The Divided Screen: East and West German Postwar Cinema

Anke Pinkert, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 

Goals: In a global world dominated by the movie production of Hollywood, the concept of “national cinema” has come under scrutiny. The question of what defines a national cinema is even more difficult to answer in the context of the formerly divided Germany. This course attempts to provide a comparative  analysis of both East and West German cinema. Examining the films of the FRG and GDR in the specific political, economic, and social context of their production and reception, we will discuss the various styles, genres, themes, international influences, and cinematic traditions that have shaped the German national cinema(s) since 1945 (weekly film screenings, lectures, and discussions; 3 hours or 3/4 unit; knowledge of German useful but not required).  

Required Texts:

Sabine Hake, German National Cinema (2002) (NC)

Timothy Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film (2001) (SG)

A course reader (available at “notes & quotes”) 

 Some Topics for Discussion, Presentations and/or Student Papers:

-National cinema---DEFA--national cinema in its own right?---New German Cinema and European New Waves---Oberhausen---Rubble Film---War Trauma and Broken Masculinity---Representation of Jews and the Holocaust----Depictions of Nazism, and Anti-Fascism---Film Funding and Distribution---"Bitterfeld" and Socialist Realism---Literature and Film (Yesterday’s Girl, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, Paris-Texas------German Film after Unification----Aesthetic Influences in DEFA films (Expressionism, UFA films of the 30s and 40s, Hollywood, Soviet Socialist Realism, Italian Neo-Realism, Avant-garde, New Wave)----New German Cinema and Hollywood----Women in East and West Germany, representation of Women, Gender, Sexuality in E/W German film----Banned films of 1965, the 11th Plenum----Berlin films----Film and Autobiography-----Flashback Structures and History----Actors as Intertext----Voice Overs in E/W film----New German Cinema and Genre-----NGC and Fictional Documentary

 Tu Jan 21: Introduction

 1945 Zero Hour?: Humanism, Film Noir, Melodrama

Thu Jan 23: Murderers Are Among Us (1946, 84 min, VHS), Wolfgang Staudte

Tue Jan 28: discussion

Readings: Andrew Higson, “The Concept of National Cinema” (reader)

Readings: Byg, Barton. “German Unification and the Cinema of the Former German Democratic Republic,” (rd), Byg, Barton. “Nazism as Femme Fatale: Recuperations of Cinematic Masculinity in Postwar Berlin,” (rd) Hake, NC, 86-104 

Suggested Readings: Sean Allan and John Sandford, DEFA, East German Cinema, 1946-1992: ch. ch. 1, 4, Robert Shandley, Rubble Films, ch. 1, 2  (reserve) 

Thu Jan 30: The Bridge (1959, 100 min, 16 mm, Bernhard Wicki); Short Guide, ch.1

Tue Feb 4: discussion

Readings: Robert Moeller, “Heimat, Barbed Wire, and ‘Papa’s Kino’” (rd), Hake, NC, 104-119 

         Suggested Readings: Heide Fehrenbach, Cinema in Democratizing Germany, ch. 2, 5 (reserve)   

New Beginnings: New Waves, Young German Cinema, Neo-Realism

Thu Feb 6: Berlin Schoenhauser Corner (1957, 81 min, VHS), Gerhard Klein (SG, ch. 2)

Tue Feb 11: discussion

Readings: Joshua Feinstein, “The Discovery of the Ordinary: Berlin-Ecke Schönhauser,” (rd),  

         Suggested Reading: Sandford, DEFA, ch. 6 and 7 (reserve) 

Thu Feb 13: Yesterday Girl (1966, 88 min, 16 mm), Alexander Kluge (SG, ch.3)

(note: there is no VHS backup on reserve!)

Tue Feb 18: discussion

Reading: Eric Rentschler, West German Film in the Course of Time (excerpt) (rd), essay by Miriam

Hansen, in Eric Rentschler, German Film and Literature  (reserve), Hake, 144-53 

Suggested Reading: Fehrenbach, CDG, ch. 7, Thomas Elsaesser, New German Cinema, ch. 1, 2 

Political Modernism, New German Cinema, Apparatus and Auteurs

Thu Feb 20: Traces of Stone (1966, 133 mins.,** VHS), Frank Beyer (SG, ch. 4)

Tue Feb 25: discussion

Joshua Feinstein, “A Dream Deferred? Spur der der Steine and the Aftermath of the Eleventh Plenum” (rd), Hake, 119-32 

Thu Feb 27: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975, 106 min, 16 mm), Volker Schlöndorff

Tue Mar 4: discussion

Reading: Jack Zipes, The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum” (rd), Hake, 153-68


