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Generic Histories of German Cinema

Generic Histories of German Cinema: Genre and Its Deviations

Edited by Jaimey Fisher
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 310
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    Generic Histories of German Cinema
    Book Description:

    Over the last few decades, the field of film studies has seen a rise in approaches oriented toward genre: studies that look at thematic, narrative, and stylistic similarities between films, contextualizing them within culture and society. Although there now exists a large body of genre-based scholarship on international film, German film studies has largely ignored the importance of genre. Even as the last several years have witnessed increasing scholarly interest in popular cinema from Germany, very few works have substantively engaged with genre theory. Generic Histories offers a fresh approach, tracing a series of key genres -- including horror, science fiction, the thriller, Heimat films, and war films -- over the course of German cinema history. It also addresses detective films, comedies, policiers, and romances that deliberately localize global genres within Germany - a form of transnationalism frequently neglected. This focus on genre and history encourages rethinking of the traditional opposition (and hierarchy) between art and popular cinema that has informed German film studies. In these ways, the volume foregrounds genre theory's potential for rethinking film history as well as cultural history more broadly. Contributors: Marco Abel, Nora M. Alter, Antje Ascheid, Hester Baer, Steve Choe, Paul Cooke, Jaimey Fisher, Gerd Gemünden, Sascha Gerhards, Lutz Koepnick, Eric Rentschler, Kris Vander Lugt. Jaimey Fisher is Associate Professor of German and Cinema and Technocultural Studies, and Director of Cinema and Technocultural Studies, at the University of California, Davis.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-870-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Toward Generic Histories—Film Genre, Genre Theory, and German Film Studies
    (pp. 1-26)
    Jaimey Fisher

    With the death of “Promi-Produzent” Bernd Eichinger in January 2011, many obituary writers, media commentators, and film-industry luminaries, such as Wolfgang Petersen and actor Til Schweiger, took the occasion to revisit the last forty years of German cinema.¹ Eichinger’s oeuvre ranges from works now canonized as part of New German Cinema, such as Falsche Bewegung (Wrong Movement, 1975) and Hitler—Ein Film aus Deutschland (Hitler: A Film From Germany, 1977), to some of the biggest blockbusters of 1990s genre cinema such as Der bewegte Mann (The Moved Man, released in English as Maybe . . . maybe not, 1994) and...

  5. 1: Parallel Modernities: From Haunted Screen to Universal Horror
    (pp. 27-48)
    Gerd Gemünden

    In an extensive interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich in 1970, Edgar G. Ulmer made references to two German sources that gave shape to his famous horror film The Black Cat, which he directed for Universal in 1934: “Junior [Laemmle] gave me free rein to write a horror picture in the style we had started in Europe with Caligari,” only to add a few moments later that the film “was very much out of my Bauhaus period.”¹ This puzzling double reference to two very different and aesthetically even incompatible sources holds an important clue to what Ulmer wanted to achieve with...

  6. 2: The Essay Film and Its German Variations
    (pp. 49-70)
    Nora M. Alter

    One of the most popular genres within nonfiction cinema today is the so-called “essay film.” These audiovisual productions are literary or philosophical meditations on a variety of topics, including self-reflective explorations on the nature of image- and sound-making, social critiques and histories, and introspective investigations plumbing the depths of human nature. As varied as the form and topics of these films are, there is common agreement on their definition. The essay film has generally been characterized as an in-between genre that moves freely from fiction to nonfiction, part documentary, part fantasy, made for television viewing and for gallery or museum...

  7. 3: The Limits of Futurity: German Science-Fiction Film over the Course of Time
    (pp. 71-90)
    Lutz Koepnick

    Fritz Lang’s 1929 Die Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon) is rightly known for its invention of the so-called “countdown” practice and hence for how science-fiction cinema has the ability to envision and shape our use of various technologies long before their actual arrival. Lang’s film abounds with images and procedures later generations came to associate primarily with the sober ingenuity of the NASA space program, whether we think of the slow passage of the rocket to its launch pad, the travelers’ intricate preparation for take-off, or the capturing of the experience of weightlessness. A product of Lang’s...

  8. 4: The Situation Is Hopeless, but Not Desperate: UFA’s Early Sound Film Musicals
    (pp. 91-108)
    Eric Rentschler

    “The Weimar cinema has never been a particularly popular cinema,” writes Thomas Elsaesser. “It has always been something of a filmmaker’s or a film scholar’s cinema.”¹ In this assessment, the films made in the Weimar Republic stand out above all by dint of the formal accomplishment and intellectual appeal of “individually authored art films.”² Commentators who share this persuasion applaud the masterpieces of Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, and G. W. Pabst and focus on the mean streets, dread spaces, and eccentric narratives of what Lotte Eisner called “the haunted screen,” from Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The...

