Cinema in Democratizing Germany
Recruiting National Identity After Hitler
by Heide Fehrenbach, assistant professor of history. University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
In Wim Wenders' 1976 film "Kings of the Road" one of the two main characters -- a traveling repairman for movie projectors -- observes that the Americans have "colonized" the German unconscious. His observation succinctly captures what was and long remained something of an article of faith among avant-garde filmmakers and critics in postwar Germany. The metaphor of `colonizing' is well chosen; it effectively suggests the multifaceted nature of the problem to which Wenders' character draws attention: it is not just -- or even primarily -- one of economic sovereignty, but of cultural and political sovereignty as well.
Heide Fehrenbach's Cinema in Democratizing Germany merits particular attention for its balanced presentation of the many facets of the development of cinema and of democracy in the decade or so immediately following the end of World War II. Her study offers a differentiated picture not only of the relationship between German cinema and the occupational forces -- American and otherwise -- but also of the relationship many Germans believed existed between their cinema and their national identity.
The attitudes of Germans toward cinema in the postwar years were of course strongly influenced by their experience with film in the prewar years, and Fehrenbach begins her book with an overview of the development of German film up until 1945, focusing on political, economic and social dimensions of the German film industry -- and of German audiences -- during the first 50 years of the existence of moving pictures. Already during the First World War German military, political and economic leaders had become convinced that film was part of the battlefield in modern international relations and that if Germany was to remain sovereign over its own affairs it would have to maintain this sovereignty in cultural matters such as cinema as well. As a result, both the government and the military entered into the sphere of cinema -- sometimes independently, sometimes through cooperative ventures with big business -- to foster the production of German films that would serve their ends. Cultural leaders from various spheres, in particular from religious and educational ones, also fought for and won at least some influence over the production and display of films. Although the extent and type of such official involvement changed over the years, in one form or another it survived and even prospered on through to the end of World War II.
Against this background Fehrenbach convincingly shows why many Germans, in a state of material and moral collapse and faced with the need to rebuild their society politically, economically, socially, were certain that the film industry would have a significant impact on this rebuilding. Fehrenbach's exploration of the issue of cinema in these first years following "zero hour" shows it to be even more complex than Wenders' repairman suggested.
Fehrenbach's undertaking is an ambitious one: attempts to explore the connections between a nation and its cinema have a history of their own and have been frequent objects of attack in film criticism
and history, and such attacks have in general encouraged film historical studies into more narrowly focused areas. Fehrenbach's work is refreshing precisely in its willingness to engage a larger question, and the breadth of her approach in fact addresses some of the criticisms leveled at earlier "national" histories. In particular her book calls to mind the influential and controversial model for such studies, Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler, which attempted to explore `the German psyche' through a body of films made by filmmakers in German-speaking Europe.
From the outset Fehrenbach avoids the difficulties inherent in any work that postulates a `national psyche,' since her focus is not so much on what a group of films can tell us about `the' German psyche or even some German psyches, but rather on what Germans and officials of the occupation believed about film's influence on social, political and moral development, and how these beliefs influenced policy decisions regarding the rebuilding of the German film industry. Kracauer's thesis is also vulnerable in that the movies he chose to study were by and large "art" films that never enjoyed great popularity with German audiences; it is thus difficult to explain how they can be understood as reflections of the German soul. In contrast, Fehrenbach examines films that were indisputably successful with
a majority of German filmgoers -- though not with film critics -- and has also attempted to explore and document responses of filmgoers.
