SOCIALIST AESTHETICS AND
The history of the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR’s) relationship with its artists has been a long, sometimes productive, sometimes frustrating, but always intense process of negotiation about the responsibilities and the liberties of the artist in a socialist society.1 In agreement with the official credo that art should support and inspire development towards the perfection of socialism, artists have suffered from various degrees of pressure to conform to their role as it was designed by the state’s cultural officials. As recently as 1980, member of the Central Committee Gregor Schirmer reinforced the notion that art should submit to socialist values, since the very possibility of art depended on the conditions created by the socialist state:
Even today, the socialist system cannot renounce power and the means to enforce it, as long as aggressive imperialism exists, and as long as the rules of social life are broken by some individuals. In socialism, power has a deep moral justification.2
While one has to understand all manifestations of art in the GDR as taking place under conditions of censorship and the constant awareness of potential personal drawbacks as a result of undesired cultural activities, it is equally important to keep in mind that the ties work both ways: artists need public and political approval to get the necessary funding for their work, but at the same time, the state needs the creative potential of its people to create a cultural self-definition, especially in a country as young as the GDR, which for the longest time had to fight for acceptance as an independent state. Also, restrictions on art, resulting from the attempt to bind it into the sphere of well-defined social responsibilities, have not had only negative effects for the artists themselves. In contrast with West Germany, the rival brother state, where market value and market strategies determine publication and distribution of art, and where the abundance of new cultural products is often met with indifference, the GDR grants its cultural elite the social importance their colleagues in the West sorely lack.3 They know that they play a crucial role—not only performing the “official” task of working on a national self-image for their country, but also fulfilling the need for communication about important current social and political issues; for in the GDR, art has also taken over the function of informing citizens about the latest crucial events, which in the West are covered by a variety of papers and magazines.4 This has given to artists and intellectuals the conviction that they share with the government the responsibility for the development of their country, and some of the power to direct it.
In the short history of the GDR, there have been times of great closeness between the state and its creative community, such as the years from 1959 to 1963, following the Bitterfeld conference and its ensuing, relatively liberal, attitude towards and encouragement of new directions in the arts.5 But the brief periods of thaw after significant events which produced the wish, on the part of the government, to assure itself of the cooperation of the intellectual elite, were always followed by new restrictive measures, resulting in disorientation, discouragement, and anger on the part of the victims of the respective clean-ups.
When Honecker took office in 1971 as the party chief of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED), i.e., the Socialist Party, great hopes arose for the beginning of a more liberal era in politics, social life, and art. His first statements seemed to confirm this expectation. At the famous Eighth Party Congress of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands in December of 1971, he declared:
If one comes from a firm socialist position, there can, in my opinion, be no taboos in the realm of art and literature. This applies to questions of content as well as style—briefly: questions of what one calls artistic mastery.6
This announcement came as a great relief, especially since it followed the very restrictive last years of the Ulbricht era, culminating in the 1965/66 clean-up which also affected film directors Kurt Maetzig and Frank Beyer of DEFA (Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft, i.e., the “German Film Corporation”).7 Ironically, those two victims of the effort to redefine the political course counted among the most ardent representatives of the new state, and had contributed, with their famous antifascist films, to building up the DEFA film right after the war. The punitive measures following the infamous Eleventh Plenum of the SED resulted in the interruption of many artists’ work, its disappearance into archives, and a crisis of faith on the part of the reprimanded artists.8
The great hopes for liberalization caused by Honecker’s taking the political lead came crashing down only five years later, when singer Wolf Biermann was expatriated while giving a concert in Cologne, West Germany. He had supposedly maligned his own country and thus lost the right to GDR citizenship. Biermann, a committed socialist, but—to the dismay of his political superiors—also committed to discussing, with uncomfortable candor, social problems and scandals in his own country, had been asked to leave the GDR earlier, and had indignantly refused. He settled down in Hamburg, West Germany, where he lives now, still mourning the loss of his chosen fatherland which has treated him so harshly.9 The incident resulted in an alarming exodus of artists and intellectuals to the West. A letter, written by some of them, protesting the decision, provoked further expatriations and emigration applications (Ausreiseanträge), which were, on the whole, granted with unusual swiftness. The letter written on Biermann’s behalf, and signed during the following days by more artists who declared their solidarity with the protesters, became further politicized by the fact that the writers had given it to the West German press, which meant, to the GDR government, cooperation with the class enemy.
What the Biermann case showed—and it represented only the most drastic of many punitive measures against artists in the GDR—was that while a greater willingness to accept a variety of themes and artistic expression existed, taboos continued to operate. The vast grey areas made it only more difficult for artists to orient themselves, and may account for the vagueness and tentativeness that characterizes so many contemporary GDR films, for example.
When comparing today’s East German literature to film, one cannot help but marvel at how differently the two media deal with form. All art in the GDR labors under the late effects of the prescribed aesthetic program, socialist realism, uncompromisingly enforced in the fifties, then increasingly modified to accommodate changing aesthetic needs and concepts.10 At the same time, however, the definition of art as a social activity in the service of socio-political progress continued, and continues to this day, to be the core of socialist aesthetics, just as formalism—that is, all art in which the question of form becomes more important than its content—is still rejected. In the eyes of the committed socialist critic, formalist art loses its humanistic and democratic character.
The degree to which an art form is subjected to censorship is directly proportionate to the degree of its availability to the public. Not all the arts suffer equally from limitation of themes and restrictions on artistic expression. While a sculptor is permitted to work rather freely, the writer must deal with a tighter net of constraints. Literature, however, enjoys more freedom than film, which in turn, is granted greater freedom of expression than TV. As a result of TV’s total accessibility, it has become entirely the mouthpiece of state propaganda.11 If film has been much less able than literature to emancipate itself from the tight frame of socialist realism (as advocated, for example, by critic and theoretician Georg Lukács, who served for a while as the official spokesman on aesthetic value), it was because of its capacity to reach a mass audience. This illuminates the paradoxical situation created by the interdependence of art and politics in the GDR, in that, after having curtailed the evolution of film (resulting in a drastic decrease in public interest), official criticism expressed concern about the crisis of contemporary film.12
The formal conservatism of art and its promoted alliance with the ideological tenets of the GDR version of Marxism-turned-socialist realism, as Eberhard Lämmert remarked, into a “monstrous mixture . . . : In terms of its ideological content, it followed the [schematized] materialist concept of history; aesthetically, it sanctioned the canon of forms of a specific step in the development of bourgeois art as valid beyond history.”13
The contradictions inherent in this concept of art reflect those of GDR politics. On the one hand, the government claims to adhere to a materialist concept of history according to which class differences and evolving social conflicts will eventually dissolve in the dialectical process. In reality, however, this process is channeled by the government in all aspects of social and political life.14
In its view of the perfectibility of the human race, in its belief in a movement towards the solution of social conflicts and the control over the natural world, in its limitation of the importance of religion and its affirmation of reason as the prime instrument and source of insight, the ideology of socialism shows itself indebted to enlightenment philosophies. The parallel extends to the definition of art. In both systems, it was subordinated to philosophy, which it served by expressing difficult and abstract ideas in a useful and pleasing way. In times that assign a higher rank to philosophy/ideology than to art, the formal side of art is neglected, and little experimentation takes place.
In this context, it is not surprising that the norms for art in the GDR today seem to belong to late eighteenth-, early nineteenth-century aesthetics. Art serves the purpose of propagating ideas and values. In contrast with the artistic movements of the early bourgeois age, however, this state-imposed aesthetic value system lacks the former revolutionary impulse. It cannot be progressive in the context of the GDR in the late twentieth century. The way the GDR treated Bertolt Brecht, the pioneer of a Marxist aesthetics, after his return to the “new Germany” clearly shows the commitment to a traditional concept of art.15 Brecht’s iconoclastic rebellion against the closed form, the concept of the work of art as an organic whole, and the theory of empathy was, after all, deeply political. He meant to restructure the aesthetic experience by turning it from an essentially passive one to a thought-provoking, liberating one. At least during the early years of the GDR, when the necessity to survive as a separate state overwhelmed all other needs, the Brechtian version of Marxist aesthetics seemed too dangerous to be supported.
While literature had freed itself rather early from the constraints of some very limiting concepts, such as the “positive hero,” it took much longer for film heroes to turn into more complex and believable human beings. Even today, the term is still an issue, as the titles of recent publications on contemporary film prove, for example: “Helden gesucht!,” 1st der positive Held in unseren Filmen in Verruf geraten?, Die jungen Helden, etc.16 To the extent that films move away from the old aesthetics, critical voices make themselves heard, expressing concern about the disintegration of aesthetic principles and, along with them, moral values. As my later analysis of specific films will demonstrate, a new system of reference that could deal with art forms not oriented towards the classical/enlightenment tradition has hardly been developed yet. This results in confusion and helplessness, sometimes in outright rejection of works of art that do not fit the known patterns.
Along with the dubious statement on the freedom of art from all sorts of taboos, Honecker gave another signal at the Eighth Party Congress. In contrast to his predecessor, Ulbricht, who had insisted on the social development of the GDR as being one towards the realization of a “socialist community” (sozialistische Menschengemeinschaft)—that is, a society of individuals by-and-large on the same educational and cultural level, with similar living conditions and the same cultural expectations—Honecker adjusted to the demands of the times by projecting a new image for his country as a “non-antagonistic class society.”17 Such a system, he argued, would allow for, and even encourage, a variety of social and cultural interests and aesthetic tastes among the population. One general level could not meet the demands and the specific needs of all.
Politically, this signified a step away from the socialist ideal of a unified society, and might well be considered, if not a sell-out of socialist values, at least a significant and alarming concession to bourgeois individualism. What it meant for the arts was, however, potentially positive. True, the new course opened the doors to a lowering of standards, and it has been observed that this was, in fact, a consequence.18 On the other hand, the partial suspension of judgment on aesthetic tastes and forms also meant greater freedom from the very narrow and often simplistically moralistic standards which critics and cultural officials applied to works of art. If film, literature, painting, and music could and should direct themselves to specific subgroups of society, fulfilling their needs for entertainment, education, and aesthetic experiences, it followed that the great pedagogical task of leading everyone to the same level of “Bildung” was suspended, and that the educational function of art was dispersed, watered down. The change would also necessitate a redirection of criticism which would now have to be applied in a more relativistic way from the viewpoint of the audience at which it was aimed. Honecker’s change of political course meant, for the practice of art, a partial escape from the value system that had held it down until then. Of course, this applied only to aesthetic values; political censorship functioned much as it had before, and continued to limit the development of art.
TOWARD AN AESTHETIC OF EVERYDAY LIFE
Film directors and script writers reacted to the greater permissiveness at the beginning of the seventies with a fervent turn to the representation of socialist everyday life (sozialistischer Alltag). At first glance, this may seem surprising, since all through the fifties and sixties the claim had been that art presented socialist society on its way to perfection. But many films of those years had been deformed by the wishful thinking engendered by the official ideology, and the result was a group of works structured according to the same mechanical principles of conflict and conflict resolution which turned the films into packages of socialist values.19 The public recognized the inauthenticity of these films and stayed away from the movie theaters.
The trend towards producing works unproblematic enough to receive funding continued through the seventies, but the decade also saw a new kind of film which led to a short blossoming of the DEFA production in the late seventies and early eighties. The creators of these successful films worked within the larger framework of realism, but went their own way within it, sometimes stretching it to the limit. Some of these films even break the realistic framework from the inside, by inserting dreams and fantastic elements while still grounding the unaffected narrative in the realistic setting, or in the psyche of individual characters. Without questioning the realist structure in principle, they shift the importance of individual elements so much that the films appear to go in a new direction.
A New Style of Realism
One of the representatives of that category is Heiner Carow’s The Legend of Paul and Paula (Die Legende von Paul und Paula, 1973).20 Carow, born in 1929, belongs to the middle generation of GDR film directors who went through schooling at the DEFA-Nachwuchsstudio from 1950-1954. He started by making documentary films, but it was a totally different kind of work that made him famous. The Legend of Paul and Paula turned into a cult film unrivaled in its importance by any other DEFA film since the beginning of the seventies, except maybe Konrad Wolf’s Solo Sunny (1979). The film owes its great success to a number of qualities, the most important one being the appeal of the youthful and temperamental heroes, the image and the claim of young people who want to break the mold.21 It made long hair and blue jeans acceptable, celebrated the invincibility of true love, and at the same time managed to show, in an ironic, sometimes even parodistic style, GDR reality in both its endearing and its less appealing aspects. Based on a screenplay by Ulrich Plenzdorf, author of the novel The New Sufferings of Young W, which had been originally conceived as a film but was not accepted by the DEFA,22 it tells the story of two young people who, having known each other from childhood on, must go through the experiences of unhappy relationships before they find each other. By that time, Paul is married to an empty-headed beauty who has married him for his professional status, while Paula is busy raising two children by herself. It is not until she loses her son in a car accident that Paul realizes how much he loves her, and after overcoming her objections, he finally moves in with her. The film ends with Paula’s half-intentional death as she gives birth to another child—Paul’s—which she knew would probably cost her life.
