994 (129). Menschen am Sonntag People on Sunday (1930, Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Fred Zinnemann)

Screened January 19 2010 on BFI DVD rip downloaded from the website that dare not speak its name in Los Angeles, CA TSPDT Rank #984  IMDb Wiki


"A film without actors" reads the subtitle of this title card. You have to think about what a concept like that meant back in 1930 Germany, why it would be perceived as a selling point instead of a drawback. A desire to get away from the excesses of Weimar Expressionism (Caligari, Metropolis, Murnau) whose overt theatricality and expensively staged, light-and-shadow spectacle were perceived as out of touch with the reality of Germany. All the better for a band of up-and-coming German filmmakers to make a distinguishing statement for themselves. Ulmer, Zimmerman, Siodmark, Wilder, Schüfftan (whose pioneering work in special effects seems antithetical to the spirit of this particular production): no one at the time could have imagined what a dream team of legendary talent this would prove to be. (My deranged mind summons this as a contemporary hip-hop equivalent)


Wilder's silent dialogue screenplay doesn't give much indication of the verbal brilliance that would grace his future scripts; but the story, basically chronicling how two guys pick up and dump a couple of girls on a weekend tryst, does give a whiff of his trademark cynicism. The story, such as it is, was based on "reportage" by Robert Siodmark (I can see it now; Siodmark telling Wilder, "I know this guy...")

In the opening montage that introduces the main characters, Schüfftan's way of framing people flirts with the Soviet propaganda style, shooting ordinary working folk in a statuesque, heroic manner, like cab driver Erwin Splettstsser:


But when he gets around to the Erwin's friend Wolfgang von Waltershausen, an "officer, farmer, antique dealer, gigolo, wine trader..." the staging and lighting is less flattering:

officer, farmer, antique dealer,
gigolo, wine trade


One also might wonder if the multiple job labels appended to Wolfgang signify him as a Berlin Everyman, in that there's a shadiness in men of all stations, which makes them less inconographic and more complicated - and thus more real - than their Soviet onscreen counterparts.

When we get to Erwin's galpal Annie, an unemployed model who lounges all day in their apartment, we are back in the realm of G.W. Pabst/Louise Brooks decadence, though made less sensationalistic and more quotidian - she's less the symbol of Weimar moral depravation as just a girl killing time picking her fingernails, waiting for a job but too lazy/depressed to go and find it.


The plot kicks off at a bus stop with Christl, introduced as a real life movie extra - her casting as a lead here may be a conscious inversion of the pecking order of actors. Wolfgang picks her up and makes a date in this shot, shot in a telephoto on a bustling street with real pedestrians and presumably a real police officer who doesn't know he's being filmed.


It's a verite technique that (permits be damned) continues to this day, so long as the desire for street realism persists. The first time I was ever conscious of it was when Siskel and Ebert pointed it out in their review of Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies:


For an outstanding present-day example of this technique, check out Bradley Rust Gray's The Exploding Girl, which will be released this spring in the US. (The film's street cinematography is highly influenced by Hou Hsiao Hsien's use of the technique in Cafe Lumiere).

This is just one of several strategies used by the film to infuse its wisp of a narrative with a real-time, real-world immediacy and texture. Aside from cinematography, there's also montages of street shots that break in between scenes involving the main characters, as if to say, this story is just one plucked from the many people and experiences happening now. The montages also provide invaluable incidental details on Berlin circa 1930: how people got around (trolleys, cars), how streets looked:


But again, realism in narrative cinema isn't just a matter of shooting everyday streets and scenarios and leaving it up to whatever happens to pass in front of the camera, at least as far as this film is concerned. There's a distinct craft on display. All the technical resourcefulness and attentive eyes that blessed German filmmaking of this period is now trained not on outsized spectacle or melodrama but on capturing, staging and conveying an unmistakable impression of the real, and making it feel effortless and incidental. This paradoxical effort truly comes through in the scene where Edwin comes back home to find Annie lounging. Their mutual sense of malaise slowly simmers through a series of mundane actions that erupt into a shared tirade. Count how many shots are used in this sequence, moving deftly across the room, moving ever tighter, as if the walls were closing in as surely as that incessant dripping of the faucet:

At last, to get at each other's goat, they tear down a wall's worth of matinee idol lobby cards (actresses for him; actors for her), an arresting image and yet another dig at the wall of conventional moviemaking that this film attempts to undermine - as if all these fantasy images were symptomatic of the self-oppression and alienation from reality that may be plaguing this couple (and really, how far have we come?). But before they can really have it out, Wolfgang waltzes in and the buddies pick up a game of cards, leaving Annie looking on helplessly. We get one devastating close-up before the camera recedes from this tomb-like chamber of discord.



The next day Wolfgang and Erwin meet up with Christl and her friend Brigitte, a salesgirl, for a jaunt to Nikolassee, a grand park and recreation area on the outskirts of Berlin. In this extended passage the film is a world away from the tightly rendered naturalism of Erwin's apartment, and indulges in a series of bold ventures in alternative narrative cinema. To set things up there's a titillating sequence where the youngsters awkwardly undress, hiding in the rushes along a river.


Later on they picnic in a nearby spot, engaging in some jocularity leading to Erwin getting playfully spanked. This triggers a jarring jump to a scene of schoolboys spanking each other. Is it a cutaway to some other part of Berlin where this is happening? Is it a flashback to Erwin's school days?


This leads to an idyllic passage that roams the park landscape ripe with families picnicking with naked babies frolicking on the sunny grass - the film seems to be moving intuitively through a series of moods and associations of gaiety and youthful innocence...


But as the sun-drenched visuals continue, a sense of afternoon languor starts to creep in: the shots move back to the city, baking in the midday heat. Adults slump on park benches or slouch over windowsills. The montage comes to a rest back in the apartment of Annie, finding her sleeping:


And then leaps back to the park, where we find our party similarly resting in the sun. At least Erwin is behaving himself so far from his girl's sight, though that leaves Wolfgang to casually lay his paws on both girls at once:



Another vaguely associative cut, jumping back to the city and the shot of a mannequin in lingerie basking in the harsh shadows of late afternoon - seductive yet strangely deathly in its inertness. The death theme creeps in further as the montage shifts to shots of a gravesite:



Which then matches graphically with the windows of an apartment building:


and then the montage shifts to a scene where a beach photographer takes souvenir photos, which are incorporated in the montage. The internal logic of the sequence seems to be a desire to overcome a creeping sense of death and languidness that threatens to extinguish all this life...


Immortalized by the camera:


... or in a moment of sexual fantasy. A moment unlike any other before in cinema - clearly no love involved, at least on the male side, so for the viewer there's no pretense of romantic idealism attached to the moment.


It's just the pure erotic charge of a moment, where woman's common sense (I know this guy just wants to bone me, and yet...) puts up an initial resistence...


And yet... the intense sensation of touch, the warm breath of his nostrils under her palm, the sweat and pulse of sexual excitement. The moment where a girl and The Cinema both discover the feeling of sex...


... all in this shot...


And so, a film ostensibly about capturing the lives of everyday people funnels into a full-circle depiction of their desire to escape the everyday, if only for a moment...

Jump forward nearly 80 years - the push-pull explosive exertion of this moment hasn't been forgotten, at least not by Jean-Luc Godard. Witness his trailer for the 2008 Viennale:

And see also the films of this guy to see how the spirit of People on Sunday lives on... Everyday people, enraptured in everyday fantasy.


The following citations were counted towards the placement of People on Sunday among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Arne Scheuermann, Senses of Cinema (2004) Erik Ulrichsen, Sight & Sound (1952) Guy Barefoot, One-Line Review (2009) Hans Helmut Prinzler, Steadycam (2007) Ludwig Gesek, Sight & Sound (1982) William Brown, One-Line Review (2009) Cinematheque Royale de Belgique FIAF: An Archival Viewpoint (1995) David Thomson, Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films (2008) Sight & Sound, 360 Film Classics (1998) Taschen Books, Movies of the 20s-90s (2003-2007) The Guardian, 1,000 Films to See Before You Die (2007) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films


Five young filmmakers, unknowns at the time, but who would go on to have illustrious careers in Hollywood, collaborate on an experimental feature  part documentary, part narrative, and starring a cast of five Berliners playing themselves. Dubbed "A film without actors", People On Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag) is a surprisingly modern work that is a major document in the history of German avant-garde cinema.

The film originated from a reportage by Kurt Siodmak (screenwriter, The Wolf ManI Walked With a Zombie) that became a screenplay by none other than the great Billy Wilder. It was shot by Eugen Schüfftan (cinematographer The HustlerEyes Without a Face) and Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), and directed by Robert Siodmak (The Killers) and Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour). With that much talent behind the camera, it's no wonder that the end result of this fortunate bit of happenstance is nothing short of fascinating.

Perhaps owing to its use of non-actors, People on Sunday has a remarkably modern feel to it, and the cast never employ the exaggerated gestures or acting style one tends to find in silent cinema. If anything, the film has more in common with the French New Wave than it does the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) that was dominating German cinema at the time (Lang, Pabst, Jutzi.) The boyish playfulness of Erwin and Wolfgang combined with their romantic machinations (and partner swapping) is right out of Masculin Féminin or Bande à Part.

Much of the narrative portion of the film is shot in close-up (Dreyer-esque at times), and Schüfftan's framing of the good-looking cast is nothing short of stunning, and fitting for the awkward intimacy of the foursome. This is in sharp contrast to the vérité style montages of Berlin that are interspersed throughout the film which aim to capture the breadth of the city. An unforgettable sequence of random faces from the POV of a portrait photographer makes use of the freeze-frame, which some credit as being pioneered by Schüfftan (though I believe Vertov may heave beaten him to it.)

Much more than a mere curiosity, People on Sunday is at once a final look at a great city that in a year's time would be forever changed, and a rare first glimpse into the minds of six artists who would leave a lasting imprint in the history of cinema.

- Filmbrain, Like Anna Karina's Sweater

The motion picture’s dual appeal as both an art and a pastime is tied up in the camera's ability to capture reality at the same time that it conveys fiction. Movies are an enchanting admixture of unvarnished truth and comforting anecdote, or, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, they can offer a slice of life and a slice of cake. This seems particularly true of the 1929 German independent filmPeople on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag). Shot on weekends, and on a shoestring budget, the film features five young Berliners essentially playing themselves. Its “plot” is gossamer thin, the action confined to a single day, roughly, and centered on a double-date outing to a park. The movie was a modest effort devised as a calling card for some would-be filmmakers with a rough-hewn aesthetic unlike anything coming out of Berlin’s prewar powerhouse film industry. Yet, in the history of film, it proved to be of major importance.

- Bruce Bennett, who offers a detailed account of the film's production in Humanities magazine

People on Sunday is as much a love letter to the proletariat as the films of the Bolshevik giants, but politics are ultimately pushed aside for a celebration of a pursuit of happiness that’s in some way about transcending social class. As a snapshot of the last wave of youthful abandonment before the Hitler era, it’s a heartbreaker.

Sunday takes several breaks from the flirt swirl of its four main protagonists to remind the viewer that their story is just one of hundreds taking place in Berlin’s parks and waterfronts on any given weekend. In shots reminiscent of Soviet cinema, workers begin their day-off by marching en masse to their chosen recreation locations. In a montage of photographs taken by a street portraitist, we see that Sunday leisure is not just for the young and pretty–even the old and haggard have smiles on their faces. For all, it’s the one day of the week to put daily drudgery aside and pursue personal dreams and desires. If the other six days are spent working to live, Sundays are not just restorative, but transformative: it’s the one day out of seven that the worker can devote to shaping his/her own identity.

- Karina Longworth, Spout

Edgar G. Ulmer and Robert Siodmak directed it, Billy Wilder wrote it, Fred Zinnemann handled the camera, and Eugen Schüfftan did the lighting -- a Rosetta stone of Germany's post-Lang-Lubitsch-Pabst wave, but first and foremost a bunch of guys meeting in a café and deciding to make a movie. The air-filled location shooting is closer to Nouvelle Vague more than to neorealism, the camera high as Wolfgang von Waltershausen picks up Christl Ehlers at a trolley stop, to catch passersby on both sides of the street, bustling their way through Berlin circa 1929. Just two of a quintet of "real" people picked to enact a little city-symphony drama for the lens; the others are taxi driver Erwin Splettstößer, record salesgirl Brigitte Borchert, and model Annie Schreyer. Shaving cream on movie-star portraits, dripping faucets and arguments over the brim of a hat signal domestic suffocation in the cramped flat, so Splettstößer leaves Schreyer oversleeping to spend Sunday with Waltershausen and the other gals by the lake. Crisscrossing flirtation during a picnic, one couple switches with the other, a kiss in the woods triggers a languid circular tilt left, over the trees and across the garbage cans, before returning to find Waltershausen fixing his tie and Borchert laying on the floor, grinning. In between, the notion of cinema as snapshots of life is literalized by taking random pics of people along the way, with screen freezing into portraits -- children and women striking mock-glamorous poses, a glimpse of Valeska Gert sneaked in. Images are easy to record, yet emotions are capricious, a cracked record and another pair of girls ending the day and spiking the lyricism with transience. Authorship remains diffuse with so many auteurs, so the movie belongs less to a single person than to an epoch, when Berlin could rank alongside Paris as a dream burg, or perhaps when budding artists could grab a camera and simply take to the streets. So back to work on Monday for these characters, and off to Hollywood for the makers.

- Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion

A documentary fiction, a fictional documentary: Menschen am Sonntag, ein film ohne Schausppieler, written by Curt Siodmak and Billy Wilder, and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert and Curt Siodmak and, to a minor extent, Fred Zinnemann, is the last notable silent film from Germany—an experiment in which young filmmakers flex their love of cinema. It is indeed “a film without actors”; the five main characters are played by nonprofessionals, who, titles tell us, returned to their ordinary jobs the next day.

The brilliant cinematographer is Eugen Schüfftan, who would photograph seminal black-and-white films, including Marcel Carné’sQuai des brûmes (1938). He and the filmmakers collaborate on a spontaneous air and fresh, crisp, exuberant, sometimes volatile images. Much of the framing surprises—and yet makes total sense: for instance, when Brigitte changes into her swimsuit she occupies a small lower portion of the screen and is surrounded by tall reeds that fill up the screen.

- Dennis Grunes

Emerging from an experimental movement known as 'Neue Sachlichkeit' (or 'New Objectivity'), the young filmmakers involved in 'People on Sunday' (Robert and Curt Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinneman, Edgar G. Ulmer - all of whom went on to have illustrious careers in the industry) wove their drama from the ordinary details of life, in a novel blend of feature and documentary - yet so little actually happens in traditional narrative terms, and so unaffected are the performances, that it is easy to forget this is a feature at all, although impossible not to be charmed by these characters' youthful clowning, courting and petty jealousies. The whole spirit of the enterprise is encapsulated in a central sequence in which people from all walks of life pose one-by-one in front of a beach photographer, their images then captured candidly in freeze frame (an effect not seen before this film) - for 'People on Sunday' is precisely a series of snapshots of common-or-garden reality, in which anyone and everyone can have their day on screen.

For all its revolutionary invention, 'People on Sunday' remains a timeless celebration of the meaningless pursuits that make life worth living - as well as an essential document of 1920s Berlin.

- Movie Gazette



I'm going to do some speculation here - occasionally because of frame rate conversion from older silent films that are mastered in HD we can have 'trailing" or what we call "ghosting" as a process of the transfer of such an older film. I don't think though that this was transferred progressively (one frame at time) and can possibly be the same reason it shows limited 'ghosting' and 'combing' (see last capture). Regardless of that - the image looks marvelous - absolutely super. There was contrast flickering evident but it was often on the very last frame or 2 of certain scenes. I assume that the intertitles are new - and they look perfect as do the optional subtitles. There was minor dirt and scratches at times, but all 'flaws' of this image are more-or-less expected from a 75 year old film... but more - from a film virtually lost (original negative gone for good) and reconstructed. Amazing!

BFI have brought us an important film from cinema history and we applaud them for it. I'll admit it - I was mesmerized while viewing. I feel like locking this DVD in the safe every night (if I had a safe). The liner notes extras are great for appreciation of the film. The "This Year -London" short featurette has some relational camp. I think People on Sunday was worthy of a commentary being that it is quite short, but I won't be a nitpicker. An ESSENTIAL DVD!

- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver

people on sunday ulmer siodmal wilder dvd review bfi PDVD_012



Curt Siodmak was almost single-handedly responsible for the flowering of the second horror-film cycle. He wrote the best of Universal's 1940s horror films and influenced all the others. While by no means a great writer, Siodmak is a gifted, sometimes inspired hack, who, in the course of a prolific career, has created many striking and enduring characters and concepts. He has described himself as an idea man, and he has certainly come up with ideas on which he and others have rung variations, time and again.

- Film Reference.com



Quotes from TSPDT profile page:

"Siodmak's most successful projects - Phantom Lady, Christmas Holiday, The Suspect, Uncle Harry, The Spiral Staircase, The Killers - represent a fortuitous conjunction of such attractive actresses as Ella Raines, Dorothy McGuire, Ava Gardner, and even an absurdly lurid Deanna Durbin, with perverse subjects and expert technicians all whipped together with a heavy Teutonic sauce and served to the customers as offbeat art." - Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema, 1968)

"Being Jewish, Siodmak had to flee the Nazis, arriving in Hollywood in 1940. Film noir gave him the opportunity to use his pictorial sense and his narrative skills, and he directed a string of atmospheric thrillers, including Phantom Lady (1944), The Killers and The Dark Mirror (both 1946), Cry of the City (1948) and Criss Cross (1949)." - (The Movie Book, 1999)

"An innovative and cinematic director, he explored the criminal or psychotic impulses in his characters through the ambience of his elegant mise-en-scène. The control of all cinematic tools at his command - camera angle, lighting, composition, movement, and design - was used to establish effectively a world of fate, passion, obsession, and compulsion. Although his reputation has been elevated in recent years, his name deserves to be better known." - Jeanine Basinger (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

"During the 1940s, Siodmak developed into a formidable director of suspense and crime films. He was influenced by the German schools of expressionism and realism prevalent in the 20s. Both rubbed off into a blend which distinguishes his Hollywood period." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

Robert Siodmak's career is one of the more underrated and misunderstood in the history of Hollywood. The merit of Siodmak's cinematic art is also one of the most controversial. Among fanatic cinephiles, particularly those with a penchant for film noir thrillers, Siodmak is considered the primary architect of the genre. No other director has produced more quality film noir thrillers than Siodmak. His canon is a viewing list for any authentic study of the genre. His most notable film noirs include Phantom Lady, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, The Spiral Staircase, The Killers, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, Criss Cross and The File on Thelma Jordan. However, among a small minority of film critics, he is considered a one-dimensional “yes” man who simply followed marching orders established by studio executives. These critics suggest Siodmak's success was a direct product of the studio system and the cadre of filmmakers studios arranged for him. Lastly, Siodmak's popularity among casual movie fans is virtually nonexistent. Many have never heard of him, and when they have, they rarely can even pronounce his name (see-odd-mak – emphasis on the “odd”). The latter two assessments of Siodmak's career are inaccurate, because he was the primary auteur of one of America's most important film genres.

- Chris Justice, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

people on sunday ulmer siodmal wilder dvd review bfi PDVD_009



The films of Edgar G. Ulmer have generally been classified as "B" pictures. However, it might be more appropriate to reclassify some of these films as "Z" pictures. On an average, Ulmer's pictures were filmed on a six-day shooting schedule with budgets as small as $20,000. He often worked without a decent script, adequate sets, or convincing actors. But these hardships did not prevent Ulmer from creating an individual style within his films.

Linda Obalil, Film Reference.com


993 (128). Abschied von gestern - (Anita G.) / Yesterday Girl (1966, dir. Alexander Kluge)

Screened December  17 2009 on .avi format downloaded from the website that dare not speak its name in Brooklyn NY TSPDT Rank # 938 IMDb Wiki

This post is dedicated to Matthew Dessem, proprietor of The Criterion Contraption. I'm going to co-opt his lengthy, conversational approach to writing up films, to savor this film as well as the remaining entries of my own project...



"What separates us from yesterday is not a rift but a changed position." This enigmatic title that opens the film may sound like a distinction without a difference. But as we follow the travails of Anita G., an East German refugee trying and failing to get a foothold in West Berlin, the notion emerges that her sense of alienation (as well as the film's) is a rift caused by the shifting positions - economically, socially and intellectually - adopted by West Germans as they busily build a future. What's fascinating is how much this thesis is embedded in both the film's style and its lead performance by Alexandra Kluge (the director's sister), both indulging a dazzling display of rampant, disjointed eclecticism. Take the above shot beneath the title card, with Anita clearly out of place in a high class hotel lobby, and acting even more conspicuously by fussily changing chairs. It's as if she and the film are mimicking the shiftiness they see in polite West German society but stripped away of socially acceptable conventions.

Even before this shot, we as viewers are thrown off by the opening scene (really a fragment of a scene) where Anita is in the midst of an unexplained fit of laughter, before reading an unidentified text (possibly an account of Nazi officers separating Jewish families during the Holocaust) in an unsettling, specious tone.


For the most part, Anita's default demeanor is blank-faced incomprehension, smiling and nodding while trying to get along with others. In these shots, one can't help but think that Anita is modeled after Anna Karina's Nana in Godard's Vivre sa vie:


Here she's in a courtroom listening to a judge sift through certain facts of her life: that she's from East Germany; that she was caught pinching a sweater from a co-worker; yet she left the sweater in plain view which is how she was caught; that her parents were Jewish and were persecuted during the Holocaust. As the judge sifts through this data, it becomes clear how much of his verdict is pre-determined by his assumptions of her, as he repeatedly reads subtext into her ambiguous responses. (Judge: "Why did you move West? Because of certain incidents?" Anita: "Because of prior incidents." Judge: "You mean from '43-'44? I don't believe that. In my experience, they don't affect young people."). In the midst of this there's a disconcerting cut to the judge's stern, tight-lipped gaze, even as their dialogue continues, acting like a cutaway to his inner judgmental state:


He's but the first of several caricatures of social types that Anita encounters, none of which are portrayed with much charity. As such the film is clearly a polemic; yet its discombobulating array of stylistic approaches keep its rhetoric from being two-dimensional. A social worker is introduced with a Bergmanesque direct address to the camera:


Before she becomes a stand-in for an overt Christian moral-mindedness that all but stifles Anita during her probationary stint:


She eventually escapes to work for a sales manager of foreign-language recordings, who's also introduced in Bergmanesque direct-address manner. But whereas Bergman's characters bare their souls when facing the screen, these vignettes show their characters as they would like to see themselves, putting their best public face forward.


The manager isn't exactly Don Draper in terms of looks or charm, but his austere marketing spiel drives home a message of self-improvement that apparently works on Anita, as we come to learn that they're having an affair. This development is conveyed with an obliqueness that's brilliantly original. First we're given random shots of idealized German family life:


That gradually fold into these ambiguously nostalgic illustrations of old-style German towns:


culminating in a majestic shot of a dinner table revolving across vast Berlin cityscape. The world is literally yours for consumption, the modern consumerist fantasy par excellence.


This leads to a shot of Anita in a department store trying on fur coats, and expensing them on her boss' account. Not only do we now learn that she's a kept woman, but retrospectively we wonder if that skyscraper restaurant table was the site of one of their trysts. In any event the manager's wife catches wind of the affair and Anita is swiftly given the boot. But Anita won't give up on making it in this society, as this title (harkening to the silent age of film, a period of nascence and limitless potential) makes clear:


After getting fired from a subsequent hotel housekeeping job for suspected theft (or was she scapegoated?), Anita moves onto another dead-end tryst, this time with a much younger man, though their encounter is treated with an intimacy found nowhere else in the film, with shades of tender, desperate empathy.


In these moments the camera exposes the lines on Anita's face, bringing a vulnerability and rawness to their moments together:


Through their brief time together she resolves to make a go at attending university, and sits in on lectures, though the results aren't very encouraging:


She bluffs her way into enrolling by pretending that she's taken courses before; her good looks appear to compel one professor take her at her word, while also eliciting one of the weirdest come-on lines in cinema history:


Her efforts at entering academia prove to be a fiasco, while her habit of staying at hotels without paying starts catching up with her; she's recognized on the street as a deadbeat tenant, leading to an episode on the lam rendered in psychedelic police lights mixed with footage of police parades and carnivalesque exhibitions of  their precision. This leads to scene of two men, presumably Nazis, forcing a woman to make an excruciating decision:


Could this be a flashback from Anita's childhood? We are never told the answer; it plays as much as an unaccounted, repressed memory for us as it might be for her, lurking like some demon kept in the basement of history only to seep out at an unexpected moment. Other unhinged images ensue:


Eventually she and the film return to the "real" world, and she takes up with Pichota, another married man, and a member of the Culture Ministry.  She accompanies him on one of his appointments, where pleasantries are read from cue cards:


Kluge seems to save the best of his satircal venom for this guy, as he represents the cultural establishment and thus the forces of aimless ceremonialism and convention that Kluge dedicated himself to opposing (see the Oberhausen Manifesto). Pichota foregoes an official ceremony to unveil a rare Goethe notebook so he can go another round bedside with his paramour, then chastises her for not finding a flat of her own, but won't give her any money towards a deposit. Instead he decides to mold her in his own image, reading literature to her and teaching her an 19th century song of unrequited love. Guess what he does when she finds out she's pregnant?


Shots like this one above threaten to turn this girl's outcast status within a West German society that is unable to either fully understand or incorporate her into its own kind of mythography. It risks placing her in the category of romantic anti-establishment type, which, if it wasn't a ready-made cliche back then, certainly is these days. The saving grace is Alexandra Kluge's performance, no doubt a conceptual collaboration with her brother director, but in her hands the character Anita G. defies any easy categorization, vacillating incessantly between being an icon, a postulation and a flesh-and-blood human being. This results in an unstable dynamic between protagonist, her world and the viewer, who becomes as much an alienated observer of this world of surfaces and pretensions as she is. Dissonant in their dissidence, the shifting modes of filmmaking and onscreen behavior have an energy and engagement with its world, doggedly picking apart its assumptions and presumptions, that's as valuable today as ever.


The following citations were counted towards the placement of Yesterday Girl among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Hans Gunther Pflaum, Steadycam (2007) Hans Helmut Prinzler, Steadycam (2007) Jeanine Meerapfel, Sight & Sound (1992) Ulrich von Thuna, Steadycam (2007) Wolfram Schutte, Steadycam (2007) Sight & Sound 360 Film Classics (1998) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films


WATCHING the plight of "Yesterday Girl," a poor, buffeted young derelict in West Germany, some viewers may wistfully hark back to the teary but untangled sagas of Sylvia Sidney in Hollywood during the Depression years. Miss Sidney's cases, at least, were stated with soggy succinctness.

The hard-luck drama that unfolded last night at the New York Film Festival, the first feature directed by the German novelist Alexander Kluge, is so hell-bent on stylistic effects and so sauvely stingy in siphoning simple case-history facts that we learn little and subsequently care less about the heroine. A pity, too, for the hapless girl peering from the circuitous labyrinth of film footage is the director's sister, Alexandra. She even has Miss Sidney's stricken eyes and quivering under-lip. That much is obvious.

It seems—repeat, seems—that the girl has fled from East Germany and been arrested for shoplifting in the West. She serves a jail sentence, then starts a descent on the fringes of society in a succession of odd jobs, including a brief go at prostitution. Bruised by bureaucracy, fate and at least one lover who discards her, the girl slinks off into the night, clutching a suitcase, and has a baby at a state hospital.

Mr. Kluge's picture, with its down-and-out protagonist, is according to advance publicity, an ironic commentary on the West German's economic well-being. How? We see little evidence of prosperity in Miss Kluge's mouse-hole itinerary. Most of the people who speed her on her descent are glacial, urban stereotypes. And from what little is revealed about the heroine's true character, she appears to be a listless girl who would have a tough time mastering a job anywhere.

Whatever "Yesterday Girl" symbolizes, Mr. Kluge applies his camera like a clouded microscope, side-stepping simple compassion for bland, clinical detachment. A stethoscope, applied just once, would have conveyed much more.

- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, September 22, 1967


Kluge's first feature traces the misadventures of Anita G. (played by his sister Alexandra), a young refugee from East Germany, as she wanders through the Economic Miracle but fails to find a place in it. Always penniless and often involved in petty crime, she meets a string of people who try to 'improve' and/or seduce her, but never gets to the root of her problems. Kluge makes it clear that she's a product of Germany's past, and his basic point is the simple one that Germany is trying to sweep its history under the carpet. But his Godardian wit and informality give the argument countless resonances, and keep the movie surprisingly fresh.

- Time Out

The film's tersely written preface, "What separates us from yesterday is not a rift but a change in position" reinforces this sense of subconscious, recursive inevitability, as the heroine, the titular Anita G, is introduced through incisive, cross cut images: initially reading a piece of paper in subtly varying intonation, then subsequently, from a high angle-shot title sequence as she repeatedly assesses her vantage point before changing seats at a hotel bar lounge. From the juxtaposition of these fractured opening images, Kluge establishes the idea of postwar collective memory as an empty shell game that has been essentially formed from the simple, but implicitly deliberated modulation, displacement, and reconstitution of latent, prevailing cultural mores.

This sense of an ingrained, un-rehabilitated, and perhaps even defiant national psyche is also reinforced in Anita's appearance in court before a judge over a theft charge stemming from a colleague's appropriated cardigan sweater. Reviewing Anna's background as a German Jew from Leipzig, now in (the former) East Germany whose family business was confiscated by the Third Reich, then reinstated after the war, the judge is eager to exonerate the possibility that the "certain incidents of 1943-44" had contributed to Anita G.'s current charge - an association that she, herself, never implied - attempting instead to trivialize her relocation to West Germany as a simple search for opportunity that, like any other outsider (despite being born in a unified Germany before the war), is an attempt to exploit the country's bourgeoning economy. Challenging her sense of guilt for the offense by her curious behavior in not hiding the cardigan - an inaction that Anita admits stemmed from confusion over "prior events" that the judge, once again, is quick to erroneously suggest that she is attempting to evoke the tragedy of the Holocaust in order to gain sympathy from the court - the inquisition itself reveals the underlying hypocrisy of German society after the war, where people who served in positions of power during the Third Reich (obtained through party loyalty) were often restored to their bureaucratic appointments. This contradictory behavior that is, at once, an all-too-ready admission of (factually verified) historical culpability and a trivialization of the consequences of its legacy reflects a culturally pervasive attitude, a tenuous co-existence between half-hearted acknowledgement and adamant denial that is encapsulated by the judge's curt dismissal in continuing the line of inquiry that raises the specter of the human tragedy (one that he, himself, has introduced out of apparent habit): a pre-emptive declaration of its particular - and implicitly broader - irrelevance towards the resurgence of an inclusive, tolerant, and transformed "New Germany". Ironically, it is a metamorphosis that, nevertheless, perpetuates a climate of exclusion (East versus West), moral imprisonment (the evangelical probationary officer attempts to convert her to Christianity), and dispossession (the landlady's decision to evict her from the boarding house by impounding her suitcase). Inevitably, perhaps the key to Kluge's fragmented, yet lucid and penetrating social interrogation is revealed in a university professor's sterile and philosophically dense lecture on the relativity of the Greek concept of aischron and the opposing corollary ideas that the greater shame resides either for the one who commits the transgression, or the one who suffers from it - a delusive posture of righteousness that re-invents collective history through the perspective of defiant transgressors as the greater victims of their own willful, moral complicity.