What emerges from the author's investigation of the early postwar years is a detailed and multifaceted view of the situation. There was no single force which clearly dominated. For all the Americans' efforts to see that the renewal of the German film industry followed the model of the American film industry, the other Allies took their own approaches and were often at odds with American officials over film policy in the Western zones. These disagreements among the Allies hindered the industry in the Western zones from reorganizing as quickly as it did in the Soviet zone. Furthermore, to accomplish their ends American officials did not simply sell Hollywood the rights to Germany but in fact actively opposed Hollywood's attempts to gain control of the fledgling German film market since they were convinced that an indigenous German film industry would help stabilize the young democracy. Native German leaders who had the confidence of occupation leaders also tried to lobby for modifications of the American plans in order to shape the film industry more along the lines of previous German film practices. Alongside these government efforts were also those of the churches, educators, and state and local governments interested in regaining local or regional control over cultural affairs, as had largely been the case prior to the National Socialist years. Fehrenbach's account of the negotiations and frictions among these various groups convincingly demonstrates that it was due to a combination of a number of factors and not simply to Hollywood's overwhelming might that the German film industry failed to adapt itself to the times and by the mid-'50s was so mired in its own attachment to the models of the past and so stifled by the demands of influential government and church figures that it could not compete on the international market.
To illustrate these issues in a more concrete manner, Fehrenbach turns to an analysis of a particularly controversial film from 1951, "The Sinner," a film in which a prostitute finds her way back into respectable life through her love for an artist who has fallen on hard times, briefly turning back to her former profession when he develops a brain tumor and needs expensive surgery. He recovers and goes on to become a very successful painter. After several happy years together his medical problems recur, this time incurably, and she helps him commit suicide and then does so herself as well. Fehrenbach presents the positions taken by political, church and educational leaders against the film, and through these attacks tries to determine what was at stake. The issues the author identifies center largely on gender roles and suggest that what critics were concerned about was the reconstruction of prewar gender roles and family structures. The war had made broken men of many German males, and the absence of these men during the war years had forced women to develop a high degree of independence. A return to normalcy meant a return to earlier gender roles. Despite the "sinner's" devotion to and self-sacrifice for her husband, her decisive action and her husband's dependency on her hardly represented a return to earlier gender roles.
In Fehrenbach's analysis of the attitudes of Germans toward a particular film and in her analysis of their attitudes toward cinema generally, the perspective of the audience, the actual filmgoers, was absent. Fehrenbach now turns her attention to this side of the issue, examining not only the movie-
going public's reaction to "The Sinner," but also their general film preferences during the decade after the war ended. One of the great strengths of this book is that it undertakes the difficult task of exploring the audience perspective -- difficult because it is not as easily documented as institutional responses and thus inevitably involves more detective work and a certain amount of speculation, as the author notes. This part of the book will likely be the most controversial as a result, but it also contains some of the most interesting material. Without such a perspective only half of the film equation would be represented.
Far from being a homogeneous passive mass, German filmgoers responded to the medium in a number of ways. In response to church and local government attempts to ban showings of "The Sinner," for example, many protested such actions as undemocratic and in some cases succeeded in forcing screenings of the film. Fehrenbach also points out that Germans did not initially prefer American films to German ones as is often assumed, but rather generally preferred the popular Heimat (Homeland) films to American productions. In the case of these Heimat films, Fehrenbach again goes beyond the commonplace dismissal of such films as sentimental productions without artistic or critical merit and looks at several of them in detail in an attempt to discover what it was audiences found so satisfying in these films. She concludes that here again it was the issue of gender roles that was at the center: here German men were rehabilitated and once more became strong figures, while German women resumed more traditional roles though still retaining some of the independence won through wartime experience.
It is easy to see why this specifically German genre found little resonance outside of Germany and just as little with the younger generation of Germans. In the final chapters Fehrenbach turns her attention to these younger moviegoers. As they grew tired of the provincialism they saw in their parents' -- "papa's" -- cinema, many of them turned to American film and consumer culture, others in this younger generation began exerting themselves -- through film clubs, film periodicals and film festivals -- to fight the commercialized American cinema and to work for films of greater artistic and political sophistication. The focus in these chapters is narrower than in the earlier ones and deals primarily with a small segment of German society, namely with groupings of film enthusiasts, critics and filmmakers. Against the background of earlier chapters, however, the discussion of the Oberhausen film festival and the beginnings of the Young German Cinema give a broad and thorough historical context for one of the most important eras in German cinema.
