Germany Cinematography – The Rise and Fall of Auteur Cinema (1962-1989)

At the beginning of the Sixties, the signs of a profound crisis in the film industry multiplied in the BRD due to the effect of television competition and at the same time the gradual disaffection of the public from fashion genres. This was accompanied by an increasingly pronounced decline in the average quality of commercial cinema, which sought new strands to exploit: the ‘krauti-western’ – a short cycle of films based on the volumes of the ‘German Salgari’, K. May, which was direct antecedent of the much more significant ‘spaghetti-western’ – and then the yellow. However, despite some box-office successes, the economic meltdown was upon us and by the mid-1960s the German film industry would have entered a coma if to lengthen its duration. agony had not intervened the birth of soft-porn, on the one hand, due to the widening of the frontiers of morality, and on the other the framework law of 1967, which returned to reward cassette films. Thus, production, which dropped to the record negative figure of 56 films in 1965, quickly rose to 110 units in 1969, of which exactly half was now constituted by ‘sexy films’, previously ‘disguised’ as semidocumentaries of sexual education such as Helga (1967) by Erich F. Bender, to quickly move on to increasingly explicit products.

Preceded by a month after the failure of the UFA, which the newcomers welcomed as if it were the divine sign of the closure of an era, the Oberhausen Manifesto of February 1962 marked the official date of birth of the Junger Deutscher Film that after a whole series of short films would have blossomed in the two-year period 1965-1967. However, the young cinema would have found itself a little unprepared to face the radicalism of the 1968 movement, which accompanied the formation of ‘militant cinema’ collectives and the birth of feminine-feminist cinema, a phenomenon that in the BRD would have assumed dimensions considerable. Forerunner was Neun Leben hat die Katze (1968) by the debutante Ula Stöckl from the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, while shortly before another woman, May Spils, had shot a funny generational comedy, Zur Sache, Schätzchen (1968), d ‘ environment and Munich slang, which seems to anticipate Doris Dörrie’s subsequent existential comedies. The student revolt, in addition to finding itself as an ‘aura’ of the times in numerous productions, had serious repercussions in the entertainment world: the Oberhausen Festival was in danger of jumping in 1968 after the successful provocation of the experimental director Hellmuth Costart who, in protest against the recently passed framework law on cinema, in the short film Besonders wertvoll, gives a penalty the quality classification with which state economic contributions were requested; the Berlin Film Festival in 1970 it was interrupted as a result of the withdrawal of the Americans from the competition, in protest against the film directed by Michael Verhoeven OK, strongly critical of the war in Vietnam. But beyond these facts, 1968 marked a decisive break in Junger Deutscher Film, leading to an overall rethinking that experienced – in its need to anchor itself to the public – one of the few genre operations in its history. The idea of ​​the so-called critical Heimatfilm started from that of Brechtian ‘re-functionalizing’ the main genre of the Adenauer era, to overturn its contents and ideologies, using the same provincial-peasant setting. The operation was part of the work of some Bavarian popular playwrights, M. Sperr, FX Kroetz or Fassbinder himself as theatrical author, who, in their turn, took up the social-critical tradition of the 1920s of the Volksteather of M. Fleisser or Ö. von Horvath. Among the best results of this subgenre, we could remember the famous (but also somewhat overrated) Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern (1969; Hunting scenes in Lower Bavaria, from M. Sperr) by Peter Fleischmann, or Der plötzliche Reichtum der armen Leute von Kombach (1971) by Volker Schlöndorff, as well as the Fassbinderians Katzelmacher (1969, from his play of the same name) and Wildwechsel (1972; Selvaggina di passo, unfaithful adaptation by FX Kroetz). Niklaus Schilling, too, but from a sympathetic point of view, would have addressed the atmosphere of Heimatfilm in his beautiful debut work Nachtschatten (1972).

A special case of Heimatkünstler is, however, the painter, writer and dialect poet Herbert Achternbusch, an author of difficult linguistic understanding outside of southern Germany Emulating the great Munich comedian Karl Valentin, Achternbusch moves in a surreal and clownish fairy tale, between a grand-guignol of paradoxes and the religious Moritat; from the privileged corner of the province and with anarchic radicalism, he launches a series of provocations towards his countrymen: black humor, paradoxes, puns distinguish a pamphletic opus of which he is an actor, producer and director. His cinematographic work, almost naive and amateur, has been formally improving over the years (but also losing its incisiveness): from the rough debut of Das Andechser Gefühl (1975),