- Acquarello, Strictly Film School

Alexander Kluge's debut feature Yesterday Girl is a kaleidoscopic burst of energy, a frenetic but never haphazard film that gives the impression of an eager young director, unwilling to commit to any one storytelling mode or aesthetic, instead experimenting with anything he can think of. The result is a quickly paced collage, a jittery, jazzy patchwork that augments its sparse central narrative with myriad diversions and non sequiturs. The film owes much to the example of the French New Wave, and especially to the montage and stylistic catholicity of Jean-Luc Godard, but there is undeniably something distinctive about Kluge, something unmistakable. His rhythms are his own, as is his sense of playfulness, his unexpected detours into surrealism and absurdist farce. Kluge's sister Alexandra plays the heroine, Anita G., an obvious stand-in for the New Wave's young archetypes — she even has those big, black-lined Anna Karina eyes.

Kluge tells Anita's story through an astonishing variety of cinematic language. As in the first sequence, each scene throughout the film is methodically broken down, with blunt editing that serves to fragment Anita's story. Her experience of life is discontinuous, marked by abrupt breaks and disjunctions, and Kluge passes this experience on to his audience. He frequently resorts to extreme closeups, in which talking heads orate from an abstracted, empty gray space. But just as often he avoids showing the characters' faces at all, cutting to their hands or the backs of their heads or to the walls and objects around them. At other points, he inserts entire, seemingly unrelated sequences into the film, cutting away to visual non sequiturs like a shot of a rabbit that appears during a hallucinatory sequence in which Anita shoots, or more likely imagines she shoots, a police officer who's chasing her. Even time itself is malleable in Kluge's hands: the action frequently speeds up, with Anita and her pursuers racing around like Keystone Kops, and time-lapse photography condenses hours of time spent on a city street into a blurred, pulsating few seconds.

The effect of this elaborate montage aesthetic is to position Anita's story as just one element, one brick, in a mad societal structure. This also seems to be the point of the enigmatic final epigram, "we are all to blame for everything, but if everyone knew it, we would have paradise on earth." Kluge's vision of the world, on the other hand, is far from a paradise — if anything it's a dystopia — but his dense, free-associative aesthetic crafts a cogent and darkly funny critique of the systems that preside over this nonsensical world.

- Ed Howard, Only the Cinema

Already in Kluge's first feature, Yesterday Girl, the editing is very abrupt. Scenes are juxtaposed without transitions and, within scenes, jump cuts and other temporal elisions abound. A love scene becomes a wrestling montage. Sometimes parts of different scenes are intercut. Nonnarrative materials such as drawings of a city, an interview, or a child's storybook are interjected between and in the middle of scenes without motivation or explanation. Scenes of a Jewish cemetary are inserted, like documentary B-roll, into a conversation about German history. This quirky editing results in the brisk pace of this film and similar sequences in other Kluge films. But Kluge also employs a variety of techniques to slow down the ace. Shots are often held longer or started earlier than in classical Hollywood cinema, leading frequently to uncomfortable silences and strange facial expressions. Often, reaction shots do not seem to work because the timing is wrong.

- Peter C. Lutze, Alexander Kluge: The Last Modernist. Wayne State University Press, 1998. Page 112.

Viewers of conventional Hollywood films are accustomed to having certain expectations fulfilled in the course of the work: we assume the events portrayed on screen to have some causal, temporal, or spatial connection, we expect to have at least some sense of resolution at the end of a film, and we often premise our viewing on conventional styles of cinematography and mise-en-scène. In Alexander Kluge's 1966 film Yesterday Girl, however, the modern viewer is presented with a challenge. Many common cinematic assumptions are undermined by Kluge's deliberate refusal to follow Hollywood guidelines; at the same time, though, the film does not attempt a blanket refusal of all narrative conventions. Indeed, it is this very mixture of traditional and innovative narrative techniques that makes the film especially fascinating, and the sense of ambiguity that arises adds to the viewer's resulting insecurity and even confusion.

- Nancy Thuleen, University of Wisconsin


The theme of forgetting and remembering runs constantly throughout your films. In Yesterday Girl, Anita G. is encumbered with a double past that society is encouraging her to forget: at the beginning of the film she’s being told by a judge to forget her wartime experiences because they’re not “relevant” to her present situation; later, when she’s supposedly being rehabilitated for society, she’s told by one of the prison counsellors that she’ll soon be out and able to forget all about it. It seems obvious to me that, through your films, you’re attacking not just the politics of oblivion, but also the moral notion of absolution that this frequently implies. Experience is always a question of a specific situation. In this concrete situation, there is always future, past, and actual present: it’s the same. In a mass medium like the cinema, or in art, it seems as if you have a choice. A great deal of art—Proust, for example, or any of the 19th-century classic novels—attempts to counter the dominance of the present, to invent a second reality to serve as viceroy to the forgotten or demolished past. That’s one choice. The other choice, which is made by television and by the press, is the actuality principle. It’s also the choice made by the film camera, which can only photograph something that’s present. And I think it’s a false choice, because in a concrete situation, such as we actually live in, you can never make that separation: you can never give up the past, you can never exclude the future. Which is why I prefer the past or the future to the present. Whether I’m making a science-fiction film or historical film, using inserts, making a documentary or mixing fiction and nonfiction, it’s exactly the same. The three parts that exist in our minds and in our experience are always present. When Freud describes the way a person thinks and feels, he always talks about free association as the elementary unit. Grammar, for instance, is one of mankind’s most interesting illusions. It’s a sort of repression of an experience, like logic, or like rationalism. You have to understand that I’m never against grammar, rationality, or logic; it’s just that they’re only abstractions. In any concrete situation, these abstractions must be reduced to the concrete situation. And that’s the province of film. This sort of mass medium film has its basis in people’s minds and experience over several thousand years.

For instance, the title Abschied von Gestern [the German-language title for Yesterday Girl] provokes a contradiction. Because you never can say goodbye to yesterday. If you try to, you get as far as tomorrow only to discover yesterday all over again. The whole film is a contradiction of this title... What part of your question shall I answer now?

- Interviewed by Jan Dawson, Film Comment, May/June 2008



Anthony Nield reviews the Alexander Kluge Edition Filmmuseum 2008 Region 2 Box Set on DVD Times

The rumour that Alexander Kluge is supposed to have turned fifty recently is as persistent as that other absolutely ridiculous assertion that this very same Kluge got married sometime toward the end of the year! It is reported that he actually went ahead and had a private matter officially institutionalized by an official state institution. An absurd notion—several hours' worth of stirring movies by the filmmaker Kluge, as well as a whole lot of illuminating and stimulating prose by the writer Kluge, do document after all that it is one of his chief aims to call every kind of institution into question, particularly those of the state—if I interpret half way correctly—and if his work is not indeed even more radical, that is, designed to prove that basically Alexander Kluge is interested in the destruction of every type of institution. Furthermore—an anarchist just doesn't go and turn fifty, the age at which people celebrate you. Categories like that are meaningless to him. I mean, it is precisely rumors of this sort about one of us, serving the purposes of cooptation, that make various things clear, and at the very least remind us of the necessity of continuing to struggle for our cause and of the eternal danger of growing weary in the face of gray, streamlined reality.

- Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “Alexander Kluge is Supposed to Have Had a Birthday” in Michael Töteberg & Leo A. Lensing (eds.), The Anarchy of the Imagination, Baltimore & London, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. Cited in Michelle Langford, Senses of Cinema Great Directors biography of Kluge

Alexander Kluge, the chief ideologue of the new German cinema, is the author of various books in the areas of sociology, contemporary philosophy, and social theory. In 1962 he helped initiate, and was the spokesman for, the "Oberhausen Manifesto," in which "Das Opas Kino" ("grandpa's cinema") was declared dead.

His method is grounded in a rich and representative mosaic of sources: fiction, public records and reports, essays, actual occurrences, news, quotations, observations, ideas, and free associations. The method is used by Kluge as a principle of construction in his best films, such as Abschied von gestern, Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: ratlos In Gefahr und grösster Not bringt der Mittelweg den Tod , and in the series of collective films: Deutschland im Herbst, Der Kandidat , and Krieg und Frieden. The theme of war, in particular the Second World War, appears in all his works.

Kluge's films probe reality—not by way of the fantastic fictions of Fassbinder, or film school pictures as with Wenders—but through establishing oppositions and connections between facts, artifacts, reflections, and bits of performance. The protagonists of his feature films are mostly women who seek to grasp and come to terms with their experiences. For the sake of continuity these women are played either by Alexandra Kluge, his sister, or by Hannelore Hoger. They move through the jungle of contemporary life, watching and witnessing, suffering and fighting. The director mirrors their experiences.

- Maria Racheva, Film Reference.com

"The old film is dead, we believe in the new one" - that is the concluding sentence of the Oberhausener Manifesto. Alexander Kluge was one of the authors of this legendary avowal from 1962 which marked the beginning of New German Cinema. No one meant this as earnestly as he, either at that time, when he was still making his mark on German cinema, or 45 years later. For Alexander Kluge, cinema is a constant development; the spirit of discovery and joy of experimentation are inherent to everything he touches. Then, he wanted to turn cinema upside down, and he still does. And he is probably the only filmmaker who still reflects seriously about how Internet and cinema can be united by more than the mere sales and distribution platform.

- German Films

Kluge believes that the aesthetic and political possibilities of cinema should and can be based on subjective modes of experience. A term frequently used by Kluge in his writings on the notion of spectatorship in the cinema is that of 'Phantasie,' (literally, 'fantasy') and this term acquires a very particular meaning in the context of his work. Phantasie is not like the English term 'fantasy' in the sense described by psychoanalysis, but is more akin to imagination. It equates with the spectator's ability to make connections between disparate things and it hinges on Kluge's conception of montage.

Kluge writes:

…since every cut provokes phantasy, a storm of phantasy, you can even make a break in the film. It is exactly at such a point that information is conveyed. This is what Benjamin meant by the notion of shock. It would be wrong to say that a film should aim to shock the viewers—this would restrict their independence and powers of perception. The point here is the surprise which occurs when you suddenly—as if by subdominant thought processes—understand something in depth and then, out of this deepened perspective redirect your phantasy to the real course of events. (12)

In other words, Phantasie is that which lies beneath the guarded exterior of the stimulus shield, and it is Phantasie that is set free when shock is able to break through the barrier.

Kluge has often invoked the figure of the child as the ideal spectator of his films. Kluge contrasts his cinema with that of conventional narrative cinema with an evocation of two different kinds of landscape. He writes:

At the present time there are enough cultivated entertainment and issue-oriented films, as if cinema were a stroll on walkways in a park…One need not duplicate the cultivated. In fact children prefer the bushes: they play in the sand or in scrap heaps.

- Michelle LangfordSenses of Cinema Great Directors biography of Kluge

Though often acknowledged as one of the most important avant-gardists of his generation in Europe, Alexander Kluge does not think of himself as such. He considers himself a partisan of an “arriere-garde” whose project is not to push into new aesthetic territory or be the vanguard of a new kind of film art, but to “bring everything forward”—to bring forward all the lost utopian aspirations of past political and aesthetic projects, all the wishes and hopes that history has left unrealized. His is a project of redeeming past failures. This might seem an odd claim by Kluge, who was a pioneer of the German New Wave as it emerged in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and a signatory and moving force behind the famous Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962 which declared “The old film is dead.” But like his intellectual precursor Walter Benjamin, Kluge has always thought any project for authentic renewal must consciously detour through the past in order to avoid creating what another of his great intellectual mentors, Bertolt Brecht, called the “bad new”—essentially the recreation of existing oppressive social relations and tired aesthetic forms in the guise of a glossy, marketable and illusory “New.” For Brecht, Fascism was the exemplary “bad new”; for Kluge, the “bad new” consisted of the dreary products of the “culture industry” and the tedious social conditions prevailing in Germany—about which he once said that they were bad enough that no one was really happy, but not bad enough to make anyone do anything about them.

- Christopher Pavsek, Cinema-scope, Issue 32

Kluge's feature films challenge customary patterns of recognition. German history provides a point of departure and a constant site of return for his endeavors; complex and conflicted, this history, maintains Kluge, does not readily lend itself to easy identification or transparent presentation. The bombing of his hometown, Halbersradt (80 percent of which was leveled by American and British planes on April 8, 1945), and the demise of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad in February 1943 remain defining experiences in his films (and throughout his work), which must be thought of first and foremost as attempts to reflect truthfully the impossibly complicated and contested "reality" of postwar Germany--a task that could not be achieved, Kluge argued, by conventional means. Thus he eschewed the spurious sutures of continuity editing and the seamlessly neat, easily accessible narrative packages that they produce. For all its intellectual resolve, his cinema is also loath to the dynamics of Eisenstein's montage. The Soviet master's collision of attractions leads the spectator, through an appeal to the senses and the emotion, to an inevitable dialectical conclusion, which is, in the end, just a more sophisticated sort of other-direction, and therefore anathema to Kluge.

Reality and realism are central terms in Kluge's aesthetic conception and important for any understanding of his films. Neither a state of nature nor the way things are, reality is produced and not given; for that reason, it can be comprehended only in its constructedness and its connectedness, its Zusammenhang. Simply to document something, Kluge submits, is not realistic; reality does not exist without actions, fantasies, and wishes, which is to say, unless human senses and feelings are in motion. Feelings, to be sure, are anarchic and often unreliable; for that reason one tries to harness them, often with success (sometimes, as in the case of National Socialism, with too much success), and enjoys all the more indulging their power in the form of films, operas, plays, and novels. Inclusiveness and generosity figure seminally in Kluge's suggestive and elusive choreographies of sights and sounds. They generate networks of meaning linked by interrelation rather than by flow or continuity, bringing together things that do not seem to belong together at all. This higher realism aims to encourage responses that go beyond directorial design and authorialvolition

. Viewers should be free to pick and choose from a wealth of offerings so that films might arise "in the head of the spectator"--without question Kluge's key concept and best-known catchphrase

- Eric Rentschler, "A Cinema of Citation."  Artforum, 2008

Gary Indiana In many of your films you show found footage from very early movies, archive photographs and drawings with the frame cropped in various ways, a Brechtian effect: the films are like free-ranging meditations rather than linear narratives. The viewer notices the cutting. What do you see as the advantages of these techniques?

Alexander Kluge I show the cutting because I don’t believe pictures have to do with one another, whether they’re contrasting or similar. They don’t carry the information, the information is carried by the cut, the splice. Therefore, the cut should be visible. This is an ideal of early Eisenstein; it’s an ideal in literature. In music also, you always reveal your effects. The early forms of cinema are better: before 1907, and before the sound track. The problem isn’t with sound, but with the theater principles and middle-class interests which came into the cinema and destroyed some of its rich possibilities. Theater is a little schematic, while epic texts, like Joyce’s, are rich.

GI Epic narrative is porous. In other words, you can cut into it at any point?

AK Yes. Nowadays, we live in something like the Babylonian Empire. One text doesn’t understand the other. People can understand each other but the texts they speak are, to some extent, autonomous. If I speak to you, and a policeman hears this text, it’s no longer the text you and I speak together. Texts have their own life, and images too. As I have to deal with the situation of the 80s, not of 1907 if we have this Babylonian confusion that one language doesn’t understand the other, it’s also necessary to bring more context into narration. For example, it isn’t useful to tell the story of a complete industry. Like the German chemical industry—there’s been a huge 12 hour film made on this subject, but in it you see the family life and the love stories of the bosses and their daughters and so on. All of that isn’t the reality of the German chemical industry in the ‘30s. It was a very cruel reality for some people. To be more realistic, you need more context.

GI One more question. You’ve often said that cinema exists inside our heads, that the repertoire of mental images and feelings that cinema creates corresponds to the mode of consciousness of human beings over the past several thousand years. How is that different than music?

AK Music is an elaborated art. It is more than we’ve carried within us for thousands of years. It’s more to do with the four billion years we’ve existed on earth—with our ancestors, who were very small. Music has to do with sounds within the belly, sounds within the ancient oceans, when the oceans were 37 degrees celsius, like our blood. Some people believe the cosmos is making music, and so on. Music is older and more differentiated. Film is very robust. It’s only 90 years old. It corresponds more with anthropology. Music is made in a very aristocratic way, never by majorities. Cinema, from the beginning, was made as a counter-effect to what our senses do all the time. It’s an imitation of what our brains do. Music is not an imitation of what our ears do.

- Alexander Kluge interviewed by Gary Indiana, BOMB Magazine

965 (107). Rocker (1972, Klaus Lemke)

Screened April 15 2009 in Astoria, NY on .avi (special thanks to rgen Fauth for live translation assistance) TSPDT rank #866


An odd, uneasy blend of social-realist verite and low-budget romanticism, this made-for-television melodrama by one of Germany's self-proclaimed bad boys of filmmaking seems like an attempt to express both the rock and roll lifestyle mythos and its utter out of place-ness in the real world. Following two anti-establishment types - one a biker gang ex-con, the other a car thief - the film wears its crudeness on its sleeve, with endearingly campy results. Propelled by a soundtrack leveling dollops of Stones, Santana and Led Zeppelin, the film enjoys solid cult status in Germany, seemingly for the same reason that The Big Lebowski does in the US - as a compendium of memorable one-liners and for creating an alternative reality out of the ramshackle milieu of life on the fringes.

Winding through an urban wasteland of deadpan faces and a plot that is geared less towards sustaining narrative plausibility than in emphasizing the grand gesture, Lemke establishes a brazen internal logic propelled by braggadocio moments: a man can borrow a crowbar from parking garage workers to break into a car with them raising nary an eyebrow, or can ask a strange girl on a subway if she likes to screw and make out with her moments later in a bar bathroom while his brother waits among their beers. Not everything is rosy for these rockers: one of them is tied up by an unidentified gang, his lodgings burned to the ground for some reason left unexplained by the film, but makes for a dramatic moment all the same. Later he comes into mucho Deutschmarks through a drug deal so half-baked it feels almost poetic, and his resulting radical spike in swagger leads him to pick a fight with the biggest truck driver in a diner; the accosted silently gets up and proceeds to run his 18-wheeler over the rocker's bike, leading to a funeral pyre sacrifice of the motorcycle a la Jimi Hendrix's Monterey Pop guitar.

Gradually the film focuses its attention on the fate of the car thief's teen brother, a troubled kid not quite ready for rockerdom but still badass enough to send a shelf of bread loaves crashing down a supermarket aisle. In the final act he instigates a free-for-all brawl where the rockers come looking to kick climactic ass but end up looking like sloppy brawlers, while in the distance ominous police sirens grow louder. Pathetic futility wins the day, but in doing so these rockers gain a modest measure of pathos. They ask for no pity, no quarter, nothing but a space to play out the emptiness of their lives with maximum ostentation.


The following citations were counted towards the placement of Rocker among They Shoot Pictures' 1000 Greatest Films:

Christian Petzold, BPB Filmkanon (2003) Dominik Graf, Steadycam (2007) Hans Schifferle, Steadycam (2007) Oliver Baumgarten, Steadycam (2007) Rainer Knepperges, Steadycam (2007) Ralph Umard, Steadycam (2007)

Rocker Website (in German)

Production details on Filmportal.de

German Wikipedia entry (translated by Google):

The movie from rocker Klaus Lemke is a Millieufilm of 1971 arose. He is one of the Second German Television-produced TV movie, the fans like a B-movie is classified.The actors are amateurs and join in their roles under her civil name. The authentic appearance of the actors for the film is essential. The setting is essentially the Hamburger Kiez. Musically, the film is accompanied with songs by Santana ( "Black Magic Woman"), Van Morrison and Them ( "It's all over now baby blue" by Bob Dylan),Rolling Stones ( "Sister Morphine," "Moonlight Mile," "I got the blues "), Led Zeppelin(" Rock'n'Roll ") and others...The film enjoys in some circles, especially in Hamburg cult status. The Hamburg-3001-movie, which it has regularly in the program.Cause is at least from today's perspective may be partly involuntary humor of the sayings of the characters. Moreover, many of the neighborhood known so that a degree of authenticity is perceived. The fact that the plot is really sad, highlights of the film's heavy-entertainment starting. Screenings of the film are still in the character of party rule. Sayings like "Two or three years", "You do not flattest, cake!", "One is a Daimler Daimler, and this is my Daimler." "Those who smoke, it can also drink." "You are going now Hamburg, which I swear to you! "," Do you grade, "and" Can I say how late it is? "are among laughter from the audience likes mitgesprochen.

Klaus Lemke used the same act again as the basis for his later film The Rat (1993).

In the scene when the truck driver of the motorcycle driving Rockers Gerd scrap heap, Lemke picks a topic on which the legendary story of today in the book The Spider in the Yucca-Palme by Rolf Wilhelm Brednich as "Revenge of the truck driver" is described. The same theme held in 1977 in Film A ausgekochtes Schlitzohr"Smokey and the Bandit") with Burt Reynolds use.


Klaus Lemke biography in German Wikipedia

Klaus Lemke, born October 13th, 1940 in Landsberg/Warthe, is considered to be one of the most opinionated and – by his own definition – anti-intellectual film makers in Germany. He grew up in Düsseldorf and, following his Abitur, made a living with odd-jobs, including as an asphalt-worker. He abandoned his studies of art history and philosophy after six semesters.

After a number of assistant-director positions in Munich in 1963/4 (under Fritz Kortner, among others), he became a contributor to the magazine "Film" (1964/5), which went in stride with the more academic "Filmkritik" but also concerned itself with the ostracized American Genre-Cinema. In the context of the "Neue Münchner Gruppe" (New Munich Group), namely Rudolf Thome, Max Zihlman, Werner Enke and May Spils, he directed a total of six short films in 1965/6, including "Kleine Front" (Small Front) and "Das Haus am Meer" (The House on the Sea). In "König von Schwabing" (King of Schwabing), in which "coolness" was a key motif, he epitomized the lifestyle of the Munich bohemians. Concerning his political "Dilemma", he commented in retrospect: "I thought America was so very cool that I would have happily marched into Vietnam and protested against it at the exact same time."

His first feature-length film "48 Stunden bis Acapulco" (48 Hours to Acapulco, 1967) follows a dropout from Schliersee to Rome and Mexico – a man striving to hold his ground as an adventurer and gangster in the Jetset Society. In the same year "Negresco**** -- Eine tödliche Affäre" (Negresco**** -- A Deadly Affair) was released, in which an unsuccessful photographer aspires to rise above his relationship with an urbane woman in high society. Following the failure of these two cinema-released films taking place all over the world, Lemke remained, according to Ponkie, "stuck on Leopoldstraße"; shortly thereafter he began to work for television. His first film for WDR ("Brandstifter", 1968) caused a bit of a scandal: it reacted directly to the Berlin department store assault by Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader, whom Lemke personally knew.

Lemke defined himself with his energetic style, distinctive from the first Renovation-Generation of the Oberhausen-Manifest, the works of which he had already found to be "Väter-Filme" (Father-Films). The tendencies akin to those of Schlöndorff's literature-to-film adaptations disappointed him – as did exertive social obligations. In spite of his cinephillic affinities for pose and genre, which the Munich group had already differentiated from other representatives of New German Cinema, he was wholly interested in unwrought "reality". Alongside his abandonment of finely-tuned screenplays and perfect production, his work with amateur actors became his trademark. Lemke clarified this in a statement, saying that he was not interested in actors, but rather "real people" and their stories, which he happened upon in his periphery and "on the street".

Beginning in 1975, Lemke directed a number of films with Cleo Kretschmer and Wolfgang Fierek, including the Grimme-awarded "Amore" (1977/8), in which an unremarkable vegetable seller campaigns against a suburban Casanova. Lemke was also involved in a long-term intimate relationship with Cleo Kretschmer. What is more, he has come to be known as the discoverer of Iris Berben and Christine Zierl, alias "Dolly Dollar". In addition to his propensity for his adopted home (Munich) and the Bavarian province, Hamburg is an important locale for Lemke. He secured for himself a loyal cult following with his 1972 "Rocker", in which an aging, just-released petty criminal roughs up the Kiez with his motorcycle gang.

Following a carrier-hiccup as a result of a cocaine suit in the 1980's, Lemke succeeded once again in 1992 with "Die Ratte" (The Rat), which also takes place in Hamburg's red-light district. Two more of his youngest films are set in the Hanseatic City: "Träum weiter, Julia!" (Keep on Dreaming, Julia!) and "3 Minute Heroes", which is about the everyday fates of amateur actors in a 360° view of St. Pauli. He kept his small-budget "Guerilla Tactics" of filming, without sponsoring or professional actors, continually over several years of  television work. "Last Minute Jamaika" (2002), about two Munich interns who vacation in the Caribbean, brought him once more as near to Acapulco as he's been since his work in the cinema began. In an entertaining interview on the occasion of his 65th birthday in 2005, he acknowledged that he could win "cool" aspects even from "uncool" Germany.

- Filmportal.de

962 (104). Unter den Brücken / Under the Bridges (1945, Helmut Käutner)

screened March 30 2009 on .avi in Weehawken NJ TSPDT #829 IMDb

Made as an escapist comedy during the death throes of Nazi Germany, Under the Bridges feels like a throwback to a more innocent cinema that never knew the war, reveling in the French romanticism that thrived in the preceding decade: L'Atalante (TSPDT #16); A Day in the Country (TSPDT #153); as well as Boris Barnet's practically-French By the Bluest of Seas (TSPDT #875).  Two boatmen are tired of a shared love life that amounts to shore leave flings and glances at girls who watch like angels from bridges as their vessel passes beneath their skirts. Masterful camera movements sweep the top deck of a barge, scanning the activity on and around it, or swirl around the racetrack layout of a restaurant in which a flirtatious waitress makes her rounds, sizing up proposals from rivaling suitors. There's a constant bustle of comings, goings, small heartbreaks and sighs, but like the river barge upon which it is mostly set, the film chugs along with a cheerful stoicism, neither oblivious to life's endless disappointments nor prone to succumbing to them. It's a pragmatic strain of romanticism that belongs uniquely to this film.

When the boatmen pick up a troubled girl with a mysterious past and take turns pitching woo to her, the outcome of this romantic rivalry is less important than how this triangle strains the film's no-nonsense take on the usefulness of love. A tension emerges between the boatmen's tacit vow to treat work and mating as affairs of pertinence, and a temptation to succumb to swooning romantic impulse, expressed in moments and images of exquisitely subtle beauty: a man and a woman washing each other's hands or laughing while flipping potato pancakes; the riverside sensuality of listening to frogs ribbitting rhythmically under velvet sheets of night; the emotional upheaval contained in a falling lock of hair. Charged by this clash between practicality and impulse, the film doesn't move so much as oscillate: its camera swings around a room from corner to corner, face to face, caught between conflicting protocols of courtship. One moment you're using your pet goose to flirt with the girl you've picked up, the next moment you're serving that same goose to the same girl for dinner, and she's mortified. One moment you're charging her 10 marks to ride your barge; the next you're both calculating how much of a refund to give and receive because things didn't work out.

Eventually this tension gives way to the gentlest of fights that expresses little more than a desire shared by all three characters: to nurture and be nurtured as friends and lovers. It's a strangely wise film whose camera traces the daunting eddies of amorous desire, steadied by an undercurrent of calm acceptance at everything that life presents: heartbreak, hardships, even, perhaps, the war raging around the film's production.  It's all worth it just for the way the girl says "yeah" and puts her head on her man's chest near the end.

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Under the Bridges in the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Christian Petzold, BPB Filmkanon (2003) Claudius Seidl, Steadycam (2007) Dominik Graf, Steadycam (2007) Hans Helmut Prinzler, Steadycam (2007) Michael Althen, Steadycam (2007) Rainer Gansera, Steadycam (2007) Wolfgang Hobel, Steadycam (2007) Moving Pictures: A Century of European Filmography 100 Films Illustrating the Quality of European Cinematography (2003) Taschen Books Movies of the 20s-90s (2003-2007) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Shot in the final months of World War II, Unter den Brücken feels like a movie out of time. If no one told you, there'd be no way of knowing that Allied forces were already occupying Aachen and flying nightly raids over Berlin, that the Red Army was advancing through Eastern Prussia. In the relaxed world of Unter den Brücken, there's no war and no Final Solution, just a Havel barge named Liselotte and its joint owners, Hendrik (Carl Raddatz) and Willy (Gustav Knuth). Tired of the lonely river life, the two bargees both fall for the same displaced Schlesian girl trying to make a living in Berlin, given wonderful life by Hannelore Schrott. The worst danger these characters face is heartbreak.

Marcel Carné and Jean Vigo are frequently cited as influences on Käutner's poetic touch, and rightfully so. Unter den Brücken sparkles with loveable throwaway gestures, richly textured cinematography, and sound design that's so evocative that Käutner dedicates an entire scene to the plop of frogs in the water, the crunch of rope against the hull, and the wind in the reeds. The film's good-natured spirit never leaves it even during the saddest third-act reversals, and the big-hearted resolution suggests a stubborn capacity for peace and hope in the face of the global conflagration raging just out of sight.

-Jürgen Fauth, About.com

The film–atypically shot largely on location–offers a relaxed, languid atmosphere and subtle performances that amazingly belie little of the chaos and mounting devastation in the final days of the war. Käutner understands that the film’s romanticism will only work if it takes its time, and he allows the drama to unfold with unruffled ease. Scenes involving characters sitting on a deck at night, listening to the diversity of natural sounds, or sharing a moment while playing an accordion in the dwindling twilight typify the plot. Käutner applies a great deal of visual sophistication with moody chiaroscuro lighting and unexpectedly graceful camera movements that intensify the emotions with Ophülsian relish.

- Doug Cummings, Film Journey.org

Under the Bridges is actually my favorite film. Anyone who sees it today would not be able to understand that at the time, when there was no future any more and Germany's final collapse was a question of days, it was possible to film such a simple, almost idyllic story... When I really think about it, what we did arose from the film makers' stubbornness to allow any of the horror which surrounded us to seep into our work.

- Helmut Käutner, quoted in Marc Silberman, German Cinema: Texts in Context. Published by Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 263.


IMDb Wiki

"Helmut Käutner has made 36 films for the big screen. Those you will have to watch for yourself." The dry wit and subliminal challenge of this assessment at the beginning of Marcel Neudeck’s fine half-hour portrait Wer Ist Helmut Käutner? (Who Is Helmut Käutner, 2008)—itself the work of a waning filmkritik tradition, the scholarly television documentary—might have pleased the master himself. Käutner, who (like his peer David Lean) would have turned 100 on March 25, liked his comedy double-edged, whether elegant and understated or raucous and sharp. His tragedies are no less ambivalent. A humanist intellectual, whose layered studies of conflicting social forces and individual fates may have been too subtle for the culture surrounding them, Käutner qualifies as one of the pantheon directors of German cinema, possibly even the nation’s finest major filmmaker of the sound era save, perhaps, Fassbinder.

- Christoph Huber, Moving Image Source

Kautner is counted among the directors who produced high quality, unpolitical entertainment films in the second half of the Third Reich. He is claimed to be one of the few representatives of "film art" in German fascism. Others detect in his filmmaking a sign of political opposition in the resistance to the aesthetics of the fascist narrative. From this perspective the absence of violence, heroic themes, and visual monumentality opens a space for playfulness and formal concerns which were otherwise considered suspect if not decadent by the film censors. Common to both of these positions is, first, an appreciation of the filmmaker's technical competence and, second, the wish to vindicate that quality as something beyond fascism. Yet the film industry was a priority interest for Goebbel's propaganda ministry, one of the most highly scrutinized and carefully controlled branches of an administered culture and subject to intervention at every step. Hence, to recognize artistic or creative achievements as exceptions to the rule does not obviate the need to understand how these films too produce illusions of escapism within the fascist system.