Where does the explosive material of this love story lie? First of all, its entertainment value made it much more attractive than many contemporary products. With a great sense of the theatrical and the comical, Carow juxtaposes relatively realistic scenes—such as one that shows Paula hauling coal into her basement, a job everyone in the GDR is familiar with from his or her own experience, but one that also describes how she has to manage her life all by herself—with playful scenes that glow with the enjoyment of self-expression, especially on the part of Paula, who is played with great verve by Angelica Domröse.23 The back and forth between serious and comical scenes and modes of presentation creates a tension which causes spectators to stay alert and try to orient themselves.
Interestingly, the Western press reacted to this film—one of the few to receive any attention on the other side of the Wall—with bafflement and a lack of understanding. The reviewer of a conservative Christian paper even used it to demonstrate just how bad life must be in the GDR: “If this nothing of individual freedom demanded in ‘Paul and Paula’ provokes such a scandal, the freedom to move in that state must be smaller than one has believed so far.”24 But the film was released and it contributed, within its limited means, to a liberalization of everyday life. The strong reaction it provoked reveals its meaning when one looks at its position within the aesthetic system of which it was a part.
The aggressive impetus of this “legend” actually must be considered quite strong: it absolutizes love and personal fulfillment; it even neglects to consider the role of the individual in the social sphere, reality being only an obstacle. Accordingly, the film met with criticism from the official press, such as this comment by Horst Knietzsch, who is the reviewer for the party paper, Neues Deutschland:
While didactic elements weighed down some of our other contemporary films and therefore bored us, this film bears signs of isolation from society, it leads to a lack of personality of the characters. . . .25
He also criticizes Paula’s death as not sufficiently motivated and refers to a recent discussion in the “Verband der Film- und Fernsehschaffenden”26 during which one top official arrived at the conclusion that “death in the work of art needs profound reasons and must be, if it is to be used at all, of social relevance.”27 Of course the connection between love and death, a deeply romantic idea, had to raise suspicion on the part of the guardians of socialist morality. Carow’s “legend” not only defends irrationality, the status of the outsider, a sensuous life style, but also celebrates these new values with great enthusiasm. It also contains an indirect blow to the ruling class by making Paula, a child of the people, superior in her humanity to Paul, who holds a high position in the government. This is probably the first portrayal of a top official as a person whose human shortcomings are directly related to his high social and political position.
Formally, the film presents a break with socialist realism in the strict sense.28 The montage of realistic scenes and fantastic ones often has a parodistic effect. Carow’s film is consciously, sometimes glaringly, theatrical. That this was his intention can be derived from a series of interviews, including one in which he pointed out that in the original version of the screenplay, Paula was able to perform magic when inspired by love.29
All of Carow’s films deal with, and are designed to evoke, strong feelings. Hermann Herlinghaus observed that what made Carow’s films of the seventies so explosive was the choice of young heroes and their energetic striving for self-realization, a psychological perspective, and an effective use of the actors that brought out the dynamics of interpersonal relationships.30 I would add that the success of his films also results from a romantic attitude towards the world which expresses itself in a criticism of, or at the very least a supplement to, the enlightenment view: reason is not the ultimate authority; what motivates human beings is the totality of their desires, fears, and thoughts, which can neither be predicted nor prescribed. What meets human needs must consequently be equally complex. Carow’s modern “legend” not only picks up the romantic idea of life as a mystery and of love as a force that will fulfill itself at the expense of death which it thus transcends, but it also uses a romantic aesthetic by introducing a mixture of genres—the realistic, the comic, and the tragic—with the inclusion of rock music and dream scenes.31 The very title suggests an homage to the romantic appreciation of genres that belong to the Middle Ages and their religious and mystical world view.
Interestingly, Carow has consistently refused the repeated assumption that his cinematic style is one of “romantic realism.”32 In an interview he gave at the time he was working on this film, he answered the question of whether he saw a preference for romantic motifs as characteristic of his films, by saying that “I would totally deny that. On the other hand, poetry plays a role for me in film today, more than ever before. But that has nothing to do with romanticism.”33
I understand Carow’s protest against the label as a reaction to connotations the term “romanticism” carried in the GDR fifteen years ago. At that time, the romantic poets were considered bourgeois reactionaries, pathological individuals, and were carefully excluded from the cultural effort of Erbeaneignung (appropriation of the heritage). It was only in the seventies that a reevaluation of the romantic movement and its representatives took place, once again a process started by literature, taken up with considerable delay, and still not admittedly, by the visual arts.34
The most successful films of the late seventies assumed some of the elements introduced by Carow’s film. In the works that followed his big success, Ikarus (1975) and Until Death Do Us Part (Bis dass der Tod euch scheidet, 1978), he went back to a more realistic technique, while preserving an emphasis on the exploration of the characters’ inner lives. Ikarus is the story of a young boy whose hopes for a first plane trip with his father are shattered, a story of betrayal followed by disillusionment. Like Carow’s other films, it makes a case for the validity and the value of young people’s hopes and dreams.
Carow’s films, as one critic put it, are all controversial.35 Until Death Do Us Part stimulated a nationwide discussion as to whether the film actually reflected present trends in the GDR; it met with a high degree of criticism and disapproval. But it was precisely the controversial nature of Carow’s films that made them famous and turned them into public issues.36 This rebelliousness of intention characterizes all the films released between 1978 and 1982 that enjoyed great popularity. Like Carow’s Until Death Do Us Part, all of them can be interpreted as studies on the situation of women as it evolved during the process of state-supported emancipation.37 The public wanted, and accepted as figures of identification, the strong and sometimes aggressive female protagonist. With their films on women, filmmakers were able, for once, to attract great numbers of viewers to the movie theaters.
A Special Case: Rebellious Women
In 1979, Konrad Wolf, the GDR’s best-known and internationally renowned film director, surprised his admirers and critics alike by making a film, Solo Sunny, about the problem-ridden life of a nightclub singer. This film became one of the most famous and most discussed films of the decade.38 Wolf had made a name for himself with his excellent anti-fascist films, which were devoted to the analysis of Nazism, and with films that creatively explored the possibilities and the problems the new state had to face. Embracing the philosophy of the new beginning, he saw his task and his contribution as one of providing films that stimulated discussion; he thus found himself in agreement with the official mission of the artist.
The son of a Communist writer and doctor who had left Germany in 1933, and a convinced Communist himself, Wolf had spent his formative years in the Soviet Union, which he reluctantly left to help build up the new Germany. The films that brought him national and even some international acclaim, like Lissy (Lissy, 1956/57), Professor Mamlock (Professor M am lock, 1960/61), The Divided Sky (Der geteilte Himmel, 1963/64), I Was Nineteen (Ich war neunzehn, 1967), and Mama, I’m Alive (Mama, Ich lebe, 1976) all deal with either the Nazi past or the formative period of the GDR. In the seventies, he made two films about the relationship of the artist with society, Goya (1970/71) and The Naked Man in the Stadium (Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz, 1973). The difference between these two films and Solo Sunny lies in the treatment of art. While the two earlier films revolve around the central question of the freedom of art and the responsibility of the artist towards society (both artists are males), the later one focuses on the individual (a woman) and what art means to her—an instrument of self-realization. Sunny does not see herself as serving art, which in turn would be serving society, but art becomes her means of striving for an identity. The reversal of perspective in favor of the individual is another indication of the shift in contemporary GDR culture from the demands of society to the demands of the individual.
In his earlier films, Wolf had been known to dramatize great historical moments, in which the individual became the exponent of certain social and political changes. Asked why he had turned from his patriotic and at the same time cosmopolitan commitment to making a film about the problems of everyday life, and the marginal existence of an unfortunate starlet at that, he replied that the response, or lack of response to his latest film, I’m Alive, Mama, had alarmed and convinced him “that we must not avoid the debate on immediate, real, everyday life of the present, which is full of conflicts and questions.”39 Wolf’s unfailing sensitivity to the needs of the historical moment led him to choose as the protagonist a woman whose struggles (for recognition, for a balance between her personal needs and her professional demands, and for an improvement of interpersonal relationships in general) managed to synthesize elements that had preoccupied the population at large.
The appearance of Solo Sunny signifies a turning point in Wolf’s career—which was sadly cut short by his unexpected death in 1982—and testifies to a changing social and political climate in the GDR. Barton Byg, who considers Wolf’s cinematic oeuvre “a useful indicator of trends in the cinema and cultural policy of the GDR over three decades,” argues that Solo Sunny, his last film, attests to a more relaxed attitude on the part of the cultural bureaucracy towards socially critical art:
It [Solo Sunny] reflects the fact that the GDR has achieved a degree of historical and political legitimacy. Its artists can participate in contemporary social criticism. The fact that a film such as Solo Sunny was not threatening to the state shows that GDR film has begun to function as popular culture does in any highly organized mass society.40
The film unfolds in a series of episodes characterized by Sunny’s search for a meaningful life, for being accepted as who she is. “Why, it should be possible to be a personality without being famous” she tells a friend, thereby admitting that artistic success alone would not be enough to make her feel valued. Sunny’s life does not meet her demands. She constantly finds herself in conflict with her environment, which discredits her claim, or at least the aggressiveness with which she fights for it. At the beginning, we see her in a police office where she has to justify her lifestyle; in her private life, two men, the bully in the orchestra who later tries to rape her and the nice but singleminded taxi driver Harry, try to convince her to throw in her lot with them, which she refuses to do in spite of occasional loneliness. When she finally meets a man she can respect and love, the philosopher Ralph, he is so removed from her world, and in fact so unable or unwilling to understand her demands, that the relationship ends with Sunny’s failed attempt to murder him. Her own death seems to be the only alternative left to her, but she is brought back to life after a suicide attempt. The psychologists who offer support prove to be of no help, either. After a brief return to the factory where she had worked before being discovered as a singer, she pulls herself together and auditions again, this time possibly better equipped with her own song, which Ralph has written for her and which gives the film its title.
The episodic character of Solo Sunny as well as many other contemporary films has been a point of contention with the critics, because it was frequently understood as a technical failure. It constitutes, however, the stylistic correlative to the fact that Sunny’s song remains incomplete, her needs unsatisfied. Just as life in the GDR withholds personal fulfillment, synthesis of the various facets of life, from Sunny, the film withholds from the viewer the satisfying traditional structure of a story that is organized according to the need for wholeness and completion. In the openness of the quest, as in numerous other characteristics, the film is paradigmatic of the many other films on women at that time. It presents a heroine who goes through various situations, tries them out, as it were, without finding one that would be right for her.
The strong and lively response to Solo Sunny confirmed that Wolf had indeed addressed a great need for the discussion of issues that crystallize around the question of self-realization in the contemporary GDR. While there were voices that sharply criticized, even condemned outsider figures like Sunny and their glorification in film, the majority of the letters, even those from viewers who characterize themselves as conducting “orderly lives,” reveal a strong identification with the heroine. “Sunny—that could be me!” one (female) reader wrote.41 The reason so many spectators were able to project themselves into Sunny’s character does not lie in her appealing profession, but in her quest for a meaningful place in society, and in her refusal to give in, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The film also questions the idea of a “normal” life and suggests a new definition: normal must be considered what is essential, appropriate to an individual. This redefinition legitimizes individuality in the search for self-realization, and this is why so many viewers could put themselves in Sunny’s place. As script writer Wolfgang Kohlhaase said, Sunny wants something “quite normal,” namely to be needed, not just as someone to fill a place, but as the unique person she is.42
Along with the support of the individual goes an indirect, silent criticism of social reality. It manifests itself in the paradigms, in the oppositions the film sets up, which play off the “normal” versus the “unusual,” the citizen versus the outsider, the new apartment buildings versus the old houses on Prenzlauer Berg, order versus creative disorder, reason versus feeling. Solo Sunny derives its potential for provocation from the fact that what was previously considered desirable, like having a secure job and living in one of the much-coveted new apartments, now appears to be the expression of a contemptible, petty-bourgeois attitude towards life. This paradigmatic shift was what many reviewers and critics found alarming.43
Konrad Wolf not only wanted to defend characters like Sunny, but also to recommend them and everything they embody as model figures for the future development of socialism. In an interview printed in Neue Zeit, he said that in socialism it is not enough merely to accept a person such as Sunny:
In the long run, it [socialism] depends on such individuals. The real conditions under which socialism must develop and assert itself do require a long breath. . . . We must encourage the public to accept such people, encourage them and ourselves.44
Another reason for the film’s great appeal lies in its poetic stylization, which distinguishes it from other works with the same topic and the same radical attitude. Naturally, this stylization serves the purpose of emphasizing the new values. For example, the grubby neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg is depicted in a romanticized fashion so that it attains a slightly rundown, but alluring aura. This softening of the hard edges has caused even those critics who appreciated the film to complain about the inauthenticity of those scenes, and the implicit suggestion that in the recent DEFA films, worthwhile life only seemed to take place in the “rear buildings” (Hinterhaus).45
On the other hand, Wolf destroys the illusion of glamour in Sunny’s life over and over again. At the beginning, the film seems to dive into the glossy existence of a star. It uses Hollywood appeal—Sunny is made up to look like Liza Minnelli—totally uncharacteristic of Wolf’s previous films. But already the opening scene contrasts the seeming splendor with the real cheapness of Sunny’s artistic world. A closer look at the primitive working conditions, the slimy announcer with his tactless introductions, the “boys” from the band called “The Tornadoes,” convinces the spectator that this is a milieu that does not give much reason to be proud of being an artist. Eberhard Geick’s camera work intensifies the effect of these contrasts by abruptly moving back and forth between long (establishing) shots that preserve the illusion of glamour, and close shots or even closeups which reveal the whole dishearteningly shabby reality of Sunny’s workplace. Thus Wolf cunningly uses the Hollywood technique and the effect of show business to capture the spectator’s attention, only to dismantle the first impression by a “closer analysis” of the milieu. Even in the disillusioning shots, however, Wolf remains faithful to the principle of a well thought-out composition, which gives the film its unified look in spite of the unsettling visual and thematic jumps.