Suggested Reading: Elsaesser, NGC, ch.3 

Looping Back, Autobiography, History

Thu Mar 6: I Was Nineteen (1968; 115 mins.,** VHS), Konrad Wolf (SG, ch. 5)

Tue Mar 11: discussion

Reading: Silbermann, Marc. "The Authenticity of Autobiography: Konrad Wolf’s I Was


Koch, Gertrud. “On the Disappearance of the Dead among the Living: the Holocaust and the Confusion of Identities in the Films of Konrad Wolf,” (rd) 


Thu Mar 13: Germany Pale Mother (1979, 125min,** VHS), Helma Sanders-Brahms

Tue Mar 18: discussion

Reading:  Anton Kaes, “Our Childhood, Ourselves” in From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as

Film (rd)

Suggested Reading: Elsaesser, NGC, ch. 8 (reserve) 

Interlude: Popular Film, Socialist Musical, Camp

Thu Mar 21: Hot Summer (1968, 91 mins., VHS), Joachim Hasler 


Feminist Film, Women’s Movement, Female Spectator

Tue Apr 1: The Bicycle (1982; 89 mins.VHS), Evelyn Schmidt

Fröhlich, Margrit. “Behind the Curtain of a State-Owned Film Industry: Women-Filmmakers at the DEFA,” (rd), Hake, 132-138 

Thu Apr 3: The All-round Reduced Personality (1977,  98 min. VHS), Helke Sander

Tue Apr 8: discussion

Readings: Helke Sander, “Feminism and Film” (rd), Judith Mayne, “Female Narration, Women’s Cinema:

Helke Sander’s All Round Reduced Personality/Redupers” (rd) Andrea Rinke, “Models or Misfits? The Role of the Screen Heoines in GDR Cinema” (rd) 

Suggested Reading: Julia Knight, Women and New German Cinema, ch. 3, ch. 5 

Auteurs in East and West? (Return to) Genre Film

Thu Apr 10: Solo Sunny (1980; 102 mins., 35 mm), Konrad Wolf (SG, ch.6)

Tue Apr 15: discussion

Readings: Thomas Elsaesser, Michael Wedel, “Defining DEFA’s Historical Imaginary, The Films of

Konrad Wolf” (rd) Sigrun D. Leonard, “Testing the Borders: East German Film between Individualism and Social Commitment” (rd), Hake, 138-144 

Thu Apr 17: Veronika Voss (1982, 104 min, 35 mm) Rainer Werner Fassbinder


Tue Apr 22: Discussion

Reading: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “I’m a Romantic Anarchist” (rd), Thomas Elsaesser, “The BRD Trilogy,or: History, the Love Story” (rd) 

German Cinema goes to America: National or International Cinema

Thu Apr 24: Paris Texas (1984, 145 min,** VHS), Wim Wenders or Bagdad Cafe (1987, 91’ VHS),

Percy Adlon (SG, ch. 7)

Tue Apr 29: discussion

Readings: Roger F. Cook, “Postmodern Culture and Film Narrative: Paris, Texas and Beyond”, (rd) Wim Wenders, “The American Dream” in Emotion Pictures (rd) OR David Levin, “Community and Its Discontents: Race and Film History in Percy Adlon’s Bagdad Cafe, Hake, 168-179 

Suggested Reading: Elsaesser, NGC, 9, 10 

Postwall, Postnational Cinema, Social Critique and Popular cinema

Thu May 1: tba: Night Shapes (1998, min, VHS) Andreas Dresen or Oskar Roehler, No Place To Go

(VHS, 1999), Andreas Kleinert, Paths into the Night (1999, VHS)

Tue May 6: discussion and summary

Reading: Eric Rentschler, “From New German Cinema to Postwall Cinema of Consensus,” in Mette Hjort

(ed.), Cinema and Nation, Hake 179-193 

Suggested Reading: Leonie Naughton, That Was the Wild East: Film Culture, Unification, and the “New” Germany, ch. 6, 11 


Books for Background Reading/Class Reports/Papers -- on Reserve at Library of Modern Languages and Linguistics, Main Library 4th floor  


David Bordwell, Film Art: An Introduction 791.4301 B644f1997

Timothy Corrigan, A short Guide to Writing About Film ORDER.6014-K174856 (or other holdings)

Mette Hjort (ed.), Cinema and the Nation (also contains recent essay by Higson and an essay by Rentschler on post 1989 cinema) 791.43658 C49 


Barton Byg, "Generational Conflict and Historical Continuity in GDR Film" in Framing the Past: The Historiography of German Cinema and Television Bruce Murray (1992), 197-219, 791.43750943 F843