Helmut Kautner is particularly interesting in this respect because the nine films he completed during The Third Reich have been recognized as his most successful, despite a long career as director extending into the seventies. He is often singled out as the most brilliant film talent to have emerged during the National-Socialist regime, a director whose early films evoke an atmosphere identified with the tradition of Ernst Lubitsch and Max Ophuls and whose style reflects the influence of the French cinema identified with names like Rene Clair, Jean Renoir, and Marcel Carne. His most striking achievement within the norms of Goebbels' film industry, however, was the ability to combine the talents of scriptwriter and director, for Kautner was unique among Third Reich filmmakers for having written or coauthored the scripts for all his films.  This enabled him to exercise a rigor few other directors enjoyed, especially those involved in the production of entertainment features. Kautner's witty dialogues, the careful dramaturgy with its superb sense of timing and rhythm, the mobile camera, the varied editing techniques, and the meticulous handling of light and shadow reveal a high degree of subtlety and a sensitivity for visual detail while highlighting the utter impoverishment of aesthetic understanding among the majority of film directors.

- Marc Silberman, German Cinema: Texts in Context. Published by Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 82.

We shall speak of the gratitude that the young art of film has to express to the old art of the theater independently of any current event.

This gratitude is almost never expressed, for between the two, film and theater, there gapes the rift between the generations, the age-old contrast between parents and children. If film and theater move apart in debate over the theory or practice of art, then they simply move apart. Unfortunately, they never get together. Were they to do so, they would realize that they have more in common than they have in opposition.

A look at the lineage and the development of the theater marks out the path for film. It provides film with the artistic goal of achieving a total artwork appropriate to its form. Through its centuries-long struggle for expression and appearance, the theater has smoothed the artistic paths for film to such an extent that film was able to succeed in reaching the vicinity of absolute art in the short time of its existence. It, too, needs the poet in order to raise itself, as the theater did in its time, from entertainment to an art form. It, too, need uniquely creative personalities, as, for example, Neuberin and Lessing were for the theater, in order to find the laws unique to it. It thanks the eloquent example of the theater for being able to walk these paths with a clear goal before its eyes.

- Helmut Kautner (translated by Lance W. Garmer). From "Gratitude toward the Theater" (1945). Published in German essays on film, by Richard W. McCormick, Alison Guenther-Pal.  Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. Pages 167, 168.

Video Essay for 955 (97) Hitler: A Film from Germany featuring commentary by Susan Sontag

Visit the original entry for the film It's been 30 years since Susan Sontag published her essay that instantly became the definitive analysis of one of her all-time favorite films. I've taken choice excerpts from her essay, as found in A Susan Sontag Reader (published by Farrar/Strauss/Giroux) to produce the following video.

Thanks to Margaret Donabedian for giving voice to Sontag's words, and Cindi Rowell for her invaluable assistance in editing the video.

955 (97). Hitler - ein Film aus Deutschland / Our Hitler / Hitler: a Film from Germany (1977, Hans Jurgen Syberberg)

screened February 4-14 on Facets DVD en route to, during, and back from the Berlin Film Festival IMDb Wiki

Lauded by the likes of Susan Sontag as one of the greatest works of 20th century art, while reviled by many both in Germany and abroad as a work of depraved reactionary nostalgia, Hans Jurgen Syberberg's epic rumination of Germany's Nazi past remains as troubling and troublesome today as it was thirty years ago. (Two top German critics I met in Berlin admitted to not having been able to sit through the film.)  Syberberg takes the old adage of confronting the mistakes of the past lest they be repeated and puts it to an extreme test, immersing its audience in seven-plus hours of Naziana drawn out to such length and breadth that it suggests a morbidly intractable fixation with its subject.

A historical zombie movie for intellectuals, the film fixes an unwavering gaze on reanimated Nazi figures like Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler (whose obsession with a mythic Germany Syberberg seems to share), Hitler's personal valet, and Hitler himself, toga-clad and rising from Richard Wagner's tomb, as they deliver endless monologues amidst a landscape of kitschy Third Reich paraphernalia and atmospheric dry ice fog.  The film itself creeps like a mist, heavily influenced by a Wagnerian aesthetic of total immersion and seductive stasis whose registers of portentous yearning shift gradually from one motif to the next.  Other monologues delivered by contemporary performers often teeter into tedious, sermonizing self-absorption and effete irony (as if to counterpoint the passionate conviction of Nazi orators), bringing out an anti-cinematic element that denies pleasure and resists rapture.  The film comments on cinema itself through a series of rear projections of paintings, newsreel footage and other iconic imagery.  Sets cluttered with stuffed animals and uniformed mannequins suggest the basement of a Neo-Nazi taxidermist, the detritus of the past splayed out haphazardly yet betraying a precision of design, and an overall funkiness that becomes perversely appealing.

Also telling is the film's dual attributions of Nazism as both a precursor and an antidote to the 20th century American capitalism that, according to Syberberg, threatens the freedoms of the world. It's an argument often waged on the battleground of cinema, with Hitler posited as the greatest filmmaker of all time, and Syberberg actively deconstructing the "movie" that was the Third Reich, that massive production that was able, however temporarily, to break capitalist Hollywood's industrial and cultural stranglehold on world cinema. This thorough disenchantment with contemporary film culture is what has Syberberg reaching for his Nazi revolver, loading it with the ammunition of mythic enthrallment and redemptive cultural pride - and yet not quite willing to pull the trigger. It's a deeply ambivalent work, both longing to return to the lost Eden of a Germanic ideal while cautious of the consequences that such an impulse has already wrought on the world.

You can watch the entirety of Hitler: a Film from Germany (in German orEnglish, with or without subtitles) at Hans Jurgen Syberberg's website


Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's 429-minute historical pageant, conceiving Hitler as the logical end point of German romanticism. The film's American distributor, Francis Ford Coppola, retitled it Our Hitler: A Film From Germany, which proves that commercial genius can lie in the stroke of a pronoun: self-flagellating audiences made the film a sellout in most of its initial 1980 engagements.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

The third and longest part of Syberberg's extraordinary trilogy on German culture, history and nationalism (the two earlier films were Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King and Karl May), best described as a high camp, heavy-duty analysis of both history and historical analysis itself. The chosen method is to single out, act out, alter, and finally comment on the lives of a handful of 'awkward' German historical figures, from Ludwig of Bavaria through fantasy author Karl May to Hitler, the 'madman'. Behind aesthetic complexity lies a simple purpose: to show up the sort of historical contradictions solved by Marxists with bare economic models, and by others with suspect reference to the 'greatness' or 'madness' of the figures involved. Visually lyrical, the style is eclectic to the point of hysteria; and the tone oscillates between the operatic (Wagner figures large) and the colloquial (Hitler in conversation with his projectionist) without ever quite coming unstuck. Humour mixes with mythology and analysis in the attempt to reunite art, history and ideology. It's a quite remarkable film, with a sense of metaphor equal to its intellectual courage.

- Time Out

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's Hitler: A Film from Germany is the most controversial film produced in post-war Germany. The central thesis of the film propounds the notion that Hitler is within all of us. Syberberg attempts to illuminate the German soul and German myth—and as such recalls romanticism's themes and preoccupations. Moreover, in his seven hour film, Nazi Germany is depicted as a gargantuan spectacle in which Hitler becomes the ultimate showman-filmmaker; thus Syberberg does not only challenge what a film about Hitler should be like, but also raises important questions about cinematic representation in general.

Hitler and the previously published book about the film had so annoyed the German critical establishment that when a section was previewed at Cannes in 1977, the film was virtually boycotted by all the major German reviewers. In protest, Syberberg, who felt himself deliberately misunderstood, withdrew the film from the Berlin Film Festival and blocked its screening in his native land for a couple of years. The world premier was held at the London Film Festival in 1977 and Hitler was awarded the B.F.I.'s annual prize for "the most original and imaginative film of the year." Subsequently the film was on general release for several months in Paris and Cahiers du Cinema enthusiastically devoted a whole issue to Syberberg and his film. Susan Sontag acclaimed Hitler "one of the great works of art of the twentieth century."

Syberberg wants to draw parallels to cinema on different levels. He makes reference to Melies's A Trip to the Moon, Welles's Citizen Kane, and Lang's M (the final scene, where Peter Lorre defends his evil deeds because he can't help himself, is here reenacted by Peter Kern dressed as an SS officer). Cardboard figures from Caligari to Nosferatu punctuate the film, therefore linking them to the idea of Hitler being a subject for projection of the most evil desires in us. Moreover, Syberberg perceives the trend towards ever-increasing conformity in the developments of cinematic codes as a further basis for his comparison with facism. Thus Greed and its botching by MGM becomes an example, but he also examines Sergei Eisenstein's persecution under Stalin. The figures of Hitler and Himmler are shown to be merelyrepresentations and not embodiments, when delegating their roles to various actors, historical personalities, and marionettes. The condemnation of commercial cinema culminates in the polemical comparison between Auschwitz and McCarthy's Hollywood. In Syberberg's view it was not the actual physical presence of Hitler which historically mobilized the masses, but Hitler as representation and Nazism as spectacle. He is convinced of the vitality of the myth, which is why he wants to break its fascination through mechanisms of estrangement and montage.

And this is the crux of the controversial German reception of Hitler. It is not so much Syberberg's aesthetics per se, but the fear that his aestheticisation of politics might seduce the spectator since it is bordering on aestheticising Nazism. His "creative irrationality," many critics argue, leads to further mystification and connects too problematically to Nazi-mythology.

Ulrike Sieglohr, Film Reference.com

About four hours into its nearly eight-hour running time (442 minutes), Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s Our Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977) finally achieves liftoff. It comes, after hours of gassy cosmic gropings, in a welcome focus on the concrete: an excerpt from the memoir of Hitler’s valet and man-servant, Krause. The former sailor was assigned to attend to Hitler’s clothes, see that Der Fuhrer’s breakfast was delivered on time, arrange the day’s array of newspapers and dispatches, and otherwise make himself useful. So we get the devil in the details of Hitler’s routines, which not surprisingly make him emerge more vividly than the kind of epic breadth Syberberg is after here.

We’re told that Hitler could be surprisingly oblivious to clothes, and that the man who killed millions of human beings couldn’t bear to see a cat kill a bird. If no man is a hero to his valet, Hitler was human-sized to his, living simply, capable of a sentimentality that made him weep at the sight of a Christmas tree. Left to himself, he’d revert to looking baggier and more rumpled than you’d expect from the supreme being of the Third Reich, otherwise a genius at marketing himself. Hitler sensed what a shamed post-WW I Germany wanted and served it up on a massive scale, with an unerring instinct for theatrics. Although taking great pains to link himself to mytho-heroic antecedents, he was shrewd enough to stress that he was anti-elitist, a man of the masses in an age where mass culture was launching itself, especially through movies, of which Hitler was a great devotee. Social evenings at the Reichschancellory, we re told, ended with movie showings in Hitler’s private screening room. (Among his favorites:Broadway Melody, Disney animations, Die Nibelungen of Fritz Lang, who had the good sense to flee Germany.)

In making you shudder at the industrial scale of Hitler’s hate-fueled killing and lunatic ravings, the film also makes you shudder at Hitler’s perversion of language, the barbaric actions to which he affixed the labels bravery, heroism, nobility and so on. Syberberg knows his Orwell. The more horrible Hitler’s horrors, the loftier and more abstract the language became. It doesn’t help that Syberberg has his own language problems. Possibly he was doing an ironic riff on kitsch when he begins the film by telling us “The mysterious path goes inward, into night” or ends it by calling what we have just seen “a projection of the bloodbath of the future.” Although some of his pronouncements and connections are pretty contorted and others are simply bloated and shaky, he has a brain, but he doesn’t have much of an ear. One might almost say, with apologies to Cole Porter, down, down, down he goes, into the ground he goes, in a spin, loving the spin he’s in, loving that old black magic of death. Or at least transfixed by it.

- Jay Carr, Turner Classic Movies

A seven-hour-long film about Hitler caused quite a stir when it was shown in New York in January, 1980. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s “Our Hitler” (a two-disk set from Facets) is anything but a bio-pic. Its original German title, which translates as “Hitler, A Film from Germany,” makes clear the scope of the director’s ambition: to investigate Hitler as a psychic and aesthetic phenomenon, or, as is said in the film, as “fantasies of the mind and their blood realization.”

Syberberg’s technique is as phantasmagorical as the approach demands. The film is a collage of skits and masques, featuring actors doing antic impersonations of Hitler borrowed from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” cardboard cutouts and marionettes, monologues and pantomimes, accompanied by historical sound clips of speeches by Hitler, his associates, and his enemies. Shot in a studio, these theatrical sketches rely on a device that became an instant classic: the projection of slides and films onto screens behind the actors and the sets, providing backdrops that could change instantly.

One bravura sequence features a half-hour monologue by a character identified as Hitler’s valet (much time is spent on the foibles of the Führer’s color coördination); another shows an actor doing Hitler as the Peter Lorre character in Fritz Lang’s “M,” a child murderer who bewails his compulsion to a threatening mob. The film’s iconic image shows Hitler wearing a toga and rising from the grave of Richard Wagner. In Syberberg’s view, Hitler was not only the fulfillment of German culture but of “the whole Western culture and the Christian God,” and the defeat of Germany in the war did not mark Hitler’s defeat but, rather, inaugurated the triumph of his ideas throughout Europe and the world. The spread of Communism in the East and of materialism in the West, the resurgence of anti-Semitism and of the death penalty—and, over all, what he calls “freedom without a human face”—all strike him as the elements of Hitler’s victory.

Susan Sontag’s enthusiasm for the film (she called it “one of the great works of art of the twentieth century”) played a role in its American release. Francis Ford Coppola (who borrowed the rear-screen projection method for “One from the Heart”) picked it up for distribution, and it played to sold-out houses at Lincoln Center and at Hunter College. Yet the film’s influence was limited, perhaps due to its surprising impersonality. For all of his prodigious intellectual substance and theatrical ingenuity, Syberberg himself stays outside and above the fray, speculating invisibly on history from the hermetic enclosure of a studio. He may have got deep into the German psyche but he stayed resolutely outside his own.

- Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Syberberg’s metatext is not a self-flattering mirror but an injunction to self-judgment. “We’ll make it a commercial film, for after all, film has always been a commercial business,” Heinz Schubert’s sardonic circus barker remarks. Syberberg’s critique is an immanent one, knowingly mired in the Dantean muck of commercialism that has made Nazism a sellable brand name even as it scorns it. His boundless rage is directed as much against the contemporary consumer society of the West as against the historical atrocity of Hitlerism.

While Syberberg’s rhetoric indulges in the same rather simplistic linking of fascism to consumerism then common on both sides of the Iron Curtain—as witness Mikhail Romm’s Ordinary Fascism (1966), another moral treatise in documentary guise—this relates to his major theme: that Hitler simply activated currents already circulating through the realms of society, thought, and belief that with the assent of the world he made himself a compendium of the endless clichés of hate. For Syberberg, the pornographic consumer society of the “good old democracy” that emerged in the wake of Nazism, that now peddles the wares of that which it “defeated,” is consigned to the same Hell as Hitler—the Hell of ceaseless repetition envisioned by Walter Benjamin, where “precisely what is newest doesn’t change, where the ‘newest’ in all its pieces keeps remaining the same.”

Sontag, in her marvelous essay on Our Hitler, one of those rare pieces of criticism that has established itself as the authoritative (even if eternally disputed) starting point for its subject’s interpretation—think Sartre on Genet, Kael on Last Tango in Paris (1973), Lester Bangs on the Stooges’Fun House—quite sensibly points out that the Führer cannot be held accountable for the plastic consumer society that followed him, for it was well on its way to realization even as he railed against it. Syberberg, however, does not posit a direct causal relationship, but an even more damnable one of choice. In the wake of fascism’s dreadful legacy, to continue disseminating its myths in the name of profit is a moral renunciation, the same willing surrender to power—this time to that of the dollar—which allowed Hitler to rise to power in the first place. For Syberberg, the commodity society is the inverted mirror of fascism: where the latter sought to compress diversity into uniformity, the former markets uniformity in the guise of diversity.

This is not simply a polemical point, but an aesthetic quandary. How can an artwork be pure, how can art itself be possible when everything can be tagged for its niche market, when even the critical methods of modernism, as Sontag notes, can be assimilated into consumer society’s “huge variety of satisfactions—the unlimited proliferation, and devaluation, of satisfaction itself?” How to make a Great Work when the Great Work itself has become a saleable and readily available commodity; when, 30 years later, every new, shallow provocation is branded a masterpiece by someone, somewhere? With the temperament of a Romantic and the sardonic irony of a Brechtian, Syberberg tries to break through the conundrum by having it both ways. Like Godard’s own television-spawned monument Histoire(s)du Cinéma (1988-98), Our Hitler is a messianic work unmoored from any faith in the sacred, a purifying work littered with cultural detritus, a noble work steeped in vulgarity. It valourizes and romanticizes the unifying and totalizing power of cinema, that “new child of the century,” even as it derides that very power as the enabler of banalization, repetition, and commercialization. It is a work forever conscious of the hopeless contradiction, the impossibility of its chosen task, even as that very impossibility heightens the urgency of what it is compelled to say, over and over again.

- Andrew Tracy, Cinema-scope, Issue 33

Our Hitler speaks eloquently of societal tragedy on a grand scale. Syberberg wields hefty ironies provided by many disturbing and sometimes blackly humorous juxtapositions. Much of part two is taken by an actor's recitation of memories from Hitler's personal valet, who details the Furher's daily routine down to its most screamingly banal minutiae, climaxing in his preferences in underwear. Apparently Hitler demanded the shorter underpants not the longer — or was it the other way around? Earlier in the film, a rather chubby actor in full Nazi uniform enacts Peter Lorre's hysterical "I couldn't help it!" scene from Lang's M to brilliant effect — it's Germany itself as a pathetic child murderer with voices in his head.

Himmler expounds on The Final Solution while getting a full body massage — I get it, fine — but towards Syberberg's summing up in part four, the filmmaker veers toward some questionable intellectualizing. He accuses Hitler of killing the Wandering Jew, who previously, "pushed by disquiet" had "creat[ed] culture . . . Israel has no Kafka." Interesting point: that a displaced people would operate culturally in response to their outsider status. Would there be a Mahler without the shtetl? Still, Syberberg seems on thin ice here, especially when one puts these views in context with various statements he made in the '90s. Viewing Europe as currently living in the "Jewish Epoch," sanctioned and protected by an US/Israel axis, it seems he has his own "Jewish Question": Western art, Syberberg proposes, is stifled by "Jews and leftists." Sounds, as the magazine Der Spiegel pointed out, like a certain frustrated Austrian art student . .

- Gordon Thomas, Bright Lights Film Journal

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg made the seven-hour 1978 experimental epic Our Hitler, A Film From Germany for television, but he also anticipated the home-video revolution, and hoped patrons of the arts would one day run the film on the tiny boxes in their living rooms, like art installations. Brechtian to the extreme, Our Hitleris staged in a cavernous theater, where actors (and occasionally puppets) portray aspects of Adolf Hitler and other Third Reich leaders, delivering beat-poet monologues that Syberberg swaddles in snippets of Wagner and intersperses with original Nazi radio broadcasts. Sometimes Syberberg moves the camera around the big, boxy space, exploring its crannies; sometimes he holds still, using optical effects to create frames within frames. Throughout, he foregrounds the artifice, demanding that viewers divorce themselves of whatever emotions the name "Hitler" evokes, to see instead the way the dictator emerged naturally out of the German national character—a character that Syberberg still honors.

Whatever the filmmaker's intentions, Our Hitler seems diminished on even the biggest TV screen. It's a very chatty film, advancing a complex argument through historical anecdotes and vaudevillian spectacle, and it's the kind of piece that demands the trappings of an actual theater, and the mesmerizing flicker of light. Flattened out on video—and especially given the new double-disc DVD's crummy transfer—Our Hitler seems more self-indulgent in its length, and the associations between pop-culture phenomena and Nazi strategy appear more tenuous. Syberberg attempts to show how Hitler was both the apotheosis of multiple 20th-century movements and a petty little man, but by the time his monologists get to the end of their speeches, it's sometimes hard to remember their point.

That said, there's plenty here to support Susan Sontag's famous claim that Our Hitler is "on another scale from anything one has seen on film." The film's layers of theatricality and critical thought can be peeled back endlessly, but not without disturbing each other. Our Hitlercontains the seeds of cinema's future, blossoming in Lars von Trier's Dogville, Todd Haynes' dense pop essays, and even the epilogue to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, just a few years later. The film contains worlds, even if not all of them are worth visiting.

- Noel Murray, The Onion A/V Club

One remarkable segment: Does it correspond to actuality by dint of metaphor or historical accuracy? What revelation either way! Dressed as Caligari (1919), an actor lectures us, describing the schools for boys that the Nazis instituted. Hitler loved birds, he tells us, and, because cats eat birds, as part of their “education” schoolboys gouged out the eyes of cats. Darwin’s Nature is thus translated into politics “red in tooth and claw,” and self-pity and cruelty, both monstrously enlarged, become indistinguishable. Syberberg’s Caligari proceeds to draw the Nazi identification of Jews with rats.

Another segment draws upon past German cinema: Syberberg redoes the scene in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) in which Peter Lorre’s child-rapist/killer breaks down, explaining to the court that he cannot help doing what he does, that he is in the grip of a compulsion beyond his means to resist. In the new version, the man is a Nazi protesting his inability to resist his own politics! On second thought, though, we may wonder whether this constitutes a reimagined M or a critical analysis of M. What revelation either way!

- Dennis Grunes

"Syberberg’s Hitler is no discrete entity of Biblical evil. He is one of us and needs explication. Even his paintings are relevant. Recurrent images of the Black Maria, Thomas Edison’s first motion picture studio, suggest the role that mass media has contributed to the creation of Hitler. In fact Syberberg correlates the rise of mass media with the rise of fascism. And through it all he probes the question of the extent to which Hitler was a projection of his society’s madness, and the extent to which Hitler projected his own madness upon society. Syberberg clearly sees Hitler as an eternal and omnipresent force, with his policies living on in all nations and cultures, especially the United States. Pogo put the proposition more succinctly: ‘We met the enemy and he is us.’ Syberberg’s Our Hitlerfocuses on Germany but is a warning to all against potential complicity.”

- Shirley Goldberg, “Our Hitler: the Self-reflexive Image of Evil,Humanist Perspectives

Hitler: A Film from Germany is an attempt to divorce Hitler and the Third Reich from a simple narrative and historical summation through a marriage of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk and the Brechtian alienation effect, an unlikely alliance but a profitable one: Film as the art form of the 20th century, the epic theater providing its principal dramaturgical devices. "I made the aesthetically scandalous attempt," Syberberg explained, "of combining Brecht's doctrine of the epic theater with Richard Wagner's musical aesthetics, of linking the epic system as anti-aristotelian cinema with the laws of the new myth."

Hence a circus metaphor; hence depth through duration; hence the episodic quality of the film. Hitler: A Film from Germany is a long series of monologues, film clips, puppet shows and tableaux, motifs emerging and re-emerging from episode to episode. Syberberg's most fascinating technique is to strip even these devices of their ability to enchant by laying them bare as cheap circus tricks. The "puppets" (no more than dolls, really, of Hitler, Goebbels and other historical and symbolic figures) are clumsily manipulated and their lines spoken on-screen by live actors. Even the device of quotation is exposed. In "Part I: The Grail," Austrian actor Peter Kern, costumed and made-up as Hitler (though Kern's considerable girth undermines the illusion of impersonation), delivers the final monologue of the child sex murderer in Fritz Lang's 1933 film M. Kern's delivery is overdramatic, like Peter Lorre's; Syberberg's parallel explicit; but in this shameless theatricality he makes the ease of narrative suspension-of-disbelief ambivalent. We must ask ourselves: What are we watching here? Any film student sees the cultural significance ofM to inter-war Germany; what does it mean to make this significance over-explicit in post-war Germany? Does it make our interpretation of M (and, for that matter, Hitler the film and Hitler the figure) easier, or are we made to face our mythologizing tendency to distance our most unpleasant natures from ourselves as observers?

- George Hunka, Superfluities

I have heard that Syberberg did not want to create a film that people could slip into as if into a dream, as with most films, but a film where you would have to remain conscious all the while about what was being addressed. He creates a stage magic that makes a point of letting you know it is stage magic. Single, excellent actors help create a certain reality, however, while they speak to mannequins, puppets, cardboard figures, with a bit of stage fog at times. By the end of the film this made sense too: The Jews were real human beings; their persecutors, having destroyed all love inside themselves, were really stick figures. The tragedy of millions of real humans being killed by stick figures who should have figured only in a comedy epitomizes the perversion that was Nazi Germany.

I never quite grasped before the Syberberg film that Hitler’s campaign to kill Jews was a clever political calculation, itself indifferent to the Jews, but the essential unifying element in his power. If all else was failing, he could count on the anti-Semitism in all European countries remaining the one unifying constant. The purpose of destroying Jews justified crossing national lines: As Jews are everywhere, his conquest must be universal. Syberberg also reveals that whether it was rumor or fact that Adolph Hitler was part Jewish that would alter nothing; in fact, would reinforce how he and the other anti-Semites identified Jewishness as a part of themselves, whatever parts of themselves that they fear or hated. That demon Jew was the mythical Jew created over a millennium in Europe that the mass of people believed to be real (that group in every country onto which people project their shadow sides) – supposed to be violence-proned, sex-obsessed, or too sensual; angry, resentful, and heartless like Shylock; apt to kill Christian children to mix their blood into the dough they will bake into bread. Whatever a German might hate himself projected onto the Jews. As Syberberg points out, Jews, while in Germany, were the greatest Germans.

I have always wondered how that odd figure, Adolph Hitler – himself a good choice to play a nibelung – could have such charisma. Hearing a person, as portrayed by an actor in the film, describe how, in his first experience hearing a still unknown Hitler speak, he went from despair to hope, it occurred to me that Hitler physically was a perfect representation of how Germans felt at the time: scrawny, belittled, failing at everything attempted, in the hole, crazed from World War I defeat and rigid surrender terms, enduring decades of severe economic depression. To hear scrawny, limp wristed HItler work himself into an ecstasy was to watch a failure swell himself up. They might defend the fastidious, moralistic, downright prissy runt and give him their loyalty as he looked the way they felt and maybe they could swell up in that same way – and they probably heard too the desire for revenge.

- James Eilers, The Blue Elephant


Some critics are such passionate pitchmen for certain films that the works become theirs. Lola Montez was Andrew Sarris' darling, and Last Tango in ParisPauline Kael's —she compared its U.S. premiere at the 1972 New York Film Festival to the first performance of Stavinsky's The Rite of Spring. Well, Francis Coppola may have attached the Our to the original title, Hitler: A Film from Germany, but this 6hr.50min. pageant is really Susan Sontag's. Once the distinguished essayist-novelist-filmmaker declared that Syberberg had made "the most extraordinary film I have ever seen," she owned it. And she wasn't the only critic moved to rapture when Coppola presented the movie in 1980 at New York's the Ziegfeld Theatre. Now, in a DVD edition supervised by the director, a new generation can see what all the kvelling was about.

Anyone, not just Sontag, could love Hitler for the scope of its intentions, the density of its images. "The film tries to be everything," she wrote. "Syberberg's unprecedented ambition in Hitler, a Film from Germany is on another scale from anything one has seen on film. It is work that demands a special kind of attention and partisanship; and invites being reflected upon, reseen. ... Syberberg's film belongs in the category of noble masterpieces which ask for fealty and can compel it. After seeing Hitler, a Film from Germany, there is Syberberg's film - and then there are the other films one admires. (Not too many these days, alas.)"

And even fewer these days. But it's unlikely that Hitler could win the devotion today that it received on its release. You had to be there —in the theater, submitting to an all-day immersion in Syberbergonomics. That way, Hitler could command you to follow its pace, its labyrinthine arguments and artistic strategies. Watching it on a TV screen, able to hit the Fast Forward or Stop button as your attention wanes, you are the director, the Fuehrer. Still, the cumulative experience —less than half the length of its TV-movie contemporary, Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz —is enthralling enough to invest in.

- Richard Corliss, Time

It was one of the most fabulous, rumored-about, challenging, psychotic film events of the modern age: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's "Hitler, a Film from Germany" (1977), arriving in New York in 1980 as"Our Hitler," to be shown at the Ziegfeld theater in an unheard-of nearly seven-and-a-half-hour form (it was made as a four-part German TV program, but the networks rejected it), bearing hype as a brazenly non-narrative epic addressing the legacy of Hitler as a kind of cultural consciousness, carrying the crest of Francis Ford Coppola as "presenter," and trailing after it, in February 1980 in The New York Review of Books, Susan Sontag's immediately famous appreciation proclaiming the film to be "unprecedented" and "on another scale from anything one has seen on film." I was but a wee film-hungry shaver at the time, and never got to the Ziegfeld. But "Our Hitler," a film that promised a truly unique experience (every description I'd read about it left me still questioning what on earth the movie could be like), maintained the aura of an Atlantis among sought-after movies, elusive, humongous, too unwieldy and rich and profound for the average filmgoer, but a prize new world for the rest of us.

What Sontag neglected to mention, or, more accurately, didn't care about, was the slowness of the film, its longueurs and repetitions, its reliance on monologuing. For every five salient, revelatory postulates about "Hitler" the man, the ghost, the enigma, the dialectic inevitable, there's at least one that's fuzzy, inconclusive or silly. And of course the visual dynamic grows familiar, regardless of how much Syberberg tries to recreate the space with Hitler memorabilia clutter and new projected images on the back screen. But such criticisms, Sontag would surely argue, are irrelevant in the face of a film that strives for such massiveness, that dares so boldly, that creates its own way of watching. And she'd be right, as I could well be in suggesting that editing out a just few hours would make the film communicate better and test patience less. Whatever: it's an astounding, intellectually adventurous monument, and obviously a cinephile's required viewing, if in fact the cinephile in question wants to remain worthy of the label.

- Michael Atkinson, IFC.com

Sontag begins her analysis of Syberberg's film with the claim that the Romantic desire for the "great work" of art, thought by many to be impossible, returns in Syberberg's film in a powerful rereading that takes into account its own anachronism. Modernism, according to Sontag, has been stripped of its heroic nature as an adversary sensibility.(138) The untimely nature of Syberberg's undertaking is brought to the fore: it purports to be, once again, a "great work of art," one that has incorporated a self-reflection concerning what it means to construct such a "great work" in the late 20th century, and the complicity of this art-form with the grandiose staging of Nazi Germany.

Syberberg's two themes are film and Hitler, the art medium of the twentieth century and the subject of the twentieth century. One might include here all of the permutations of these two terms: Hitler as film, Hitler in film, film as Hitler's privileged medium, and our own, contemporary construction of Hitler as one that is, ultimately, cinematic in the sense that Hitler functions as a "screen" for many of the internal projection machanisms of modern mass culture, Germany in particular. These two themes in their entwinement are articulated and interrogated on a grand, even "mythic" scale, enacted theatrically on a stage, combining and mixing different modes, genres, media: the puppet show, the fairy tale, circus, morality play, philosophical dialogue, and, of course, film itself.