Sunny’s song helps viewers to understand the seeming contradiction between a romanticizing and a disillusioning technique as interrelated elements of a greater conception. Her solo, which Ralph has written for her in bits and pieces during their relationship, epitomizes her claim for recognition as an individual. “She’s Sunny, they will say/some day,” she sings, in English—a concession to the goals of (Western) individualism? The song portrays her hope, her longing, as a dream not yet realized. Some day she will be recognized and accepted for her own self.46 It therefore unfolds, like the film as a whole, as a dream; the vision of beauty and wonder which we sometimes see is as yet a figment of our imagination.
The films that analyze the situation of women share some basic structural and thematic patterns with Solo Sunny. The protagonists find themselves in an existential crisis, because of seemingly insurmountable personal and professional problems, because of illness or because they have come in conflict with the law, and this crisis moves them to rethink what is important in their lives and to consider turning everything upside down. They go about their search with great energy and the conviction that to look for personal happiness is their inalienable right. Their enthusiasm for experimentation goes hand in hand with a deep and sometimes aggressive skepticism towards traditional values. Compared with the lively and colorful heroines, whose portraits, however, do not always escape the stereotype, the male counterparts in these films are frequently pale and passive observers of all the turmoil around them, and more often than not, fail to rise to the occasion of a new start in life. This accounts for some of the heroines’ frustrations, for while they are more than willing to take the responsibility for their lives into their own hands, they cannot change the colleagues and partners with whom they work. The position of the woman in these films is so prominent that one critic felt inclined to draw the conclusion that the “heroines are representatives of human possibilities for development in socialism as such. . . .47
Most of these films are made by men, and the few women directors like Iris Gusner and Evelyn Schmidt have not been successful.48 Even Schmidt’s The Bicycle (Das Fahrrad 1982), which treats the same subjects as the other films on women, did not manage to elicit the same lively and strong response. The neglect it experienced on the part of the public and critics alike is not quite justified, for it adds to the typical features of the women’s film an analysis of class conflicts which were hinted at in Carow’s Legend of Paul and Paula but not really examined, and were not brought up as a topic in the later films. Susanne, a young worker with a child, meets an engineer who has just passed his exam and has drifted from the distinguished party “upstairs” to the smoke and rock music-filled disco scene “downstairs” where she spends her evenings, aimlessly hanging out with her friends. The young engineer tries to get to know her, but she remains distant, so that for most of the film the relationship remains tentative. This leads to an atmosphere of hesitation and a lack of action much criticized by reviewers.49 The reasons for the difficulties in getting together for two people from such different backgrounds become obvious, though, when Susanne has falsely claimed her bicycle was stolen and the fraud is discovered. Her friend’s first reaction is concern over what the people in his company will say. The resulting fight polarizes and defines them as representatives of the two value systems mentioned before; his success-oriented life, his commitment to order and reason, stand in contrast with her disorderly existence. Schmidt does not romanticize the heroine’s lifestyle but, on the contrary, shows her poverty and lack of options as limiting and depressing; yet she has Susanne leave the man who could lift her out of her old milieu because she refuses to live according to the value system to which he adheres.
It is an indication of the profound paradigm shift in the films on women between 1978 and 1982 that a social outsider, a person turned criminal, becomes the model against which society is measured. This applies also to Erwin Stranka’s Sabine Wulff, which appeared one year before Solo Sunny. It describes the start in life of an eighteen-year-old woman who has spent time at the Jugendwerkhof—a juvenile correction house where the youngsters work and receive an education—for her early years of rebelliousness and petty larceny. During the credit section of the film, we see scenes in rapid succession and without diegetic sound that give an impression of the process of socialization she has just gone through at the “Werkhof.” The film and the protagonist’s new free life begin with the moment she passes through the prison gate—the weight of her past on the one hand, and her hopes and dreams for the future on the other.
Faced like many of his colleagues with the question whether he would label Sabine Wulff an outsider film, Stranka replied: “No, and I wouldn’t want to make such a film. I only make the premise that an eighteen-year-old girl leaves a “Jugendwerkhof” and then ask: How is such a person accepted by us, what happens to her . . .”50 This makes it sound as though Stranka’s main interest lay in the way socialist society deals with young people who have turned criminal, in the adequacy or inadequacy of social reintegration. In my opinion, however, Sabine’s former transgressions of the law seem so poorly motivated and appear so insignificant that it is difficult to see her as a criminal youth who needs to be reformed. Instead, she comes across as a very positive character who embodies many of the qualities that make Sunny and various other protagonists powerful models of identification; honesty, an unwillingness to compromise her ideals, commitment to improving living and working conditions in the socialist state, and depth of feeling. Therefore the film transforms Stranka’s question of how socialist society reintegrates those individuals who have gone astray into a reflection on how this society deals with creative, energetic individuals whose insistence on their personal visions often proves uncomfortable. This is the reason Sabine Wulff belongs to those films that represent a quest, as the title of the book upon which it was based suggests.51 When we see Sabine decorate her new room by covering the walls with her fingerprints, we also know that it is herself, her own creative and productive potential, that she tries to find. The last long sequence that shows her wandering down the street, still looking for her own story, emphasizes the openness and the feeling of being in limbo between so many choices that do not seem quite right.
The structural and atmospheric affinity between the movies of this kind sometimes even manifests itself in details. Thus, Stranka considered calling his film “Blues for Sabine,” thereby highlighting, as Konrad Wolf does in Solo Sunny, the elegiac, poetic mood of these women’s life stories. The title of one West German reviewer’s article on Hermann Zschoche’s One Year’s Probation (Bürgschaft für ein Jahr, 1981) was “Solo Nina,” an indication that the author placed it in what was by then a tradition of the cinematic exploration of women’s often very lonely way to self-realization. Their wish for a “solo,” the expression of the totality of their dreams and desires, must often be bought at the price of loneliness and social rejection.52
Nina Kern, the protagonist of One Year’s Probation, struggles to reclaim her children, who were taken away from her by public welfare because of her unreliability and her irresponsible life style. In the eyes of the community, she drinks too much, and a series of lovers make her unfit to ade quately take care of her young children. Again, the introductory scene sets up a basic opposition that will structure the entire film; the contrast between the accused mother, sitting in front of an educational board, sulking, struggling with shame and pride, and the self-satisfied group of good citizens who deny the woman the right to raise her children because she does not conform to the values and the rules of society. The camera moves from character to character, from face to face, and brilliantly tells the story of irreconcilable differences in world view and moral attitude. While the guardians of bourgeois values condemn the heroine, the camera does not.
Just as Wolf and Stranka had to justify their pleas for an outside figure—who, after all, did not deserve so much attention, let alone sympathy—Zschoche was criticized, for example by Fred Gehler in the intellectuals’ magazine Sonntag, for having constructed a universe of a petty bourgeoisie all of whose members had deteriorated to mere caricatures.53 However, while the film works with very strong oppositions, the story prevents a mechanical confrontation between bourgeois world and antibourgeois heroine. One of Nina’s “tutors,” who is supposed to help her get back on the right track, turns into a real friend. In structuralist terms, she “crosses the boundary” and moves over to Nina Kern’s side. Interestingly, in the novel, which served as a point of departure for the film, this tutor is the central figure and her inner change is the focus of the narrative.54 It gives another sharp edge to the story that true understanding and support come from a woman (!) who is a practicing Christian, not from the socialist community.
The reader-response column of Sonntag, in which viewers ask themselves and the filmmakers whether this movie truly reflects GDR “Alltag,” again indicates that the function of cinema in the GDR consists in providing a means of communication about the social reality of the country.55 Some of the viewers find the end (Nina gets her children back but, of her own accord, gives one of them up for adoption because she cannot manage to raise three children as a single working mother) negative and full of resignation. They see her as giving up, defeated, forced into a society she does not whole-heartedly accept. Their disappointment illuminates that they have, if unconsciously, sided with the value system of the film. One Year’s Probation is certainly a successful plea for outsiders, and a call for more understanding and fewer prejudices, as West Berlin DEFA specialist Heinz Kersten argued.56
A different and thought-provoking commentary comes from Günter Sobe who writes for the Berliner Zeitung. Like many other critics, he grants that this is Zschoche’s best film so far, and that the director’s claim of giving an authentic picture of contemporary reality is fully met; but he raises the question how much further the cinema can move in the direction of the documentary.57 Nothing, he argues, could be gained from a more intense exploration of documentary realism. Instead, Sobe wishes to see an artistic world in film, and quotes Goethe’s theater director at the beginning of Faust who wants “the entire radius of creation” to be covered in the play.58 This means the demand for a wholly different aesthetic, which the GDR art scene has only been able to meet in bits and pieces. The wonderful, the miraculous, and a certain radicalism of feeling will be noticeable in some of the films of the mid-eighties.
Even more so than Zschoche, whose careful composition of visual images reminds one of Wolf’s cinematic style, Lothar Warneke subscribes to the documentary method; in fact, he has the reputation of being a fetishist of everyday life.59 In The Disturbance (Die Beunruhigung), which appeared the year after Zschoche’s film, he describes a day in the life of a woman—framed by the early morning hours of a day one year later—who finds out she has cancer and must have one of her breasts removed. The film is in black and white, to emphasize the sober and somber atmosphere. Lay actors were hired to heighten the authenticity of the narration, and the camera man, Thomas Plenert, who comes from documentary film and has worked extensively with Warneke, shot almost all of the scenes on location, some in the apartment of Helga Schubert, the author of the book on which the film was based.
While responses to The Disturbance were largely positive, praising it as Warneke’s best film and as a gripping account of the situation, there have also been voices to point out that using particles of reality such as, in this in stance, a “real” doctor in the hospital and a lay actor for the heroine’s son, does not necessarily increase the “truth of art.”60 Fred Gehler argues that the painstaking collection of realistic details does not add up to a true image of reality, and he quotes Bela Balaz’s protest against a “fanaticism of the facts.”61
Another objection to the film concerned its happy ending, which, to some viewers and critics, made it look as though a solid-functioning human relationship were the answer to all problems, cancer included. Thus the new man in the heroine’s life, the right one to wake up with in the morning, seems like a deus ex machina who makes it possible for her to go through the ordeal of her illness and face the fear that it might recur. Why such a positive outlook, some spectators wondered; how does that relate to the claim of giving a realistic picture, even insofar as content is concerned?62 But Warneke sees it differently:
A positive ending often is rejected and considered unartistic, but I believe that is wrong. We should have the courage to look for a life-affirming solution, even with topics like these, and I see these possibilities in partnership between human beings.63
Warneke’s comment reveals a basic contradiction in his work; only formally can he be called the fetishist of reality. The content of his films, however, proves heavily influenced by a moral attitude that may be governed by wishful thinking. A former theology student, Warneke has changed the field of his activity, but not the belief system within which he works. This is why all his films, of which The Disturbance is the best one, suffer from an unwillingness to delve deeper into the problems he analyzes, thus remaining superficial. In his earlier films, Dr. med. Sommer II (1969), It Is an Old Story (Es ist eine alte Geschichte, 1971/72), Life with Uwe (Leben mit Uwe, 1973), and The Incorrigible Barbara (Die unverbesserliche Barbara, 1976), Warneke had been able to use the hunger for Alltagsgeschichten (stories from everyday life) as a source of interest. These films fully explored the liberation from having to present the great subjects of history. His relative popularity was founded on the novelty of his approach, and in the attraction of cinematic works in which everybody could recognize familiar surroundings, lifestyles and characters. The surface realism of his works, however, usually lacks the sharp edge and skeptical insight that characterize Zschoche’s and Carow’s films, and accounts for the fact that Warneke has had few problems with the bureaucracy, and usually managed to realize his projects.
