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Last Features

Last Features: East German Cinema's Lost Generation

Reinhild Steingröver
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 331
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  • Book Info
    Last Features
    Book Description:

    Last Features is the story of forgotten films made during the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and German unification. With leftover GDR funds and under chaotic conditions, a group of mainly younger East German filmmakers produced approximately thirty stylistically diverse films that -- until recently -- few people ever saw. Lost in the political upheaval of the Wende, most of the films disappeared until the 2009 Wendeflicks festival in Los Angeles [co-curated by the author in conjunction with the DEFA film library] brought them back for an international audience. Now available on DVD, the films provide unique insights into the late GDR and German unification from the perspective of East German filmmakers, many of whom had few opportunities before or after the wall to realize their scripts. Topics include the generational struggle in the DEFA studio, the formation of the independent production group : "DaDaeR", East German youth culture in the 1970s, women directors at DEFA, the relationship between the artist and the state, and the protests of 1989. The book focuses in particular on the story of the creation of "DaDaeR" in 1989, which fulfilled a longstanding request by the last generation of DEFA directors for freer production conditions in the studio. Each of the six chapters focuses on specific films from the last year of DEFA and contextualizes the analysis of these last features" with a comprehensive discussion of the directors' overall oeuvre, of the historical changes in the studio and the country, and of the lasting importance of these films today. Last Features is the result of a decade of archival research and interviews with the directors, writers, and editors of the films in question. Reinhild Steingröver is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-884-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    I begin with a disclaimer: this book is not really about all the last features that the East German film studio (DEFA) produced, nor is it a comprehensive survey of the entire last generation trained in East Germany’s film school in Babelsberg, just outside Berlin, nor is this entire generation lost entirely—if it were, this book would not exist. ButLast Features: East German Cinema’s Lost Generationis still an apt title, because this book discusses in detail some of the most important films made in the DEFA studio between the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and...

  5. 1: On Fools and Clowns or Refusal as Engagement in Two Final DEFA Films: Egon Günther’s Stein and Jörg Foth’s Letztes aus der DaDaeR
    (pp. 21-59)

    When I started researching this book in 2001, I was inspired by the discovery that a handful of films by a very diverse group of directors had been made during the period that began with the final months of the GDR, included the early years of unified Germany, and ended with the final sale of the DEFA studio in 1992. Most of these films had received little attention in East and West Germany, let alone abroad. I set out researching the films and their production histories in hopes of gaining insight into the transitional period in Germany from 1989 to...

  6. 2: “Film Must Fidget”: DEFA’s Untimely Poets
    (pp. 60-104)

    Defa does not generally evoke notions of avant-garde film art—not just for dismissive Western critics and audiences after German unification but equally among GDR artists and viewers. Director Herwig Kipping, himself trained in Babelsberg, had already clearly stated this in his diploma thesis,Poesie und Film, in 1982:

    Film is highly developed and diverse in all socialist states; socialist film art is a leader on the international stage. Only the GDR is a disreputable exception. Our films are boring, musty, and provincial. Film here has to yet achieve its active importance as artistic mass media; a new generation with...

  7. 3: Absurd Endgames: Peter Welz’s Banale Tage
    (pp. 105-138)

    When the wall fell, Peter Welz was twenty-six years old and about to graduate with a degree in feature-film direction from the film school in Babelsberg (HFF). He was lucky: unlike his mentors and teachers in the HFF and film studio, he did not have to wait long years to debut with his first feature film but joined his mentor Jörg Foth and older colleagues Herwig Kipping and Helke Misselwitz in directing one of the only three films that the newly founded production group DaDaeR produced.¹ Peter Welz was well known to his older colleagues because of his two student...

  8. 4: “Flight into Reality”: The Cinema of Helke Misselwitz
    (pp. 139-171)

    The opening sequence of Helke Misselwitz’s 2003 television documentaryQuartier der Illusionen(District of Illusions), about the Berlin train station Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse, succinctly displays many of the filmmaker’s lifelong thematic interests and cinematic techniques. The film opens with distorted shots of unidentifiable locations and objects in greenish hues that appear more like an abstract painting than documentary images. While the viewer is still attempting to decode the visuals, heavy breathing from a hurrying person becomes audible as the images gradually take more shape, barely enough to make out stairs, a bridge, a river, a platform, photographed in slow exposure. Helke...

  9. 5: The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Andreas Voigt’s Leipzig Pentalogy, 1986–96
    (pp. 172-202)

    While many of the last feature films produced at DEFA in the final years experienced a much-delayed show of interest by audiences, documentary films often garnered immediate attention, as they functioned as reflective mirrors for the political and social upheavals of 1989. But like the feature films made between 1989 and 1992, the lasting value of these documentary films is only emerging years after the events they depict. Looking at Andreas Voigt’s series of five documentary films about Leipzig from 1986 to 1996 from the perspective of twenty-five years after the fall of the wall confirms a statement by cinematographer...

  10. 6: Asynchronicity in DEFA’s Last Feature: Architects, Goats, and Godot
    (pp. 203-238)

    In 1988 documentary filmmaker Jochen Kraußer directed a short contribution to the Kinobox films, a series of short films that ran before feature films in GDR movie theaters between 1982 and 1989, about the mass production of plaster busts, in this case of Karl Marx. The five-minute film, entitledDer Auftrag(The Task), documents in straightforward fashion how plaster heads are serially produced, polished, and painted. In a deadpan voice-over, the filmmaker comments dryly on the manufacturing process: “The heads must become hard and sturdy.”¹ It is difficult not to grasp the bitterly satirical subtext of this comment in regard...

  11. Filmography
    (pp. 239-242)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-252)
  13. Index
    (pp. 253-260)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-261)