  9. 5: Resisting the War (Film): Wicki’s “Masterpiece” Die Brücke and Its Generic Transformations
    (pp. 109-132)
    Jaimey Fisher

    One hesitates to start with any sort of polled survey, but such surveys both illuminate and constitute the wider film culture that the present volume’s generic approach foregrounds. In a 1995 survey celebrating the centennial of cinema, Bernhard Wicki’s Die Brücke (The Bridge, 1959) was named by industry personnel, critics, and scholars the thirteenth most significant work of German cinema’s first century, placing it between Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 1913) and Abschied von Gestern (Yesterday’s Farewell, released in English as Yesterday Girl, 1966); even more impressively, this remarkably high ranking rendered it the list’s third highest...

  10. 6: Ironizing Identity: The German Crime Genre and the Edgar Wallace Production Trend of the 1960s
    (pp. 133-156)
    Sascha Gerhards

    From 1959 to 1972, Germany sustained a wave of some thirty-eight filmic adaptations of Edgar Wallace’s crime novels, most of which were produced by Rialto Film, a Danish-German film company. The Wallace wave paralleled, in many ways, the success of the Karl May adaptations (also produced by Rialto) and remains one of Germany’s most popular cultural artifacts of the postwar era. Preben Philipsen, head of the Rialto production company, filmed the first installment, entitled Der Frosch mit der Maske (The Frog with the Mask) in 1959, followed by Der rote Kreis (The Red Circle) in the same year. Although both...

  11. 7: From Siodmak to Schlingensief: The Return of History as Horror
    (pp. 157-172)
    Kris Vander Lugt

    In 2002 Kino Video released a collection of “German Horror Classics.” This four-DVD set, boxed in a slick black case with Gothic lettering, includes Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Paul Wegener’s Der Golem und wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem and How He Came Into the World, 1920), Friedrich Murnau’s Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, 1922), and Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924). None of these films would have been considered “horror films” at the time of their release; nor, some would argue, should some of them...

  12. 8: Producing Adaptations: Bernd Eichinger, Christiane F., and German Film History
    (pp. 173-196)
    Hester Baer

    Until his sudden death in 2011 at the age of sixty-one, Bernd Eichinger was not only the most significant German film producer, but also a singular figure in German filmmaking, a man who more than anyone else shaped the course of German cinema over the last forty years. An active player since the early 1970s, Eichinger devoted himself to the commercial renewal of German film. As a self-styled mogul who consciously adopted the ideas and habits of classical Hollywood producers, Eichinger was an auteur producer who played a central role in all aspects of the films he made. First acquiring...

  13. 9: Exceptional Thrills: Genrification, Dr. Mabuse, and Das Experiment
    (pp. 197-220)
    Steve Choe

    A major contention of Rick Altman’s sweeping study Film/Genre (1999) is that traditional genre criticism all too routinely assumes generic fixity at the expense of generic historicity. “Genre films” are often considered to have fixed narrative patterns and to repeat a relatively unchanging set of codes. Moreover, genre films are thought to be derivative, commercial in both aim and scope, and as a consequence not art. Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952), to take one example, may be read as a “classic” Western in this regard, exhibiting clear-cut and enduring conventions: the mythical settings on the nineteenth-century American frontier, the encounter...

  14. 10: The Heimat Film in the Twenty-First Century: Negotiating the New German Cinema to Return to Papas Kino
    (pp. 221-242)
    Paul Cooke

    Point of view shot: an aerial camera flying through the clouds toward what looks like a large mountaintop observatory, accompanied by a blues-rock soundtrack. Cut to the inside of the building, where the camera pans across a series of iconic images of dead pop stars, from Elvis and Otis Redding to Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain. Cut to a clothing rack filled with rock-inspired costumes, behind which we glimpse a man swapping an “Uncle Sam” topper for a black cowboy hat. Cut to an extreme close-up of the same man lighting a cigarette, fading down the music on a mixing...

  15. 11: The Romantic Comedy and Its Other: Representations of Romance in German Cinema since 1990
    (pp. 243-260)
    Antje Ascheid

    Til Schweiger’s 2007 hit romantic comedy Keinohrhasen (Rabbit Without Ears) opens with a spoof on Hollywood stardom. In its first scene, German art-cinema actor Jürgen Vogel, playing himself, pretends to have undergone a ridiculous transformation, or rather, Americanization. Bragging about his supposedly improved appearance, which includes exaggerated dental work, a deep tan, substantial hair replacements, and silicone butt implants, Vogel announces that his previous work doing “arthouse shit” like Das Leben ist eine Baustelle (Life is a Construction Site, released in English as Life is All You Get, 1997) appealed only to an audience of “pseudo-intellectual pop culture idiots from...

  16. 12: Yearning for Genre: The Films of Dominik Graf
    (pp. 261-284)
    Marco Abel

    When taking stock of German film culture since the demise of its famous Autorenkino, which attracted international attention in the 1970s and reestablished West German cinema as “legitimate,” one could do worse than consider the singular case of Dominik Graf.³ For over the last thirty years Graf—who is almost completely unknown outside Germany and whose status at home does not nearly approach the level of recognition enjoyed by post-Autorenkino filmmakers such as Wolfgang Petersen, Roland Emmerich, and Doris Dörrie, nor that of the better-known post-Wende directors such as Sönke Wortmann, Tom Tykwer, and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck—has been...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-300)
  18. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 301-304)
  19. Index
    (pp. 305-326)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-327)