Walking a Fine Line: Films on Young People
Films about and for young people have the potential to address some of the same pressing issues which the films on women present.64 In fact, in some cases, like Sabine Wulff and Until Death Do Us Part, the two categories overlap. Heiner Carow and Hermann Zschoche, as well as other filmmakers, have repeatedly chosen youthful heroes for their idealism, their purity of motivation and as yet unbroken hopes and desires. But the implied criticism that lies in the necessary comparison of the young hero’s vision to reality as he finds it, and the suspicion that such films might inspire a whole generation with unrest and rebelliousness, makes them highly vulnerable to censorship. The notion that not enough is being done for the youth of the country is unacceptable to the GDR because it goes entirely against its proclaimed goals, and its self-definition. Understandably, there is no equivalent in terms of the youth film, or any other genre, for that matter, to the successful films on women who rethink and completely restructure their lives.65
Attempts to walk the fine line between a work too provocative to be admitted and one too lukewarm to attract attention, have often resulted in the production of so-called “small films,” that is, very personal oeuvres that deal with noncontroversial issues and renounce the claim to great social relevance. Some of them are admirable, humorous miniatures about life in the GDR, such as Ete and Ali (Ete und Ali, 1985) by one of DEFA’s youngest film directors, Peter Kahane, while others lack any substance worthy of artistic conception. Several of Roland Oehme’s comedies belong in this last sad category, like Je t’aime, chérie (1986), as well as Gunther Scholz’s Crown Up as of Today (Ab heute erwachsen, 1985) and Erwin Stranka’s The Shark-Feeder (Der Haifischfütterer). The latter represents an especially interesting case, since it touches on an important political issue without truly dealing with it. The young protagonist has committed himself to a voluntary three-year service in the army, instead of going for the required minimum of eighteen months, because, as he confesses at one point, he believes in his country’s side. But this remains the only reference to this controversial subject, and the main part of the film revolves around how the hero can get his first sexual experience before taking off to serve the fatherland. To assume that the need for sexual conquest indicates a psychological displacement of his pre-military service anxiety would be giving the film too much credit. It may be impossible, as I have frequently been told, to make a truthful film about service in the army, but it is certainly avoidable to make one that, while seemingly addressing the issue, clouds and sentimentalizes it.66
Among the few films that tackle problems of the young generation head-on is Zschoche’s Island of the Swans (Insel der Schwäne, 1983), for which Plenzdorf, a sure bet for explosiveness, wrote the screenplay. It shows the world of early teenagers as totally indifferent, if not hostile to their needs—virtually deserted by grownups, except for brief moments when they give advice, admonition, or warnings.
Stefan, the thirteen-year-old protagonist, moves from an idyllic, but technologically backward place in the country, to one of the much-coveted modern apartments in Marzahn, one of the particularly disfigured new residential districts of East Berlin. The dichotomy works the same as in more recent films which, with the help of an outsider/criminal/victim figure, turn around the familiar value system of old versus new, anarchy versus order, feeling versus reason, and so on. The old country house, complete with a grandmother and a view of the lake over which the swans fly in slow motion, stands for a better, full life, while city planning, in the spirit of maximum efficiency, has left no room for children, the guardians of humankind’s creative and imaginative potential.
In this case, Plenzdorf and Zschoche went too far. A fake reader response instigated by the youth organization Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ), as well as the official critics, rejected the film for its supposed distortion of socialist reality, implausibilities of plot, and a generally negative mood.67 Horst Knietzsch in Neues Deutschland summarized the criticism of the ideological content when he asked, rhetorically, “how much narrow-mindedness or ignorance” it took to make a film about young people which devalues their own contribution to the building of new settlements by making the buildings look like “a frightening and oppressive ‘world of concrete.’ ”68 The complaint about the negative attitude towards the blessings of socialist civilization, which is still striving to catch up to Western standards of living, strikes the reader as predictable and understandable, as does the formal criticism of the rigidity with which the world of the old and the new are contrasted.69 To the initiated friend of GDR film, however, the attack on the story’s implausibility must appear as the devious victory of the cultural bureaucracy that has mutilated the film in the first place.
The film that provoked such a violent reaction was already a watered-down version of an earlier concept. In the original script, Stefan develops an adversary relationship with a boy slightly his elder, who blackmails the weak Hubert and tyrannizes the whole group of youngsters. This youth, called Windjacke, tries to show to his grandparents that, contrary to their wishful thinking, evil still exists. Having spent part of the war in a concentration camp, the grandparents believe that, with socialist society, paradise has come to earth.70 Windjacke’s extreme case of “acting out” is thus related to a denial of reality on the part of his family. A committee of resistance fighters who previewed the film declared that this was a distortion of the views and attitudes of former members of this movement, to which the grandparents had belonged, and insisted that the scene be taken out.71 The understandable reaction on the part of the critics was the complaint that Windjacke appears “way too much as the incarnation of evil.”72 By cutting out the grandparents who insisted that all evil had been banned from the (socialist) earth, the censors cut out themselves, and undermined a more adequate understanding of the story. It is due to this attitude—closing one’s eyes to the problems and dangers of the present—that the roots of such problems become invisible and the bad turns demonic. Robbed of its context, Windjacke’s meanness must appear as diabolical; that disqualifies him as a character for socialist realism which has no use for the demonic.
Unnoticed by the self-absorbed adults, the fight between the two boys grows more and more serious, until it reaches its climax in a deadly duel, which takes place in one of the half-finished buildings on the vast construction sites in Marzahn. In the final scene we see Stefan threatened from behind by his enemy who tries to push him down a shaft. In a brief struggle, Stefan manages to move back, and now it is Windjacke who falls and can only hang on to the wall of the shaft with the tips of his fingers. This was supposed to be the final scene, suggesting Windjacke’s fatal fall. But the censors required a “positive ending,” and now the last shots of Stefan pulling Windjacke up, which is physically almost impossible, and then the screen going dark, seem like an intentionally unbelievable, abrupt ending.73
CONTRADICTIONS OF AESTHETIC NORMS:
THE CRISIS OF THE HERO
When comparing the reception of very recent films like Island of the Swans (1983) and, say, The Shark-Feeder (1985), one cannot help but feel sympathy for the filmmakers who move between the Scylla of prohibitions and the Charybdis of requirements, between trying to address issues of some importance and themes that are taboo. As one prominent film director said in a personal interview, you are encouraged to present social conflicts and thus to contribute to their resolution, but persecuted if you really do.74
The current debate over the contemporary hero exemplifies this dilemma as perhaps no other issue does in the debate about aesthetics in the GDR. After 1983, a virtual panic seems to set in about the lack of characters that would qualify as true heroes. According to the critics who responded to the situation with their desperate SOS calls—save our heroes!—the protagonists seem to stumble through socialist reality, partly content, partly dissatisfied, not fully conscious, and certainly not aware of their opportunities to shape history. Even though the writers approach the problem from different angles, most of them agree that contemporary GDR films lack the following ingredients necessary to being successful: 1) A central hero who can evoke empathy and invite identification on the part of the spectator—a hero who actively participates in the larger social development of his time;75 2) A story that has social relevance and does not apply only to outsiders, or to highly idiosyncratic individuals, but that tackles the great social and political questions of the age. These criteria are reiterated or varied at every one of the many symposia and conferences and in a number of academic articles, such as Horst Knietzsch’s contribution to the discussions of the hero in the films of 1983/84. In Prisma, the GDR’s TV and film almanac, Knietzsch writes that he welcomes
the artistic individuality of authors and film directors, but with introverted stories and narrative techniques, the reflection of their own modes of existence, the path to the spectator will be hard to find. The best works in the history of the DEFA have always been those that reflected the social changes of our time, the transformed socialist relationships in socialist society, [films] that gave artistic expression to the new human experiences, interests, thoughts, feelings and modes of behaving.76
Then Knietzsch goes on to identify his viewpoint as the official one, referring to party chief Honecker’s address in 1984 that celebrated the artists of the country as “active and reliable co-producers [Mitgestalter] of the developed socialist society.”77 Honecker once again defines what kind of art the state expects, and his words make clear that while a greater generosity in accepting a wider range of themes and styles in art has become the norm, no institutional changes have occurred that would free the artist from his or her commitment to a specific ideological viewpoint:
Our time needs works of art which strengthen socialism, which call into consciousness the beauty and greatness of what has been achieved, often with difficulties. [We need] works of art in the center of which stands the active hero who shapes history, the working class and its representatives. Naturally, for such achievements we need, especially in our struggle-filled time, a firm position. The attitude of an observer or critic of our society cannot do justice to this.78
Obviously, socialist art as Honecker promotes it does not allow for a critical analysis of the truly problematic issues of “our problem-ridden time,” such as the so-called German question and everything connected with it; the idea of reunification, the spectre of continuing attempts to escape to the West, the difficulty of travel, as well as anything that touches on internal problems of the GDR and the unfinished edges that its short history has impressed upon the country’s self-image.
Thus, for art, Kohlhaase’s observation in 1972 about the “continuity of unsolved questions” is still valid.79 Film directors are caught in a vicious circle of having to present the great conflicts of the age without adopting “the attitude of the observer or critic.” This dilemma itself, however, can hardly be called by name at the many conferences and in the research articles devoted to the improvement of GDR film, since to do so would uncover the impossibility that underlies such a claim. In the booklet entitled 1st der positive Held in unseren Filmen in Verruf geraten?, however, two contributions contain at least some crucial questions that do not turn all of the attention to issues of aesthetics (genre, choice of characters, etc.), but place them in a larger context. Rolf Richter wonders why such issues as Republikflucht (attempted escape) and other political themes never make it into the contemporary DEFA film. Hans Müncheberg reflects on the preconditions that comprise a good work of art, and comes to the conclusion that it needs a great, authentic conflict. However,
A conflict is great and profound when the hero’s freedom of decision is great and believable. There must be two ways for the hero to go, and both ways must be possible, also in our society.80
Müncheberg then invents a situation he might want to dramatize in a film, and shows at what point “utilitarian thinking”—here a euphemism for censorship—would come into play.81 If a film had enough explosive material, Müncheberg argues, the critics would start to worry about which group of people might be made to feel insecure or get some wrong ideas. Also, the question would arise as to whether the film would “discredit the real existing socialism.”82 But Müncheberg’s is the only contribution among several dozen that raises the question of censorship. Most filmmakers and their critics go on looking for the roots of the crisis of GDR film within the artists’ domain of aesthetics, and most artists continue to withdraw into small private worlds, mirroring in their films the general trend toward hiding in one’s own little niche, which has led the West German diplomat Günter Gaus to talk about GDR society as a “society of niches.”83 While unwanted cultural activity can be suppressed, the desired work of art cannot be forced into existence, and the aesthetics of the small form may well constitute an indirect way of rebelling against a state-enforced concept of art.
NEW TENDENCIES IN ANTI-FASCIST FILMS
Anti-fascist films occupy a special position within the DEFA production. They belong to its longest and possibly best tradition, which started right after the war. DEFA was the first German film company to begin producing again after 1945, and continued to produce anti-fascist films, after a period in the seventies when public interest in the topic declined due to the intense involvement with questions of everyday life, right into the eighties. According to Wolfgang Kohlhaase, scriptwriter for the film Held for Questioning (Der Aufenthalt:, by Frank Beyer, 1983), a direct line leads from the earliest films, such as Wolfgang Staudte’s The Murderers Are Among Us (Die Mörder sind unter uns, 1946) and Kurt Maetzig’s Doomed Marriage (Ehe im Schatten, 1947), to the film he made with Frank Beyer.84 The older generation of film directors especially—those who had experienced the war as teenagers, who were young enough to remain innocent, and old enough to have known the horrors of war—repeatedly returned to the artistic representation of the historical period that led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the division of Germany into two separate states.
More than its Western counterpart, the GDR has followed the policy of “de-Nazification” to ensure that a repetition of mass seduction by a fascist regime would be impossible. It spent great energy on educating the population about the political and social causes and strategies of Nazism, offered from a socialist perspective, and made sure that no former Nazi officials attained positions in the government. In this context it is not surprising that the GDR welcomed and encouraged the attempts of writers and filmmakers to contribute their share of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with; working through the past). Thus the anti-fascist film became a sort of state-protected genre, in contrast with its counterpart in the FRG, where the works of Fassbinder, Kluge, Sanders-Brahms, von Trotta, and others who made films about the Nazi era, belong to an intellectual counter-culture that is eyed with suspicion or disregarded by the conservative majority.
