Inthe years following the Second World War, understandably, inquisitive questionsconcerning Germany’s recent past were mostly ignored.
Public visions of their nationalpast were largely overshadowed by the fascist regime, the violence andresulting surrender. In the post-war years Germany struggled to come to termswith their country’s destruction but the culture and politics of the late 1950sand early 1960s were to confront this order. Cinema was to play its part in theresponse 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 bearresponsibility for the sorry state of post-war German ?lm culture, itsundeniable local and limited character’ (Rentschler, ‘Germany: Nazism andafter, p.381). At the end of war thewestern Allies had boosted their effort to re-educate and ‘denazify’ the Germanpeople.
American films were employed asan effective way of delivering ideas of democracy, freedom and capitalistenterprise. This programme led toAmerican producers having a stranglehold the German ?lm industry. The earliest home-grown post-war productions inGermany were termed Trümmerfilm (‘rubble film’).
These films primarily reflectedlife in the desolated Germany, with it’s both difficult and critical subjectmatter. The films delivered an initialreaction to the events of the Nazi period to the extent of displaying documentaryfootage from liberated concentration camps. Wolfgang Staudte’s Die Mördersind unter uns (The MurderersAre Among Us) (1946) was the ?rst post-war German ?lm to address theimmediate past, presenting the sense of the social dislocation in the repercussionof war, calls for justice and uncertainty about the present. Yet, by the 1950s this attempt to tackleGermany’s recent history was disappearing and the role of film moved toentertainment.
The genre of the period thatwas most defining was accurately summarized by Heimatfilm (‘homelandfilm’), which depicted morally basic, romantic clichéd tales of love and familyset tranquil rural locations. The films presentedan escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life and dodged the recent history ofwar or existing concerns about post-war reconstruction. In 1962 against this background, a new generation of Germanfilmmakers signed the Oberhausen Manifesto openly declaring the desire to breakwith what was termed ‘papas kino’ topave the way a new film language in a subsidized, non-commercial ‘New GermanCinema’. For these young, innovative,and politically radical directors the sober standards of ‘old cinema’ outputwas tainted and a deliberate denial of the realities of contemporary Germanlife. Their intention was to produceindependent and artistically challenging political films that informed thepeople on modern-day issues; the materialism of post-war society, the moralityof the bourgeoisie, and the moral disaster of the Nazi legacy’ (Flinn,2004). For many the new films were arepresenting to the outside world that the country was attempting to come toterms with its past, and that the new Germany was different from the Nazistate. Most importantly, the directors showed contempt towards the philosophyof ‘artistry’ and ‘entertainment’. They wanted their films to provide audienceswith a current of philosophical notions to confront the established order.
However,the movement’s anti-authoritarian nature did not find favor with the majorityof audiences. However, the discussion internally of German history now seemedready to be debated. German ‘?lmmakers and their audiences felt able to dealwith representations of their own country’ (Kaes, 1997). In Kluge’s Yesterday Girl (1966) the main character Anita, struggles in theabsence of social and material stability. Kluge film supports the idea that Germany has a catastrophic and unhappyhistory; an implicit truth that was shaping the country’s unresolved post-warunderstanding. In the film Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) Herzogpresents a take-off of colonialism. The film offers the viewer a portrait ofobsession and insanity, showing parallels with Germany’s fascist past.
The search for riches and quest of power proveto be a false, unattainable fantasy similar to Hitler’s own deludedambitions. Whist the ?rst new post-war?lmmakers of the New German Cinema took their inspirations and concerns more fromthe recent past, other ?lmmakers were becoming interested in a critical analysisof contemporary German history. The NewGerman Cinema of the late 1960s and 1970s was progressive in its outlook with aview 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. Theywanted to create smaller, more independent and artistic films to explore modernGermany (Schlöndorff and von Trotta’s TheLost Honor of Katherine Blum) and to tackle the Nazi past (Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz andSchlöndorff’s The Tin Drum).
Oneparticular production, Deutschland imHerbst/Germany in Autumn (1978), was a film that confronted Germans to rememberand deal with the connection between the Federal Republic and Nazi Germany. Thefilm was part of a backlash against the new Federal Republic of Germany. One ofthe contributors, Fassbinder, brought elements of remembrance and facing thepast of Germany’s post-war history and his assessment of the beginning of theFederal Republic. Elsaesser states that Fassbinder had ‘an urge to document thenation’s life on the grand scale’ (Elsaesser, 1996) and his trilogy ‘BRD'(Bundesrepublik Deutschland) delivered a critical view of the political statusquo and a worrying sense of continuity. Thefilm recognized that the new Germany was still deeply entangled in its fascistpast. Fassbinder used the film The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) to symbolically represent the problems of theearly years of the Federal Republic. Theproduction tells a story of a woman picking herselfup from the lows of her life and putting aside her morality in her attempt to survive the dif?cult post-war years and achievematerial wealth. Fassbinder uses the film as a symbolicattack on Germany’sdesperation to forget its past and ridicules therevitalization economic programmeduring the 1950s.
The film depicts an abusive and emotionally empty world of materialism. The filmis a human metaphor, she fails to lookto German culture to support its renewal but in the search for success, she becomessomeone else. It is as though these German ?lmmakers felt that Germany had soldits soul with overzealous ‘Americanisation’. The discussionof the post-war reconstruction and the long-term effect of America’s involvement in Germany, and the tacklingof its Nazi past through a metaphor was to become a familiar themein German film.
The post-war national cinema of Germany tackled the deep concernswith questions of their troubled national identity. The ?lmmakers of the NewGerman Cinema explored the relationship of historical, cultural, social, and politicalissues through a process of commemoration. Their films were a product of the way in which concerns within thecountry’s society shifted during the both 1960s and 1970s. They constructedimportant questions about their country’s self-understanding in the post-warera and discussed the past, not as a tradition to be preserved, but as a placefor examination. New German Cinema had brought directors who together shared a politicalconviction, yet were artistically distinct with different interests, and each onehad their own style that were individual to their own films. The techniques ofthe films created in New German Cinema were artistic unalike but they shared anexamination of German history in a very similar way.