Syberberg dispenses with all realistic representation. According to Sontag, to simulate atrocity requires the passification of the audience, something that Syberberg struggles against. It also reinforces stereotypes and simplistic generalizations, and confirms our distance from the event and the practice of Nazism. For Syberberg, there is a morally appropriate or apt way to confront Nazi Germany and the Holocaust: one must dispense with realism and realistic conventionality. Simulation of the Genocide as fiction transforms realistic representation into a form of pornography.

Robert S. Leventhal Department of German University of Virginia

Susan Sontag's essay on the film is really one of her finest, worth reading even if you haven't seen the film. An extract here:

Although Syberberg draws on innumerable versions and impressions of Hitler, the film in fact offers very few ideas about Hitler. For the most part they are the theses formulated in the ruins of post-World War II Germany: the thesis that "Hitler's work" was "the eruption of the satanic principle in world history" (Meinecke's The German Catastrophe, written two years before Doctor Faustus); the thesis, expressed by Max Horkheimer in an essay written just after the war, that Hitler was the logical culmination of Western progress. Starting in the 1950s, when the ruins were rebuilt, more complex theses—political, sociological, economic—prevailed about Nazism. (Horkheimer, for example, repudiated his essay.) In reviving those unmodulated views of thirty years ago, their indignation, their pessimism, Syberberg's film makes a strong case for their moral appropriateness.

Syberberg asks that we really listen to what Hitler said—to the kind of cultural revolution Nazism was, or claimed to be; to the spiritual catastrophe it was, and still is. By Hitler Syberberg does not mean only the real historical monster, responsible for the deaths of tens of millions. He evokes a kind of Hitler-substance that outlives Hitler, a phantom presence in modern culture, a protean principle of evil that saturates the present and remakes the past. Syberberg's film alludes to familiar genealogies, real and symbolic: from Romanticism to Hitler, from Wagner to Hitler, from Caligari to Hitler, from kitsch to Hitler. And, in the hyperbole of woe, he insists on some new ones: from Hitler to pornography, from Hitler to the soulless consumer society of the Federal Republic, from Hitler to the rude coercions of the DDR.

In using Hitler thus, there is some truth and some unconvincing attributions. It is true that Hitler has contaminated romanticism and Wagner, that much of nineteenth-century German culture is, retroactively, haunted by Hitler. (As, say, nineteenth-century Russian culture is not haunted by Stalin.) But it is not true that Hitler engendered the modern, post-Hitlerian plastic consumer society. That was already well on the way when the Nazis took power. Indeed it could be argued—contra Syberberg—that Hitler was in the long run an irrelevance, an attempt to halt the historical clock; and that communism is what ultimately mattered in Europe, not fascism. Syberberg is more plausible when he asserts that the DDR resembles the Nazi state, a view for which he has been denounced by the left in West Germany. Like most intellectuals who grew up under a communist regime and moved to a bourgeois-democratic one, he is singularly free of left-wing pieties.

Syberberg's notion of history as catastrophe recalls the long German tradition of regarding history moralistically, as the history of the spirit. Comparable views today are more likely to be entertained in Eastern Europe than in Germany. Syberberg has the moral intransigence, the lack of respect for literal history, the heartbreaking seriousness of the great illiberal artists from the Russian empire—with their fierce convictions about the primacy of spiritual over material (economic, political) causation, the irrelevance of the categories "left" and "right," the existence of absolute evil. Appalled by the extensiveness of the German support for Hitler, Syberberg calls the Germans "a Satanic people."

And her final recommendation:

Syberberg is a genuine elegiast who knows how to use the allegorical props, the symbols and talismans of melancholy. But his film is tonic. The poetic, husky-voiced, diffident logorrhea of Godard's late films discloses a morose conviction that speaking will never exorcise anything, and an inhibition of feeling, both of sympathy and repulsion, that results from this sense of the impotence of speaking. Syberberg, with a temperament that seems the opposite of Godard's, has a supreme confidence in language, in discourse, in eloquence itself. The result is a film altogether exceptional in its emotional expressiveness, its novel aesthetic, its visual beauty, its moral passion, its concern with contemplative values.

The film tries to say everything. Syberberg belongs to the race of creators like Wagner, Artaud, Céline, the late Joyce, whose work annihilates other work. All are artists of endless speaking, endless melody—a voice that goes on and on. (Beckett would belong to this race too were it not for some inhibitory force—sanity? elegance? good manners? less energy? deeper despair?) Syberberg's unprecedented ambition in Hitler, A Film from Germany is on another scale than anything one has seen on film. It is work that demands a special kind of attention and partisanship; and invites being reflected upon, reseen. The more one recognizes of its stylistic references and lore, the more the film vibrates. Syberberg's film belongs in the category of noble master-pieces which ask for fealty and can compel it. After seeing Hitler, A Film from Germany, there is Syberberg's film—and then there are the other films one admires. (Not too many these days, alas.) As was said ruefully of Wagner, he spoils our tolerance for the others.

- Alok, Dispatches from Zembla

Replies to Susan Sontag's Essay on Hitler in New York Review of Books

What Syberberg has understood (if that is the right word to describe the psychic work that has gone into his film) is that, beyond desire for conquest and enrichment, and beyond the will to power, the main force that informed Hitler, his henchmen and his followers as well as parts of their ideology, was the fascination exerted over them by destruction and the love of death.

This love of death, not mentioned by Miss Sontag, is the theme and provides the recurrent motifs of Syberberg's film. He achieves the disquietingly intimate presentation of important aspects of national-socialist Germany—for instance in the very long SS monologues—precisely because his film reproduces and reenacts Hitler's appeal to his public and his followers; and this appeal I take to have been, increasingly as the war went on, an appeal to their hideous preoccupation with death.

The film is "dedicated, as it were, to grief," Miss Sontag writes. Grief—for whom? It seems to me that in any medium that permits that question—and this film is certainly such a medium—there must, for legitimate effect, be a discriminating answer. Perhaps in music things are different. But in any medium which relies for its effects on individuation through personal identities and personal acts, an indiscriminate answer is bound to perpetuate something of the original monstrosity.

J.P. Stern Department of German University College, London, England

The film, in fact, is relentlessly self-important; and the grandiose theme to which such unyielding importance is attributed represents one of the most disturbing aspects of the film (it's too hard to pick the most disturbing aspect): the predicament of the artist whose materials have been defiled. Poor Syberberg. One cannot listen to Wagner now without thinking of Hitler, or read Nietzsche, or even harmless Novalis. To seeHitler, one would think that the worst devastation of World War II was in the realm of art; it left debris, not material. Syberberg constructs with the debris but does not transform it; it remains garbage. Where Doktor Faustus was a sensitive, self-critical meditation on Germany gone mad, and where most of the pervasive irony is directed against Zeitblom, the ineffectual humanist who is Mann just as much as Leverkühn is, Hitler is an indictment of everyone but the artist. At best, it attempts to implicate everybody in the Nazi debacle; at worst (and I honestly believe this to be the case) it associates Nazism with popular rule in Germany, with massification or any other pejorative Jungian term that one may choose. Since Syberberg hardly mentions the strong internal resistance to fascism in the form of left-wing parties (if he did would simply equate fascism with communism in his neat way of reducing historical material), he can dismiss the value of all political activity and remain an aloof, bereaved genius. In fact, he treats the loss of his artistic heritage just as he might have treated the loss of his material legacy after it was expropriated by the East German State. His innocence is touching.

Susan Sontag says of Hitler that it is "like an unwanted baby in the era of zero population growth." It's more like a miscalculated abortion when everyone has been waiting for a birth.

Doris Sommer Departments of Literatures, Languages and Linguistics Livingston College Rutgers University New Brunswick, New Jersey

Susan Sontag replies:

These two letters, one civil and thoughtful, one not, make the same exemplary error. The form-content dichotomy is being used at its most simple-minded, with the predictable distortions. Not only have Mr. Stern and Ms. Sommer reduced the film to its putative content, but this reduction grossly misrepresents the actual complexity of Syberberg's views, and their formal and imaginative profundity. It is Mr. Stern, with his insistence on designating what Syberberg's film is "really about," in naming (as if it were obvious) "the main force that informed Hitler," who seems one-sided.

Eager to promote his own thesis about Nazism—"this love of death, not mentioned by Miss Sontag"—Mr. Stern first finds it in the film ("For what Syberberg has understood…"), and then reproaches Syberberg for not pressing that thesis only (his "indiscriminate answer"). I findHitler, a Film from Germany much more complex and, yes, dialectical. Love of death? Love of cinema, too. After the assertion that Syberberg's film is "really about" what Nazism is "really about" (the preoccupation with death), then comes the sleight-of-hand—and behold Syberberg's film charged with reproducing and reenacting Hitler's appeal to his public. It is a grave charge to say that Syberberg's "indiscriminate answer is bound to perpetuate something of the original monstrosity"—and a naïve one. Naïve, first of all, in its understanding of the possibilities open to art in general and cinema in particular (Mr. Stern's insipid certainty that film is a "medium which relies for its effects on individuation"). Moralizing about art in this way is pure demagogy. The polity is not seriously threatened by a film director who has thought somewhat more deeply about cinema; who makes films whose structure derives from that old debaucher of individuation, music.

The subject of Hitler makes moralists of us all—moralists with a facility that is perhaps the last of the corruptions which is Hitler's legacy. But Mr. Stern has let his license to moralize mislead him; he is not talking about what is, for seven hours, on the screen: a film designed as a critique of and antidote to the fascinations of fascism. There is no complicity, objective or subjective, between Hitler and Hitler; nothing in common between the appeal of this contemplative, ironic, learned, compassionate film and the Führer's appeal. Mr. Stern is projecting his own view of the secret theme of Nazism onto Syberberg, and then faulting Syberberg for making a case for this theme. But what makes Mr. Stern outside the preoccupation with death and Syberberg perniciously inside (the author of a potentially "dangerous" work)? That Syberberg is an artist? An expert in empathy? But that is precisely the point. Syberberg is not a professor of German Studies but a great artist. He is an artist, as well as a propagandist for the good. I sincerely doubt that we need to be protected from him by the "stability and sanity" of the Federal Republic.

To explain just how much she dislikes Syberberg's film, Ms. Sommer drags in Mann—asserting that there are echoes of Doctor Faustus in Hitler, a Film from Germany (which I'd said); thatDoctor Faustus is a great work; that Mann was no hero. Sorry, but Thomas Mann and Walter Benjamin were both enemies of fascism. Needless to say, Syberberg does not in his film "tell his audience" that; aristocrat that he is, he assumes they know. But Ms. Sommer has to turn Syberberg's argument into baby talk in order to launch her complaint that Walter Benjamin has been made "available" to the likes of Syberberg. I was under the impression that the greatest critic of the twentieth century is not the exclusive property of Marxists, particularly vulgar Marxists, and is available to us all.

Ms. Sommer did indeed miss the modernist ironies in Hitler, a Film from Germany—nothing to brag about, I should have thought. But it is not "the heavy aura of Mann's work" that makes me "imagine 'modernist ironies' in Hitler"; Mann is not, in my books, a modernist artist. No wonder Ms. Sommer missed the modernism of Syberberg's film, since she plainly doesn't know what modernism is. Nor does she appear to know anything about film.

- The New York Review of Books, Volume 27, Number 9 · May 29, 1980


What is interesting in Kracauer's book From Caligari to Hitler is that it shows how expressionist cinema reflected the rise of the Hitlerian automaton in the German soul. But it still took an external viewpoint, whilst Walter Benjamin's article set itself inside cinema in order to show how the art of automatic movement (or, as he ambiguously said, the art of reproduction) was itself to coincide with the automization of the masses, state direction, politics become 'art': Hitler as film-maker... And it is true that up to the end Nazism thinks of itself in competition with Hollywood. The revolutionary courtship of the movement-image and an art of the masses become subject was broken off, giving way to the masses subjected as psychological automaton, and to their leader as great spiritual automaton. This is what compels Syberberg to say that the end-product of the movement-image is Leni Riefenstahl, and if Hitler is to be put on trial by cinema, it must be inside cinema, against Hitler the film-maker, in order to 'defeat him cinematographically, turning his weapons against him'. It is as if Syberberg felt the need to add a second volume to Kracauer's book, but this second volume would be a film: not now from Caligari (or from a film from Germany) to Hitler, but from Hitler to A Film from Germany, the change taking place inside cinema, against Hitler, but also against Hollywood, against represented violence, against pornography, against business... But at what price? A true psychomechanics will not be found unless it is based on new associations, by reconstituting the great mental automata whose place was taken by Hitler, by reviving the psychological automata that he enslaved. The movement-image, that is, the bond that cinema had introduced between movement and image from the outset, would have to be abandoned, in order to set free other powers that it kept subordinate, and which had not had the time to develop their effects: projection and back-projection. There is also a more general problem: for projection and back-projection are only technical means which directly carry the time-image, which substitute the time-image for the movement-image. The film set is transformed, but in that 'space here is born from time' (Parsifal). Is there a new regime of images like that of automatism?

The modern world is that in which information replaces nature. It is what Jean-Pierre Oudart calls the 'media-effect' in Syberberg. And it is an essential aspect of syberberg's work, because the disjunction, the division of the visual and the sound, will be specifically entrusted with experiencing this complexity of informational space. This goes beyond the psychological individual just as it makes a whole impossible: a non-totalizable complexity, 'non-representable by a single individual', and which finds its representation only in the automaton. Syberberg takes the image of Hitler as enemy, not Hitler the individual, who does not exist, but neither a totality which could produce him according to relations of causality. 'Hitler in us' not only indicates that we made Hitler as much as he made us, or that we all have potential fascist elements, but that Hitler exists only through pieces of information which constitute his image in ourselves. It could be said that the Nazi regime, the war, the concentration camps, were not images, and that Syberbergs position is not without ambiguity. But Syberberg's powerful idea is that no information, whatever it might be, is sufficient to defeat Hitler. All the documents could be shown, all the testimonies could be heard, but in vain: what makes information all-powerful (the newspapers, and then the radio, and then the television) is its very nullity, its radical ineffectiveness. Information plays on its ineffectiveness in order to establish its power, its very power is to be ineffective, and thereby all the more dangerous. This is why it is necessary to go beyond information in order to defeat Hitler or turn the image over. Now, going beyond information is achieved on two sides at once, towards two questions: what is the source and what is the addressee? These are also the two questions of the Godardian pedagogy. Informatics replies to neither question, because the source of information is not a piece of information any more than is the person informed. If there is no debasement of information, it is because information itself is a debasement. It is thus necessary to go beyond all the pieces of spoken information; to extract from them a pure speech-act, creative story-telling which is at it were the obverse side of dominant myths, of current words and their supporters; an act capable of creating the myth instead of drawing profit or business from it. It is also necessary to go beyond all the visual layers; to set up a pure informed person capable of receiving into his visible body the pure act of speech.

- Gilles Deleuze. Cinema. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group. Pages 253, 257

"[Hitler] represents one of the few attempts to come to terms with the Nazi phenomenon in a way that challenges Hollywood storytelling and, above all, utilizes the specific potential of film as a representation of the past."

1.“According to Syberberg, Hitler served the Germans as a screen onto which they could project all their wishes, anxieties, and hopes. That is the point of the film’s central monologue, given to Hitler:

“After all, there was no one else who would, who could take over my desired role. And so they called upon me. First, the bourgeoisie, then the military, rubbing their hands in bliss and dirt, and also to defend their honor, do you imagine I did not take notice? Then, industry, to drive out Bolshevism, from whose Lenin I learned so much and whose Stalin could be venerated secretly. Then the petty bourgeois, the workers, for whom I could bring forth so much, and youth, to whom I gave a goal, and the students, who needed me, and the intellectuals, who were now liberated from the Jewish Mafia of their friends and foes, yes, and other countries, which were glad to have a pacified Europe again, strength and solemnity. And one should consider to how many people I gave something worth being against. And just compare the lives of so many people—listless, empty. I gave them what they put into me, what they wanted to hear, wanted to do, things they were afraid to do. I made and commanded for them, for it was all for them, not for me…I was and am the end of your most secret wishes, the legend and reality of your dreams, so we have to get through. Finally. The final time? Nightmares? Not by a long shot.””

2.”Syberberg obliquely asks the taboo question of why fascism attracted such a broad following, even among the elite. After decades of traditional research that explained fascism in moral or economic terms, it was only in recent years that the obvious fascination and the aesthetics of fascism have been openly acknowledged: fascism seemed to have elicited and fulfilled hidden wishes and desires of a people who, after the Versailles Treaty and the self-effacing politics of the Weimar Republic, felt deprived of their national pride and collective identity.”

3.”The mythic dimension of German history seemed forever devalued through Hitler’s misuse of it. The memory of the power of the medieval German empire and the dream of the return of the mythic Barbarossa, the often-evoked honor and loyalty of the Nibelungs, and the charisma of such leaders as Arminius and Frederick the Great—all had been appropriated by Hitler and integrated into the national myth of the Third Reich (itself a mythic idea). According to Syberberg, Hitler killed German identity at its roots by stealing and soiling all national myths. In Syberberg’s film, however, the loss of German identity gives way to a vision of apocalypse.”

4.”The more Weimar politics appeared as meek and “unsensuous,” the more the support for the National Socialists grew. More than any other political party, they knew how to appeal to the collective imagination and satisfy the need for the irrational with their nocturnal torchlight parades, uniforms, and archaic rituals. Already in the late 1920s, Ernst Bloch, a Marxist, correctly pointed out the mass appeal of irrational elements in National Socialism and warned about the consequences of ignoring these potentiality explosive forces. Irrationalism had always been present in German culture as the “dark side” of Reason; in 1933 it became, logically enough, the basis for a secular state religion.”

5.”In a similar way, Syberberg’s filmic work of mourning challenges the present. Hitler, according to the film, lives on in terrorism, in modern totalitarianism, in the pollution of the environment, in the ravaging of life through the entertainment industry, in the quantitative art-hating mass democracy. “Hitler himself is the theme and center of this past, which we must penetrate, this past so wounded and painful, yet so identifiable.””

- Anton Kaes, FROM HITLER TO HEIMAT: THE RETURN OF HISTORY AS FILM (1989). Found on Limitless Cinema

Syberberg's film is epic in length but of chamber-opera dimensions in its dramaturgy (in this, too, not unlike postwar reappraisal of more bombastic elements supposedly inherent in Wagner). The dominating composer on a prominent soundtrack is Wagner. This tallies with expectations aroused by the film's title alone, a cliched parallel both foregrounded and challenged by Syberberg. His project quickly dispels this triggered association and signals its intention to seek the roots of Wagner's music beneath the patina of Nazi reception. Through the saturation of its soundtrack and its own length, his film acquires a dramatic kinship with the composer. Yet the film's own balance diverges from that of opera, not just Wagnerian opera.

With Syberberg, music as cultural market becomes marked, even scarred, music. Like references to Romantic painting and cinema history, it is part of the cultural bric-a-brac of this film, but it is also tainted through its identification with artistically brilliant but politically compromised conductors like Knappertsbusch, Furtwangler, or von Karajan. With Syberberg, however, the thrust is frequently reversed, and the reduction of Wagner's Romantic aura by the tawdry attributes of Nazism becomes the real object of lament. Wagner is simply the most focused object of the director's sense of affront at the destruction of German art in the twentieth century.

While certainly not an apologist for Hitler, Syberberg thereby aligns himself with a politicaly blighted nineteenth-century tradition. In the wake of German history of the twentieth century, this stance seems willful. At one level, in his introduction to the script, he even links Wagner with Mozart as a common site of resistance to Hitler: "Hitler is to be fought, not with the statistics of Auschwitz or with sociological analyses of the Nazi economy, but with Richard Wagner and Mozart." Music per se is viewed here as legitimate irrationalism, the converse to Hitler's. But elsewhere his Hitler figure, having emerged from the grave of Wagner, acknowledges the alien mold of the cosmic laughter of Mozart. This is a more realistic acknowledgment of the ideological component of musical reception.

- Roger Hillman. Unsettling Scores: German Film, Music, and Ideology. Published by Indiana University Press, 2005. Pages 67, 68-69


Perhaps not seasonally appropriate but a gift all the same, Facets' 30th- anniversary release of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's phantasmagoric, seven-and-a-half-hour Hitler, a Film From Germany makes one of the great, audacious, all-but-impossible-to-see movies of the 1970s generally available for the first time.

Syberberg's Hitler—which was misleadingly retitled Our Hitler by its American presenter, Francis Ford Coppola, and is now packaged in an infelicitous compromise as Our Hitler, a Film From Germany—was the culmination of Syberberg's ongoing meditation on the myths, fantasies, and desires that resulted in the Third Reich and continue to fuel fascination with the Nazi period. Following movies on Ludwig of Bavaria and Karl May and an extended interview with Winifred Wagner, Syberberg brought his mock-epic style—puppets, props, rear-screen projection—to bear on 20th-century Europe's most alarmingly seductive personality.

Syberberg is not without artistic antecedents, but nothing else in movies quite resembles this underground extravaganza—populated by stand-ins and shot entirely on a soundstage cluttered with the symbolic detritus of German culture. Syberberg was the only filmmaker of the German neue kino to successfully synthesize the spirit of Wagnerian romantic megalomania and that of Brecht's sardonic cabaret theatricality, infusing both with a sense of cosmic melancholy. Hitler often seems to be a circus staged by and for a single impoverished aristocrat pondering the mystery of Germany in the night.

The Facets transfer has an unexpectedly ethereal quality wholly appropriate to both the artist's anti-monumental aesthetic and his belief in cinema as an artifact. The two discs are accompanied by a booklet that includes Susan Sontag's early influential essay on the film; the major extra is a German video doc on Hitler's much-ballyhooed American premiere at Lincoln Center in 1979.

- J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

DVD Extras

The only extra feature is some historical video footage of the New York City premier ofHitler, A Film From Germany in 1978. The quality of the tape is poor, but I suppose it’s all we’ve got.

Picture and Sound

Picture and sound quality are uneven. Parts of the film are razor-sharp and beautiful, others look like badly dubbed video. Also the English subtitles are shot full of typos, misspellings, and in some cases, German words instead of the English equivalent. This film deserves better.

How to Use this DVD

Give yourself a couple of nights to watch this one. On the last night, go back and watch the first disk again to pick up on all the stuff you missed while you were learning how to watch the film.

- John Adams, Movie Habit


IMDb Wiki

The films of Hans-Jurgen Syberberg are at times annoying, confusing, and overlong—but they are also ambitious and compelling. In no way is he ever conventional or commercial: critics and audiences have alternately labeled his work brilliant and boring, absorbing and pretentious, and his films today are still rarely screened. Stylistically, it is difficult to link him with any other filmmaker or cinema tradition. In this regard he is an original, the most controversial of all the New German filmmakers and a figure who is at the vanguard of the resurgence of experimental filmmaking in his homeland.

Not unlike his contemporary, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Syberberg's most characteristic films examine recent German history: a documentary about Richard Wagner's daughter-in-law, a close friend of Hitler (The Confessions of Winifred Wagner); his trilogy covering 100 years of Germany's past (Ludwig II: Requiem for a Virgin King, Karl May, and, most famously, Hitler, A Film from Germany, also known asOur Hitler). These last are linked in their depictions of Germans as hypocrites, liars, and egocentrics, and in the final part he presents the rise of the Third Reich as an outgrowth of German romanticism.

"Aesthetics are connected with morals," Syberberg says. "Something like Holocaust is immoral because it's a bad film. Bad art can't do good things." He commented that "my three sins are that I believe Hitler came out of us, that he is one of us; that I am not interested in money, except to work with; and that I love Germany." Our Hitler, and his other films, clearly reflect these preferences.

In recent years, Syberberg has remained relatively inactive as a filmmaker. None of his latter work has earned him the visibility, let alone the acclaim, of his earlier films. Since Parsifal, his version of the Wagnerian opera which was his most widely seen film, he has collaborated only with one of that film's stars, Edith Clever. Their artistic ventures have included a number of theatrical monologues, a few of which have been videotaped or filmed. The series commenced with Die Nacht, a six-hour-long examination of how an individual may act or what an individual may ponder deep into the night.

Syberberg, however, has spoken out on issues relating to his homeland. He especially is troubled by the Americanization of world culture, and has hypothesized that the resurgence of neo-Nazism in Germany, especially among the nation's youth, is a natural response to the hollowness of the capitalist culture which enveloped Germany in the post-World War II years. Thus, even in the wake of German unification, the memory of Hitler—despite the fact that he ultimately brought catastrophe and anguish to Germany—continues to influence and mold the national psyche.

Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com

I went to see Mr Syberberg's Hitler films at the I.C.A in London. And then saw him speak. I took down everything he said, in order to use it in evidence against him...

- Esther Leslie, Militant Esthetix

Syberberg has been criticised for turning to such politically controversial subject matter, and has even been accused of harbouring Nazi sympathies. However, Syberberg is not a protofascist, but a critic of the way that attempts to understand romanticism have been marginalised within West German establishment and intellectual culture. For Syberberg, the modern German disavowal of the utopian longings which lie at the heart of romanticism has resulted in the 'emotional deadness of Contemporary German society.' Furthermore, he believes that failure to recover the tradition so corrupted by Nazism could lead to new outbreaks of violence, as the forces of the right seek to appropriate the romantic heritage for themselves. For Syberberg, therefore, it is crucial that the romantic legacy is addressed, and, in his films, he seeks to find a way back to the 'spiritual home of the Germans': one which has been lost to a combination of fascism, materialism and rationalism.

- Ian Aitken. European Film Theory and Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Published by Indiana University Press, 2001. Page 147

No contemporary German artist has been associated more consistently with the tasks of mourning than the filmmaker Hans Jurgen Syberberg. There is no major essay on Syberberg that does not at some point invoke the term Trauerabeit as the key to the metapsychological underpinnings of Syberberg's film aesthetics, as metaphor for the aesthetic and intellectual labor to which Syberberg invites his audience with each new film. This by now nearly automatic association of Syberbergs oeuvre with the tasks and procedures of collective mourning has been to a large extent the achievement of Syberberg himself. In his copious essayistic work, which includes long commentaries on and defenses of his own films, Syberberg has quite often used the word Trauerarbeit (along with other related terms) to describe the moral and psychological dimensions of his work. Indeed, at least one of the sources of Syberberg's isolation from his colleagues in the New German Cinema, as well as from the cultural scene generall, has been his insistence that he alone among German artists has been willing to take on the postwar burdens of mourning and repairing the damage to their nation's bereft cultural identity.

What makes Syberberg's work in general, and Hitler, a Film from Germany, in particular, so important in the present context is that Syberberg's meditations on and cinematic performances of Trauerabeit always situate the particulars of the postwar German tasks of (and impediments to) mourning in relation to other, more properly postmodern phenomena and considerations. Syberberg's attempt to operate at multiple levels of moral engagement and conceptualization in his films and writings warrants particular attention. Shifts from one level of discourse or analysis to another, for example, from discussion of the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the particular tasks of mourning it has left in its wake to meditations on the university of what made it possible, are always strategic and significant. As Edgar Reitz' Heimat demonstrates, such shifts, which may take the form of double plots, may reproduce patterns of thinking which are content simply to displace burdens of guilt and mourning, and allow one to rewrite one's position as that of the true victim without such a move necessarily signifying an act of solidarity or empathy with other more recognizable victims. One's own despair and losses become the central catastrophe, flooding out empathy for all others.

An example of such a problematic leap from one level of analysis to another is Syberberg's rhetorically charged remark concerning the screening of Holocaust on German television: "America now has its own reparations to pay [hat einiges wiedergutzumachen] after this Holocaust from Hollywood on German media." Such a claim suggests that for the maker of Hitler, a Film from Germany, the real violence of recent history has occurred not so much in the Holocaust as in the Holocausts, and thus that souls sensitive to Hollywood's cheap games with history and experience are the real victims of the twentieth century. The point behind such outrageous and deeply offensive rhetoric is, however, somewhat less outrageous, and one with which Syberberg, in often brilliant and compelling ways, forces viewers and readers to contend, namely that the psychological mechanisms that lead to the construction of places like Auschwitz are akin to those that continue to be deployed by what has come, since Adorno and Horkheimer, to be referred to as the culture industry. A corollary to this thesis is the claim that the psychological mechanisms of identity formation which helped to guarantee Hitler's success in Germany in the thirties and forties and, as Adorno and the Mitscherlichs have suggested, continue to inhibit the work of mourning in post-Hitler Germany, are of the same order as those that, to an even greater extent today, organize postmodern psyches. These mechanisms, so the argument goes, not only block one's capacities to carry out the work of mourning but, what is more, so numbe one's sensibilities that one is incapable of knowing any longer what human loss feels like. Syberberg aims to inscribe the so-called inability to mourn endemic to postwar Germany within a larger history of Western culture, understood as a series of shifts and transformations of the sites of identity formation. According to Syberberg, this history enters its modern stage in the European nineteenth century and continues into the present of postmodernity, though now centered, like a shifting meteorological turbulence, not in Europe but in America, whose capital city turns out to be, in this particular narrative, Hollywood.

- Eric L. Santner. Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany. Published by Cornell University Press, 1993. Pages 103-105

953 (95). Heimat (1984, Edgar Reitz)

Screened over January 8-30, 2009 on Facets DVD on flight en route to Tokyo, Japan, in Taipei, Taiwan, on flight en route to Newark NJ, and in Weehawken NJ IMDb Wiki

It would be fascinating to see a compendium of landmarks in the history of television series from around the world, if only to discern any common themes or aesthetic approaches among them. Two qualities that I associate with television - intimacy and duration - lend themselves well to novelistic narratives that sprawl across time and space and yet stay trained on conversations and seemingly small moments that unfold into the next, and whose implications may take several episodes to fully register (yes I'm looking at you, The Wire). Such is the case with Heimat, a 15 hour series made for German television that covers a 63-year period from the end of World War I to the early 80s. Set in a quiet town in the picturesque pastoral Hunsruck valley, the film reconsiders - and ultimately renews - the heimat movie genre that celebrated a nostalgic German ideal of rustic home life, frankly depicting a provincialism among its denizens that compelled them to comply with the Nazi regime.

The film succeeds, especially over the first half of the series leading to World War II, in resurrecting a bygone way of life simply through quietly observed details - the sound of the blacksmith's anvil, the cumbersome lugging of a phonograph to an outdoor picnic - that fill the frame with textural authenticity. Family members come and go, and - like most great television series - the evolution of their relationships with each other is a major source of captivation.  As both individual and collective fortunes rise and fall, the response of each distinctly defined family member to the prevailing mores of each successive era accumulates into an awesome genealogical tapestry. While stuffed with dramatic incident, to its credit the series never succumbs to melodramatic excess, with nary a brawl or screaming match in sight; instead we get lingering resentments or quiet acts of abandonment, the accumulation of which leads to the spiritual disintegration of the clan and the way of life they've held dear. Its insistent focus on small, in-between moments is a key to its persuasive effect of life in the act of being lived.

At first it's puzzling to think that, despite the vivid, meticulous detail of ethnographic reconstruction of early 20th century small town life to behold, one can criticize the film, as many have, for holding a blinkered view of German history. Reitz barely makes mention of the Holocaust, though he does obliquely depict pre-War anti-Semitism and one Marxist family member being rounded up for re-education. His aim is to show life as it was lived and perceived by everyday rural middle class Germans, who implicitly stand in for the soul of the nation. Not unlike Forrest Gump, this approach yields a narrow, even self-satisfied approach to understanding the social forces that shaped the world around these people.