The special status of the anti-fascist film within the DEFA tradition, which, in my opinion, relates directly to its success, results from the fact that on the topic of Faschismusanalyse (analysis of fascism), the interests of the government and those of the filmmakers met and merged. Taboos, if they existed in this realm, did not come into effect. This relative freedom from constraints produced a sense of control, assertiveness, and directness that is absent from many films dealing with the more sensitive contemporary issues. This fruitful meeting of interests also applied to matters of form. The official aesthetic doctrine of socialist realism was relatively easy to combine with Italian neorealism, the declared model for many GDR film directors in the fifties and sixties. Kohlhaase’s following remarks about the beginning of his fascination with the cinema elucidate this situation:
My interest in film arose from the experience of the destroyed city of Berlin towards the end of the war. These sights, the landscapes of ruins [Trümmerlandschaften], fascinated me, and I thought that it was absolutely necessary to capture them. At that time, I was very much fascinated with Italy’s Neorealism while before that time, cinema had been, for me, something totally separate from reality, with splendor, pomp and glory; now I started to imagine a totally different cinema.85
While the genre of the anti-fascist film constitutes the one with the longest and most famous tradition in the GDR, it has undergone substantial changes in the forty years of its existence. After a period of hibernation during the seventies, when interest in the topic declined as a result of the intense involvement with questions of everyday life, the tradition resurfaced in the eighties, newly transformed by demands for self-expression in artistic work.
It may seem surprising that the anti-fascist film should have taken a turn towards the subjective; that it should have incorporated the same claim for individualism which had become the previous decade’s main concern. But this is precisely what happened, and it may account for the profundity of change that the shift from a political to a psychological perspective also took place within the historical analysis of fascism. The anti-fascist films of the eighties tend not to deal so much with the war and its causes; instead, they focus on the effects it had, and continued to have, on the individual who was neither a hero of the resistance, nor an active member of the National Socialist Party. This turn to the average citizen as the protagonist had a great effect on the way the audience experienced anti-fascist films, since the majority could now identify with the heroes as characters who had, like them, just tried to survive the war.86 The move away from the (Communist) resistance fighter and the evil Nazi as central figures in the films also allowed for a greater differentiation in the portrayal of the characters. Imagining ordinary people’s daily struggles to survive and cope with the ordeals of the war, the uncertainty of the future, and the weight of their share of the responsibility for what was happening politically, led to such questions as: What is the guilt of the individual who has “only” played the part of the passive bystander? How much can a person bear to see and go through before he or she breaks down? How can one go on living a normal life after experiencing the holocaust, or the awareness of collective guilt?
Predictably, the official press reacted to the new type of anti-fascist film with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it welcomed the renaissance of the genre as a new stage of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. On the other hand, it viewed the preeminence of personal questions with suspicion, afraid that the historical dimension might be sacrificed. In some cases, a skeptical attitude towards the “privatization of fascism” proves to be well-founded. For example, Michael Kann’s debut film Stielke, Heinz, 15 (1987) uses and abuses the sensational aspects that can be derived from a story about the Nazi years. As the director candidly confesses, his goal was not to contribute to the understanding of fascism, but to make an adventure story.87 This lack of concern for the historical dimension of the time period combined with an uninhibited exploitation of sensational, cliché-ridden situations, seems to reveal the questionable attitude towards fascism that Susan Sontag describes in her article “Fascinating Fascism.”88 In other cases, however, the rejection of films like Olle Henry (1983) by critics who claim that limiting a film to the personal perspective produces an unhealthy pessimism and a defeatist world view, strikes me as itself limited, and as an anachronistic insistence on a cultural optimism which totally ignores the truth of this particular film.89
Usually, however, the audience was aware of the fact that the new kind of anti-fascist film did not exclude the historical dimension, but rather incorporated it into the individual stories of average citizens. Frank Beyer’s already-mentioned film, Held for Questioning, is a good example of a successful close-up of history. Based on Hermann Kant’s novel of the same title, it tells the story of a young German soldier who, in 1945, is mistaken for an SS officer and detained in a Polish prisoner-of-war camp for having murdered a child. The time he spends there before his release becomes an ordeal and an unforgettable learning experience for him. While the Polish officials try to figure out whether he is guilty of the crime the mother of the murdered child has accused him of, he begins to think differently about guilt, and comes to realize that even his brief participation in the war as a simple soldier assigns to him his part of the collective guilt.
In contrast with the novel, which, like all of Kant’s prose, is very complex, rich, and multi-layered, the film does not and cannot analyze the story from a number of different perspectives, but concentrates on the hero’s limited view. The fact that the young German does not speak Polish, and that he soon finds himself in conflict with the other prisoners, further limits the spectator’s verbal acquaintance with him.
While Beyer and Kohlhaase renounce the verbal richness of Kant’s text, they gain a breathtaking intensity. Niebuhr, the hero, anxiously watches his environment for traces of meaning; so we search his face and physical expression to find out who he is and whether, in fact, we can trust him. The film thus captures the claustrophobic atmosphere and the hostility of the environment to which Niebuhr is exposed, but at the same time it transcends the totally subjective view, which would leave us with no text at all, by including the interpersonal dynamics of the group of real Nazi criminals with whom Niebuhr shares his prison cell. In their company, he begins to understand some of the psychological conditions that make people susceptible to totalitarian regimes. While they look harmless enough in their state of defeat and humiliation, they soon exhibit, through the games they play, through their pathological concern with hierarchy, order, and punishment, their strange mixture of sentimentality and heroism, the same sadomasochistic tendencies that qualified them for the role they played in the Nazi regime.
In an interview, Beyer refers to Held for Questioning as a cinematic “novel of education,” thereby placing it in the context of the German tradition of classicism.90 He furthermore emphasizes the film’s trans-historical significance by explaining that what first attracted him to the book and to the story,
has nothing to do with war or post-war time. It is the story of a nineteen-year-old who gets into the crisis of his life. One cannot choose at what time one is born. . . . We demonstrate that someone must make an effort to understand under which conditions he lives. This is not a given.91
With all its subjective perspective, Beyer’s film still achieves an interpenetration of the personal and the historical. With all its commitment to psychological analysis, it arrives at a tentatively positive conclusion. This gives the film a balanced, classical character, which has made it attractive to a variety of audiences.92 More drastic, and more pessimistic in tone are Günter Reisch’s The Fiancée (Die Verlobte, 1980), and Your Unknown Brother (Dein unbekannter Bruder, 1980/81) by Ulrich Weiss. The former resembles Beyer’s film in the depiction of a menacing, claustrophobic environment and its effects on the human psyche. The Fiancée, too, plays in a prison where a previously apolitical woman has to spend ten years, after having been caught trying to deliver sensitive material for her lover who is active in the resistance. If it is love that has thrown her into this situation, it is also the power of love and hope that prevents her from breaking down under the strain of the brutal and inhuman treatment she endures during her long period of imprisonment and slave labor.
Your Unknown Brother actually does give the portrait of psychic disintegration. It documents the crisis of faith and the final breakdown of a man in the resistance who is betrayed by his own comrades, a topic that made the film unpopular with the official critics, since it admitted the possibility that the spirit of solidarity might not be enough to sustain a person in times and crises like these. Weiss also encountered resistance to his film be cause of his unorthodox aesthetic approach. He is one of the few DEFA film directors for whom visual composition carries as much importance as content, and he has been one of the few to openly ridicule, and even debate, such concepts as the positive hero.93 In Your Unknown Brother, Weiss works with strong visual metaphors to express the protagonist’s alienation, his growing sense of fear and despair as he realizes there is no longer anyone whom he can trust. The emphasis on visual images, combined with the fact that the events are seen entirely from the hero’s perspective, transforms the film into a study of the mental and emotional breakdown of any outcast under any dictatorial system. The abstract nature of its presentation contributed to making the film susceptible to official criticism.
We find the same reliance on visual imagery in Weiss’ subsequent work, Olle Henry, a portrayal of the emotional and economic sell-out of the “hour zero.” The wasteland (Trümmerlandschaft) of Germany figures as the true protagonist, dominating the characters’ pitiable attempts to create new lives for themselves. Realism and expressionism coincide here, in that the starkest visual images of burned-out cities and human beings are reality itself. Henry Wolters, formerly called Olle Henry, and Xenia, the woman who attaches herself to him, are so damaged by their experiences during the war that neither Xenia’s affection for Henry, nor the glimpses of possibilities for them to build an existence together have the power to carry them through this time. All their efforts concentrate on survival, and prevent them from examining their previous beliefs and attitudes, which have since become obsolete. Xenia, especially, hangs on to her fantasy of reversing the division of human beings into winners and losers by becoming a winner for once. Projecting her wish onto Henry (who was a boxer before the war and wishes to return to his profession) Xenia tries to make a “killer” out of him by preparing him for his first big fight. She provides him with good food and lavishes him with attention, but the bitter end shows Henry as a beaten man whose last fight has left him in a stupor from which he is not likely to recover.
In 1983, the year that saw the release of Held for Questioning and Olle Henry, a third film on the Third Reich came out: Fariaho (the word is the refrain in a song about the joys of gypsy life) by Roland Gräf. This film gives the spectator a very subjective view of history—one so idiosyncratic, in fact, that many reviewers claimed they could not make much sense of it.94 Indeed, the story is nearly as exotic a story as any in GDR film. It is the story of former concentration camp victim, Sebastian Fussberg, who tours the GDR in a decrepit old van, and tries to offer his hopelessly old-fashioned puppet shows to an uninterested audience. The film starts when Fussberg picks up the grandson of a friend who was in Buchenwald with him and died there, promising him a free life on the road and many adventures. To the youth’s disappointment, this life turns out to be strenuous and unexciting, except for his new acquaintance with a young woman who decides to travel with them. In the end we see Fussberg alone once again, as he drives into the devastatingly monotonous and sterile landscape of a new settlement.
The film connects several important interrelated issues, that prove to be difficult to discover. Thus Günter Sobe acknowledges that Gräf’s film is about a particular view of the artist as a gypsy—an eccentric individual at the periphery of life—but he cannot understand why the director added the political dimension of Fussberg’s holocaust past.95 Fussberg’s insistence on symbolic art, however, is deeply connected with his emphasis on the ineradicability of the past; it is not just an obsession with his time in Buchenwald where he used to entertain the other inmates with more success than nowadays. He believes that realism, as he hears it promoted at a conference he attends, not only gives a one-sided view of reality, but also constitutes a kind of betrayal; the same kind of betrayal if he were to make a late profit from his past in Buchenwald, accept the pension he is entitled to, and make a comfortable life for himself. This is what a high official, who has also spent time in a concentration camp, suggests to Fussberg, provoking only his angry insistence that “nothing could be done about it” (i.e., the past). Gräf’s film is thus a plea for artistic and emotional structure, for the symbolic versus the realist mode of thinking. His own very complex and difficult work, to which a brief analysis like this cannot do justice, is itself an example of the kind of art that would neither lose itself in social irrelevance, like Fussberg’s, nor compromise itself by submitting to the “Bitterfeld option” so sarcastically treated in the film.
RECENT FILMS: TESTING THE BORDERS
The most recent productions of DEFA films do not offer a clear picture. There are no major trends, no favorite topics, no films that have gained the popularity of those of earlier periods. Contrary to some of the official GDR press, however, which seems to me to be inappropriately harsh in its criticism of the “small” and idiosyncratic film, I would like to argue that already-existing trends are emphasized, which leads to a degree of experimentation and variation that pushes the boundaries of the respective genres. Thus, the individualism and romanticizing attitude of some films are taken to the extreme, while staying within a very personal realm, which confirms Gaus’s speculation about the development of the GDR towards a Nischengesellschaft. The more realist films focus on this increasingly smaller details of reality until the perspective dissolves and the picture seems strangely unreal, or unexpected. This is the case with films related to, but not necessarily in the mainstream of, the comic genre. In the last part of this analysis, I examine three groups of films that embody these subtle trends of the eighties.
Comedy has always been a stepchild of GDR film. Apart from Frank Beyer’s Carbide and Sorrel (Karbid und Sauerampfer, 1963) and Günter Reisch’s Anton the Magician (Anton der Zauberer, 1978), few films have been released that go beyond the unimaginative confrontation of clichés and the resulting cheap slapstick effect. With the so-called small forms, unpopular with the press and the general public alike, a new kind of film has evolved that is related to comedy, but often has either a devious, an enigmatic, or a very bitter edge to it, so that one has a hard time classifying it at all.
