainment’. They wanted their films to provide audiences
with a current of philosophical notions to confront the established order. However,
the movement’s anti-authoritarian nature did not find favor with the majority
of audiences.

 

However, the discussion internally of German history now seemed
ready to be debated. German ‘?lmmakers and their audiences felt able to deal
with representations of their own country’ (Kaes, 1997).  In Kluge’s Yesterday Girl (1966) the main character Anita, struggles in the
absence of social and material stability. 
Kluge film supports the idea that Germany has a catastrophic and unhappy
history; an implicit truth that was shaping the country’s unresolved post-war
understanding.  In the film Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) Herzog
presents a take-off of colonialism. The film offers the viewer a portrait of
obsession and insanity, showing parallels with Germany’s fascist past.  The search for riches and quest of power prove
to be a false, unattainable fantasy similar to Hitler’s own deluded
ambitions.  Whist the ?rst new post-war
?lmmakers of the New German Cinema took their inspirations and concerns more from
the recent past, other ?lmmakers were becoming interested in a critical analysis
of contemporary German history.  The New
German Cinema of the late 1960s and 1970s was progressive in its outlook with a
view on the current and future political developments.

 

A collaborative effort of nine ?lmmakers including Fassbinder,
Herzog, and Wenders went towards the creation of the New German Cinema. They
wanted to create smaller, more independent and artistic films to explore modern
Germany (Schlöndorff and von Trotta’s The
Lost Honor of Katherine Blum) and to tackle the Nazi past (Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and
Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum). One
particular production, Deutschland im
Herbst/Germany in Autumn (1978), was a film that confronted Germans to remember
and deal with the connection between the Federal Republic and Nazi Germany. The
film was part of a backlash against the new Federal Republic of Germany. One of
the contributors, Fassbinder, brought elements of remembrance and facing the
past of Germany’s post-war history and his assessment of the beginning of the
Federal Republic. Elsaesser states that Fassbinder had ‘an urge to document the
nation’s life on the grand scale’ (Elsaesser, 1996) and his trilogy ‘BRD’
(Bundesrepublik Deutschland) delivered a critical view of the political status
quo and a worrying sense of continuity.  The
film recognized that the new Germany was still deeply entangled in its fascist
past. Fassbinder used the film The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) to symbolically represent the problems of the
early years of the Federal Republic.  The
production tells a story of a woman picking herself
up from the lows of her life and putting aside her morality in her attempt to survive the dif?cult post-war years and achieve
material wealth. Fassbinder uses the film as a symbolic
attack on Germany’s
desperation to forget its past and ridicules the
revitalization economic programme
during the 1950s. The film depicts an abusive and emotionally empty world of materialism.  The film
is a human metaphor, she fails to look
to German culture to support its renewal but in the search for success, she becomes
someone else. It is as though these German ?lmmakers felt that Germany had sold
its soul with overzealous ‘Americanisation’. The discussion
of the post-war reconstruction and the long-term effect of America’s involvement in Germany, and the tackling
of its Nazi past through a metaphor was to become a familiar theme
in German film.

 

The post-war national cinema of Germany tackled the deep concerns
with questions of their troubled national identity. The ?lmmakers of the New
German Cinema explored the relationship of historical, cultural, social, and political
issues through a process of commemoration. 
Their films were a product of the way in which concerns within the
country’s society shifted during the both 1960s and 1970s. They constructed
important questions about their country’s self-understanding in the post-war
era and discussed the past, not as a tradition to be preserved, but as a place
for examination. New German Cinema had brought directors who together shared a political
conviction, yet were artistically distinct with different interests, and each one
had their own style that were individual to their own films. The techniques of
the films created in New German Cinema were artistic unalike but they shared an
examination of German history in a very similar way.