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Post-Wall German Cinema and National History

Post-Wall German Cinema and National History: Utopianism and Dissent

Mary-Elizabeth O’Brien
Volume: 113
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Post-Wall German Cinema and National History
    Book Description:

    Since unification, a radical shift has taken place in Germans' view of their country's immediate past, with 1989 replacing 1945 as the primary caesura. The cold-war division, the failed socialist state, the '68 student movement, and the Red Army Faction - historical flashpoints involving political oppression, civil disobedience, and the longing for utopian solutions to social injustice - have come to be seen as decisive moments in a collective history that unites East and West even as it divides them. Telling stories about a shared past, establishing foundational myths, and finding commonalities of experience are pivotal steps in the construction of national identity. Such nation-building is always incomplete, but the cinema provides an important forum in which notions of German history and national identity can be consumed, negotiated, and contested. This book looks at history films made since 1989, exploring how utopianism and political dissent have shaped German identity. It studies the genre - including popular successes, critical successes, and perceived failures - as a set of texts and a discursive network, gauging which conventions and storylines are resilient. At issue is the overriding question: to what extent do these films contribute to a narrative that legitimizes the German nation-state? Mary-Elizabeth O'Brien is Professor of German and The Courtney and Steven Ross Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies at Skidmore College.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-825-5
    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-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    On 3 October 1990 the Cold War officially ended on German soil. With the demise of the German Democratic Republic and the emergence of a unified state in the form of the Federal Republic of Germany, not only the Cold War but in some ways also the Second World War faded into history. The fall of the Berlin Wall and unification allowed the postwar era to take on the contours of a completed historical period that occupies the immediate past and provides an epochal buffer zone between the present and the Third Reich. The year 1989/90 marked a profound shift...

  5. 1: Amnesia, Nostalgia, and Anamnesis as Reactions to the Wende
    (pp. 23-98)

    Nineteenth-century French philosopher Ernest Renan suggested that the violence and traumatic events upon which nations are formed must be forgotten if unity is ever to take hold among competing factions that make up the whole. Forgetting past transgressions constitutes a logical step for bringing former adversaries together. Such willful amnesia allows rival groups to establish a clean slate from which to build a common future. Such a simple agenda, however, is fraught with difficulties. At stake is not merely what should be forgotten, but who chooses, and what criteria the past will be judged by. If social accord requires the...

  6. 2: In the Shadow of the Wall: Political Oppression and Resistance in the GDR
    (pp. 99-172)

    The portrayal of GDR History in motion pictures made since 1989/90 has sparked lively debates in the trade press, in nationally renowned newspapers and magazines, and among leading cultural and political figures. Commentators have repeatedly and often passionately questioned who has the right to tell the history of the GDR, Easterners or Westerners? Those who lived through it and can vouch for the authenticity of their story based on eyewitness experience or those who never took part in the events and therefore have the distance to look back on history and reflect upon it objectively? Without falling into the trap...

  7. 3: The Wild West and East of Eden: The Red Army Faction and German Terrorism
    (pp. 173-252)

    The 1960s hippie generation produced a counterculture that has not seen its match in the decades since. Rejecting the world their parents had made, they dropped out, dropped acid, and abandoned themselves in free love and rock-and-roll. Alongside the youth who experimented in alternative lifestyles, a politically active student movement was calling for social change. International in scope, from Berkeley to Berlin, from Paris to Rio de Janeiro, students took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War, capitalism, and US imperialism, to fight for free speech, civil rights, homosexuals’ rights, and women’s liberation, and to save the environment. A...

  8. 4: History Lessons: The Enduring Appeal of Utopianism and the Specter of Violence
    (pp. 253-296)

    The past remains in the present, as fragmentary impressions in the imagination, as relics and recycled imagery, and as stories that reveal lessons for today. While the history film in the narrowest sense reenacts the past, with its action taking place in an earlier time period, there are feature films set in the present that explore history in a critical fashion and deserve to be examined under the rubric of the history film. Alexander Kluge’s Die Patriotin (The patriot woman, 1979) stands as a prominent example of a film with a contemporary setting that is heavily invested in an exploration...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 297-304)

    Twenty years after the fall of Communism, forty years after the student revolution, and sixty years after the founding of the Federal Republic, Germany has been afloat in anniversaries that beckon contemplation of the nation’s development since the end of the Second World War. Cinema has contributed to these commemorations with films that scrutinize postwar German history and the yearning for a just civil society. By telling stories about a shared past, cinema functions as a public forum for debates on national history: where the divided nation has been, what struggles it has won and lost, and what dreams the...

  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 305-330)
  11. Index
    (pp. 331-338)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)