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

 

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

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

 

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

 

A collaborative effort of nine ?lmmakers including Fassbinder,
Herzog, and Wenders went towards the creation of the New German Cinema. They
wanted to create smaller, more independent and artistic films to explore modern
Germany (Schlöndorff and von Trotta’s The
Lost Honor of Katherine Blum) and to tackle the Nazi past (Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and
Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum). One
particular film Deutschland im
Herbst/Germany in Autumn (1978), was a film that challenged Germans to remember
and deal with the connection between the Federal Republic and Nazi Germany. The
film was part of a backlash against the new Federal Republic of Germany. One of
the contributors, Fassbinder, brought all the elements together of
commemoration and tackling the past of Germany’s post-war history and his
assessment of the beginning of the Federal Republic. Elsaesser states that
Fassbinder had ‘an urge to document the nation’s life on the grand scale’ (Elsaesser,
1996) and his trilogy ‘BRD’ (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) provided a critical
view of the political status quo and a worrying sense of continuity.  The film recognized that the new Germany was still
deeply entangled in its fascist past. Fassbinder used
the film The Marriage of Maria Braun
(1978) to symbolically
represent the problems of the early years of the Federal Republic.  The film tells a story
about a woman picking herself up from the lows of her life and putting aside
her morality in her attempt to survive the dif?cult post-war years and achieve material
wealth.

Fassbinder uses the
film as a symbolic attack on Germany’s desperation to forget its past and
ridicules the revitalization economic programme during
the 1950s. The film depicts an abusive and emotionally empty world of materialism.  The film
is a human metaphor, she fails to look
to German culture to support its renewal but in the search for success, she becomes
someone else. It is as though these German ?lmmakers felt that Germany had sold
its soul with overzealous ‘Americanisation’. The discussion
of the post-war reconstruction and the long-term effect of America’s involvement in Germany, and the tackling
of its Nazi past through a metaphor was to become a familiar theme
in German film.

 

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

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