At the end of the Sixties, Das andere Kino also came to maturity, the term used by the BRD to define ‘independent’, underground cinema, which arose from the second half of the Sixties in almost all of Europe under the influence of New American Cinema. Already at the Knokke Experimental Film Festival (Belgium), between the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968, the main representatives of this trend were active: Werner Nekes, Lutz Mommartz, Hellmuth Costard, Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, while from the same humus, in addition to Wim Wenders, came Werner Schroeter and Rosa von Praunheim, whose subsequent careers, while not forgetting the original avant-garde matrix, would soon take other paths, one in the direction of the operatic mélo, the other of a gay militant cinema, sometimes declined in the direction of a Grotesque expressionist. At the turn of the decade, Junger Deutscher Film, also due to the emergence of new talents, became Neuer Deutscher Film, inaugurating an extraordinary season of international success. From this moment up to the middle of the following decade, therefore, German cinema would have lived a double existence, which is characterized, negatively, by an accentuated decline of the industrial fabric, accelerated with the progressive extinction of soft-porn wave and the consequent halving of the production base (112 films in 1971, only 68 in 1989) and the box office. On the other hand, the stagnation of trade was countered by the authorial exploit of Neuer Deutscher Film, made possible thanks to an increasingly articulated and complex system of state subsidies, but penalized by a massive ‘Americanization’ of the business. This found a very partial and limited corrective in the emergence of an alternative circuit (municipal cinemas, arthouse cinemas, cineclubs, etc.) and in the activity of the americanization ‘of the exercise. This found a very partial and limited corrective in the emergence of an alternative circuit (municipal cinemas, arthouse cinemas, cineclubs, etc.) and in the activity of the americanization ‘of the exercise. This found a very partial and limited corrective in the emergence of an alternative circuit (municipal cinemas, arthouse cinemas, cineclubs, etc.) and in the activity of the Filmverlag der Autoren or similar small companies specializing in German quality products. Talking about the golden age of the seventies necessarily means following the poetics of directors such as RW Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, W. Schroeter, V Schlöndorff, Hans Jürgen Syberberg, Margarethe von Trotta, W. Wenders etc., each different and distant from the other, given that any other type of analysis – by genre or theme – is not suited to capturing the jagged galaxy of the Neuer Deutscher Film, where few common characteristics are found: a constant social or anthropological interest often connected to the analysis of German identity, the widespread use of the low-budget self-production formula (especially in the early seventies). Still, if ‘realistic’ styles and contents prevail, nevertheless the melodrama has been attended with a certain continuity by Autorenfilm: in addition to the names of Fassbinder or Schroeter, great innovators of the genre, among those who have practiced it, we must mention Robert van Ackeren and N. Schilling. Finally, it will be appropriate to remember the Helma Sanders-Brahms or in the fireworks of the bizarre fantasy of Ulrike Ottinger, one of the most visionary talents of Neuer Deutscher Film. Unlike Munich, which remained the industrial center of BRD cinema until unification, the films born in Berlin were characterized by a more marked ideological sign and the use of low cost. Thus, at the beginning of the seventies, some Arbeiterfilme began to be filmed in the divided metropolis, staging a social subject, the working class, which had been removed for decades. Strongly linked to the student movement and in an entirely ideological appeal to ‘proletarian cinema’ (see Neue Sachlichkeit) of the Weimar era, the so-called Berliner Schule, whose main representative was Christian Ziewer – from Liebe Mutter, mir geht es gut (1972) to Der aufrechte Gang (1976) -, translated the suggestions of militant European cinema into German. The experience was short-lived, unlike feminist or gay cinema, which began when R. von Praunheim, having concluded the underground experience, shot the manifesto film Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt (1971). For von Praunheim too, cinema is a weapon of struggle and his films represent a last attempt to make cinematographic reportage in that uncomfortable space between kitsch and sensationalism. Therefore he is always looking for taboo subjects (homosexuality, old age, death, AIDS etc.) or of eccentric and extravagant characters, in dealing with which the militant commitment and the documentary structure are at times supported by a strong theatrical vocation, a harsh taste for parody and a neo-expressionist style. To complete the picture, only a mention of the activity of Peter Lilienthal, a typical intellectual figure of a wandering Jew, who however resided for a long time in the German metropolis. After training on television, Lilienthal exhibited the ‘distracted’ narrative, the poetic montage, the melancholy undertones characteristic of his style in Malatesta (1970), an interesting portrait of the Italian anarchist played by Eddie Constantine. The theme of the relationship between the individual and violence – or violence as a political weapon – would return as a leitmotiv