My other complaint with Heimat is that in its last few episodes it loses its focus on capturing the fabric of everyday life, instead succumbing to a dour view of present-day society presumably corrupted by the disposable values of American capitalism (symbolized by one family member who runs away to the US to become a millionaire). In this sense it truly is a heimat film, marked as it is by a comforting, restorative nostalgia for a past; this despite initially cataloging the many shortcomings of that era. It's just ironic that a film that ultimately declares itself as a statement on behalf of meticulous authenticity against superficial product ends up compromising its own claims to the former in trying to rail against the latter.

Would you like to learn more?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Heimat among the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Callisto Cosulich, Sight & Sound (1992) Hans Gunther Pflaum, Steadycam (2007) John Pym, Time Out (1995) Kathleen Murphy, Steadycam (2007) Philip Haas, Sight & Sound (2002) Richard Barkley, John Kobal Book (1988) Tom Abell, PopcornQ (1997) Film (Eyewitness Companions) Top 100 Movies (2006) Halliwell's Top 1000 Films (2005) John Kobal Poll John Kobal Presents The Top 100 Movies (1988) Michael Wilmington 100 Best Films of the Century (1999) New York Times The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (2004) Sight & Sound Fistful of Five: The New German Cinema (2006) The Guardian 1,000 Films to See Before You Die (2007) They Shoot Pictures Highly Recommended Films

Website with summaries and links on the complete Heimat series. English/German frames version of the same

From the first site, here's an account of the film's historical reception in the United States:

Unlike the films of Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog, Reitz's HEIMAT and DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT remain largely ignored in the United States. Undoubtedly the intimidating length and foreign language have had much to do with this neglect, however even within the rather specialized world of cinema critics and foreign film addicts, the works of Edgar Reitz are seldom cited. Now with its release on video in the United States it is possible HEIMAT will find the audience in America that has ignored it for the past twelve years.

HEIMAT received two national American television broadcasts: the first on the limited Bravo cable network in 1985 and the second on PBS during the fall of 1987. When I inquired of one of the programmers of Boston's WGBH (the sponsoring PBS affiliate) why HEIMAT was never rebroadcast, I was told, "Very simple: no one watched it." The PBS stations that did chose to pick it up broadcast HEIMAT in non-prime time schedules; in Boston it was shown at 11 PM or midnight on Saturday nights.

Prior to its broadcast incarnation in America HEIMAT also received very limited theatrical distribution. (Here it had a theater screening at Boston's Institute for Contemporary Art.) However unlike the nearly unanimous favorable critical reception in Europe, HEIMAT received a number of attacks by a few noted critics, criticism that has apparently colored the reception to the film in the United States in the years since 1985.

In particular essays by J. Hoberman, "Once in a Reich Time" in The Village Voice (16 April 1985) and Timothy Garton Ash, "The Life of Death" in The New York Review of Books (19 December 1985), both took HEIMAT to task for excluding important aspects of German history during the period of National Socialism. As part of his attack Ash wrote:

"When you show the 1930s as a golden age of prosperity and excitement in the German countryside, when you are shown the Germans as victims of the war, then you inevitably find yourself asking: But what about the other side? What about Auschwitz? Where is the director's moral judgment? To which the color filters insistently reply: 'Remember, remember, this is a film about what Germans remember. Some things they remember in full color. Some in sepia. Others they prefer to forget. Memory is selective. Memory is partial. Memory is amoral.'

With this simple trick, Reitz manages to escape from the chains that have weighed down most German artistic treatments of twentieth-century German history. 'We try to avoid making judgments,' he writes. Not for him the agonizing directorial evenhandedness, the earnest formulations of guilt, responsibility, or shame. Not for him the efforts to 'come to terms with' or 'master' the past. Not 'Vergangenheitsbewaltigung.' Not Bitburg. Just memory and forgetting."

In part it seems Reitz and his publicists may have brought this on themselves. When introduced in America, HEIMAT was described as "the German answer to NBC's HOLOCAUST." After these early reviews, the difficulty of actually locating a screening or airing of the film and the time investing while watching it deflected all but the most curious viewers.

Were one to search for literature on HEIMAT in an American library, there is little available. Two of the few scholarly books on German cinema currently available in America, FROM HITLER TO HEIMAT: The Return of History as Film by Anton Kaes (Harvard, 1989) and NAZI-RETRO FILM: How German Narrative Cinema Remembers the Past by Robert C. Reimer and Carol J. Reimer (Twayne, 1992), both cite Hoberman and Ash.

In addition Anton Kaes in his lengthy chapter, "Germany a Memory," points out the "near total exclusion of the Holocaust" from HEIMAT. "Five of the eleven episodes (episodes 3-7 ) take place during the Third Reich, and the second episode includes the year 1933. Three segments deal with the years before the war (1935, 1938, 1938-39), while two concentrate on the war at home and on the front ('The Home Front,' 1943 and 'Soldier's Love,' 1944).

Almost half of the film, a chronicle spanning sixty-three years of German history from 1919 to 1982, takes place during the twelve years of Hitler's regime; thus more narrative time is granted in HEIMAT to the exploration and visualization of the causes, progress, and consequences of German fascism than in most full-length feature films or documentaries on National Socialism." Like Ash, Kaes finds Reitz's failure to directly address the social and political origins of the Nazi past a fundamental, if not, corrupt flaw in the film.

A more reasoned American critical response can be found in Thomas Elsaesser's NEW GERMAN CINEMA: A History (Rutgers University Press, 1989).

Appropriately, the catalyst for Heimat was a cliche-ridden American TV miniseries called Holocaust that Reitz saw on television in the late-1970s, which he felt traduced German history in the Nazi era. At the time, Reitz had retreated to the North Sea island of Sylt in order to write poetry. He had ostensibly given up his career in cinema - one that started with a bang when his debut Mahlzeiten (Mealtimes), a love story about a couple that ends with the man's suicide, won the best first film award at Venice in 1967. Like Fassbinder and Herzog, he seemed to be a titan of the new German cinema. By the late-1970s, though, he appeared to be washed up: critically mauled for his 1978 film, The Tailor of Ulm, deep in debt and out of ideas. He vowed never to make another film. Snowed-in at his island retreat, however, he watched TV and saw something that revolted him back into film-making.

The sentimentalism of the Holocaust series made him reflect on German history, but also on his own biography. Reitz had been born in 1932 in a Rhineish village called Morbach, leaving home at 19 in order to pursue an artistic career. He had thus rejected his Heimat, a German word that means homeland, connoting one's spiritual roots, but that also signifies a place of innocence and childhood security. As with many of the characters in Heimat, he often felt an unfulfillable desire to return.

He started to make notes. Soon Reitz had a 250-page draft story set in a fictionalised version of his own village. He collaborated with writer Peter Steinbach, and that story became a 2,000-page screenplay. Released in 1984, Heimat 1 began with a young soldier, Paul Simon, walking home in 1919 from the battlefields of France, ostensibly to resume his life at his father's blacksmith's. But Paul casts off the stuffiness of his destiny: one day, despite having a wife and two young children, he leaves - and fetches up on Ellis Island.

Reitz was keen, in making his drama, to overthrow the traditional German genre of Heimat sagas that had focused invariably on German village life, and that had been used by the Nazis to romanticise the country's past. The genre had been revived during the 1950s when, as an anti dote to the so-called Trümmerfilme, or "rubble films", Heimat films became popular, if conservative, celebrations of Germany's rustic past. "When I chose the title it was, of course, an important debate with the use of the term Heimat," says Reitz. "I was countering two things - the pseudo-folklore form of Heimat used by the tourist industry, and its ideological use during the Nazi period. It was hard work to clean the term from the burden of history." How did he try to do that? "What I tried to achieve is a realism of observation. It's important not to be sentimental or engage in ideological preconceptions of one kind or another because all you achieve when you do that is put one ideology against another ideology."

For some sceptics, he did not succeed. Critic Leonie Naughton accused Reitz of having created a "bourgeois history of the Third Reich, a homespun tale of innocence". How does Reitz respond to claims that his work is reactionary and bourgeois? "These definitions are now outmoded," he argues. "In the 1960s and 1970s they were used as weapons, but now there are more important truths than these ideological truths. In life there are certain things that are important. They are a house, family, emotional connections through love. In all eras, all cultures have these things and that means if I tell a story using these things they can be understood worldwide. That's why Heimat has not just been a German phenomenon but something that has been watched and understood around the world."

- Stuart Jeffries, The UK Guardian

EDGAR REITZ'S ''HEIMAT'' is a cinematic event, if not quite a masterpiece. It's a massive, nearly 16-hour chronicle of life in Germany, from 1919 to 1982, as reflected in the fluctuating fortunes of the members of one family, initially peasant-farmers, in the fictitious village of Schabbach in the Rhineland. As literature, ''Heimat'' bears the same relationship to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's magnificent, equally long adaptation of Alfred Doblin's ''Berlin Alexanderplatz'' that Herman Wouk's ''Winds of War'' bears to Thomas Mann's ''Buddenbrooks.''

In spite of its length, ''Heimat'' is immensely, easily watchable, a succession of mostly ordinary events and characters - history seen from ground level - vividly acted by a huge cast. It is, most of the time, a work of imagination and feeling, a real achievement for Mr. Reitz, who conceived the project, wrote it, with Peter Steinbach, and then directed it, with the backing of German television interests.

As the stoicism and peasant manners of the people of Schabbach give way to the easier expression of emotions and even to a kind of middle-class sophistication, the style of the film becomes more complex. ''Heimat'' never looks like a television movie. It is beautifully photographed by Gernott Roll. Unlike television films, it does not place the most important information at the center of the image, in tight close-up. ''Heimat'' looks big.

Mr. Reitz switches back and forth between images in black and white, or monochrome, and images in full color. Sometimes he will print a scene entirely in black and white with only isolated objects - in one case, the brilliant red of the Nazi banners -seen in color. Occasionally, this is quite marvelous - it has the esthetic effect of physical movement. At other times, though, it seems to be redundant or just self-conscious, which is also the case with some of the references to Great Moments of History.

Mr. Reitz is not a firm, original stylist like Mr. Fassbinder, whose films - even ''Berlin Alexanderplatz'' - are breathtakingly concise. On the evidence of ''Heimat,'' Mr. Reitz is a looser sort of film maker, but he is certainly an organizer, and ''Heimat'' has a broad vision and a leisurely manner rarely seen in anybody else's movies.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, April 6 1985

When Heimat was shown in Germany it was a major media event, surpassed only by the television screening of the American miniseries Holocaust in 1979. In fact, the genesis of Heimat lay in its director Edgar Reitz's reaction to Holocaust. Reitz accused Holocaust of reducing the misery caused by the Nazis to a "welcome background spectacle for a sentimental family story," of trivializing German history and, indeed, of willfully expropriating it for simplistic, entertainment purposes. He argued that what Germans needed to do was to take "narrative possession of our past" thus "breaking free of the world of judgments and dealing with it through art." The way to do this, he argued, was to tell stories: "there are thousands of stories among our people worth filming, which are based on endless minutiae of experience. These stories individually rarely seem to contribute to the evaluation and explanation of history, but taken together they could compensate for this lack. We should no longer forbid ourselves to take our personal lives seriously." The source of the problem is, of course, the Nazi past: "we Germans have a hard time with our stories. It is our own history that is in our way. The year 1945, the nation's 'zero hour,' wiped out a lot, created a gap in people's ability to remember. As Mitscherlich put it, an entire people has been made 'unable to mourn.' In our case that means 'unable to tell stories' because our memories are obstructed by the great historical events they are connected with. Even now, 40 years after the war, we are still troubled by the weight of moral judgments, we are still afraid that our little personal stories could recall our Nazi past and remind us of our mass participation in the Third Reich. . . . Our film, Heimat, consists of these suppresed or forgotten little stories. It is a chronicle of both a family and a village and is an attempt of sorts to revive memories. . . .We try to avoid making judgements."

Reaction to the film in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, was extremely positive. It was only when Heimat was shown in the United States that the negative opinions which had been expressed in Germany gained a wider hearing. In the light of the above this should not have been surprising; as Thomas Elsaesser noted, calling a German film Heimat was a "calculated provocation and was bound to be controversial." Likewise Anton Kaes: "scenes of provincial life are never innocent in Germany."

According to its critics, Heimat's main problems lie as much in what it does not show as what it does. The argument here is one leveled against any broadly realist text, namely, that it cannot escape from the mental horizons of its protagonists. The same criticism can be leveled at some versions of the "history from below" mentioned earlier. Major political events and wider economic factors, which undoubtedly have their influences on individual private lives, are ignored or glossed over because that is what the characters themselves do. This might matter rather less if that history did not include the Third Reich. Indeed, almost half of the film takes place in the years 1933–45. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garten Ash stated: "when you show the 1930s as a golden age of prosperity and excitement in the German countryside, when you are shown Germans as victims of the war, then you inevitably find yourself asking: But what about the other side? What about Auschwitz?" Or as one of the film's sternest critics, Gertrud Koch, has it: "in order to tell the myth of 'Heimat,' the trauma of Auschwitz had to be shut out of the story." The Third Reich seems almost to take place off screen, and when Nazi activities are presented (which is not often) it's in a curiously elliptical fashion and usually without much explanation— on the grounds, presumably, that this is how they were actually experienced by the characters. Accommodation with the Nazi regime is shown largely as comical, or merely opportunistic, or as the result of seduction of one form or another. Admittedly one or two characters— a Jew, a Communist—disappear, but no one seems to show the slightest curiosity about this. Again, all this might matter less were it not for the historical fact that the countryside was extraordinarily important to the National Socialists ideologically, politically and economically, and found a good deal of support amongst the peasantry. Reitz himself has said that to have taken on the Jewish question would have "overburdened the narrative" and that "the story would have immediately taken a different turn." He has also argued that there were very few Jews in the Hunsruck and that people there were largely ignorant of Nazi genocide.

Unease about the representation of the Third Reich period is further compounded by the way in which postwar, modern Germany is shown. In short, it appears to be downhill all the way, and the main villain here is definitely America. (One begins to see why it was in America that misgivings about the film were voiced). But this is only the most extreme instance of a process throughout the film whereby no good comes from events, influences or people outside the Edenic, pastoral idyll of the Hunsruck. This comes dangerously close to a reactionary agrarian romanticism with disturbing similarities to the "Blood and Soil" ideology; moreover, it also seems to suggest that all of Germany's contemporary problems, whether it's the despoilation of the countryside or people's inability to connect with their past, can be laid at the door of the Americans, thereby neatly letting the past 100 years of German capitalism (in which the Third Reich and the "Wirtschaftswunder" were both highly significant episodes) neatly off the historical hook.

Julian Petley, Film Reference.com

Edgar Reitz's 15-hour film is an attempt to restore a sense of continuity to 20th-century German history by presenting 63 years, from 1919 to 1982, in the life of Schabbach, a small village in the Hunsruck region. The chief characters are the members of the Simon family--the grandfather is a blacksmith, the grandson will be the founder of a precision optical company--and the shape of the plot is dictated by the century's constantly changing economic and political conditions, driving some members of the family to emigrate, others to form alliances with the Nazis, others to find prosperity in the postwar "economic miracle." Reitz avoids the ceremonial events--births, deaths, marriages--that usually punctuate this sort of family chronicle, concentrating instead on the textures of daily existence and the shifting relationships among the characters. Though not without its longueurs (the treatment of the 50s, for example, is largely limited to an extremely conventional tale of adolescent frustration and romantic revolt) and marked by a rising nostalgia for the "good old days" as opposed to the debased present, Reitz's project stands as a monumental act of imagination, teeming with evocative incident and Proustian detail.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

If you can imagine a work that fuses the collective memory of an area with that of the authors’, and then renders it on film in all it’s wandering yet richly detailed glory, you can conceive of the accomplishment that is known as Heimat. Drawing not only from his memories growing up in the region, but also from interviewing and conversing with hundreds of people from the Hunsruck region, Edgar Reitz created this cinematic version of oral history. Though the 52 ½ hour Heimat trilogy is fictional, Reitz’s cinenovel is far more true to life than at least 99% of the stuff that passes as docudramas or “based on a true story”. A dense multilayered text covering all facets of life from many angles, Reitz’s aim is to tell compelling stories that realistically observe mankind without judging them. Thus his study of life, which is never sentimental or ideological, helps free us from the stereotypical misconceptions about German citizens while providing an alternative to the tired accounts that dominate our perception of the past.

What we normally consider as history - the ruling party, the not so great dictator, the pointless wars - are always on the periphery in Heimat. Reitz avoids the usual cliches, refusing to depict the big names and notable events. He instead allows their respective presence and occurrence to seep into if not shape the narrative as much as it could be expected to, which in peacetime isn’t very much. However, if you’ve already returned from war you are forever changed, even if only through a certain alienation that’s inherent in trying to feel comfortable in a place that’s gone on without you for a number of years.

Though critics so used to old hat they miss it criticized Edgar Reitz for downplaying certain aspects that are thought to define 20th century German history, whether it be the depression or the concentration camps, I find Reitz’s film refreshing as it’s neither political nor apolitical. Reitz and cowriter Peter F. Steinbach show that while politics effect [sic] the lives of ordinary citizens to a certain extent, it’s rarely in the kind of direct, easy to pin down ways we typically see in the few movies that actually want to be political. In fact, the silly fads of the day hoisted upon the public by mass marketers and their enabling subordinates have far more obvious and widespread effects, if for no other reason then everyone encounters them everyday until they are replaced by the next craze. One example Reitz & Steinbach use is having Ernst get into the home “improvement” business, replacing traditional quality with phony stonewall facings. In all cases though, Reitz shows positive and negative aspects of change, and just as his characters do, the audience interprets the events through their own perspective.

Reitz’s masterpiece simply can’t be compared to traditional television, as there’s not necessarily a specific reason people do what they do, treat someone in the manner they treat do, especially one that’s specifically related to that character. One thing Reitz has done is eliminate the simplistic cause and effect that dope opera is based on, the actions of the characters are never so obvious we come to them ages before they do. Heimat isn’t the usual judgmental television crap that’s based on action and reaction, for instance someone has an affair so their spouse or lover breaks up with them and then everyone close to both of them is forced to take sides. There’s none of the typical situations that pit saint against sinner, everything exists in gray areas. Reitz isn’t about the decision or the damage done, so much as root of the problem. We see a person with an ambition, a discomfort, some subtle disquiet that nags at their soul until they follow it. He won’t explain it, and in fact it’s difficult to really put into words, but the central conflict of Heimat is between man and his homeland. His decisions aren’t based on loving his family or not, but rather whether he can be comfortable spending his life in the region. Everything else is secondary, and thus there’s a tremendous amount of collateral damage.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything where the characters have so many varying aspects. Reitz & Steinbach quite simply obliterate the concept of likeable and dislikable, allowing life to shape the characters and situation to shape life rather than consistently imposing a set of morals, values, ideals, which they either live up to or contradict. We are allowed to feel so many positive and negative emotions toward each character, many times at once, but also to so often be neutral. The characters are always complex, sometimes troubling, but at the same time both ordinary and impressive. We rarely focus too much or too long on their strengths or weaknesses. It’s not about flip flopping the characters, they change credibly but the goal isn’t to show them evolve or devolve as individuals, this is of course part of most great movies or novels, but greatness is never attained by narrow definition. Heimat is more about pitting the specificness of your roots against the universality of human experience to show lives so unique yet so familiar, a mix of the unfathomable (unless you’ve actually lived it) and the incredibly familiar (from your own experience). Reitz once commented that, “The work itself gives no answers whatsoever, but the observer gives himself answers. The work gives him time, and again the key to unlocking those secret rooms (of your own soul)”

Heimat is filmed as a memory, imbued with echoes of the past, both obviously (flashbacks) and symbolically (repetition of objects, events, with similar light and framing). Scenes of walking down a long straight road or even making a phone call are staged to evoke occurrences of the same event in the past. Life is a series of repetitions, differentiation coming from the ever changing if not evolving manner in which we experience it. The act may be the same, but each incident is slightly different, the aspects that are noticed, that come to the forefront or are disregarded yielding variance.

-    Mike Lorefice, RB Movie Reviews

Films about World War II continue to consider the atrocities, suffering, and associated guilt over the Third Reich. And yet, in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates, and The Pianist history is often rewritten by means of stereotypes, neglecting the agonies endured by most Germans and the cultural complexities that led to Nazism. And when a movie like Downfall does portray detailed, even sympathetic German characters, it is met with controversy. It almost appears as if it is incorrect for Germans to talk about the misery they suffered as a consequence of Hitler’s regime.

Candidly portraying the economic prosperity brought by Hitler’s regime to the humble people of Schabbach, Heimat questions the impartiality of traditional history texts, and highlights the complexities associated with racism. Heimat further complicates its political discourse by observing U.S. segregation of African Americans during World War II, and pointing out that this was not different from German intolerance ideologies. The first U.S. Army soldiers who arrive in Schabbach, spearheading the battle against Nazi forces, are African American. But in the following months, after the fall of Berlin and once combat operations are over, only white officers appear in town. The next black character we see the African American chauffeur who drives Paul’s limousine, when he returns “triumphant” from the states in 1948, a wealthy entrepreneur (now played by Dieter Schaad).

With such details, Heimat offers a new perspective of historical events, showing how they continue to haunt our present. As much as the series addresses broad historical events, it remains focused on the Simons’ lives, losses, and regrets.

Marco Lanzagorta, Pop Matters


In addition to its origins within German romanticism, the idea of Heimat also has more recent historical derivations. The Heimat movement of the 1890s arose in opposition to the rapid expansion of urbanisation and capitalism in what remained a largely rural society, and was grounded in a conception of German national identity premised on rural, traditional and feudal values. During the 1930s and 1940s the values of the nineteenth-century Heimat movement were also assimilated into the xenophobic 'blood and soil' ideology of National Socialism, and, in the 1950s, the spirit of Heimat reemerged yet again, within the genre of the commercial Heimatfilm.

The radical political configuration which emerged in West Germany during the late 1970s and early 1980s was characterised by a degree of anti-Americanism, and by the rise of anti-nuclear, environmental and devolutionary regionalist movements. Within this latter grouping, the regional and local were elevated in value over a national culture which was perceived as increasingly dominated by the materialistic values of consumer capitalism. It was against this context of a renewed interest in regionalism, and reaction to what was perceived to be the increasingly materialistic culture of the Federal Republic, that intellectuals turned to the idea of Heimat must, therefore, be seen as part of this more widespread attempt to both locate authenticity within local and regional experience, and resist the threat posed to such experience by mass consumer culture.

Heimat's detailed perusal of the gradual destruction of the traditional and everyday by a commercially driven modernity complements the microscopic perspective adopted within the film. The small-scale, gradual changes which Reitz documents have a direct impact on the culture of the village, and so can be easily depicted within Heimat's mini-narratives of a commonplace world which is under constant threat. However, this focus upon the fine textures of familiar life also means that Heimat inevitably pays less attention to larger-scale historical events, and this aspect of the film has led to criticism that Heimat is a revisionary and reactionary text, which avoids the more problematic, darker aspects of recent German history.

The style of editing and photography employed in Heimat also complements Reitz's account of the gradual decline of heimat. The greater part of Heimat is shot in a realistic style using a black and white photography which confers a degree of documentary authenticity on its subject matter. At the beginning of the film, the camera-work and editing is often slow and meditative, and long-take, moving camera shots are much in evidence. However, in addition to this lyrical documentary realism, Reitz also employs more formative techniques in Heimat in order to poeticise his images, and infuse them with a sense of larger symbolism. In such scenes, the camera often lingers over objects, which then take on added, though ultimately enigmatic, significance. This focus on the poeticised materiality of objects recalls Kracauer's demand for a cinema which can 'redeem' the physical world, and Reitz's claim that, in Heimat, he wishes to 'defend things in a society that consumes them and throws them away' warrants further comparison to Kracauer.

Colour is also used in Heimat in a way which corresponds to Reitz's wish to poeticise the traditional life of the village. Colour is only used in brief sequences, in order to suffuse particular actions and objects with a more general significance. However, the use of color, like the use of special lighting effects, complex multi-narrative structures and extreme close-ups, also makes Heimat a reflexive film. In addition to its realism, therefore, Heimat employs a series of formative devices whose principal function is to reveal the film's artifice and formal construction. For example, as the film proceeds, and the traditional life of the village gradually gives way to the intrusion of a more modern, instrumental culture, the dominant realistic style of Heimat also breaks down. The meditative, poetic qualities which characterised the opening episodes of the film are gradually replaced by a more gaudy, abrasive and discordant style of film-making, which also signals the coming destruction of Heimat. These two contrasting styles of film-making not only symbolise the existence and loss of Heimat, but are also deployed in order to foreground the function and role of the film-making process.

- Ian Aitken, European Film Theory and Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Published by Indiana University Press, 2001. Pages 218-222

Heimat, I argue, is ultimately an uncritical reproduction of the Heimat myth, for Reitz does not critically explore the origins and functions of the myth, and is instead absorbed by it...

Reitz appropriated the Heimat discourse about the past whose legitimacy was based on the belief that memory is immutable: "I produce German memories because you cannot invent memories." Unlike Hollywood films, the Heimat discourse, according to Reitz, did not manufacture the past, it reflected it genuinely. And yet, alongside this notion Reitz developed an acute awareness of the ways reality is constructed, rather than simply reflected, in films: "Many people in our profession make the mistake of confusing film images with reality... The entire lot of terrible television programs and commercial offerings in cinemas is in reality the revenge of the camera on those stupid abusers who think they are reproducing reality." Heimat includes sensitive scenes of the ways in which the camera and technical instruments reproduce reality, whether by Paul and his radio, Eduard and the camera, Anton and cinema, Hermann and electronic music. The film calls upon viewers to be conscious of the deceptiveness of the camera...

The discrepancy between the claim to recover in Heimat genuine German memories and the inherent impossibility of representing reality on film creates a fascinating tension in Heimat. On the one hand, Heimat feels like a documentary that records life accurately through the use of black and white, the depiction of everyday life, and the centrality of quotidian material objects. Watching the film, we want to believe, and no doubt many do, that this was the way things really were. On the other hand, Reitz always alerts the viewer to the need to distrust the camera by showing how reality is reproduced and constructed by technical instruments. In fact, Reitz seems to tell us that while memories are cultural artifacts, they are at the same time genuinely ours. But as a project of national identity, Heimat gives priority to the ability of memory and experience to capture the past over the constructedness of film images. Although film cannot reproduce reality, Reitz appears to be saying, the memories reflected in it are closer to the truth when they stem from "real" experiences. Thus, Heimat implies, the experience and memory of Reitz and the people of Schabbach go a long way toward overcoming the obstacles of technology, they cannot be totally fake because they are based on "real" experience...

Reitz was influenced by the Heimat-film genre that reached its zenith in the 1950s, when more than 300 films were produced. The genre communicated a world of "little people" in villages between tradition and modernity. It conservatively emphasized stability of human relations, conformity to common values, and security in a familiar environment. Heimat films made it possible for people to "dream" of marriage and a happy family, prosperity, leisure, and, for the refugees from Eastern Europe and East Germany, of a new Heimat. The genre came under attack in the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962, in which twenty-six young German directors, including Reitz, opposed the conventional German cinema and the primacy of commercial considerations. Vowing to create "a new language of film," the new German cinema developed the "anti-Heimat film," which critically raised social, political, and ecological issues and demonstrated keen awareness of conflicts and injustices in German society...

Heimat... belongs neither to the classic Heimat films nor to the anti-Heimat films, but instead is, as one scholar put it, a "highly ambivalent adoption of the genre." Reitz's motivation was to counter the made-in-Hollywood rendition of German history by using an indigenous genre that represents and defines German identity. He created a unique Heimat film. From the classic Heimat films he adopted cinematic motifs and narrative patterns that had been considered trditional and conservative, while infusing them with New Left meanings from the 1960s and 1970s, such as rejecting the embellishment of reality and highlighting the experience of "little people" through oral history. From the anti-Heimat films he adopted the depictino of reali life (Schabbach is composed of hard-working people, of messy living conditions, and of jealousy), although he departed from it by not passing judgment and keeping a nostalgic longing for a putatively lost Heimat. By selecting elements from Heimat films and anti-Heimat films, Reitz seems to tell us that the genre is neither inherently conservative nor inherently progressive, but - if properly used through memory, experience, and storytelling - can be a mirror of the German ways of life...

For Reitz, the past was an organic part of reality before the foundation of West Germany and became a commodity thereafter. But this view has more to do with Reitz's deep antipathy to West Germany than to any complex understanding of the modern perception of the past in general, and of German's perceptions of the past in particular. The connection between consmer culture and perceptions of the past was common long before the foundation of West Germany. Heimatlers in imperial Germany saw in the Heimat idea not only a source of local and national identity, but also a source of profit. The two were united by the development of tourism. Heimat museums exemplified the connection because they attempted to attract tourists by marketing their past as worthy of a visit. But Reitz believes in a dichotomy of unconditional totalities between German national society dominated by consumerism and rootlessness after 1949 and a national society of authentic relations to the past, while refusing to consider that the both elements can intermix. Often (perhaps always) nations construct an idea that there once existed a pure, homogeneous national identity, uncorrupted by modernity and its offspring, consumer culture. This idea exists as an ideology, a belief, and a propaganda. But the coexistence of consumer culture with notions of roots and authenticity, that is, making authenticity a commodity for mass consumption, is what really happens. Here Reitz's description of German identity is unsatisfactory not because he fails to include the Holocause, but because he fails to embrace the complexity of modernity.

- Alon Confino, Germany as a Culture of Remembrance: Promises and Limits of Writing History. Published by UNC Press, 2006. Pages 58, 70, 71, 77, 78, 79

Since [Heimat] is about German memory rather than history, and because it represents that memory as wholly turned upon itself, it leaves no room for those whom the Germans would rather forget or repress, that is, their victims.

And yet Reitz's work too is dependent for its coherence not merely on an absence of representation, but also on a representation of absence. Conscious of a context of prejudice and genocide, evil and complicity, it must escape to the environment of a remote anachronistic village, finally connected to modernity only following World War II and the (apparently lamentable) Americanization of Germany. And yet, even in that distant location, the film cannot completely ignore a presence that its own realistic and traditional technique must somehow acknowledge. Hence, Reitz feels obliged to make for a momentary appearance of the absent, if only in order to indicate that the absent remained absent for his protagonists, even while they were actually there. He must make the point that the Jews had no role in German (rural) memory, precisely because he knows that German memory is inseparably tied to visions of genocide. Indeed, the major motivation of Heimat, as Reitz himself argued, was to give back German history to the Germans, after it was taken away from them by the Jews, who are the main protagonists of both Holocaust, the mini-series, and the historical event of Nazi genocide.

I suggest that the absence of the Jews is the fundamental subtext of Heimat, its motivation and the unspoken arbiter of its content. Without this absence, the film would have been nothing more than a sentimental, overlong tale of rural life in a God forsaken province. It is that absence that gives it meaning, providing it with the context it so emphatically rejects. In this sense Heimat is a film not about memory but about amnesia, that is, about the absence of memory and all that can be remembered and must nevertheless be erased.

- Omer Bartov, Germany's War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories. Published by Cornell University Press, 2003. Pages 229-230.