Sean Allan (ed.), DEFA : East German Cinema, 1946-1992 (1999) 384.809431 D361

Marc Silberman, "Remembering History: The Filmmaker Konrad Wolf," New German Critique 49 (Winter 1990): 163-87

Thomas Fox, Stated Memory : East Germany and the Holocaust (1999) (contains a chapter on literarure and film, on reserve under GER 475)  943.1004924 F833s

Joshua Feinstein, Triumph of the Ordinary: Depictions of Daily Life in East German Cinema (2002) 791.4309431 F327t

Katie Trumpener, “La guerre est finie: New  Waves, Historical Contingency, and the GDR “Rabbit Films” in Powers of Speech ed. by Michael Geyer (on order, under reserve GER 475)

Robert Shandley, Rubble Films: Cinema in the Shadows of the Third Reich (2001) 791.430943 Sh183r

Eleanor Naughton, That was the Wild East: film Culture, Unification and the “New” Germany (2002) 791.4309431 N223t

Daniel Goulding (ed.), Post New Wave Cinema in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (1989) 791.430947 P845

Thomas Slater (ed.), Handbook of Soviet and East European Films and Filmmakers (1992), IUC English Reference, 791.430947 H191 c.1 NonCirculating



Susan Linville, Feminism, Film, Fascism: Women's Auto/biographical Film in Postwar Germany (1998). 791.430943 L658F

Kathe Geist, The Cinema of Wim Wenders (1988) 791.43.W482

Thomas Elsaesser, Fassbinder’s Germany (1996) 791.43 F26e

Julia Knight, Women and the New German Cinema (1992) 791.430943 K745W

Heide Fehrenbach, Cinema in Democratizing Germany (1995)

Thomas Elsaesser, New German Cinema; a History (1989) 791.430943 EL74N1989

Anton Kaes, From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film (1989) 791.430943 K118D:E

Klaus Philips (ed.), New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen Through the 1970s (1984) 791.430943 N42

Eric Rentschler (ed.), German Film and Literature: Adaptations and Transformations (1986) 791.43750943 G317

John Sandford, The New German Cinema (1980) 791.430943 SA58N1982

Wim Wenders, Emotion Pictures: Reflections on the Cinema (1989) 791.43 W4822E:E 


Thomas Elsässer, The BFI Companion to German Film (1999) 791.430943 B469

Sandra Frieden, Gender and German Cinema: Feminist Interventions, Vol. I: Gender and Representation in New German Cinema, Vol II: German Film History/German History on Film (1993), 791.43652042G28

Ingeborg Majer O’Sickey, Triangulated Visions: Women in Recent German Cinema (1998)

791.43 T731

Marc Silbermann, German Film: Texts in Contexts (1995) 791.430943 SI32G 


Joseph Held (ed.), The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century (1992) (under reserve GER 475)

Robert Burns (ed.), German Cultural Studies : an Introduction (1995) (under GER 475)

Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory : the Nazi Past in the two Germanys (1997) (under GER 475)

Mary Fulbrook, Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR 1949-1989 (1995) (under GER 475)  

MATERIAL IN GERMAN (not on reserve)

F.-B. Habel, Volker Wachter, Lexikon der DDR-Stars: Schauspieler aus Film und Fernsehen (1999).

Bliersbach, Gerhard. So grün war die Heide : der deutsche Nachkriegsfilm in neuer

Sicht (1985)

Ralf Schenk, Regie: Frank Beyer (1995)

Ralf Schenk (ed.), Das zweite Leben der Filmstadt Babelsberg. DEFA-Spielfilme 1946-1992 (1994).

Ingelore König (ed.), Jugendfilm in Ost und West (1995)

Norbert Grob (ed.), Das Jahr 1945 und das Kino. Berlin: Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek

Jürgen Berger (ed.), Zwischen Gestern und Morgen: Westdeutscher Nachkriegsfilm 1946-1962 (1989)

Thomas Heimann, DEFA, Künstler und SED Kulturpolitik: zum Verhältnis von Kulturpolitik und Filmproduktion in der SBZ/DDR 1945 bis 1959 (1994)

Norbert Grob, Wenders (1991)

Micaela Jary, Traumfabriken made in Germany: die Geschichte des deutschen Nachkriegsfilms 1945-1960

Alexander Kluge, Bestandsaufnahme: Utopie Film, Zwanzig Jahre neuer deutscher Film (1983)

Thomas Kramer (ed.), Reclams Lexikon des deutschen Films (1995) 791.43750943 R244


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