in Lilienthal’s cinema and in particular in the five films – from La victoria (1973) to Das Autogramm (1984) – dedicated to drama socio-political situation in Latin America (which the director knew well, having resided as a young exile in Montevideo). Although he is one of the most politicized filmmakers of the BRD, there is also a dreamy and lyrical streak in him, which emerges in David (Golden Bear at the 1979 Berlin Film Festival) or in Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982; played by a bravo Joe Pesci), perhaps the two best works of his filmography.One of the few moments of unity of the Neuer Deutscher Film was once again born of a political motive: the deterioration of the internal political climate of the BRD for the RAF terrorism emergency (Rote Armee Fraktion). Already denounced by V. Schlöndorff and M. von Trotta in Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1975; The Katharina Blum case, from the text by H. episodic film Deutschland im Herbst (1978; Germany in the autumn). It was the first of a series of collective products led by A. Kluge and at the same time one of the most effective on the phenomenon of terrorism, a theme also addressed by Messer im Kopf (1978; The knife in the head, interpreted by a Bruno Ganz more gigione and sympathetic than ever) and Stammheim (Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1986) both by Reinhard Hauff, and from Die bleierne Zeit (Years of Lead, Golden Lion at the 1981 Venice Film Festival) by M. von Trotta, up to the beginning of the 21st century: V. Schlöndorff returned to the topic of terrorism in Die Stille nach dem Schuss (2000; The silence after the shot) while, among others, a young filmmaker, Christian Petzold, with Die innere Sicherheit (2000) revisited the theme from the perspective of those who did not experience that era in person. for one of the usual economic issues (yet another sharp drop in the number of spectators). The magical atmosphere and the innovative power of the previous decade had suddenly disappeared, while the debuts of real interest were made rare. At the same time, after so many years of hibernation, a profound restructuring of the film industry, accompanied by the turning point of production of some authors of the Neuer Deutscher Film who have abandoned the low budget. The whole last phase of Fassbinderian cinema or the birth of some auteur blockbusters such as Die Blechtrommel (1979; Il tamburo di tatta) by Schlöndorff, Fitzcarraldo (1982) by Herzog or Der Zauberberg (1981; The mountain) are located under this sign. enchanted, from the novel by Th. Mann) directed by Hans W. Geissendörfer. But a commercial cinema worthy of the name also had to be rebuilt. The ‘pilot’ of this project was born in the Bavarian studios in Munich, a work that is anything but despicable, Das Boot (1981; U-boot 96) directed by Wolfgang Petersen, a director who later emigrated to Hollywood, and produced ‘American style’ by an intelligent Munich producer, Bernd Eichinger, the forefather of a new way of understanding industry. At the same time, Neuer Deutscher Film experienced an irreversible diaspora, favored by the liberal policy of the new government coalition. However, the tightening of economic aid to quality cinema found a partial counterbalance in the development of subsidies on a regional basis, in particular those of the two Länder with a social democratic majority, Hamburg and Nordrhein-Westfalen. Thus for a short time the Hanseatic city allowed the making of films, aesthetically and / or politically difficult, such as Stammheim by R. Hauff or Klassenverhältnisse (1984; Class relations), in co-production with France, by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, or significant debuts such as 40 qm Deutschland (1986; 40 m2 of Germany) by the German-Turkish Tevfik Başer, the forerunner of métissage cinema in Germany. The development of Autorenfilm has suffered a pause above all because the new generation have preferred to opt for genre films, in particular comedies and detective stories. The most interesting of the directors who emerged from this turning point was a woman, D. Dörrie who in her third feature film, Männer (1985; Men), triumphed at the box office, thanks also to the comic streak of an actor very close to her, Uwe Ochsenknecht. Far from the somewhat stale comedy of the rest of the German neocomedy, Dörrie has carried out a work of contamination, drawing from the so-called Bezieungsfilme or other genres to give life to a pleasant existential sophisticated comedy whose best results were: Happy Birthday, Türke (1991; Happy birthday, detective!), Keiner liebt mich (1995), another great success with the public, or more recently Erleuchtung garantiert (1999), a fun excursion into contemporary Japan. In the field of light entertainment but rich in intelligence, Percy Adlon, who achieved international success with the ‘mestizo’ comedy Out of Rosenheim (1987; Bagdad Café) thanks above all to the irrepressible physicality of Marianne Sägebrecht. After fifteen years spent in various experiments, not always lucky, Rudolf Thome made a decisive turning point in his career with the delightful and remotely Rohmerian Der Philosoph (1989; Three women, sex and Plato). It was followed up to Paradiso (2000) modern fairy tales of the same tenor, where starting from an autobiographical opening, but with mixed results, a wise search for love and a stress-free life in the new Berlin and in the beautiful countryside is described. of the surroundings.

Germany Cinematography - The Rise and Fall of Auteur Cinema (1962-1989)