The Wiegand and Simon family trees, featuring all family members who appear in the complete series:

Heimat 1 was accused in some quarters of bypassing key aspects of German history (notably the Holocaust); in Heimat 2, contemporary music and film were counterpointed against the heady politics of the ‘60s. Heimat 3, for all its filtering of history and politics postdating the fall of the Wall, is studded with more references to art, film and music than its even more monumental predecessors. Ultimately Reitz’ summation of the twentieth century seems to be a salvaging of the nineteenth. That alone is no mean achievement, and the three Heimat series must constitute one of the major contributions to film to date. But Heimat 3 in a sense returns to what the New German Cinema was not historically in a position to reclaim. With Heimat 1, Reitz claimed to be reappropriating German history (concretely, from its representation in the US series Holocaust [1978]). Via Heimat 2, his final epic stakes claim to German art as Germany’s abiding historical heritage. The nation of poets and thinkers, whose remoteness from politics was viewed as a primary facilitator of Nazism, has become an ideal nation of artists, filmmakers and musicians, and its welcome back to the world stage is not without historical irony. The postwar stability of the old/new Federal Republic of course makes possible both finding Heimat in art, and gaining global acceptance. The fact that the Reunification Symphony evaporates might be a blow for contemporary music. It most certainly is a pessimistic historical gloss, and it is that which pitches us back to nineteenth century art.

-    Roger Hillman, Rouge


IMDb Wiki

Edgar Reitz was born on the 1st of November 1932 in Morbach*, a small town in the German Hunsrück Mountains. There his father Robert owned a small clockmakers shop, and his grandfather Johann Reitz worked as a Blacksmith in Morbach-Hundheim. Edgar Reitz has two younger siblings. His sister Heli, and his brother Guido who assumed his fathers trade and took over the Clock Shop.

During the time he attended school in Simmern, Reitz had already started acting and stage-managing in a theater subsidized by his German teacher Karl Windhäuser. After earning his Abitur (a diploma required to qualify for University entrance in Germany), he moved in 1952, motivated by Windhäuser, to Munich to study German language, literature, journalism, dramatics, and art history. During this time he was already sporadically publishing poems and narrations, and was a co-editor of a literary journal. He was fully engaged with the avant-garde of music, arts, literature and film, and in 1953 he was one of the founders of the "Studentisches Zimmertheater" (Small Student Theater), from which in 1954 the Studiobühne an der Universität München* emanated. However most of all Edgar was fascinated by Cinema and its technical side, and became a member of a film seminar, where film classics were analyzed and discussed. In other European countries, like in France or Poland, people attended film schools at that time to become filmmakers, but Reitz was learning to make films by actually making them. After his first attempts in 1953 he started opening doors to the professional world of filmmaking by working as a cameramans assistant, editors assistant, or production assistant. He started making his first own short films in 1958. In 1962 he joined the "Oberhausener Gruppe" around Alexander Kluge*. At the "Short-Film Days" of 1962 they published the "Oberhausener Manifest"* and declared the old german film as dead, promoting the "Young German Film". In the period 1962-1965 Reitz was working as the chief of the agency for development and experimentation at the Munich "Insel-Film". Together with Kluge and others in 1963, he founded the first German film school, the "Institut für Filmgestaltung"* at the HfG Ulm, where he taught direction and camera theory until it was closed in 1968.

In 1965/66 Reitz worked as cameraman for Alexander Klug’s Abschied von Gestern (Yesterdays Girl), in 1966 he produced his first own feature film Mahlzeiten (Lust for Love)* which in 1967 was awarded as the best debut feature at the Venice film Festival. For that film the camera work was done by Thomas Mauch, who 36 years later filmed the first four parts of HEIMAT 3. "Abschied von Gestern" and "Mahlzeiten" belong to the films, which influenced the "Young German Film" very intensely [besides: we can see the movie-posters of those two films in DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT, Film 13, at the wall of the bar he meets his assistant and Zielke]. In May and June of 1968 Reitz conducted a series of lectures in filming theory and practice at a Munich secondary school. This project was documented with the Film "Filmstunde" (Lesson in film). In 1971 he initiated the "Kneipenkino" (Pub Cinema), where visitors themselves were able to put together a program from 23 Kübelkind-Geschichten (Stories of the dumpster-child).

In 1971 Edgar Reitz founded the Edgar Reitz Filmproduktions GmbH* (short: ERFilm) in Munich, his own film production company, which since then produces not only his own projects, but also those films of other well-known directors. In the 70’s and 80’s they produced lots of documentaries, feature films and television plays, and were honored with numerous awards. Contemporaneously Reitz published many books and articles dealing with film-theory and film-aesthetics, but also narrations, essays, lyric poetry, and literal versions of his films.

After the flop of his most expensive film in 1978, Der Schneider von Ulm (The taylor from Ulm)*, Reitz turned away from feature film and his state-aided standards. He retired on the island Sylt in the north of Germany. There, after being poorly impressed by the American TV series Holocaust he developed his ideas for his most successful project, HEIMAT. With Heimat Reitz returned to his own homeland, the Hunsrück, and while working on the script for Heimat, released the documentary "Geschichten aus den Hunsrückdörfern" (Stories from the Hunsrück villages), which describes people’s life in the Hunsrück in an inimitable manner. After the release of HEIMAT in 1984, he immediately started working on DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT – The chronicle of a Youth, which internationally received even more attention than HEIMAT, but in Germany did not obtain that much acceptance.

In 1995 Reitz, among others, founded the European Institute of Cinema Karlsruhe (EIKK), and was appointed to a professorship at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung* Karlsruhe.

"HEIMAT 3 – Chronik einer Zeitenwende" was made in 2002-2004 despite being troubled by serious encroachments in Reitz’s artistic liberty from the financing tax supported broadcasting companies. In 2006 he combined previously unreleased scenes from all parts of the trilogy for "HEIMAT Fragmente - Die Frauen", a philosophical discourse about memory.

Edgar Reitz lives in Munich and is married with Salome Kammer since 1995. Together with his son Christian he founded the company Reitz & Reitz Medien.

- Thomas Honemann, Heimat 123

When people and things pass out of reach of our sensory perception, when they go away, die or we go away, or time takes them from us, we experience pain. This pain is born of the hopelessness of ever being able to truly make things our own, of being able to love them, use or possess them. Even eating, the most intensive form of appropriation, is a modality of leave-taking. But in parting from things, they pass over into our memory, become integrated into the spatio-temporal relation to which we too belong. In taking leave, in this passage from a sensuous relation to a relation of memory, we discover the origin of the legends and stories, of the images that live on independently of any particular human being, like the wound that exists without a body. When one looks closely, film always has something to do with parting. Film concerns itself with things and people that disappear from our sensory perception, with this pain that every good frame reproduces and produces... Parting is the great theme of every film.

- Edgar Reitz, quoted in Eric L. Santner, Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany. Published by Cornell University Press, 1993. Pages 68-69

942 (83). Mädchen in Uniform (1931, Leontine Sagan)

Screened Thursday, December 18 2008 on YouTube TSPDT rank #919 IMDb Wiki

A fascinating war wages in a German girls' boarding school at the cusp of the Nazi era: not just between the hormonally-charged girls and their authoritarian teachers and schoolmistresses, but between the lively, chaotic movements and warm, supple textures of the girls striving against the film's encompassing form: coldly cavernous hallways, a camera obsessed with pinning subjects against its precise angles, and the lockstep rhythm of academic ritual.  The film's first act, where an emotionally unstable girl (Hertha Thiele) is matriculated into the institution, is dominated by a sense of enclosure within militaristic protocols, but gradually gives way to pockets of idleness and intimacy among the girls, who seek gratification for a variety of impulses in an even greater variety of ways: pin-up photos of movie stars, love notes from other girls, officially sanctioned bullying, and perceived favoritism from the headmistress. Played by Dorothea Wieck, the headmistress embodies the contradictions of this institution: her mannish shoulders and gait convey a domineering authority that the girls seek pleasure by satisfying, encouraged by her soft, flirtatious gaze suggesting a warm, maternal presence underneath. Her character knows the rules of discipline, and she knows how to bend them to her own advantage, most memorably in a perverse sequence where she bestows good night kisses on the faces of a roomful of grateful girls. The film's once-controversial status as anti-authoritarian, proto-feminist and ultimately pro-lesbian is by now a non-starter; more troubling is the glaring subtext of pedophilia that remains largely unaddressed. All the same, this is a landmark work, blessed by a stylistic rigor that serves its subject matter perfectly.

Want to go deeper?

The following ballots were counted towards the placement of Mädchen in Uniform in the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Yvonne Rainer, Sight & Sound (2002) Daniel & Susan Cohen, 500 Great Films (1987) Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films (1987) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Mädchen in Uniform is viewable in its entirety on YouTube. All nine parts can be viewed along this blog entry.

Mädchen in Uniform, Part One:

Key early German talkie: a powerful melodrama about life in a Prussian boarding school for the daughters of the bourgeoisie - a bastion of the ideology of 'strength through suffering'. The plot mechanics are predictable - unhappy pupil with crush on housemistress is driven to attempt suicide - but the atmosphere and sensitivity to teenage fears are not: stage actress Leontine Sagan brings an exceptionally warm touch to her depiction of female friendships, and her denunciation of the Prussian orthodoxy is more a matter of subtle imagery than shrill accusations. Whether it adds up to a precursor of militant lesbianism is another question...

- Time Out

The premise of the film (which simply drips atmosphere and angst) is simple and plays as the most dramatic and heart-wrenching of melodrama's. It is beautifully crafted and performed, evocatively lit, and sensitively directed by former Austrian stage actress Sagan - amazingly it was her début and given the political repercussions she subsequently suffered, something of a baptism of fire.

Although one may view this film as simply a great love story and an anti-fascist call to arms, it was quickly re-claimed as a landmark film in the evolution of Queer cinema, becoming an important and challenging piece of film-making in this context. But in whatever context one views it, the depth, beauty, and compassion of the film is undeniable and it will forever retain an important place in cinematic and sexual history.

- Jason Wood, BBC

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Two:

Maedchen in Uniform (Germany, 1931) is considered one of the first films ever to depict lesbian love. Not surprisingly, it has a long and controversial history. The original movie poster in Germany was forthright about the film’s rather racy subject matter, featuring the film's teacher and schoolgirl locked in an embrace. The American version of the poster depicted the girl alone, offering no clues that the central romantic tension lay between protagonists not only of different generations but of the same gender.

The homoeroticism of the original was likewise stripped away when the film was remade in 1958 in Germany. An attempt to re-release the original fell victim to a Hollywood code that prohibited works “possessing the flavor of sexual irregularity or perversion."

Besides portraying forbidden love, the movie functions as a commentary on the misguided ideals and rising nationalism of the time. One of the girls’ mothers writes to remind her daughter not to be lazy because the country needs “iron beings.” That exact phrase may be a peculiarity in the subtitling, but the ties between strength, stoicism and patriotism are clear.

- Shauna Swartz, AfterEllen

The May/September romance of The Reader ain’t got nothing on this fairly chaste but nonetheless steamy affair between the older, seductress/school “mistress” Fraulein von Bernburg and her fragile, fourteen-year-old student Manuela.  Set in an all-girl, Prussian boarding school, the film is adapted from a novel and play by (lesbian writer) Christa Winsloe and stars the raven-haired Dorothea Wieck, who seems to be carrying a dirty thought in her head at all times, and blond ingénue Hertha Thiele (who originated the role of Manuela onstage).  From the start when Manuela arrives at the school after the death of her mother she’s taken under the wing of the rambunctious Ilse, (played by Ellen Schwanneke who appropriately captures the drama of adolescence) who guides her through the many rules of the strict institution, one of which is to not “fall in love” with the breathtaking von Bernburg, the woman all the girls lustily worship like a rock star.  And these teens are not the least bit coy regarding their infatuation with their mistress – going so far as to sew her initials into a uniform, in one case even carve those initials into an arm!  That the girls are all attracted to a woman and not a man doesn’t even seem to register.  “Manuela, I demand absolute discipline,” the sexy Fraulein declares after shooting a lip-licking gaze upon the golden pupil when they first meet on the shadow-draped stairs.  Von Bernburg transcends gender; she’s simply the essence of dominant hot.

“What do they call what all the movie stars have?” Ilse inquires as she shows Manuela her secret (male) pinup collection inside her locker.  “Sex appeal,” another girl responds with embarrassed laughter before the dorm full of teens, hormones raging beneath those drab, striped uniforms, giggles over romantic pictures in a book.  The heightened sexual tension is broken only when they’re reprimanded for causing such a stir.  In fact, Mädchen in Uniform gracefully flows from “sin” in the form of lust and gluttony (the half-starved girls wax rhapsodic over favorite foods) to “salvation” through the discipline and punishment of military formations and drills, of forced group confessions – then back again...

No, there will be no “homo must die,” sacrificial dyke ending for Mädchen in Uniform.  Indeed, the most subversive aspect of Sagan’s lesbian flick is its finale, a harsh indictment of the principal, that stand-in for all who judge love, who set the near suicide in motion.  Yes, Manuela and von Bernburg will live while Frau Principal must face herself, come to terms with the lethal pain she has wrought.  The final image of her wandering into those Expressionist shadows alone, fading to black, is worth a thousand wonderful Weimar words.

- Lauren Wissot, Spout

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Three:

The Play vs. The Film

Christa Winsloe, born December 23rd, 1888 in Darmstadt as an officer's daughter, entered the Potsdam boarding school Kaiserin-Augusta-Stift as pupil after the early death of her mother. In this institution young noble girls were drilled to become mothers of soldiers and to learn discipline and submission. As an adult Winsloe had to write down this nightmare to get it off her chest. Yet the result, a play, does not end as positive as the film. Manuela is destroyed because of Fräulein von Bernburg's rejection. The teacher had not dared to side Manuela against the headmistress and to oppose the brutal educational methods. The pupil commits suicide. Nevertheless we owe Christa Winsloe the first sensitive play on female homosexuality in the Weimar Republic yet without a radical critique of the social discrimination of lesbian women.

The play came out in 1930 in Leipzig under the title Ritter Nérestan (Knight Nérestan) and in Berlin as Gestern und heute (Yesterday and Today). The success prompted the film version Mädchen in Uniform becoming the world's best film of the year. This was not only due to its ambitiously aesthetic form and the fact that only women performed. Equally important was the reduction of the lesbian aspects in this film version and their depiction as adolescent crush even though Winsloe co-authored the script and Leontine Sagan acted as director who in Gestern und heute had stressed the lesbian aspect.

But Carl Froelich held the artistic supervision. He not only changed the final scene but also put an emphasis on the critique of Prussian education and militarism. Contemporary critiques confirm this reduced and sexually toned down view. Lotte Eisner wrote after the opening in November 1931 in the Film-Kurier: "The almost unbelievable, a film only with woman actors grips us. A film concerning all of us because it socially goes to the bottom of a human theme, unsentimentally exceeding private interests. The film is about humanity, about the backgrounds of the system. A past world? It is yesterday and today; again it threatens to rise again, to overwhelm what a healthy youth education tries to create in a more modern time. (...) The inevitable consequences of narrow-minded life in a boarding school can be seen: one searches the other, suffering together grows into loving together in times of awakening desires. Adolescent disturbances or feelings for the same sex - the film leaves this open which is a good thing (...)."

The play and the film were shown all over Europe, in the USA and even in Japan made Winsloe world-famous over night. Already as a sculptor she had not been unknown. Against her family's consent she had been studying sculpture from 1909 on at the Munich arts and crafts school, a profession to be considered "unfeminine". Her interests had been especially in sculpting animals.

- Claudia Schoppmann, translated by Dagmar Heyman, Online-Projekt Lesbengeschichte

Madchen’s lesbianism is so obvious that it is hard to believe anyone could downplay it. Nor was it lost on contemporaries. For many viewers, it was a turn-on. Carl Froelich, who supervised the production, in part invited this by rejecting the title of the play the film is based on, Gestern und Heute, because, he said, ‘[w]e want to get back the money we’re investing, we’ll call it Girls in Uniform – then they’ll think, there’ll be girls in uniform playing about and showing their legs’. Hertha Thiele, who plays Manuela, became a popular star, receiving love letters from male and female fans. There were also more hostile reactions. In the USA, the film was only granted a certificate after the excision of shots showing the depth of Manuela’s lesbian emotions and vn Bernburg’s defence of lesbianism to the Principal. Thereafter, homophobic critics were free to argue that only perverts would see lesbianism in the film at all.

- Richard Dyer, Now You See it: Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film. Published by Routledge, 1990. Pages 29-30

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Four:

Actress Hertha Thiele on the authorship of the film

Interviewed by Heide Schlüpmann & Karola Gramman, Johan Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Translated by Leonie Naughton, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Published at Screening the Past

Hertha Thiele: It was also well-known that she put her signature to the film as its director, but she didn't have any idea about the medium. Leontine Sagan was a great actress, a very intelligent, very competent woman - yet she didn't understand anything at all about film. That we could have got the film together then in such a short time and with so little money was possible because, apart from Wieck, we had all played the roles in the theatre. Apart from that, we'd rehearsed for about three or four weeks before the filming started, rehearsing each morning in Sagan's apartment and even then she tried to change her directing style to switch over to film on the basis of the script. When the film was being shot, not one take went through which Froelich (in his capacity as artistic supervisor) didn't control. In his youth Froelich himself had been an excellent cameraman. He gave the film its finishing touches. Wieck favoured Sagan (over Froelich), but I certainly didn't.

Heide: Why not?

Hertha: I found Sagan to be too intellectual. From Froelich's side I felt a kind of love, and even though it was a man's love it was a form of love that I never felt from Sagan. I need love. I need a director or a crew with whom I have the feeling - we understand one another, we like one another, we want to work together. But it doesn't work for me when someone makes commands and never listens to what I have to bring to the work from the start. That was the way it was with Sagan actually. She delivered directives: `I want this and that and I want it this way', right from the start. She really didn't have the approach I needed - Sagan could have reduced me to tears really quickly. She had a callous attitude towards people, and at that time I couldn't cope with that at all. I only learnt to defend myself later. My sister always reproached me saying that I was too hard - but life only toughened me up later, after I had fallen flat on my face. But earlier I was as soft as butter. I had to be stroked gently, otherwise it was useless. With age it's probably even more important again - I still need to be caressed. I can't defend myself because I don't have so much strength any more.

In this regard, I always have to praise Carl Froelich. I continue to praise him, despite his political posture, even though he was involved in my expulsion from the Reichsfilmkammer (National Film Association). He never said, `That was bad' when we were making the film, but he always came and said `Kleene, det war wunderbar...', `Dear, that was wonderful, but I could imagine that if you do it this way, from there, and if you would...' and then I would really make an effort, and he would quietly take the second version. His criticisms of me were formulated in other terms, differently than those who deliver a sermon, foregrounding the importance of the spoken word, dialectic, and so on. I know these buzz-words, and I also know what they mean. But I'm not convinced that all directors know what these terms mean, and that's something I'd like to see put officially on the records for once.

Heide: Was there conflict between Carl Froelich and Leontine Sagan?

Hertha: You couldn't really call it conflict. Sagan was very modest, because she was quite aware that she knew nothing about film. Winsloe was also there the whole time and she didn't know anything about film either. It was really Carl Froelich, Walter Supper, Franz Weihmayr and Masolle, who did the sound, who brought about the film.

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Five:

Deeper readings

The structure of the film is a mixture of montage and narrative sequences which inform each other and create an atmosphere which perhaps could not have been achieved by the use of one of these methods alone. The montage sequence at the beginning of the film— stone towers, statues, and marching soldiers—sets up a compliance and strength, a tone that introduces the audience to the life of the girls at school. From the constricting montage shots, the camera turns immediately to the girls' school. Periodically, still shots of the militaristic, patriarchal world outside the school are interspersed with the narrative. The audience is reminded that although the school is a feminine space (indeed, there are no male characters in the film), it is surrounded and even permeated by ubiquitous male authority. Yet, that authority is itself called into question by the narrative, the defiance that continues despite the prevalence of authoritarianism. By its structure, the film succeeds in creating a feminine space enclosed in the literal walls (as exemplified by the montage) of the outside world.

In her utilization of the new sound medium, Sagan was the most advanced director in pre-war Germany. Lotte Eisner said: "With this work, the German sound film reached its highest level." Not only Sagan's precise use of dialogue but also her use of sound as metaphor (the sounding trumpet at the beginning and end of the film) and her creation of atmosphere, the whispers of the girls exchanging secrets, their final desperate chanting of Manuela's name—all attest to the accuracy of Eisner's statement.

Siegfried Kracauer also praised Sagan for her cinematography. He noted her ability to impart the "symbolic power of light" to her images. Sagan's use of shadows adds not only depth to the flat screen but also meaning and atmosphere. Sagan's cinematography is an excellent example of what Eisner calls "stimmung" (emotion), which suggests the vibrations of the soul through the use of light. The lighting and shooting of the stairway is a notable example. Its ascending shadows and its center depth create a tension in which the girls must operate, for the front, well-lighted stairs are off limits to them. The staircase is then a symbol of the girls' confinement, and its darkness literally shadows all of their activities.

Sagan also pioneered the cinematic convention of superimposition of one character's face over that of another to symbolize a deep psychological connection between them. She uses this technique in the film to convey moments of deep attraction between the teacher Fraulein von Bernburg and her student Manuela. The fusion of their images suggests the strength of their bond. It was a technique used 30 years later by Bergman in Persona to achieve the same effect.

- Gretchen Elsner-Sommer, Film Reference.com

It is a testimony to our ignorance of the period that Leontine Sagan's film, MAEDCHEN IN UNIFORM, is generally assumed to be an anomaly, a film without a context. Or else it is assumed to be a metaphor, a coded tale about something else, something other than what appears on screen. If we are to understand MAEDCHEN IN UNIFORM fully, it is important to keep in view the society within which it was made. It was the celebrated milieu of Berlin-avant-la-guerre, the Berlin with dozens of gay and lesbian bars and journals, the Berlin of a social tolerance so widespread that it nearly camouflaged the underlying legal restraints (which were to grow, rapidly, into massive repression). I would stop short of claiming an outlandish Rosetta Stone status for the film, no matter how tempting, lest the reader lose faith. Yet, it might be emphasized, MAEDCHEN IN UNIFORM is an exemplary work, not only for what it presents to us on the screen but also for the timely issues that its analysis must confront. It is the film revival most key to establishing a history of lesbian cinema.

In part, the film's reputation rests upon stylistic components. It is visually unusual due to Sagan's montage-inflected structure that manages to break away from the usually stagy and claustrophobic mise-en-scene of early sound films. Her montages, no doubt Soviet-influenced, establish a persuasive counterpoint to the more theatrical scenes and mold them into a cinematic rhythm. Dramatically, her use of a large cast of non-professional actresses lends the film a fresh and documentary-like tone, while the performances of the lead actresses won widespread praise. Aurally, Sagan was a pioneer in her use of sound, not only as a functional synchronous accompaniment, but also as a thematic element in its own right.

However, most important to the film's reputation through the years has been its significance as an antiauthoritarian and prophetically anti-fascist film. To be sure, the film has suitable credentials for such a claim. Any film so opposed to militarism, so anti-Prussian, so much in support of the emotional freedom of women, must be an anti-fascist film. Furthermore, it was made through the Deutsches Film Gemeinschaft, a cooperative production company specifically organized for this project — and the first German commercial film to be made collectively. Add to such factors the fact that the film was made on the very eve of Hitler's rise to power, just prior to the annexation of the film industry to Goebbel's cultural program, and the legend of Sagan's proto-subversive movie is secure. In emphasizing the film's progressive stance in relation to the Nazi assumption of power, however, film historians have tended to overlook, minimize, or trivialize the film's central concern with love between women.

Today, we must take issue with the heretofore unexamined critical assumption that the relations between women in the film are essentially a metaphor for the real power relations of which it treats, i.e. the struggle against fascism. I would suggest that MAEDCHEN IN UNIFORM is not only anti-fascist, but also anti-patriarchal, in its politics. Such a reading need not depend upon metaphor, but can be more forcefully demonstrated by a close attention to the film's literal text.

- B. Ruby Rich, from Maedchen in Uniform: From repressive tolerance to erotic liberation. Jump Cut, no. 24-25, March 1981, pp. 44-50. Also published in Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Edited by Corey K. Creekmur, Alexander Doty. Published by Duke University Press, 1995

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Six:

Leontine Sagan's 1931 film Mädchen in Uniform is often ignored in film histories and critical surveys, yet as a document of its time and of its society this film provides us with a fascinating subject for study. Filmed as it was in a year which does not fall neatly into any critic's chronological division, this film eludes classification as either a product of the Weimar Republic or of the fascist state which was yet to come. In many ways, in fact, the film stands alone, for it offers a glimpse into the considerations of many liberally-minded Germans at this time, who on the one hand feared the tide of repression which they saw growing around them, but on the other hand knew better than to attempt an outright statement of rebellion. Thus Mädchen in Uniform, in taking up themes of anti-authoritarianism and discontent, reveals precisely the dilemma faced by its creators, and can be analyzed along these lines.


On a narrative level, Mädchen in Uniform offers a rich palette of possible interpretations. Indeed, the film resists all attempts to deliver one definitive message or central theme: it seems instead to focus at times on the academy's autocratic disregard for human emotionality, at times on the pleasures of youthful friendship, and at times on the aspects of feminine warmth and love which lead to destruction.. Manuela's story has been seen by some critics as merely an allegory or analogy to the repressiveness of the coming German regime, or at least as a vehement criticism of repressive rule in any form. In this, the film has much in common with other anti-authoritarian protest narratives, such as Robert Musil's Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß or even Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos, which itself figures prominently in this film. There are, of course, a number of points in the narrative which support this anti-fascist assessment. The dogmatic rules and discipline in the academy present a striking parallel to any militaristic regime, and the fact that it is precisely the blind enforcement of these regulations that leads to Manuela's attempted suicide speaks quite strongly for an anti-authoritarian reading. In addition, at several key moments in the film, the headmistress speaks lines rich in political allusion: at one point, for example, while discussing budgetary constraints with Fräulein von Kesten, the headmistress remarks: "Hunger? Wir Preußen haben uns gewohnt zu hungern! [...] Durch Hunger und Zucht werden wir wieder groß werden!" The sequences following this discussion -- the children longingly discussing holiday dinners and memories of their meals at home -- serve to increase the effect on the viewer and underscore the tragic ignorance inherent in the headmistress' view.

At the same time, though, the very nature of the story presented on screen precludes a purely political interpretation, as Rich has also explained. The central issue in the film is not, despite many critics' contentions, the autocratic nature of the headmistress and her academy, but rather the love affair between Manuela and her teacher. It is the sensuality, the aura of romance and affection, and the heartbreak of separation which pervade the atmosphere of the film. From the moment when Fräulein von Bernburg first sees Manuela on the stairs, the importance of the headmistress begins to wane. Indeed, the love affair reaches beyond the private sphere of Manuela and Fräulein von Bernburg: the other girls, too, are seen to display erotic and romantic affection towards each other and towards their teacher on numerous occasions. One girl has even chosen to tattoo her arm with her beloved teacher's initials, and the reaction of Ilse von Westhagen to Fräulein von Bernburg's attentions provides decisive proof of the focus on sensuality: after her letter is discovered and Ilse is forbidden to act in the school play, she begins to pack her things in a vain attempt to escape from the school. At this moment, Fräulein von Bernburg appears, hugs her, consoles her by speaking to her on her own terms ("Ich darf ja auch nicht mitspielen") and finally, emphatically, slaps Ilse from behind, which motivates Ilse not only to remain at school, but to sigh in blissful adoration of her teacher. Rich duly notes that this interference on the part of Fräulein von Bernburg is in fact a service to the very regime she comes into conflict with: "it is her presence as a confidante that permits her to discern and block any tentative moves in the direction of revolt." (69) The merging of Fräulein von Bernburg's sensuality, then, with the regulated life in the academy shows precisely the level at which the message of this film must be read, where the personal meets and indeed becomes the political.

The story elements here reflect clearly the possibility of bridging the dichotomy of feminist and historical layers in the film, but the characters themselves provide another opportunity for examining these levels, too. The exclusively female cast is, for instance, nevertheless remarkably varied in terms of on-screen femininity, sensuality, and approachability. The headmistress stands of course at one extreme: the archetype of the repressive tyrant, she is, as Rich states, "the ultimate incarnation of the absent but controlling patriarchy." [8] Her ever-present cane, from which she draws much of her support and even authority, can be seen as a phallic symbol, evidence of her reliance on 'masculine' methods of dominance and constraint. Her insistence on the "sinfulness" and the "scandal" of Manuela's love for Fräulein von Bernburg can be taken, on the one hand, as the reaction of a patriarchal leader to what amounts to insubordination: lesbian love does not fit within the militaristic tradition of a state designed to raise, as the headmistress says, "Soldatentöchter, und wenn Gott will, wieder Soldatenmütter." At the same time, though, she reflects not merely the patriarchal ruler, but a woman who, unable to find expression for her own sexuality and femininity, resorts to extinguishing all such expression amongst others, as well.

Cinematography and Editing

A feminist analysis of this film is sure to note Sagan's emphasis on facial expressions. At several crucial moments in the film, for instance, Manuela's face is shown in close-up, then contrasted (at one point superimposed) with Fräulein von Bernburg's face, bearing an identical expression. These scenes, which occur in the classroom and in Fräulein von Bernburg's own room, are clear indicators of the special bond between the two women: indeed, the final example occurs even when Manuela is not, in fact, present. We see Fräulein von Bernburg, in a heated discussion with the headmistress, suddenly freeze; a close-up of Manuela's face is then superimposed over her own, and then the image returns to Fräulein von Bernburg's room, where she cries "Manuela!" and runs off, aware of the imminent tragedy. This preoccupation with facial close-ups may, in fact, be evidence of a "female gaze" as an undercurrent throughout the film. It is noteworthy that, despite the overt sensuality perceived in many of the dressing-room scenes, there is not a single close-up of legs, chests, or any body part other than the face. The emphasis here is clearly not on women as objects, but as complete, aesthetic, and above all emotional beings. The position of the spectator, too, is significant: there are remarkably few examples of tilted camera angles, either high or low, in this film. Instead, nearly all the shots are level, and most are medium-range or even close-up shots. The spectator becomes in essence 'one of the girls,' on a level with and in close proximity to the characters in the film. In fact, the only extreme long-shot in the film is to be found outside the academy, in the introductory images, which portray soldiers marching in the distance, and then the girls in their prisoner-like striped uniforms marching through the gates into the school. Once inside, the viewer becomes confined, much as the girls, too, are restricted and restrained.

As noted, though, Sagan does not favor exclusively the use of 'feminine' camera techniques; she is equally adept at using harsher, more powerful strategies in appropriate sequences. The lighting, for instance, in nearly all the academy shots is harsh, bright, and clearly defined. In many cases there are strong vertical and horizontal shadows cast on the walls: the staircase, for example, calls to mind cell-like bars framing Manuela and the others; so too the ingenious emphasis on the vertical bar-like shadows in the infirmary, while Manuela is confined to bed, acting as both a reminder of her confinement and a critique of the oppressive regulations imposed on her. There are no obvious example of curves to be found in any of the film's shots: apart from the bodies of the girls, nearly all objects in the school are straight, precise, and inevitably phallic...