Anton the Magician is still a classical comedy, firmly grounded in GDR reality, and on the whole, on good terms with it. Reisch shows the development of the likeable but slightly corrupt auto mechanic, Anton Grupske, “from the I to the we.” Though the narrator displays a moral tendency in his commentary, didacticism is pleasantly counteracted by the vitality of the story, by Anton’s earthy character and his charming unscrupulousness. Audiences did in fact recognize him as “one of us,” and responded affectionately to this portrait of a real, down-to-earth person, and to his development at a time of social change which many remembered from their own experience.96 The story of the auto mechanic, to whom the renunciation of his very successful private business comes hard, was one of the films that did not make the audience feel cheated. While so many films of socialist persuasion claimed to present the GDR citizen and hero, but really offered an idealized type, Reisch’s film introduces a character whose very weakness for women, cars, and the good life, offers qualities with which to identify. What adds to the complexity and the quality of the film is the slightly ambiguous attitude of the narrator when it comes to evaluating the true nature and the extent of Anton’s “conversion.” The comments about his moral improvement are all tongue-in-cheek, and in the end the narrator fictionalizes the story by toasting everybody—“even those who believe that Anton has really died!” Since Anton’s death was connected to his conversion, to “superhuman goodness,” as the legend of the evil knight has it—another parallel to Anton’s life, we may venture that his conversion is mere fiction, too.
Music and voice are effectively used in Anton the Magician, not just to emphasize certain moods, but also to place them in relative relationships vis-à-vis each other. A variety of different types of music—rock, opera (Wagner!), songs, dance—sometimes exaggerate the atmosphere of a given moment, as when the hero and his “business friends” ride up the mountain on horseback to the monumental and voluptuous music of Wagner, so that a comic willfulness becomes apparent. The contradiction between the soft, gentle voice of the narrator, his euphemistic description of what Anton is doing, and the visual correction of the image, further helps to create a comic contrast. It also seems to suggest a secret conspiracy between narrator and protagonist, as does the title, which refers to the latter’s illegal activities not as crime, but as “magic.”
Anton is still a hero, even in the strict sense of GDR cultural politics, which require the hero to be a positive character who takes an active part in the social processes of the present. This ceases to be the case for the central figures of those films in the eighties that received criticism for their small or highly specialized subjects and situations. Roland Gräf’s Research in the March (Märkische Forschungen), which appeared only one year before Fariaho and resembles the later film in its complexity and high artistic demand, certainly belongs in this category. The story, an adaptation of Günter de Bruyn’s novel and very close to the original, especially in the extremely witty, eloquent and well-delivered dialogue, revolves around a famous professor, expert on the poet and political writer Max von Schwedenow, and his friend-turned-enemy, the village teacher and Schwedenow-enthusiast Ernst Pötsch. During the time of their cooperation following their accidental acquaintance on the occasion of Professor Menzel’s trip to the country, Pötsch slowly and painfully, very much against his own desire to see the professor as an extraordinarily wise man, realizes that the latter will sacrifice the truth to the success of his book on Schwedenow. Menzel does not care to hear, let alone admit for publication, what Pötsch has discovered about the supposed revolutionary Schwedenow; that, after a rebellious phase, he turned conservative and actually worked as a censor employed by the king. The fight between Pötsch and Menzel turns into one of truth against greed, but the portrait of the two characters does not fall into a black and white representation. For all his commitment to truth, Pötsch seems too wrapped up in himself—like Fussberg, another obsessed man—to attract the affection of the viewer, while the professor, with all his egotism which he would be the first to admit, is shown as a likeable man.
The press agreed on the high artistic niveau of the film, while pointing out that it would fail to attract a large audience, but was divided over generic questions; the film seemed too bitter to be a comedy—the end does in fact have a desperate touch, and it did not qualify as a “tragic comedy,” since tragedy, as one reviewer stated, requires a fall from greatness which he was unable to detect.97 The discussions about the film’s genre reflect the uneasiness of the press vis-à-vis new paths in art, and also the inability to deal with works that move away from the traditional aesthetics.
This applies even more to Karl-Heinz Heymann’s second film, Unnatural Father (Rabenvater, 1985). It is a study of divorce and its effects on the relationships between parents and children—and yet it is not that at all. The story, about a man who renews contact with his son after a two-year absence from his family, leads to an exploration of interpersonal relationships that leaves traditional “studies” of divorced families far behind, especially from the “problem film’ supported by GDR cultural politics.98 The negative response to perhaps one of the best films in GDR cinema during the last ten years may be attributed to the fact that it does not provide the same basis for discussion as the controversial films of the late seventies and early eighties. In an interview, Heymann emphasized that it was not his intention to make a film in which one could assign the labels of right and wrong to the different parties.99 The balanced view of all the characters has caused critics to complain about their lack of emotion, the fact that they never lose their composure, and that they carry on conversation as if completely governed by reason all of the time.100 By searching for conflict in Heymann’s films, critics have failed to realize that his work follows a totally different course.
The film plays with the spectator’s expectations. Every situation, which at the outset resembles those of other “problem films,” takes a new and completely unexpected turn. The agonies of divorce do play their rightful role, but Heymann goes beyond the usual situations of shared custody, the overworked mother, and so forth, by showing how people arrive at places they never thought they would. This can be taken literally. When Jonathan finds out that his son has left for camp, he follows the bus and, with the victim’s active cooperation, kidnaps the child. Totally unprepared for the trip, they spend an improvised vacation together; their motorcycle gets stolen, they begin to look like tramps, they live on dried cookies—but they get closer to each other in a surprising and touching way. What started out as a socially critical film turns into a GDR variation of the road movie—destination uncertain and really irrelevant.101
Unnatural Father is a particularly good example of a cinematic style typical of the GDR. Like many other films (even the less convincing ones) Unnatural Father surprises the viewer with the great care and gentleness in individual character study and the development of interpersonal relationships. The camera approaches the characters with a curiosity that is at the same time attentive, inquisitive, and respectful of their personal aura.102 On the story level, a corresponding gentleness of basic attitude expresses itself through characters that usually deal with each other in an accepting and respectful manner, even if they happen to be in conflict with each other. The cases where communication breaks down completely, as in Zschoche’s Island of the Swans and Frank Beyer’s Ram’s Horn (Bockshorn, 1984), are the exception. The admirable humaneness which the films embody and, at the same time, suggest as a way of dealing with other people, constitutes a distinguishing feature of GDR film which remains—undeservedly and inexplicably—unnoticed in its country of origin.
Women’s Issues Revised
While women’s striving for the realization of their dreams continues to play a prevalent role in GDR cinema, none of the latest films on this subject manage to project the momentum, the sharpness, and aggressiveness of earlier works. Warneke’s A Strange Sort of Love (Eine sonderbare Liebe, 1984) and Gunther Scholz’s Grown Up as of Today (Ab heute erwachsen, 1985) have not contributed anything new to the picture and even fall behind what had already been achieved.
The year 1986 saw the release of two stronger, but highly problematic explorations of this favorite subject. Both Heiner Carow (who had not made a film in seven years) with So Many Dreams (So viele Träume), and Siegfried Kühn in The Dream of the Elk (Der Traum vom Elch) clearly assume the paradigms established by the older films. The women are the guardians of unrest whose dissatisfaction with their lives and social relationships leads them to question themselves and others.
But there are also differences, a stronger emphasis on some elements and a decrease of importance in others. Hope, the great stimulus for the earlier heroine (combined with the self-assurance of knowing that one’s claims are legitimate), has lost its forcefulness. At least this applies to the hope for realizing their wishes in society—something that deeply connected the heroines of the late seventies and early eighties with the basic philosophy of socialism. What has moved into its place?
As the titles of the two films suggest, dreams play an important part in their stories; they move into the empty space created by the loss, or partial loss, of hope for the creation of a society in which the individual could completely express himself/herself. In Kühn’s film, we encounter Anna, a competent, reliable anaesthetic nurse in her late twenties, and a group of her friends drifting through life. Anna is in love with a man whom, for his fierce love of freedom, she calls the elk, and whom she sees only once a year when he appears out of nowhere to spend a few blissful days with her. She spends the rest of her time working, confiding in her friend Anette, and dreaming about the absent Markus.103 This is something the earlier heroines would not have done. They were geared towards real life, like the outsiders they embodied. They looked for experiences in the social world, even if at the outskirts of society; and if they nurtured dreams, it was to transform them into reality as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Anna’s substitute for a day-to-day relationship, on the other hand, seems to have turned into an end in itself. During her long times alone, she recites to herself, over and over again, the romantic poetry she shared with her lover. She writes letters to him which, instead of mailing, she collects in her closet; and she has no real hope of changing this situation. The alarming commentary on Anna’s story is that the subplot of her friend Anette’s painful but daily relationship with the egotistical and eccentric painter Ludwig, a story that could function as an alterna tive to or a corrective of Anna’s unhappy attachment, ends fatally. Anette kills herself and thus destroys—within the context of this film—the only viable alternative to Anna’s life. Anna’s dreams still prove to be healthier than the one other relationship we see in the film, which is grounded in “reality.” This does not speak well for the reality portrayed.104
As far as outrageous situations and relationships are concerned, So Many Dreams can hardly be surpassed. Christiane Klüver, who has just received distinction for her long and faithful work as the head midwife of a big hospital, meets her daughter, whom she had abandoned as a small child some twenty years previously, on the train back home. Unaware of who the young woman is, and elated and somewhat confused by the events of the day, she takes her home, where the young woman meets Christiane’s boyfriend who is of the daughter’s age and very much affected by her presence. The film culminates in the two women’s self-revelations to each other, to a number of stupefied witnesses, and to the spectator who can hardly believe what these two have gone through. As it turns out, Christiane has an abusive marriage behind her, while her daughter, whose traumatic childhood development put her on the wrong track, has been through a sentence at the juvenile delinquent home and a marriage with a man of homosexual inclinations—a first in GDR film.
The emotional chaos resulting from these shattering confessions was more than many spectators could handle. East and West German critics agreed, for once, in their observation that Carow had “crammed all the conflicts which the DEFA usually likes to avoid into this one film,” and that he must have conceived of it as a “kind of anti-film to the many DEFA productions” whose overriding characteristic is moderation in all respects.105
What is also new and interesting about Carow’s most recent film is its use of dreams. It begins with a series of images that belong to Christiane’s daydream on the train, fusing faces and events from the past with those of the present. At this time, the spectator has no way of understanding these images in the context of her life, and some of them do not “translate” easily even later, when they recur and reveal their connection with certain parts of the heroine’s past. While they still function within the narrative as “real” dreams, they also begin to dissolve the realistic texture of the plot from the inside. With this film, Carow is closer to his 1973 Legend of Paul and Paula than to the other films he made in between.106
Still, even this film does not entirely leave the aesthetics of socialist realism behind. Accordingly, the two main women characters are grounded in the context of their historical situation, which lends to the film a curious double perspective and to the women a split existence. In spite of the importance of their dreams, both of them occupy very responsible positions. They work in the health profession, they are extremely reliable and competent, and they enjoy the respect and the affection of their coworkers, more so, in fact, than the earlier heroines. This split between day and night existence, between social reality and the dream that has become totally separate, is itself a romantic concept.
Does this suggest a move away from the “great subjects?” Not necessarily. In an interview about his latest film, Carow places Christiane Klüver in the tradition of great women in the GDR and expands:
Her biography is at the same time a piece of history of our country; she started, like many others of her generation, to help create a different, a better world and has, in the process, lived a life full of contradictions, conflicts and hardship, and she has also become guilty. It is this question of her guilt that interests me.107
If one takes the analogy between Christiane Klüver and the GDR seriously, and if one imagines the woman as representing the country, the assumption of Christine’s split existence acquires a new level of meaning. What has become, Carow asks, of the dreams, the initial enthusiasm, the innocence of the state that was supposed to be the better of the two Germanies? How much have we suppressed that emerges again in our dreams-turned-nightmares, and in which forms will the denied fears and desires eventually surface?
Private Films, Cultural Visions
That these questions can only be asked indirectly may account for the curious confusion in these films, their emotional hysteria, and thematic over-determination.108 It also alerts the spectator to suspect similar political implications in other seemingly “private” films. Thus sensitized to a subtle system of underground communication, the viewer in fact discovers fragments of cultural and political self-portraits of the GDR in works of art which at first glance do not appear to embody any self-reflection at all. In the following three films, the new system of oppositions so characteristic of the women’s film is at work again, this time, however, transposed from its application to different groups within society to different cultures. In this value system, the GDR is associated with the less desirable side, another good reason for the film directors to make their point as subtly, yet with the retreat into the surface story as open, as possible.
Zschoche’s The Middle of Life (Hälfte des Lebens, 1985) traces the life of the German romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin, who spent the second part of his life in an insane asylum and was, until recently, one of the outcasts of GDR literary history. His academic resurrection is connected with the recent acceptance of the romantics into the canon of the traditional heritage, so that the choice of subject matter was no longer a problem. The main complaint about the film was that it concentrated too heavily on the unhappy love between Hölderlin and Susette Gontard, and omitted the whole political context and the fact that “Hölderlin was undone by reality in general—the absence of the desired social progress, the failure of the revolutionary movements in his native land, daily life with its oppressive conditions. . . .”109 Zschoche has confirmed the mainly romantic reading by saying that the love story was the element he wanted to emphasize.