In addition to its value to those interested in German history or film, Cinema in Democratizing Germany will also be of value to those interested more generally in the role of cinema in society. When Germans and occupation officials set out to create anew an industry and institution that already had a 50-year history, it brought to the fore numerous assumptions, often otherwise unarticulated, concerning the nature of cinema and its relationship and society. Likewise American -- or French or British or Soviet -- attempts at shaping the German industry along the lines of their home film industries brought into the open their convictions about the relationship between cinema and society. When cinema is placed into a foreign environment even the aspects of cinema that are hardest to see -- because they are otherwise too close, too familiar to be seen -- temporarily appear in a sharper focus.
Associate Professor of German
Retire and Thrive
by Robert K. Otterbourg '51. Kiplinger Books, Washington, DC, 1995. $15.
Downsized? Handed a more or less golden parachute? Or just tired of the daily 9 to 5 commute and wondering "Is this all there is?" Whether you belong to one of these groups or are already retired, read Bob Otterbourg's new book Retire and Thrive. Read it for fun and for ideas. Whether you are a CEO or doctor, teacher or "assistant something" -- whether you are 50, 60, 70 or 35, you will enjoy the abundance of delightfully told stories of second and even third careers.
Similarly, you will add to your understanding of the changing workplace, its opportunities and its implications for those nearing retirement age. Bob Otterbourg's approach to the process of retiring is both positive and challenging.
Don't expect just one more of the "how to" retirement books. While there are lots of worthwhile suggestions, they are imbedded in story after story of men and women who have "been there." Nor is this book weighted down with detached financial advice. It's there, but only incidentally.
Otterbourg's book, in his own words, "is for those of you who want to catch a second wind but need ideas, reassurance and inspiration." His stories talk about how others have created new identities and new lives, developed new skills and discovered new interests. In this process, these men and women have found new purpose and continued to contribute significantly to those around them and their own well-being.
At the very least, Retire and Thrive will entertain its readers as it talks about how others have responded to changes in their work lives. More important, for those who have fallen victim to "the bottom line" and who have lost their bearings, Bob Otterbourg's message can give them new life and direction.
JOHN LEFEVRE '41
Books as beautiful as Timeless (published in Toyko by Shogakukan) by photographer Nakagawa Takashi and poet Arthur Binard '90 are rare. The product of a 16-year global journey, "Timeless" glows with both light and insight. Takashi's vision is haunting, his palette striking with colors that are at once vivid and muted.
Binard's accompanying poetry amplifies the images, draws the viewer into landscapes and reinforces the serene tone of the work.
Writes Binard of Takashi's photography teachers, "The first were Mayan ruins in Central America -- they encouraged him to start taking photos. Later he learned from sand, trees, rainbows, birds, horses and camels. The moon was a steady guide through 112 countries."
Timeless is much more than a travelogue. It is about patterns as much as places. Takashi feels contours and touches textures, coming away with riveting graphics and designs of the natural world. His photographs are warm and elemental -- indeed timeless. "I travel less to take photos than to bring to light what waits obscure within me," writes Binard in a poem derived from conversations with Takashi.
Binard lives in Japan and writes in both Japanese and English. He has translated young artist Tomoe Yamaji's Spring Around My Shoulders and The Grilled Fish is his English rendering of a tale by Oguma Hideo.
For Timeless Binard has created 19 poems that dovetail with the images and speak of Takashi's travels with the photographer's voice. The final poem addresses the sense of light and feeling of life captured on the preceding pages:
"Sleeping out In sundry time zones One morning in Egypt I woke up to something Long known -- Dawn goes on All day, somewhere The same dawn always Moving like the hand Of a clock As old as earth Which means, I think Every second is A first beginning Each familiar dawn Fresh Timeless" JDH
Waiting for God
University Chaplain Nancy De Vries shares images of the Advent in her 1995 meditation guide, Waiting for God. Through daily meditations with scripture and contemporary literature and lively arts, readers will find time and space to listen and watch for God's presence in their lives. Several of the pieces include images of Colgate or the work of Colgate students. Copies are available from the Office of the Chaplains for $1.50.