In addition to her expert use of cinematic and camera techniques, Sagan also brings out key aspects of her film through the use of sound. Considering the year in which this film was made, and the fact that experimentation with sound had necessarily been carried out to a rather limited extent, Rich is indeed correct in praising Sagan's "use of sound, not only as a functional synchronous accompaniment, but as a thematic element in its own right."  Indeed, the bugle calls, chiming bells, and marching feet provide telling examples of sound motifs: in many cases they contribute more to the film than an image could convey, and as such are vital in achieving the overall effect. Singing, too, is an important element: we first become acquainted with Ilse's perky and impetuous character by observing her parody of the hymn being sung. Sagan also makes masterful use of off-screen sound, as evidenced in examples such as those where Manuela speaks, but the camera remains focused on the face of Fräulein von Bernburg. In these and other instances, too, there are interesting connections to be found between the words being spoken and the on-screen images. The refusal of the headmistress to acknowledge any complaints of hunger among the girls is, as noted above, immediately followed by images of the girls themselves, discussing feasts and dishes previously relished. Surprisingly, though, this film is relatively sparse in its use of non-diegetic sound and, in particular, music. There are a few occasions on which a faint background melody can be determined, but overall, the only scene in which background music plays a key role is the nighttime "kiss" sequence, where a distant lullaby is repeated while Fräulein von Bernburg conducts her evening ritual. In many scenes, including some of the most tense or emotional moments, absolute silence prevails, and indeed, rightly so, for the viewer is left to concentrate entirely on the dialogue and images which are presented.

- Nancy Thuleen

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Seven:

About Leontine Sagan


Leontine Sagan (b. Leontine Schlesinger, February 13, 1889May 20, 1974) was an Austrian actress and theatre director.

Born in Budapest, Sagan trained with Max Reinhardt. The first and most widely known of her two films is Mädchen in Uniform (1931). It had an all-female cast and was ground-breaking not only for its portrayal of lesbian and pedagogical eros, but also for its co-operative and profit-sharing financial arrangements. Sagan herself was a lesbian.[1]

An alternate ending of the movie, which pandered to pro-Nazi ideals, enabled the film to be screened in Germany, but eventually even this version of the film was banned as 'decadent' by the Nazi regime and Sagan fled Germany soon after.

Sagan briefly worked on films with Alexander Korda in England, but then moved to South Africa and founded the National Theatre of Johannesburg.

The film Mädchen in Uniform, based on the novel by Christa Winsloe, survived but was much-censored until the 1970s. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with helping to revoke its censorship in the USA. It was recently released in its surviving form as a video-tape, with English subtitles, in the USA in 1994 and in the UK in 2000. Even this version probably lacks sections that were in the original and for a full understanding of what may have been censored, viewing the film may best be followed by reading the original novel by Christa Winsloe.

She died in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1974 at the age of 85.

- Wikipedia

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Eight:

About Christa Winsloe


By marrying Baron Ludwig Hatvany (1880-1961), a rich Hungarian writer and landowner, she followed the conventions in 1913. After the war and the failure of her marriage she moved to Munich and started writing along with sculpturing. Her features were published in newspapers and periodicals like Vossische, Berliner Tageblatt and Querschnitt. But her first plays were not performed.

After Mädchen in Uniform had come out Christa Winsloe devoted herself totally to writing. In 1932 the play Schicksal nach Wunsch (Fate as wanted) had the first performance at the Berliner Kammerspiele. The play's main theme are traditional gender relations. But in the description of the lesbian senior physician Franziska "Franz" Schmitt as "modern spinster" the author confirms existing prejudices rather than criticizing them. Soon after she wrote the book of the film Mädchen in Uniform correcting the moderate happy end. As Das Mädchen Manuela (The Girl Manuela) it was published abroad as early as 1933 in the newly founded department for exile literature of the Amsterdam publisher Allert de Lange. Using the Vienna Tal publisher as front man Allert de Lange was even able to deliver a few copies to Germany until the beginning of 1936. The book was translated into many languages and became a bestseller. In Germany Christa Winsloe, the so called aristocratic rebel, did not publish any more. She could not accept the conditions (e.g. the "Aryan certificate") of minister of propaganda Goebbels' "Reichsschrifttumkammer" (German literature department).

Soon all Winsloe's books and articles were on the Nazi index of "undesired literature". The author was considered as "politically unreliable". Though Goebbels had described Mädchen in Uniform in his diary from February 2nd, 1932 as "magnificently directed, exceptionally natural and exciting film art" it was forbidden to be shown by now. Women's love was a taboo though not prosecuted.

In autumn of 1938 Winsloe got the chance to leave Germany for a longer period, yet again as an "expert for girl's themes". She wrote the script for Georg Wilhelm Pabst's Jeune filles en détresse (1939) on a child whose parents are about to divorce. The film was only a moderate success - and a few days later the Second World War broke out. Winsloe decided to stay in France. In October 1939 she moved to the south and settled in Cagnes near Nizza. There she met Simone Gentet, a Suisse ten years her junior. They stayed together during the following years.

In a letter to Dorothy Thompson from July 1941 she complained about her "flops of the last years" as author. As a reason she saw especially her "voluntary emigration". "It is no fun to write German when you want your work to be published." Simone Gentet translated some of her work into French but there were almost no possibilities to publish in occupied France. Still, writing was extremely important for Christa Winsloe. For her it was hope for life and work after the war. "Of course you think yourself as ridiculous, to hide your head in the sand of your imagination" she grumbled in 1944 in a letter to Hertha von Gerhardt (1896-1978) an author and friend in Berlin, „ but after the war there also must be books and plays“.

With increasing scarceness of food and money their struggle for survival got more and more difficult. Nevertheless Winsloe looked after refugees who were more at risk than herself. Her motto was "you have to help, when you can." Urgently (and not in vain) she asked Dorothy Thompson for help in March 1941. She asked for food and money: "This would be an incredible joy for a lot of pale humans and a few children of prisoners in Germany who I am looking after."

Because of an imminent evacuation order Christa Winsloe and Simone Gentet left the Cote d'Azur in February 1944 and travelled to Cluny in Burgundy. Winsloe planned to fight their way through to her sister-in-law in Hungary. Just before the landing of the allied troops in Normandy she got the necessary transit visa for Germany. Yet they never travelled. Both women were attacked by four Frenchmen on June 10th, 1944 and shot in a forest near Cluny. Later on the gang leader, a livestock dealer called Lambert, referred to an alleged order of the résistance. The women were supposed to have been spies and to have collaborated with the occupying power. Though these accusations were absolutely untenable and though Lambert proved to be an "ordinary criminal", he and his co-defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence in 1948.

Mädchen in Uniform, Part Nine:

About Hertha Thiele

Hertha Thiele was born in Leipzig in 1908, and died 5 August 1984. She was an acclaimed stage actor long before she made her screen debut in 1931 when she played the lead role in the film, Mädchen in Uniform. Set in a Prussian boarding school for girls, the film was directed by Leontine Sagan and included an all-female cast. Hertha Thiele played Manuela, a sensitive fourteen year old schoolgirl infatuated with her teacher, Fraülein von Bernburg, played by Dorothea Wieck. The film was released internationally and briefly turned Hertha Thiele into a star. She also played next to Ernst Busch in Bertolt Brecht's Kuhle Wampe (1932). In 1933 she starred in Kleiner Mann, was nun? and Anna und Elisabeth, the film which she considers to be the most important of her career. Her involvement with the theatre continued throughout the first half of the 1930s: she worked with Max Reinhardt (Harmonie, 1932) and the notorious Veit Harlan (Veronika, 1935).

Hertha Thiele's screen career was disrupted during the Third Reich. She refused the overtures of the National Socialists who expected her to contribute to state propaganda. In 1937 she left Nazi Germany on political grounds and settled in Switzerland where she made occasional theatre appearances. (The Jewish director of Mädchen in Uniform, Sagan, had already left Germany. She pursued a career in the theatre in England and later in South Africa.)

Hertha Thiele returned to Germany for a couple of years after the War, but spent the 1950s and most of the 1960s in Switzerland where she worked as a psychiatric nursing assistant. In 1966 she returned to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for good and worked in stage productions in Magdeburg and Leipzig. Throughout the 1970s she was part of an acting ensemble for GDR television. She acted in a variety of TV series and tele-films, which were scarcely known in the Federal Republic. She had roles in the popular series Polizeiruf 110, and also had a small role in the GDR's most loved and most watched film, Heiner Carow's Die Legende von Paul und Paula (1973). In 1975, Hertha Thiele was the subject of a tele-documentary, Das Herz auf der linken Seite. In 1983, the Deutsche Kinematek published a monograph, focusing on her life and work.

- Heide Schlüpmann & Karola Gramman, Johan Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Translated by Leonie Naughton, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Published in Screening the Past

About Dorothea Wieck

Swiss actress Dorothea Wieck (1908-1986) became a major star and a lesbian idol with her role as the adored teacher Fräulein von Bernburg in the German classic Mädchen in Uniform. She made more than fifty films, but she was also a prominent stage actress of the Deutsche Theater, the Schillertheater and other main theatres in Berlin.

Dorothea Wieck German postcard by Ross Verlag, nr. 6846/1. Photo by Atelier Binder, Berlin.

Silent Films She studied with Max Reinhardt and began her film career already in 1926 with Die kleine Inge und ihre drei Väter/Little Inge and Her Three Fathers (1926, Franz Osten). Soon followed more silent films like Ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren/I Lost My Heart at Heidelberg (1926, Arthur Bergen), Sturmflut/Storm Tide (1927, Willy Reiber), and Der Fremdenlegionär/ Foreign Legionaire (1928, James Bauer).

International Success Her breakthrough followed with the talkies where she had an international success with Mädchen in Uniform/Girls in Uniform (1931, Leontine Sagan). First the lesbian themed film was banned when released in the United States, but First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt saw the importance of the movie and the ban was lifted. Later in Germany the Nazi regime tried to burn all the copies of the film, but they couldn't.

Dorothea Wieck, Hertha Thiele in Mädchen in Uniform Dutch Postcard by M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam, Z., nr. 104 e. Photo: Fim Film, Amsterdam.

Hollywood In the next years Dorothea Wieck took part in well-known productions like Gräfin Mariza/Countess Mariza (1932, Richard Oswald), and Anna und Elisabeth (1933, Frank Wisbar). The international success of Mädchen in Uniform led her to Hollywood where she starred in two films, Cradle Song (1933, Mitchell Leisen) and Miss Fane's Baby Is Stolen (1934, Alexander Hall). Neither significantly furthered her career.

Dorothea Wieck Dutch postcard, printed by Smeets & Schippers, Amsterdam. Photo: Paramount.

Noble Family Dorthea Wieck returned to Germany and married into a noble family. In the following years she played in such popular films as Der Student von Prag/The Student of Prague (1935, Arthur Robison) and Die gelbe Flagge/The Yellow Flagg (1937, Gerhard Lamprecht). During wartime she only occasionally appeared in front of the camera, but turned her attention to the theater. To her few movies of those years belong Andreas Schlüter (1942, Herbert Maisch) and the Italian production Inviati speciali/Special Guests (1943). She also worked as a stage director.

Supporting Roles After the war she first worked in the theatre, in Leipzig. In the 1950's followed interesting supporting roles in films like Herz der Welt/The Alfred Nobel Story (1952, Harald Braun), Man on a Tightrope(1953, Elia Kazan), Das Fräulein von Scuderi/The Miss from Scuderli (1955, Eugen York), Das Forsthaus in Tirol (1955, Hermann Kugelstadt), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958, Douglas Sirk), and Menschen im Hotel/Grand Hotel (1959, Gottfried Reinhardt). After that she retired from the film business more or less. To her last films belong Die Schachnovelle/Brainwashed (1960, Gerd Oswald), Das Mädchen und der Staatsanwalt (1962, Jürgen Goslar), and two episodes of the crime tv series Der Kommissar in 1969 and 1973. In 1973 she was awarded for her work with the Filmband in Gold.

Dorothea Wieck

- European Film Star Postcards

939 (80). Varieté aka Variety aka Vaudeville (1925, E.A. Dupont)

screened Thursday October 30 2008 on NYFA VHS in Astoria NY TSPDT rank #827 IMDb

One of the seminal works of silent cinema, this love-triangle melodrama among vaudeville acrobats was lauded by no less than the likes of Jean Mitry and Gilles Deleuze for infusing German expressionism into the norms of classical film grammar (i.e. shot/reverse shot and subjective-objective cinematography). Historical importance aside, it's a conventional affair with a cheap salvation ending, graced with excellent performances by Emil Jannings (a hard sell as a 250 lb. acrobat, but fun to watch for his strenuous conviction) and proto-vamp Lya de Putti as his cheating wife. Dupont would apply his considerable talents to a more interesting script with 1929's Piccadilly, but the innovative lensing of the immortal Karl Freund, especially during the thrilling acrobatic sequences, keeps the mise-en-scene lively. Imagine having never seen a shot fly through the air before and you can get a sense of what audiences, critics and subjective lens film theorists went crazy about.

Want to go deeper?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Variety on the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Alexander Korda, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Campbell Dixon, Sight & Sound (1952) Carol Reed, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Connery Chappell, Sight & Sound (1952) David Lean, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Willi Forst, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Well guess what - you can watch Variety in its entirety on YouTube! And it appears to be the original European cut (see explanation and significance as follows):

When American audiences were permitted to see German filmmaker E.A. Dupont's silent masterpiece Variety, it was the story of a carnival concessionaire (Emil Jannings), his alluring wife (Lya de Putti), and the handsome acrobat (Warwick Ward) who comes between them. Feeling doubly impotent because he himself had been a famous aerialist before suffering a crippling accident, Jannings fantasizes about killing his rival -- and, finally, does so. After serving a long prison term, Jannings is released by a compassionate warden, who feels as though the poor cuckold has suffered enough. This, again, is what Americans saw. In the original European version of Variety, which ran nearly twice as long as the U.S. print, Jannings deserts his wife (Maly Delschaft) when de Putti enters the scene. Moreover, he never marries de Putti, meaning that his only hold over her when Ward steals her away is an emotional one. Dupont had fashioned an ironic tale of a man suffering betrayal after having himself betrayed. The American censors wouldn't swallow that, nor would they pass the charming domestic scene wherein Jannings helps de Putti disrobe, unless the prologue involving Delschaft was chopped out and de Putti was transformed from mistress to wife. Though this sort of bowdlerization might seem like an artistic outrage, the American version of Variety is in fact superior to the original, especially in terms of pace; what seemed interminable in the German version zips along at an entertaining clip in the revised print.

~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

The strongest and most inspiring drama that has ever been told by the evanescent shadows is at the Rialto. It is a German film known as "Variety" and was produced by the Ufa concern in Berlin about a year ago under the direction of E. A. Dupont. In this picture there is a marvelous wealth of detail; the lighting effects and camera work cause one to reflect that occasionally the screen may be connected with art. While there may be some speculation concerning the appeal of this striking piece of work, because use of the tragic climax of the actual story, there is no doubt regarding its merit. Scene after scene unlocks a flood of thoughts, and although the nature of the principal characters is far from pleasing; the glimpses one obtains are so true to life that they are not repellent.

Emil Jannings, who is best remembered for his acting in "The Last Laugh" and "Passion," fills the principal rôle. He is theatric at times, but his performance is a masterly one. He is not alone in this feature, and it may be a matter of opinion as to whether Lya de Putti and Warwick Ward, an English actor, are not even better than Mr. Jannings in their portrayals. Certainly Jannings has the least conventional rôle and more to tell by his expressions. However, Miss de Putti and Mr. Ward give an extraordinarily brilliant account of themselves and they rise to the occasion in episodes that are by no means easy to handle

This is a production which not only shows the way in which a story should be unfurled, but impresses one with the magic of the camera in picturing effects, such as the torrent of thoughts rushing through a maddened mind, and the views of the audience from the eyes of a hurtling trapeze performer.

- Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times, June 28, 1926

This 1925 film remains the textbook example of German expressionism with its moody lighting, intimations of decadence, and fluid, subjective camera work (by the great Karl Freund). Yet the blatancy that makes it so easy to teach is also its chief drawback as art. Expressionism needed the taste and insight of a Murnau to be transformed from a manner to a style; this film, untransformed, is the work of the negligible E.A. Dupont. Emil Jannings, the standard-bearer of German masochism, stars as a trapeze artist betrayed by his mistress (Lya De Putti) for his younger partner (Warwick Ward).

- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Dupont's most celebrated film (it was one of the most famous films in the world in 1925) unfolds in a long series of flashbacks from a prison straight out of a Van Gogh painting: prisoner No 28 (Jannings, with his back to the camera more often than not) is granted remission, and in return tells the story of his crime to the governor. The story itself is a banal triangle melodrama: a trapeze duo in the Berlin music-hall becomes a trio, and the lady switches gentlemen, driving the cuckold to murder his rival. The treatment, though, is something else again. Impressionistic lighting, lingering expressionist imagery, and giddily mobile camerawork are all pushed to unprecedented extremes, like Murnau on speed. Hard to take it too seriously, but the bravura style and Lya de Putti's coquettish performance remain as impressive as ever.

- Time Out

The plot of "Varieté" is a rather trite and conventional melodrama of heated passion and seething jealousy. However, this has always been popular subject matter with audiences. In Dupont's hands, the film became an immediate success, and it won rave notices throughout Europe. It was a tremendous hit in New York City where it did a sensational business for over six weeks. Many cites in the United States were shocked by the film's immorality, and Paramount deleted the first two reels (twenty minutes) entirely. The subsequent viewers in the other parts of the United States saw the censored version that was missing the opening scenes where the owner of the carnival meets the new dancer, deserts his family and moves to Berlin with his new girlfriend. The American sanitized version has him and his girlfriend as man and wife. Even in its censored version it retained its power and went on to become "the Best Picture Of The Year." This film was also listed on the N.Y. Times "Top 10 Films of 1926."

Variety (film reviews), June 30, 1926, states, "Opened at the Rialto, New York, June 27, for a run limited to six weeks, running time 92 minutes. "Variety" is a corking picture, made anywhere as it has been much in Germany. It has variety, so much, so many an American director may be only to eager to watch it the second time . . ."

"Varieté" was directed by Ewald Andre Dupont (E.A. Dupont), and the cast included Emil Jannings, Lya de Putti, Maly Delschaft, Warwick Ward, and Georg John. The screen adaptation of the novel was done by Dupont who once had been the manager of a vaudeville theater and was acquainted with carnival atmosphere. The film was also notable for its unconventional impressionistic use of swirling light and movement and spectacular camera effects. It was a tremendous success, stylistically influential, and brought Dupont to the attention of Hollywood, where, rather sadly, he ended up making mostly B-movies.

- John DeBartolo, SilentsAreGolden.com

Profile by Diana Savage

Article in Spanish by Antonio Belmonte in Pasion Silente

Deeper readings

It was not until The Last Laugh (Murnau, 1924) and, in particular, Variety that the subjective image passed into the language of the cinema, when the "objective-subjective" or "onlooker-lookd upon" equation became identified with shot-reverse-shot, both being used more and more extensively...

This method of narration, constantly opposing - or juxtaposing - the objective and the subjective, or, to be more exact, the descriptive and analytic images, has been the one most frequently in use since it was first established in Variety.

- Jean Mitry, translated by Christopher King. The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. Published by Indiana University Press, 1999. Pages 207, 214.  Also see pages 345-346 for a brilliant examination of subjectively expressive framing in one sequence from the film.

It is significant that Variete embraces the most up-to-date technologies in its presentation of this spectacle; for in the 1920s, the measure of a groundbreaking variety act lay in its use of technological innovation. As Michael Esser explains, for the filming of the scenes in which the camera follows the artists as they fly through the air on trapezes, a camera was strapped to trapezes opposite the actors in order to capture the movement and path of the acrobatics. Similarly, it was necessary to install many more lights than was usual in the Wintergarten to achieve the play of light that mimics the actors' vertiginous movements through the air, and the rich star-filled sky of the cupola. To photograph a potential fall of Artinelli later in the narrative, the spotlight and camera running at slow speed were lowered by a cable; thus, when projected, the motion of the falling body would be fast. As Esser explains, Variete served as a vehicle for all of Ufa's high-production values and aesthetic trademarks, including a rhapsodic display of the moving camera and a rich, drmaatic use of lights and lighting: "The moving camera, shadow-rich, dramatic light, the star quality of Emil Jannings, the erotic radiance of Lya de Putti, the rich, detailed architecture, the exotic fairground and, the finishing touch of German sentimentality" are all in the interests of publicizingUfa's production potential. Notwithstanding the important role played by the studio in the produciton of Variete, it is also significant that Karl Freund was the cameraman, and was thus involved in the lighting compositions and constructions for the film. As in hiscollaboration with Paul Wegener on Der Golem, Freund used the material of the story to experiment further with the possibilities of his medium. These sophisticated technical strategies, in particular the use of light and lighting to mimic the movement of bodies through the air, are among the innovations of Variete. In this film, it is not only the camera, but also the potential movement of electrical light that creates a new, modern form of variety entertainment. These explorations of artificial light, in their marriage with the film camera, articulate the uniqueness and fascination of the film for contemporary audiences. As in the historical examples, when Boss, Bertha-Maria, and Artinelli perform in the Berlin Wintergarten, the excitement, energy and precision of their performance is reiterated in the most vanguard of technologies: through the conjunction of light, lighting, and camera...

...Seen in its entirety, then, Variete sustains this tension between the moral decadence of modern industrial life and a celebration for the technological phenomena - such as cinema and variety shows - that produce it. This is not to say that through this irresolution Variete equivocates either its critique or its celebratino of a technologically inflected mass entertainment. On the contrary, the conflict adds a vibrancy and complexity to the film that makes it neither simply radical nor reactionary. By creating narrative tensions through eruptions of technological spectacle, Variety represents the Janus-faces advance to a technologically inflected modern Germany. On the one hand, the advent of such spectacular entertainment was genuinely thrilling to its audiences. On the other hand, such wonders disturbed preexisting value systems, namely, a moral universe underwritten by family and sexual fidelity. Thus, in Variete we see an outstanding example of the German silent film's tendency to displace the mystical search for transcendental knowledge through representations of light onto an exploration of conflicts in the moral fabric of the secular, historical world.

- Frances Guerin, A Culture of Light: Cinema and Technology in 1920s Germany, Published by U of Minnesota Press, 2005. Pages 204-205, 215

While the film celebrates the modernity of its own camera and editing techniques, it remains very ambivalent about the urban modernity, upward mobility, “Americanism,” and destabilization of traditional gender identities it so sensationally depicts. Variety, despite all its citation – and mobilization – of the forms of mass spectacle and entertainment associated with Weimar modernity, remains an “art film.” The German “art cinema” of the 1920s is characterized on the one hand by a certain aesthetic conservatism that reflects the ambivalence about film and mass culture on the part of intellectuals so well documented in Anton Kaes’s Kino-Debatte (“Debate About the Cinema”). On the other hand, the art cinema often manifests a political conservatism typical of large German industries during the 1920s, including the film industry, which was becoming ever more concentrated throughout the decade. By “political conservatism” I mean the generally anti-democratic, class-based hierarchical elitism characteristic of the dominant social gropus in the Weimar Republic. Hence the rather cynical (and strategic) contradiction of producing films ambivalent about mass culture and modernity that were themselves stunning spectacles made with all the technical expertise money could buy…

The German “art cinema” began around 1912 and is often called an Autorenkino, or “cinema of authors/auteurs”. By the 1920s, the German art film was only one of many products – and strategies – of a large, commercial film industry. It was certainly nothing very similar to the concept of a low-budget Autorenkino with oppositional ambitions that we associate with the “new German Cinema” of the 1970s. Certainly for Variety it is a debatable term, at least if the director Dupont is supposed to be the film’s “author”; the producer Pommer and the cinematographer Karl Freund were both arguably much more important for the film. Pommer intended Variety to capitalize on the mobile-camera techniques Freund ahd developed in The Last Laugh, the film Pommer wanted to use Freund again to film Variety, but for the director he chose Dupont over Murnau, apparently because he felst that the latter was unsuited to directing a melodrama so focused on (heterosexual) sex. It was also Pommer who persuaded Dupont to film the story in the new dynamic visual style that he wanted to market.

For although The Last Laugh had been a critical success, and while it had wowed and intimidated Hollywood with its technical virtuosity, it had not been an overwhelming box office hit. Proving Pommer’s calculations right, Variety did become such a hit, both in Germany and the United States. Early on German critics aw it as the film the German film industry had long awaited, one that could compete with American cinema; the German trade journal Kintematograph asserted that the film was sure to conquer “even the aloof Americans”… Variety was for a long time the one great success Ufa managed to achieve in the United States…

Although Kracauer writes about the film’s “realism,” neither the film’s rather generic melodramatic plot nor the dizzying effects of its camera work and editing for the trapeze sequences appear to today’s sensibilities to be especially “realistic.” Kracauer is right, however: in 1925 Variety was famous precisely for its realism. This reputation had much to do with its impressive “documentary” shots of Berlin and Hamburg: for example, the carnival in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, and in Berlin the Friedrichstrasse railway station, certain street scenes, and the interior shots of the Wintergarten. Shooting on location was still relatively rare in the German art film, which was famous primarily for its carefully constructed studio sets that could be illuminated so precisely and expressively. In this way Variety is clearly related to New Objectivity and associated trends of the middle and later 1920s in German film, photography, theater, literature, and painting. In which the attempt to move toward a documentary approach was noted.

…As Kracauer wrote in Die Angestellten (“The White Collar Employees,” 1929), the secret of New Objectivity was precisely that behind its modern façade, something very sentimental was often lurking. For all Variety’s modern technical virtuosity, the film is not merely sentimental, but very conservative in its critique of aspects of modernity. It participates in the cynical strategy of dressing its conservative message in the most modern of forms – given its commercial success, one might say that it is one of the most successful examples of the strategy. For the evil that destroys the good-natured family man, Boss, is clearly connected to his desire to be a star of the trapeze again – to be at the center of the spotlight of mass entertainment, the beneficiary of the appetite of the modern masses for spectacle and distraction…

The film’s cynical ambivalence about its own project creates a distance between narrative and spectacle that is reflexive. Its technical virtuosity is typical of New Objective fetishization of technology, and its use of a lurid, sensational melodramatic plot mirrors the move in New Objectivity toward more accessible narratives and toward an apparent embrace of mass culture. The film’s most famous cinematic techniques involve the use of mobile camera from subjective points of view, most impressively in the dizzying shots of the acrobats high above the audience in the Wintergarten, and these techniques tend to foreground themselves through a virtuoisity in excess of the needs of the plot. In addition, the film’s own constructions of looking are foregrounded, thematized quite explicitly – even melodramatically – in a collage of eyes that is intercut with shots of Boss on the trapeze at his most conflicted moment, as he is indeed being watched by everyone in the huge hall. It can be argued that even the melodramatic narrative itself reflects on the institution of the cinema (although perhaps unintentionally so): the protagonist’s precipitous rise from his origins as a “vulgar” carnival performer to a performer in a glamorous hall in which the upper classes ogle him is a trajectory that parallels the rise of cinema itself from despised lower-class entertainment to a more bourgeois one. But the comment on cinema is in that case quite negative, for it becomes a part of a topsy-turvy world of glittering mass celebrity that is marked as clearly dangerous and destabilizing.

… Although my emphasis here on reactionary, anti-democratic attitudes in the film would seem to align my reading with Kracauer’s overall verdict on Weimar cinema, I would like to stress where I differ with him: Kracauer (at least in his famous postwar book From Caligari to Hitler) has more or less the same take on “male retrogression” / “decadence”/”degeneracy” as the right wing in the Wiemar Republic did, namely, that it is bad, one of the serious flaws in Weimar culture. Variety sends a very clear – and anti-modern – message about modernity, democracy, and popular culture; linked to these targets is also another target: the emerging fluidity of gendered and sexual identities that many of us celebrate now (and rightfully so). Variety is in tune with elite opinion in Weimar when it demonizes that fluidity as “degenerate.” But perhaps this film’s fascinated obsession with that fluidity is ultimately of more interest than the strident attempt to make its disapproval clear.

- Richard W. McCormick. Gender and Sexuality in Weimar Modernity: Film, Literature, and "New Objectivity". Published by Macmillan, 2001. Pages 73, 74, 75, 78, 79, 86t

About E.A. Dupont


German director E. A. Dupont was involved in his country's movie industry almost before there was an industry; as early as 1911, Dupont was Germany's foremost film critic. He began directing in 1917, with his first major commercial success, The Ancient Law, coming along six years later. In 1925, Dupont directed the influential German sex-triangle melodrama Variety, which still retains its classic status seventy years later, even in the heavily edited and severely reshaped version prepared for American release (in which, among many other alterations, the hero's mistress was transformed into his wife). On the strength of Variety, Dupont was signed by Hollywood's Universal studios; but only one Universal film, the saccharine Love Me and the World is Mine (1927), would be completed before Dupont headed for England. In 1929, he directed the Anglo/German epic Atlantic, a retelling of the Titanic tragedy significant only as the first European all-talkie. Dupont returned to the States in 1933, where he was assigned a dispiriting progression of "B"-pictures and programmers. Unhappy with the lack of opportunities afforded him in Hollywood, Dupont became a talent agent in 1940, a profession he pursued for nine years. Back in the director's chair for a strange melodrama titled The Scarf (1949), which he also wrote, Dupont resumed his directing career in the '50s once more with such results as 1955's The Neanderthal Man. Just before his death in 1956, E. A. Dupont wrote and directed The Magic Fire, a biopic of composer Richard Wagner.

- Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Some directors are able to maintain a steady flow of talent in all their work. Others, like E.A. Dupont, are remembered for one outstanding moment in their career. Variété, or Vaudeville as it is also known, was one of the most exciting films to come from Germany in the 1920s. Dupont made many other good films, but his career as a whole is a rather tragic one. This was partly due to personal deficiencies and partly due to circumstances over which he had no control. Some European directors flourished in Hollywood; Dupont was not one of them.

Dupont worked outside the then-current German expressionist style, being more human and realistic in his approach to filmmaking. This was evident in his tour de force Variété, a tale of jealousy and death amongst trapeze artists. Its powerful realism, visual fluidity, and daring techniques, coupled with the superb performances of Jannings, Lya de Putti, and Warwick Ward, made it stand out in a year rich with achievement. The virtuoso camerawork of Karl Freund contributed not merely to the spatial and temporal aspects of the film but in the revelation of motive and thought. The uninhibited sensuality depicted by the film led to censorship problems in many countries. Inevitably, Dupont went to Hollywood, where he directed a not entirely successful Love Me and the World Is Mine for Universal. In 1928 he made two stylish films in England: Moulin Rouge, which exploited the sensual charms of Olga Tschechowa, and Piccadilly, with Gilda Gray and Anna May Wong (Charles Laughton made his film debut in a small role).

With the coming of sound, Atlantic, made in German and English, proved a considerable version of the Titanic story. But the two British sound films that followed suffered from weak acting that belied the striking sets. With Salto Mortale, made in Germany in 1931 and featuring Anna Sten and Adolph Wohlbruch, Dupont returned to the scene of his earlier Variété. Two more films were made in Germany before he found himself a Jewish refugee in Hollywood. Here his career was uneven. Factory-produced B pictures gave him no scope for his talents.

Dupont was dismissed for slapping a Dead End Kid who was mocking his foreign accent. This humiliating experience played havoc with his morose and withdrawn personality. He became a film publicist, a talent agent, and wrote some scripts. He returned in 1951 to direct The Scarf, a film of some merit for United Artists. Dupont also dabbled in television. He wrote the script for a film on Richard Wagner that was directed by his former protege William Dieterle in 1956. In December of the same year he died of cancer in Los Angeles. A sad case. Sad too to see the name of his great photographer Karl Freund on the credits of I Love Lucy.

—Liam O'Leary, Film Reference.com

Another biography by Thomas Staedeli Focus on Dupont's years in Britain at BFI Screenonline

About Lya de Putti

Lya de Putti was born in 1899 in Hungary to wealthy parents, her mother a former countess, and her father a Baron and a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army. She began as a dancer in vaudeville and eventually became a ballet dancer in Berlin. She starred in many of the films produced by the German UFA company playing vamp roles. She went to Hollywood in 1926 where she starred in several films and died at the beginning of the sound era.