But the general rule, that historical films function as an indirect commentary on the present, also applies to this film. The de-emphasis of the specific political situation only highlights the basic roots of Hölderlin’s malaise; the discrepancy between reality and his personal poetic and philosophical ideal, and the national character of the Germans. In a revised binary system of oppositions, we see the ideal, the dream, played out against reality, a synthesis of feeling and thought against reductionist reason, the sphere of art against the sphere of politics. Hölderlin’s idealist vision of the world demands the transcendence of such oppositions, and the freedom of the artists—claims that Zschoche had reason to express with poetic or even sentimental vagueness.
In Hölderlin’s world view, the Germans are a people whose high standard of civilization has done nothing to improve its deep barbarism; so much so that in his novel Hyperion (whose protagonist has autobiographic features) the author makes the hero a young Greek; the outsider has now literally become a foreigner, someone who looks at society from the point of view of the “observer and critic” which Honecker had no use for in late twentieth-century GDR. In the film, we see and hear Hölderlin recite to his lover precisely a merciless condemnation of the German character.110
In his latest film, Blond Tango (Blonder Tango, 1986), Lothar Warneke makes the comparison between two cultures explicit. The plot describes the difficulties of a Chilean refugee with his new chosen fatherland, the GDR, which has become a home for him, but one so hard to love that on one cold day he sits down at the snowy beach of the Baltic in order to stare into the ocean and literally freezes to death. What better image can there be of the coldness of his new home, especially when compared to the close-knit community of which he was a part? Again, we witness the discussion of GDR culture by an outsider who associates the northern country with coldness, order, obsession with work and efficiency, and his native community with warmth of interpersonal relationships, imagination, and the pleasure-oriented life of the south.111 The frame of the story—the fact that on the larger political level the GDR came to Rogelio’s rescue—may have made it possible to bring up such unpleasant observations about the social climate in the GDR. What is particularly interesting about this portrayal is that the characterization of the East Germans rests on stereotypes that were applied to the Germans centuries ago, like Hölderlin’s of the early nineteenth century. This makes it particularly hard to understand why none of the criticism challenges Warneke’s outrageous assumption that the German national character of the nineteenth century basically has not changed in the “new Germany.”
The same abstention of the press from discussing such implicit statements on contemporary GDR society applies to the film on Hölderlin, and also to Frank Beyer’s latest work, Bockshorn. The latter is the filmic adaptation of West German writer Christoph Meckel’s fairy tale-like story about two youngsters’ Odyssey in an (unspecified) capitalistic country; a road movie with a fatal ending. The two boys meet the mysterious and evil Mr. Landolfi who tells Sauly, the younger of the two, that he has sold his guardian angel. While the older Mick manages to shrug off Landolfi’s words as nonsense, Sauly begins to believe in them, falls ill, and finally dies after a fight with Landolfi, whom they have tracked down right before reaching the ocean, the destination of their trip. The film ends with the image of the weekend house, where Mick has taken his dead friend, going up in flames.
The film has confused critics and audiences alike. Since the beginning scenes were shot in the Bronx, the viewers assumed that Beyer was giving a picture of the United States, which, as he emphasizes, was not his intention.112 As a portrait of the United States, the film was rejected, since it should be, as one critic said, up to the Americans to analyze their own culture.113 But if the film is not a portrayal of any one capitalistic country and its neglect of and cruelty towards its youth, what is Beyer trying to say? While many have assumed that the film forms a universal parable, and that its story could also unfold in the GDR, it meets with violent resistance in the official criticism. All the negative attitudes of a world of grownups hostile to the needs and the dreams of children and adolescents—once again, the guardians of creativity and imagination—would apply to contemporary GDR society if Beyer had intended his film to be politically unspecific. The image he conjures up is too dark. In contrast to the other very critical films, this one has no corrective, no positive pole against which the bad can be pitted, and from which redemption can be expected—except for the moving friendship between the two boys, which dies with Sauly’s death. The one redeeming perspective of the film may lie in the possibility of the boys’ friendship and mutual support.
It is not surprising that the last films discussed here are only half successful and must live with the obscurities and ambiguities that are the preconditions of their existence. I would argue, though, that they count among the most interesting ones, because they represent an attempt to look at contemporary reality from a point “outside”—from precisely the distance that is still politically suspect, and at the same time, essential to artistic creation. Thus they contribute thetr share to redefining the role of the artist and the intellectual in the GDR; mediating between the productive demand for social participation and the need for artistic freedom. It is this kind of film from which we can expect the most interesting developments in the future.
1. For an overview of the relationship between politics and culture in the GDR, see Manfred Jäger, Kultur und Politik in der DDR. (Köln: Wissenschaft und Politik, 1982); Hans-Jürgen Schmitt, ed., Die Literatur der DDR, in the series: Hansers Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur, Band 11 (München: dtv, 1983); Dietrich Staritz, Geschichte der DDR 1949-1985 (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1985).
2. Sonntag, 11/1980; as quoted in Jäger, p. 179. (All translations are mine.)
3. For an evaluation of the radically different starting points of the two German cinemas, see Jean Roy and Jacques Petat, “Les Cinémas des Deux Alle-magnes,” in Cinéma 249, 1979; pp. 13-47.
4. Reader responses in papers like Sonntag, Wochenpost etc. show that films indeed serve the purpose of initiating discussions on relevant issues. Compare also Christiane Lemke’s article “New Issues in the Politics of the German Democratic Republic: A Question of Political Culture?” in The Journal of Communist Studies, Vol. 2, Number 4, December 1986, p. 344.
5. The main periods of short-lived thaws were after the workers’ uprising in 1953, after the building of the wall in 1961, and at the beginning of the Honecker era.
6. As quoted in Wolfgang Emmerich, Kleine Literaturgeschichte der DDR (Darmstadt, Neuwied: Luchterhand Verlag, 19853), p. 178. Already in 1972, however, Honecker qualified his earlier promises on the freedom of art: “If we decidedly speak for the breadth and variety of all the possibilities of socialist realism, . . . this excludes any concession to bourgeois ideologies and imperialist concepts of art.” In Jäger, p. 136.
7. Maetzig’s The Rabbit Is Me (Das Kaninchen bin ich, 1965) and Beyer’s Trace of the Stones (Spur der Steine, 1966) were among the most criticized films, but a large part of the DEFA production of the year 1965/66 was destroyed or taken to the archives.
8. As scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, who had worked together with Gerhard Klein on Berlin Around the Corner (Berlin um die Ecke, 1965)—another film never shown—said years later, the break of confidence between him and the cultural bureaucracy had paralyzed him for years and made him question the notion that the artist shared power and responsibilities with the politicians of his country. See: Manfred Jäger, Kultur und Politik in der DDR (Köln: Wissenschaft und Politik, 1982), p. 122.
9. Biermann had grown up in Hamburg, West Germany, and had moved to the GDR in 1953 to help build up socialism. His problems with the SED had started in 1962.
10. For a good overview of the GDR version of socialist realism, see Emmerich, pp. 77-82.
11. Compare Hans Drawe, “Literatur in Film,” in Hans-Jürgen Schmitt, ed., Hansers Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur (München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1983), p. 220.
12. For example, see Horst Knietzsch in “Helden gesucht! DEFA-Spielfilme der Jahre 1983/84,” in Prisma, vol. 16 (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1985); also various publications of discussions on aesthetic questions published by the “Verband der Film—und Fernsehschaffenden,” such as: Die jungen Helden (The Young Heroes, Berlin, 1986) and 1st der positive Held in unseren Filmen in Verruf geraten? (Does the Positive Hero Have a Bad Reputation in Our Films?, Berlin, 1985).
13. Emmerich, p. 79.
14. The concept of the work of art as organic, as a totality reflecting the inclusiveness of reality, as a “whole” whose parts were interrelated in a complex and necessary way—this conservative, traditional concept of art was designed to appeal to the non-proletarian groups in society, and to give the audience figures of identification who were industrious, responsible individuals willing to give their whole energy to the state (see Emmerich, p. 80). Understandably, the “positive hero” with his commitment to the common cause fits right into this program.
15. Jäger, p. 48ff.
16. Compare footnote 12.
17. Compare Jäger, pp. 135-58, especially p. 138.
18. While the writers of rock music, for example, used to come from an academic background, studied poetry, and produced highly demanding texts, the latest development shows a decrease in the quality of contemporary popular songs. (Gabi Stiller, in an unpublished interview 12 April 1987.)
19. For example Lothar Warneke’s The Incorrigible Barbara (Die unverbesserliche Barbara, 1976), a film that thematizes and advocates women’s emancipation, but it is such a model case, so soberly constructed, that it failed to engender the lively response which characterized the reception of the other women’s films which appeared only a few years later.
20. For biographical information on individual film directors, as well as interpretations of their works, see DEFA-Spielfilm-Regisseure und ihre Kritiker, ed. Rolf Richter, vols. 1 (1981) and 2 (1983) (Berlin: Henschelverlag); see also Heiko R. Blum, et al., Film in der DDR (München, Wien: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1977).
21. Many of Carow’s films, like Ikarus (1975), deal with the lives of very young people or even children. Asked whether it was his main goal to tell stories about the youth of his country, Carow replied that that was not the point, but rather “the high and ideal demands which young people generally have on life.” He goes on to characterize his hero Matthias, who represents Ikarus, as “suited to represent this high morality, which our society must expect from everyone.” See Heiner Carow, Filmkunst, die alle angeht, Aus Theorie und Praxis 3, 1983, p. 67.
22. Plenzdorf turned Die Neuen Leiden des jungen W. into a play, which was successfully performed all over the GDR, and later into an equally popular novel (1972). The book turned out to be unique and controversial at the time because it introduced the colloquial language of young people into literature, which immediately endeared it to the younger generation, and because of the spontaneity with which the youthful hero propagates his own view of the world, i.e., his society. Plenzdorf, author of numerous other film scripts, continues to dramatize the way of life of young people and receives as much enthusiastic response from them as he gets criticism from the authorities.
23. In an interview with Hartmut Albrecht, Carow describes the process of working on this film which, as he says, had not been planned to the last detail, but evolved as they were working on it. Carow admits that one of his basic considerations when making the film had been how one could attract more people into the movie theaters, and that during the filming process, the crew as well as the actors had been carried away by the charm and the creative potential of the story. Carow, Filmkunst, die alle angeht, Aus Theorie und Praxis 3, 1983, p. 21 f.
24. Eckhart Schmidt, in Christ und Welt, 22 March 1974. Also Siegfried Schober in the West German magazine Der Spiegel totally pulls the film to pieces (4 January 1974).
25. 3 March 1973.
26. The term is virtually untranslatable and means as much as the collective of all of those working with film and TV.
27. As quoted in Knietzsch, “Helden gesucht! DEFA-Spielfilme der Jahre 1983/84,” Prisma, vol. 16 (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1985).
28. Konrad Wolf’s film The Divided Sky (Der geteilte Himmel, 1963/64) is even more experimental in the way it joins together different levels of narration, just like Christa Wolf’s novel (1963) with the same title, on which it was based. But the film met with disapproval and was labeled manneristic and unintelligible; neither Wolf nor any other film director has tried, in later films, to take up and develop the formal techniques with which Wolf had experimented in this film.
29. Carow, Filmkunst, Aus Theorie und Praxis 3, 1983, p. 44.
30. “Heiner Carow; Leidenschaft und Charakter,” in Rolf Richter, ed., DEFA-Spielfilm-Regisseure und ihre Kritiker, Bd. 1 und 2 (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1981, 1983), p. 52.
31. Hans-Jörg Rother identified the “logic” of Paula’s death as the result of a dangerous “idyllic thinking.” Forum (Berlin), 1 April 1973.
32. Hans-Dieter Tok, in Leipziger Volkszeitung, 30 March 1973.
33. Berliner Zeitung, 10 September 1972.
34. Christa Wolf’s novel No Place on Earth (Kein Ort. Nirgends, 1979) and her scholarly work on the German romantics are among the most important and most influential examples of “Erbeaneignung.”
35. Rosemarie Rehahn in a review of Carow’s So Many Dreams (So viele Träume, 1986) in Wochenpost (Berlin), 10 October 1986.
36. About the reception of Until Death Do Us Part, Carow said that: “The most important thing about it was the almost relieved openness, the need to speak one’s mind, to communicate.” (Filmkunst, Aus Theorie und Praxis 3, 1983, p. 73). He understands the function of his story as a therapeutic one and claims that even though a film may have technical and conceptual problems, it can be a great success in terms of its potential to make people talk about issues they usually suppress.