- John DeBartolo, SilentsAreGolden.com

Detailed biography by Thomas Staedeli

Lya de Putti has a MySpace page

About Emil Jannings

Emil Jannings ran away from home at the age of sixteen to become a sailor. After serving as an assistant cook he returned to Germany and became a professional actor on the stage. When he made his screen debut in 1914, he was an established and well-known stage actor. "Varieté" was made after his appearance in Murnau's "The Last Laugh" (UFA, 1924), and he was acclaimed as the world's greatest actor. His international reputation won him a Paramount contract in 1927. His thick German accent ended his American career with the coming of sound. He immediately went back to Germany to continue making films during the Nazi regime. He died in 1950.

- John DeBartolo, SilentsAreGolden.com

One of the great pleasures of film-going in the mid-1920s was to see the latest film starring the well-known German actor Emil Jannings. Of all the theater people who lent their talents to the new

medium, he was arguably the greatest. In the 1920s he created a gallery of historical characters as well as people of his own time. Just after World War I, German films were not welcomed in the Allied countries, a fact advertised by numerous distribution companies. One of the first films to break this embargo was Ernst Lubitsch's Madame DuBarry. Made in 1919 by an industry remarkable for its technical skills and the high artistic quality of its product, it was not released in the United States and western Europe until years later. Jannings portrayed Louis XV of France, making an impact that was to continue through his career.

Jannings furthered his popularity and status by making a number of films with the actress Henny Porten and the director Dmitri Buchowetzki. By 1924 he had established a worldwide reputation as a great actor. He starred with Conrad Veidt and Elisabeth Bergner in Paul Czinner's Nju and as the jealous trapeze artist in E. A. Dupont's Variété. His association with F. W. Murnau lead to the three masterpieces which will be his monument: Der letzte Mann, Tartuffe, and Faust. In Der letzte Mann he gave what most consider his greatest performance as an old hotel porter too weak for his job, who is reduced to working in the basement lavatories. His smug Tartuffe was full of subtle nuance, while his Mephistopheles was played with a slightly humorous cynicism that still suggested the blazing anarchy underneath. Even with an ego as great as his talent, Jannings subordinated himself to the disciplines of his art.

No finer tribute could be paid him than that from his old director, Josef von Sternberg: "Jannings had every right to the universal praise that was his for many years, and his position in the history of the motion picture is secure, not only as a superlative performer but also as a source of inspiration for the writers and directors of his time. This in my opinion is the highest compliment within the scope of an actor to earn."

About Karl Freund

Profile on International Encyclopedia of Cinematographers

During a career that lasted nearly 50 years, cinematographer Karl Freund contributed his artfully innovative camerawork to more than 100 German and American films, including the classic Metropolis and the solid Key Largo. Unfortunately, superlative examples of filmmaking are not the sole entries in Freund's filmography. Numerous forgettable or already forgotten comedies, romances, and musicals are also present, a perhaps inevitable consequence of Freund's long career. Symptomatic of his commitment to perfection was his refusal to discriminate a "programmer" from a masterpiece, which provided many of the films he lit and shot with their only noteworthy feature: excellent cinematography.

In the 1920s Freund worked at Ufa, Germany's great government-supported film studio, where he collaborated with Murnau, Lang, and others on a number of the films that collectively created the golden age of the German cinema, films such as Murnau's Der letzte Mann and E.A. Dupont's Variety. For the revolutionary Der letzte Mann, the camera became both narrator and character, relating and interpreting the story of the demoted doorman so lucidly that title cards were superfluous. Freund and scriptwriter Carl Mayer enriched the simple plot of Murnau's film with artistically purposeful camera movement and lighting that set the expressionistic sobriety of the film proper against the high-key clarity of its controversial epilogue.

—Nancy Jane Johnston, Film Reference.com

About Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft)

Pommer, who had won an international success with Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), gave his directors a large degree of freedom, preferring to concentrate on increasing Ufa's export business by guaranteeing a cinema of quality, which would be saleable abroad. As a result, Ufa directors produced some of the greatest films of the era, including Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, 1923–24), Michael (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1924), Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, F. W. Murnau,1924), Varieté (Jealousy, E. A. Dupont, 1925), Ein Walzertraum (The Waltz Dream, Ludwig Berger, 1925), and Geheimnisse einer Seele (Secrets of a Soul, G. W. Pabst, 1926). This was accomplished by hiring Germany's best directors, expanding the Babelsberg studios outside Berlin to become the most modern facility in Europe, and bringing together a team of technicians, art directors, and cameramen who were encouraged to experiment. Among the innovators were cameramen Karl Freund (1890–1969) and Fritz Arno Wagner (1891–1958). The giant studio sets, innovative lighting designs, optical tricks (Schüfftan process), and daring camera movements in the films of Murnau, Lang, and Dupont would not have been possible without an atmosphere Kreimeier has described as that of a medieval "Bauhütte" (cathedral builders' guild). Unlike American studio stars, Germany's best known actors, including Conrad Veidt (1893–1943), Emil Jannings (1884–1950), Werner Krauss (1884–1959), and Brigitte Helm (1906–1996), were never contractually bound to the company, each working only intermittently for Ufa.
- Jan-Christopher Horak

932 (73). Nicht versöhnt oder Es hilft nur Gewalt wo Gewalt herrscht / Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where it Rules (1965, Jean-Marie Straub)

* SPECIAL NOTE: Not Reconciled is playing Sunday 11/23 and Wednesday 11/25 as part of the Manny Farber Tribute at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Visit filmlinc.com for more info Screened November 14 2008 on 16mm at the MoMA Media Study Center, New York NY

TSPDT rank #612 IMDb

Only 50 minutes long but requiring at least two or three viewings to grasp, the debut feature of cinema's most dynamic husband and wife directing duo is quite possibly the most daunting and demanding work of the 60s New Wave. Adapting a novel by Nobel laureate and post-war German critic Heinrich Boll, Straub and Huillet radically reinvent conventional expository devices such as voiceover narration and scene transitions, transmogrifying D.W. Griffith's innovations with cinematic time (cf. Intolerance) to reflect a frightening state of national and political shell-shock. Upon initial viewings, half the time one doesn't know whether a scene is happening in the contemporary West Germany of the 1960s, the 1930s Third Reich, or the First World War. This disorientation reflects the haunted mental state of a family comprised of three generations of political outsiders, perpetually living under traumas suffered by their nation's history that those around them are eager to repress.  What keeps this film from being dismissed as a pretentious high-brow aesthetic exercise is the sinuous mystery to its rhythms, made clean by a near-merciless precision to the film's Bresson-inspired cutting and framing schemes, and weighted with the emotional accumulation of oblique expressions of rage and cruelty, Teutonic blue notes played with cool ferocity. This is a puzzle film with jigs as sharp as shark's teeth, now as much as ever.

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The subtitle of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s first feature, from 1965, “Only Violence Helps Where Violence Reigns,” suggests the fierce political program evoked by their rigorous aesthetic. The pretext of the film, set in Cologne, is Heinrich Böll’s novel “Billiards at Half Past Nine,” which they strip down to a handful of stark events and film with a confrontational angularity akin to Bartók’s music that adorns the soundtrack. The subtlest of cues accompany the story’s complex flashbacks. The middle-aged Robert Fähmel tells a young hotel bellhop of persecutions under the Third Reich; his elderly father, Heinrich, an architect famed for a local abbey, recalls the militarism of the First World War, when his wife, Johanna, incurred trouble for insulting the Kaiser. A third-generation Fähmel is considering architecture, just as the exiled brother of Robert’s late wife, returns, only to be met by their former torturer, now a West German official taking part in a celebratory parade of war veterans. Straub and Huillet make the layers of history live in the present tense, which they judge severely. The tamped-down acting and the spare, tense visual rhetoric suggest a state of moral crisis as well as the response—as much in style as in substance—that it demands.

- Richard Brody, The New Yorker

The least that can be said to explain why the films of Straub and Huillet are so important is that they embody the most rigorous practice in cinema of playing fair with one's materials: texts, actors, elements, landscapes, buildings. That means: letting the living live, letting what once lived, speak. What once lived: what was once intended, what was once thought within a network of links with its own time and with the more or less distant past (the connections from Brecht to Caesar, from Hölderlin to Empedocles, from Pavese to the ancient gods of Italy, from Schönberg to Moses and Aaron). Letting what once lived, speak and appear, somewhere. People and things may not be in their place, but they are in a place...

In Not Reconciled (1965), it's already clear, this attitude, or discipline, that makes it happen that the filmmakers place themselves in front of people, in the midst of reality, in such a way that people and reality do not give up to the camera. The people are always looking out of the frame, they are always escaping, out of allegiance to this system that Straub-Huillet's Brechtian cinema constructs and displays, whereby the actor remains in his/her own skin even while adopting the garb of another: without claiming, falsely, to be at home in this garb. (No pretended intimacy in their films, no false traffic with the inner life of people; what is discussed is public life, politics, work, genetic life, the activity of peoples and races....) What Straub-Huillet add to Brecht is cinema: the route through the real or the escape of the real through the real, at the moment of being filmed.

- Chris Fujiwara, FIPRESCI Undercurrent

Evoking such intricately interwoven allusive images as religious rigidity, blind faith, false idolatry, and passive complicity, the seemingly perfunctory episode distills the essence of Heinrich Böll's, radical, anti-militarist postwar novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, an indicting examination of the collective psyche of the German people that contributed to rise of Nazism and its insidious perpetuation in contemporary society. Unfolding in disorientingly elliptical vignettes that eschew dramatic action in favor of oppressively distended temp morts, autonomic ritual (most notably, in the recurring image of Robert Fähmel (Henning Harmssen) playing a lone game of billiards), and decontextualized, uninflected monologues (that recall the dedramatized, pensive recitation of Robert Bresson's equally spare and austere cinema), the film chronicles three generations of architects and their personal association with - and ancestral legacy through - St. Anthony's Abbey and, in the process, presents an incisive and relevant portrait of a traumatized nation's culturally fostered (but publicly unarticulated) xenophobia, suppressed memory, deliberate inaction, and tacit support for (and therefore, condoned harboring of) war criminals into positions of power, authority, and influence in postwar Germany. Filming in stark black and white, Straub and Huillet also set the somber atmosphere of figurative, unreconciled ghosts of souls (and histories) passed through the opening image of otherworldly forms and shadows cast by a bleak and desolate winter forest. Straub and Huillet further underscore the film's recurring theme of alienation and distance through non-confronting dialogue, incongruous narration, and isolated and occluded character framing. Similarly, the film's asequential structure conflates past and present in order to create a pervasive sentimental inertia - a metaphoric existential vicious circle for a national soul that is still haunted by its own past, even as it continues to steadfastly cling to its self-destructive behaviors - obfuscating moral complicity through delusive self-denial and perverted, hollow rituals. It is this inextricable sense of moribund transcendence that is captured in the Fähmel family's intertwined destinies with the wartime-sabotaged cathedral, the tragic and tortuous course of human history that reveals only a shell of irredeemably lost grandeur and inevitable fall from grace.

- Acquarello, Strictly Film School

If I were asked to name the most difficult great filmmaker(s) in the world, the team of the late Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub would undoubtedly top my list. (In fact, that might make in interesting exercise, so you can probably expect to see such a list posted here soon.) At the beginning of their shared career, the husband-wife team were making severe, austere black-and-white films with dark, brooding political content. The best of these early films, Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules, boiled down Heinrich Böll’s novel Billiards at Half Past Nine, to a jagged 45 minutes in which the book’s multiple plot lines were jumbled and its chronology obliterated. It is a stunning film that rewards multiple viewings. It is a film that requires multiple viewings.

- George Robinson, Cine-Journal

A "lacunary" film is what Straub called Not Reconciled and what every film by him and Huillet may be called, a film in which the gaps cannot be filled in to make a world, the parts missing cannot be put in place to make a whole. It is not that we are called upon to complete the work ourselves: how can we, if its makers cannot? It is that the gaps, the parts missing, are to become ours as well as the work's: the work of putting the parts together, the parts without a whole, is one in which we must take part...

In Not Reconciled the remnants of the past, of the various pasts, are not clearly placed in those pasts; with disconcerting abruptness the film shifts between diffferent periods, between different actors playing the same characters in different periods, and so the things from the past are not experienced as past but as things with the same claim as anything else to belonging in the present. Precisely the point: the German past is not over and done with, it continues in the present. But in Not Reconciled things do not exist in a world of the present either. They are things without a world, things the German people must make into a world. Easy to make them into a false world, but this the film will not do: it breaks [novelist Heinrich] Boll's narrative into pieces that are purposely difficult to put together."Tell what, boy?" asks Robert Fahmel in the abrupt opening line: tell what about his experience under the Nazis, when he was about as old as the adolescent boy he is addressing? Tell what about the German past, in what connection to the concerns of the present? asks the film tacitly throughout; the question is built into the fragmentary, dislocated arrangement of the largely retrospective narrative. Out of a long story spanning half a century we get a tangled agglomerate of fragments, bits and pieces of the past recounted by the characters or reenacted in flashbacks to Nazi and to Kaiser Germany, with no connections made, no cohesion established among the different pieces that can be readily grasped. Hence the missing pieces carry as much weight as the things included, the weight, the feel, of all in the past that has been forgotten or repressed and yet continues to bear upon the present.

- Gilberto Perez, from "History Lessons," in The Material Ghost, JHU Press, 2000. Pages 324, 325

Straub’s oblique approach to the problem of Germany’s Nazi past resulted in NOT RECONCILED, which was adapted from Heinrich Böll’s novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine. However, the film’s source is not a particularly helpful place to commence a critical analysis (“pace” Richard Roud) since the best it can do is attempt to unravel a singularly difficult cinematic experience. Straub, indeed, would prefer us to forget the novelistic source:

“I believe one can't make a film of any book—because one films something about a book or with a book, but never of a book—one films always from one’s own experience. A film lives and exists only when it is based on the experiences of the so-called director.”

Straub takes as his starting point the principle that film is “a perceptual present.” There is, in our experience of watching a film, no past tense. He then transfers this idea to the narrative organization, eliding all the connectives that were present in Böll’s novels, thereby formally underling the historical principle that present and past are indivisible. Again we note Straub’s proximity to Marxist theory. Marx noted, “Not only the result, but the road to it also, is a part of the truth.” Straub’s maieutic endeavor in NOT RECONCILED, to objectify the latent tendencies of the German nation, is predicated on this principle. The process of our struggle to come to terms with the film runs parallel with the protagonist Robert Fahmel’s attempt to come to terms with his past.

As he had earlier done with MACHORKA-MUFF, Straub attacked his subject from an oblique angle:

“The fact which interested me was to make a film about Nazism without mentioning the word Hitler or concentration camps and such things that a middle class family did not suspect or want to suspect.”

In its individual elements, the film is congruent with the characteristic constituents of Straub’s style: the documentary mode, the flat monotony of the actors’ dialogue, an ascetic camera style. Eliding Böll’s transitional statements reinforces the generalized image of the nation, rather than the intimacies of family relations. Everything in the film pushes beyond the boundaries of the personal to the national. One might even say that impersonality is a central motif. Like Machorka-Muff’s solitariness (eating alone, walking alone) the characters in NOT RECONCILED are alone, set in a hostilely impersonal environment. One shot that clinches this mood of pessimism is a 360-degree panning shot around a suburban desert. It culminates on a young man standing at a door; a child informs him that the person he seeks has never been there. Straub consistently uses empty spaces—often to create a sense that it is a space that has been vacated by those that don't “fit in”—like Robert’s mother, who has been committed to an insane asylum because she called the Kaiser a “fool.” Straub seems to suggest that the barren nature of the environment is perhaps due to the fact that Nazism’s eliminative principles have rendered it spiritually sterile.

- Martin Walsh, "Jean-Marie Straub," published in Jump Cut no. 4, 1974

"Many of [Straub-Huillet's] films address themselves to the problem of the text and its performance, to the fact that in general text and performance are fused within a film. Nearly all the Straub-Huillet films are in some way concerned with establishing a distance between the cinematic presentation of a text and that text, and this is the source of much of their success and interest. In films like Machorka Muff and Nicht Versohnt this is already the case, though less explicitly than later. Not Reconciled is an extremely difficult film to cope with as a film in the sense of the standard cinema, because it does not have in itself the power to substitute for and therefore abolish the text of which it is an adaptation. You cannot understand the story of Not Reconciled in the ordinary way you understand the story of a film, unless you know the novel on which it is based, with the result that there is a tension with the film between the Heinrich Boll novel which is being adapted and the particular filmic presentation. Of course the same thing is much more explicit in films such as Othon and History Lessons, where a text is recited or presented in a relation which completely contradicts any possibility of that text assuming its simple fictional place. This is one way to reestablish that separation between a text and a film performance which is a presentation of that text, which Brecht insisted was so important a part of the epic theater.

- Ron Burnett, from Explorations in Film Theory, Published by Indiana University Press, 1991. Page 198.

The placement of the fictional narrative of the novel within a context of documentary elements and the freedom created by the filmmakers' formal decisions are important aspects of Not Reconciled as well as of the films to be examined in following chapters. For Straub/Huillet, documentary is fundamental to all film art.[38] Even the fictional drama contained In Not Reconciled is documentary on one level: a documentary of its (re)enactment, its quotation from the novel. Just as the words of the novel do not openly express emotion, neither does the style with which Straub/Huillet present them. The texts are offered as documents, facts—placed in a context but not interpreted.

Composition, editing, camera movement, and motion within the shots all have an effect on the narrative and the emotions it can stimulate. Critics have often noted Straub/Huillet's preference for diagonals, for instance, but have underestimated the aesthetic and thematic significance of the contrast with more symmetrical composition. Scenes in Not Reconciled involving the characters' inability to reconcile past and present are most often shot in diagonals. In addition to making a simple set "vibrate with life,"[40] Straub/Huillet's diagonal shots keep the viewer from relaxing at the point of a perspective triangle in relation to the screen. In this way they are able to vary the sense of narrative space inherent in all three-dimensional pictorial representations. Not only is the viewer not at rest as the subject for whom the composition is created but the composition itself, devoid of a vanishing point or balanced perspective focus, contains lines of visual interest that come back into the frame rather than seek to escape to another triangular point opposite the viewer on the other side. The restlessness thus created makes it possible for the viewer to feel a new sensation when, for a good thematic reason, balanced perspective returns...

- Barton Byg, Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. University of California Press. Pages 113, 115.

For Thomas Elsaesser, Not Reconciled can be identified even as a "terrorist film" because it offers a violent "solution" to the failures of effective de-Nazification: the female protagonist of Not Reconciled attempts to shoot one of the official politicians, a former Nazi who is now the Minister for Rearmament... Not Reconciled... seems to anticipate the later forms of terrorism aimed at radically protesting the reconstruction and remilitarization of the German nation-state after the war.

- Robert Stam, Alessandra Raengo, Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Page 150.

About Jean-Marie Strab and Danielle Huillet

IMDb Wiki

There are more important things to write about than films. This alone is a good reason for writing about films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. In their art they have taken to heart Kafka's advice: "In the battle between yourself and the world, second the world." In films that are simple in their visual construction, restrained in their camera movement, and precise in their editing, there are always brief points at which the reality of the world outside the film explodes with a violent, utopian force. In Not Reconciled , for instance, a tragic love affair is summed up in a single two-second shot of a young woman turning her head as she says, "They're going to kill you." An old woman shoots a Nazi sympathizer at the end of the same film, and another avenging woman shoots a gangster at the end of The Bridegroom, the Comedienne, and the Pimp , yet in each case the camera looks away. The "action" is always elsewhere, spilling out of the film. And in most Straub/Huillet films, sound separates itself from the image for the first time at the end of the final reel, impelling us out of the dream of the cinema and into the world again: Bach's organ music, the air horn of an Amtrak train, the thunder of an approaching storm, the Carabinieri's helicopter.

When one begins to think about a Straub/Huillet film, one inevitably confronts subjects outside the film itself—questions of reality and history, of the "look of the world" that has become so vulnerable. since the political changes in Europe in the 1990s raise issues of the role of Germany as a world power and the future of a leftist cultural critique, the films of Straub/Huillet become all the more pertinent. Although most of their films are "German," Huillet and Straub are not. They moved to Germany from France at the end of the 1950s, then to Rome, where they have lived since 1969. Their vantage point as outsiders has allowed them to engage with German culture with a combination of critical distance and affection inaccessible to most German artists.

- Barton Byg, Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. University of California Press. Pages 1-2.

The films of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet (Straub-Huillet) draw on post-structuralist, political modernist and Brechtian repudiations of illusionism and emotional identification in order to depict an often alienated and corrupt political context. Films such as [Not Reconciled and Chronical of Anna Magdalena Bach] also employ the Brechtian technique of affording the elements of sound, image, language and acting a degree of autonomy from each other. However, the films of Straub-Huillet differ from the plays of Brecht in the extent to which they eliminate unessential elements from the diegesis. The result is an austere and ascetic style of film-making, from which all expressive emotion is purged. This kind of 'materialist' cinema is indebted to Althusserian post-structuralism, and predates the Althusserian inspired cinema and film theory which developed in France after 1968.

Straub-Huillet adopted this minimalist style of film-making out of a determination to create a form of cinematic practice which would be radically different from both the emotion-saturated cinema of the national socialist period, and the normative manouevres of the classical Hollywood film. Consequently, and in accordance with the political modernist tenets that the language of dominant cinema reinforces bourgeois ideology, and that early film language proferred a more authentic articulation of popular and working-class experience, Straub-Huillet sought to echo the greater narrative and visual simplicity of early cinema. In addition to this quest for a more authentic simplicity of style, Straub-Huillet also attempted to emulate the ability of early cinema to express symbolic meaning. This concern for the poetic, symbolic power of the image tempers the austere minimalism in the films of Straub-Huillet, and gives them what could be described as an almost transcendent quality.

- Ian Aitken, from European Film Theory and Cinema, Published by Indiana University Press, 2001. Pages 143-144.

“We want people to lose themselves in our films”, the Straubs told me. “All this talk about 'distanciation' is bullshit.”

- Tag Gallagher, from "Lacrimae Rerum Materialized" his amazing, thoroughly illustrated appreciation of Straub-Huillet's filmmaking. Particularly good is the passage that discusses framing and movement in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. Published in Senses of Cinema.

For more than 30 years, Danielle Huillet, who has died aged 70, and her husband, Jean Marie Straub, worked as an indivisible entity, directing, writing and editing some of the most personal, rigorous, challenging and ultimately rewarding films in cinema history. Their films resembled no others. Now, with Huillet's death, we will probably not see anything like them again.

Straub and Huillet were faithful to each other, to their audiences and to their art, never compromising. Together they reinvented cinema, not only in style - the voiceovers, the unartificial performances, the treatment of texts, the use of extremely long takes, either with a fixed camera or in complex tracking shots - but in the way they made thought visible. As Marxist dialecticians, they created severe cinematic critiques of capitalism in a manner that paralleled the works of Bertolt Brecht in the theatre.

Although it is almost impossible to indicate which one of the couple did what on any of their films, it is likely that Huillet did most of the editing. As seen in the 2003 television documentary by Pedro Costa, Huillet is trying to cut Sicilia (1998), based on Elio Vittorini's 1939 novel, while Straub keeps pacing up and down in the corridor, smoking cigars, and occasionally interrupting his wife to make a comment, only to disappear again. She was the calmer of the two, Straub's rock to cling to. She was also much the more practical, handling any money matters and dealing with distributors and festival directors.

She was born on May Day in Paris, and met Straub (pronounced Strobe), who came from Alsace, in 1954 at the Lycée Voltaire in Paris during preparatory courses for a competition to enter Idhec (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques). Huillet immediately showed her independent spirit when she refused to analyse Yves Allégret's Manéges for the entrance exam because she felt the film unworthy.

In the early 1960s, Straub, in order to escape having to serve in Algeria, went with Huillet to live in Munich. There they made Not Reconciled (1965), their first feature. Taking an episode from Heinrich Böll's radical, anti-militarist postwar novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, it is an elliptical examination, in stark black and white, of the collective psyche of the German people that led to the rise of Nazism and its insidious existence in contemporary Germany. It not only launched Straub-Huillet (as they became to be known), but was a landmark film of the decade...

People who dealt with the Straubs often spoke of how they were the most stimulating couple, but also the most exasperating. This was probably due to their refusal to compromise on any issue. For example, when their meditative documentary, Une Visite au Louvre (2004), was shown at the London Film Festival, they not only insisted that there should be no English subtitles nor earphone commentary, but that there should not be any synopsis of the film given in the catalogue or flyers.

They courted controversy right until the end, when their latest film, Ces Rencontres avec Eux (These Encounters of Theirs), based on Pavese, was shown in competition at this year's Venice film festival. Explaining their non-attendance at the festival, they sent a message that said they would be "unable to be festive at a festival where there are so many public and private police looking for a terrorist ... but so long as there's American imperialistic capitalism, there'll never be enough terrorists in the world." Nevertheless, the jury gave them a special prize "for invention of cinematic language in the ensemble of their work". They replied that it was "too late for their lives, but too early for their deaths".

- Obituary of Daniele Huillet for The Guardian, October 12 2006

Another obituary by Dave Kehr for the New York Times

The films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are best understood in the context of contemporary developments in radical, materialist cinema. They offer what many people see as a genuine alternative to both dominant narrative cinema and conventional art movies. Their work is formally austere and demands attentive, intellectual participation from audiences. However, it must be acknowledged that many people find their films nearly impenetrable and absolutely boring. This is explained in part by the fact that the films do not rely on standard narrative construction or conventional characters. While the films of Straub and Huillet are by no means "abstract" it is nearly impossible to (re)construct a unified, imaginary, referential "world" through them.

In a sense their work might be explained in terms of strategies of displeasure, a wilful refusal to captivate audiences with a coherent fictional world. Instead they promote a distanced, intellectual interaction between viewer and film. Because of this insistence on critical distance, audiences must work with the film in a dialectical process of meaning construction. (In fact, Straub is notoriously critical of "lazy" viewers who are unwilling to engage in this activity.)

Straub and Huillet's films directly address the nature of cinematic signification and its political implications. This includes breaking away from conventional assumptions and practices of dominant narrative cinema. Their films exploit all channels of the medium—music, sounds, words, and images—as equivalent carriers of meaning, rather than privileging the "visual" or relegating music and sound effects to the task of support material. Thus, there are times when extremely long, static shots accompany lengthy, complex verbal passages (a singularly "uncinematic" practice according to conventional canons of film aesthetics). Sequences may be developed along the lines of montage construction, juxtaposing graphic material, verbal material, and moving images.

Straub and Huillet will probably never be as well known to cineastes as fellow New German filmmakers Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlondorff, Werner Herzog, or Wim Wenders. But their minimalist films remain important contributions to the New German cinema, and they have been a meaningful voice for the art crowd in Germany. As with all gifted and dedicated film artists whose works are unconventionally structured, their cinematic output remains worthy of study by serious film students and equally worthy of viewing by discerning audiences.

—M.B. White, updated by Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com

On the set, [Danièle Huillet] will have been, not exclusively, but more than Straub, the one who directed with sound — he assuming more what we will call for convenience the direction of actors. The sound of voices, that of the wind if there is wind, that of cars if there are any, in that place and at that moment which are those of the filming, are the firmest imprint of the real world as it is, there where cinema is made. Near to and far from this labor of sound: the work, this time entirely assumed by Danièle Huillet, of the dialogues in their diverse languages. The Straubs filmed in German, in French, in Italian: Danièle Huillet knew all the nuances and requirements of these three languages. She will also have, well beyond "translation for subtitles," worked to approach as well as possible the presence of words of another language inscribed at the bottom of images in which a certain language is spoken. And who else, in the history of world cinema, has done such a work, which is first respect for the languages that humans speak, respect for the voices of actors, for the meanings of words, and for the identify of spectators? The answer is simple: no one. A clear line links this relation to words, to their arrangement and their enunciation, to the "operational" role played by Danièle Huillet at the editing table. Its process is known, at least as Pedro Costa recorded it in Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001), on the editing of Sicilia! (1998) — neither she nor he ever made it known that what was seen of it was different from their practice before or after. Straub, his voice ample, his body heavy, digresses widely, even reduced to an editing room; immobile at the table, Danièle H. cuts, measures, specifies. And argues there, holding her own. Of course the result is theirs, the division of labor also is theirs, and in the service of no one, it's not economic or even intellectual; it's a matter of sensibility. For at the end of what it will have been possible to say, with prudence, of what la Huillet did in the cinema Straub-Huillet, it's necessary to return, and with what sadness, to the ineffable unity of what, on the screens, was born from this companionship…. What could be seen of the Straubs' life — the films, the affirmed choices of existence, in the Roman suburbs or in the 18th arrondissement in Paris — will have been its translation, uncompromising. Let's add one more adjective: generous, immensely generous. With her time, with her work, with her energy, with her listening, with her knowledge. What Jean-Luc Godard called one day an art of living, and that made films.

– Editors, Cahiers du cinema, cited at Redcat

For what makes Straub an inherently political filmmaker is not his choice of subject matter, but his approach to that subject matter, his respect for the integrity of his materials. The search for truth is at the root of all his films. This truth can only rise out of documentarism, a documentarism that reflects on the degree of its truth: this for Straub is the root of political thinking:

“The revolution is like God’s grace, it has to be made anew each day, it becomes new every day, a revolution is not made once and for all. And it’s exactly like that in daily life. There is no division between politics and life, art and politics. I think one has no other choice, if one is making films that can stand on their own feet, they must become documentary, or in any case they must have documentary roots. Everything must be correct, and only from then on can one rise above, reach higher.”

- Martin Walsh, "Jean-Marie Straub," published in Jump Cut no. 4, 1974

Joel Rogers interviews Straub and Huillet upon the release of Moses and Aaron, Jump Cut, 1976

About Heinrich Boll

Straub and Huillet were not the only filmmakers who turned to the work of Heinrich Boll... and it is certainly not a coincidence that writer and essayist Boll became such a decisive public figure in the intellectual life of Germany's culture after 1945. Born in 1917 in Cologne, Boll lived through the Second World War as a common soldier who could assume the role of moral consciousness in postwar Germany. Unlike other writers of his generation, such as Martin Walser or Siegfried Lenz, Boll never bracketed the fascist past from his own writing, but established a clear connection between German guilt and German literature. The authenticity of Boll's novels, in other words, were derived from their direct engagement with issues otherwise glossed over in the material blooming of the economic miracle. After all, postwar German society granted affluence for everybody on the basis of letting the past be the past. But even though Boll identified with the common German soldier as just another victim of Nazism, he displayed the utmost honesty and self-criticism in negotiating his historical guilt. As such, Boll was recognized not only as a "decent man" but also as the "most important witness of his time" (Marcel Reich-Ranicky). His literature is commonly characterized as simple, black and white, and rather didactic, depicting a polarized, not very complicated world through moral exempla. Throughout his life he was deeply devoted to Catholicism, but at the same time he relentlessly pointed to the shortcomings of the Catholic Church which he left in protest in 1976. When Boll died in 1985, his books had sold 31 million copies and had been translated into 45 languages. Although he incarnated the image of the "good German" outside his own country, his patriotic "public relations" work did not always meet with gratitude.

- Robert Stam, Alessandra Raengo, Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Page 150.