37. The GDR is the most advanced country in the Eastern block in terms of actively supporting women’s emancipation by creating the social network necessary for a woman to combine family life with a professional career. See Gisela Helwig’s study Frau und Familie: Bundesrepublik Deutschland—DDR (Köln: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 19872), especially chapters 3 and 4. However, while the institutional foundation has been laid, attitudes and ways of thinking are much slower to change, and so the expectation that women contribute their share to the economic growth of the country by being part of the work force has led to double duty for them, the negative results of which are addressed, for example, in contemporary women’s literature and in film. Many of the heroines of the films I am discussing, such as the mother in Grown Up as of Today, and Nina Kern in The Disturbance are single mothers who struggle to make a living for their families and have time left for their children.
38. A compilation of articles under the title “ ‘Solo Sunny’—ein Film von Wolf und Kohlhaase,” appeared in the GDR’s esteemed literary journal Weimarer Beiträge 6, 1980, containing contributions by Lothar Bisky, Irene Dölling, Lutz Haucke, Artur Meier, Ingeborg Münz-Koenen, Hans Richter and Silvia Schlenstedt, pp. 90-110. The monthly journal on film and TV, Film und Fernsehen (FF),published an extensive review by Dieter Wolf (FF 6, 1980, pp. 3-7), followed by further discussions, often in the context of other DEFA films on women, such as Maja Turowskaja’s article, “Auf der Suche nach einer ‘freundlichen Welt,’ ” in FF 1, 1981, pp. 20-24, and Hans-Rainer Mihan’s contribution “Sabine, Sunny, Nina und der Zuschauer,” in FF 8, 1982, pp. 9-12.
39. Freiheit (Halle), 25 January 1980.
40. Barton Byg, “Konrad Wolf: From Anti-Fascism to Gegenwartsfilm,” in Studies in GDR Culture and Society, Selected Papers from the Tenth New Hampshire Symposium on the German Democratic Republic, ed. Margy Gerber et al. (New York: University of America Press, 1985), pp. 115-124; p. 115, p. 122.
41. Wochenpost (Berlin), 21 March 1980.
42. Wochenpost (Berlin), 25 April 1980.
43. Konrad Wolf embraced this quality of the film, saying it would bother him if it were not alarming. Wochenpost (Berlin), 25 April 1980.
44. Neue Zeit (Berlin), 19 January 1980.
45. Ingeborg Münz-Koenen in her contribution to “ ‘Solo Sunny’—ein Film von Wolf und Kohlhaase,” Weimarer Beiträge 6, 1980, p. 106. She concludes that “The protest against an equation of new building and socialist quality of life threatens to become a new cliche.”
46. This prompted Lutz Haucke, in his contribution to the discussion in Weimarer Beiträge 6, 1980, to reject the film on the basis of its negative evaluation of contemporary reality: “The present here becomes a negative post in the historical development (“ ‘Solo Sunny—ein Film von Wolf und Kolhaase,” p. 98). He also finds fault with what he calls the film’s undialectical perspective, resulting from the director’s and scriptwriter’s uncritical acceptance of Sunny, and the unquestioned assumption that society will not be able to give her what she needs. Haucke’s criticism, the most negative evaluation of the film I have seen, culminates in his observation that Wolf has fallen behind the constructive dialectical/historical approach of his earlier films in favor of a less complex and truthful moralizing one, p. 95ff.
47. Hans-Rainer Mihan, “Sabine, Sunny, Nina und der Zuschauer,” FF 8, 1982, p. 12.
48. “I see little risk, and lots of resignation,” said Margit Voss in her review of Iris Gusner’s Kaskade rückwärts (untranslatable, a backward somersault in horseback-riding), in FF 3, 1984, p. 12.
49. See Margit Voss’s review in FF 8, 1982, p. 14.
50. In Freiheit (Halle), 21 November 1978.
51. Heinz Kruschel, Gesucht wird die freundliche Welt (Halle-Saale Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 1976). The title of the book also seemed suited to characterize the totality of films dealing with women’s quest for a better, a “friendly world,” and inspired, for example, Maja Turowskaja’s article “Auf der Suche nach einer ‘freundlichen Welt,’ ” FF 1, 1981.
52. Heinz Kersten, “Solo Nina,” in Frankfurter Rundschau, 25 November 1981.
53. Sonntag, 11 October 1981.
54. The change also reflects a shift of interest: while the protagonist of Tine Schulze-Gerlach’s novel of the same title (1978) sympathizes with the outsider, the heroine of the film is the outsider. What intensifies the implicit social criticism is that the other tutor, the good socialist “Herr Müller,” is the epitome of the petty bourgeois who gives up on Nina when he feels that she cannot be sufficiently reformed according to his narrow moral principles.
55. Sonntag, 1 November 1981.
56. Frankfurter Rundschau, 25 November 1981.
57. Berliner Zeitung, 29 September 1981.
58. As quoted in Berliner Zeitung, 29 September 1981.
59. East Berlin film critic Regine Sylvester in an unpublished interview, 7 April 1987.
60. Fred Gehler in Sonntag, 7 March 1982.
62. Thüringische Landeszeitung (Weimar), 28 October 1982.
64. My following remarks on films about and for young people exclude children’s films, which have to answer completely different needs and for which totally different conditions of production exist. In fact, the DEFA is famous for its sensitive and ambitious films for its youngest audience, and many renowned film directors like Hermann Zschoche and Rolf Losansky have repeatedly made films of that genre.
65. See Emmerich, Kleine Literaturgeschichte der DDR (Darmstadt und Neuwied: Luchterhand Verlag, 19853), p. 195: “Again and again young people take over the function of making obvious, by articulating their individual needs, the gap between (their) claims and reality, and it turns out that the GDR cannot stand the unintentionally estranging glance of children and juveniles.”
66. Even Claus Dobberke’s film Drost (1985) about Lieutenant Colonel Drost who, after thirty-five years of service to the People’s Army, leaves to become mayor of a small town, and for whom this transition becomes an opportunity to think about his life, is, while not really satisfying in its analysis of Drost’s attitude towards the army, a better film than The Shark Feeder.
67. See the reader response in Junge Welt (Berlin), May 1983.
68. Junge Welt (Berlin), 4 May 1983.
69. In Island of the Swans, two systems of reference are at work: on the one hand, there is the contrast between country and city, on the other hand, within the city of Berlin, that between “Altbau” and “Neubau,” between the old houses and parts of town (like Sunny’s Prenzlauer Berg) and the new settlements with their anonymity and uniformity (like Stefan’s Marzahn).
70. The original version of the script is printed in Plenzdorf’s compilation of a number of film scripts: Filme (Rostock: Hirnstorff Verlag, 1986).
71. It is common practice to have every film previewed by a number of committees who are responsible for accuracy and appropriateness of presentation; thus a film may “lose” a number of elements, even entire scenes, on its way from the cutting room to the viewer, based on the decisions of the respective committees.
72. Hans-Dieter Tok, in Leipziger Volkszeitung, 30 April 1983. Compare also Klaus Hannuschka’s criticism in Märkische Volksstimme, 25 May 1983, and the West German Wilhelm Roth’s commentary in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 20 May 1983; all the reviewers agree on the insufficient motivation of Windjacke’s meanness.
73. It would be interesting to know if GDR audiences can draw the conclusion from occasional unevenness and thematic gaps in a film that something—and possibly even what—has been cut out.
74. For political reasons, the director cannot be identified by name.
75. For Carow, for example, this definition of the hero is still tied up with the notion of participation in a larger social process. See 1st der positive Held in unseren Filmen in Verruf geraten? p. 18. This Verband der Film booklet (see note 12) will be referred to, from now on, as Positiver Held.
76. Prisma, Kino-und Fernseh-Almanach 16, ed. Horst Knietzsch, (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1985), p. 7.
77. Ibid., p. 11.
78. Ibid., p. 12.
79. As quoted in Jäger, Kultur und Politik in der DDR, p. 151.
80. In Positiver Held, p. 65.
82. Ibid., p. 66f.
83. Günter Gaus, Wo Deutschland liegt (München: dtv, 1986 2), pp. 115-169.
84. From an unpublished interview with Wolfgang Kohlhaase, 3 April 1987.
85. Ibid. In this interview, Kohlhaase also explained his early commitment to socialism as the combined effect of youthful enthusiasm and the rejection and abhorrence of Nazism. For further reference, see also “What Film Can and Cannot Do in Society,” an interview with Wolfgang Kohlhaase by Lenny Rubenstein and Shelley Frisch, in Cinéaste 13/4, 1984, pp. 34-35, 53.
86. Frank Beyer in an unpublished interview, 26 March 1987.
87. In Progress Pressebulletin Kino DDR 2, 1987, p. 11f.
88. In Susan Sontag, Under the Sign of Saturn (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980); pp. 73-105.
89. Horst Knietzsch rejects the film for its “small, subjective view of the world.” See “Helden gesucht! DEFA-Spielfilme der Jahre 1983/84,” Prisma Vol. 16 (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1985), p. 22.
90. Progress; Filmblatt DDR, 1982.
91. Sonntag, 2 January 1983.
92. It should be noted, however, that the film was initially withdrawn from the Berlin film festival upon the request of the Polish government.
93. As an introduction to his remarks on the positive hero, he said: “When I read about the topic, I had to laugh, because a discussion about it reminded me of the Middle Ages when the monks in the monastery wrote voluminous books about whether or not angels have wings or how one has to imagine the soul’s ascension into heaven. The concept of the positive hero never had a truly serious meaning for me. . .” Positiver Held, p. 54.
94. See Günter Sobe in Berliner Zeitung, 8 September 1983; Raymund Stolze in Junge Welt (Berlin), 3 September 1983; and Regine Sylvester in Tribüne (Berlin), 6 September 1983.
95. Berliner Zeitung, 8 September 1983.
96. See Hans-Dieter Tok’s summary of reader responses, and his commentary in Leipziger Volkszeitung, 6 October 1978.
97. Fred Gehler in Sonntag, 23 May 1982.
98. Roland Oehme, in My Wife Inge and My Wife (Mrs.) Schmidt (Meine Frau Inge und meine Frau Schmidt, 1985), by contrast, is an ironic social utopia that shows the gradual change from a nuclear family to a classical triangle to the dissolution of both in favor of a kind of extended family. In comparison with Heymann’s film it seems rather noncommittal, focused more on the sensational aspects of the story and its comic potential than on the subtle analysis of interpersonal relationships.
99. Progress; Pressebulletin Kino DDR 5, 1986, p. 8.
100. See Rosemarie Rehahn in Wochenpost (Berlin), 9 May 1986, Günter Sobe in Berliner Zeitung, 3 May 1986, Peter Claus in Junge Welt (Berlin), 6 May 1986, etc.
101. Trips and traveling are important ingredients in many GDR films, an expression at once of the difficulty and the desire to travel, and of a restlessness of mind that fits with the quest character of many films. Traveling also plays a crucial role in . . . and Next Year at Lake Balaton (. . . und nächstes Jahr am Balaton, 1980) by Hermann Zschoche, in Carow’s So Many Dreams, Kühn’s The Dream of the Elk, and many others.
102. The DEFA has an ensemble of excellent actors, many of whom hold a double engagement with the theater. Unfortunately, some very fine artists, such as Angelica Domröse and Hilmar Thate, have left the GDR following the scandal about Wolf Biermann.
103. Most of the films on women contain, as a structural and thematic element of extreme importance, the heroine’s friendship with another woman which offers the closeness and support the women can not seem to find with their male partners.
104. At one point in the film, Anna takes a lover, but that does not interfere with her dream life. It seems as though the two levels of experience, dream/love and reality, are totally separate. Only in the end does she appear to be ready to give up her dream of the “elk.”
105. Heinz Kersten, in Der Tagesspiegel (West Berlin), 23 November 1986, and Rosemarie Rehahn in Wochenpost (Berlin), 10 October 1986.
106. See Fred Gehler in Sonntag, 13 October 1986. However, Gehler argues that the attempt to reach a metaphorical level does not make this film a success.
107. In Das Volk (Erfurt), 21 August 1986.
108. These are the charges brought against the film by Fred Gehler in Sonntag, 13 October 1986, by Helmut Ullrich in Neue Zeit, 17 September 1986, and others.
109. Axel Geiss, in Thüringische Landeszeitung (Weimar), 23 May 1985.
110. In Hölderlin, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 3 (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag, 1957), p. 153. In the film, Hölderlin quotes the text literally.
111. There has been no response, on the part of the reviewers, about the stereotypes involved in this confrontation.
112. In an unpublished interview with Frank Beyer, 26 March 1987.
113. Horst Knietzsch, in Neues Deutschland, 16 April 1984.