Germany 1966. Redefining Cinema

About the Film Selection

The 66th Berlin International Film Festival Retrospective was dedicated to 1966, a turning point in German cinema now 50 years behind us. At the time, change was in the air. In West Germany, auteur filmmakers grappled with the contradictions of the economic miracle; in East Germany young directors questioned life under socialism. But those parallel new impulses would lead to fundamentally different prospects in East and West. While the West’s “Young German Film” made a mark internationally, in East Germany, in the wake of the 11th plenum of the central committee of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) in December 1965, about half of the films produced at the DEFA state studios intended for theatrical release in 1966 were banned. Thus any critical approach to society came to an abrupt end. This year’s Retrospective provided an overview of that moment in time in both East and West.
The 2016 Retrospective encompassed some 20 theatrical and television features from West and East Germany that were produced, premiered or censored in 1966. We also showed more than 30 short and mid-length films, typical of the era, as bundled programmes or opening films, mainly documentaries and experimental work.
We would like to extend special gratitude for their support to German Films and this year’s partners, the DEFA Foundation and the Federal Film Archive. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, has been a Retrospective partner since 2011 and will show a selection of the films in April 2016.

 

West

In 1966, four years after the signatories to the Oberhausen Manifesto declared “the old cinema is dead; we believe in the new cinema”, “Young German Film” (also known as New German Film) achieved its first wave of recognition at important film festivals. The Berlin International Film Festival awarded Peter Schamoni’s directorial debut Schonzeit für Füchse (No Shooting Time For Foxes, West Germany, 1965/66) a Silver Bear, Volker Schlöndorff’s Der junge Törless (Young Törless, West Germany/France, 1965/66) was shown in Cannes and received the FIPRESCI critic’s prize, and Alexander Kluge’s Abschied von gestern (Yesterday girl, West Germany, 1965/66) won the Silver Lion at Venice. The renowned German Federal Film Prize awarded four gold and one silver to Es (It, West Germany, 1965/66) by Ulrich Schamoni. Before its premiere, the film ratings organisation in Wiesbaden commended it as “reality tackled cinematically, shaped cinematically, and yet with a breath of topicality [...] we must altogether celebrate a first film that towers above the usual level of German narrative film production”.

 

East

In East Germany, too, films were being produced at the DEFA state studios that accurately reflected the realities and desires of the people. For example, there was Jahrgang 45 (Born in ʼ45, East Germany, 1966/1990) directed by Jürgen Böttcher, of which film critic Rolf Richter said it had an effect “like a clear-eyed daydream, like a memory that I would swear is exact”. But that assessment did not come until more than 30 years after Jahrgang 45 was made. In the wake of the 11th plenum of the central committee of East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) in December 1965 it was banned, along with many other DEFA films intended for release in 1966. In 1966, the state film office said in judgement of Böttcher’s film that “the people are portrayed [...] indifferent, feckless, confused and in no way representative of our society’s order, just like the milieu is, far removed from the characteristic traits of our socialist reality”.
Most of the banned films did not premiere until years or decades later, including Herrmann Zschoche’s Karla (Carla, East Germany, 1965-66/1990), Fräulein Schmetterling (Miss butterfly, East Germany, 1965-66; Germany, 2005) by Kurt Barthel or Gerhard Klein’s Berlin um die Ecke (Berlin around the corner, East Germany, 1965-66/1987 and 1990). For many in the film sector, the 11th plenum became a tribunal that ended or obstructed careers. It also robbed them for many years of the courage to be inspired by other cinematic movements such as the Polish or Czech new waves, and to tackle contemporary issues without ideological constraints.
From that point on, the outlook for cinema was completely different in the East and the West. What the auteur films from the West and the studio productions from the East have in common can only be discovered with a Retrospective overview of the 1966 year in film.

 

Drifter, Rebels, Searchers

In the East as in the West, the protagonists roved the streets, flouted authority or were seekers. Like the dockworker who spends a sleepless night roaming Hamburg (Jimmy Orpheus, Roland Klick, West Germany, 1966). Like the rebellious construction foreman Balla AKA Manfred Krug in Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones, Frank Beyer, East Germany, 1965/66), a film that ran in theatres for three days before being banned. Or like Helene Raupe in Fräulein Schmetterling, who seeks to evolve individually. The film was censored and never properly completed.
There were individualists aplenty on both sides. In the short film Klammer auf Klammer zu (As an aside, Hellmuth Costard, West Germany 1966), Klaus Wyborny defies the prescriptive order, while the man in May Spil’s Manöver (Manoeuvres, West Germany, 1966/67) works to overcome a lack of motivation. And Al in Jahrgang 45 roams the streets of East Berlin knowing exactly what he doesn’t want, but not what he’s looking for.
There are, however, more rebels in the East than in the West, where the protagonists are still in the pre-rebellion phase. It was a bit later that the younger generation would revolt against the establishment, the Vietnam war and the German Emergency Acts. The mood in the West was marked by a mixture of resignation and looking for new opportunities. In Der sanfte Lauf (The easy Way out, Haro Senft, West Germany, 1966/67), Bernhard takes the easy way out in a career with his father-in-law, and the two young men in Schonzeit für Füchse take advantage of their parents’ privilege, while simultaneously rejecting it. By contrast, Karla – played by Jutta Hoffmann – is determined not to sacrifice her principles and fall into line, as the rebels in the East often did in order to help socialist society progress.

 

Couples

The couples featured in the films of the East and the West are rarely actually married and are not even necessarily faithful. That may even have contributed to the categorical rejection by the SED functionaries of a film like, perhaps, Spur der Steine. They may also have been wary of relationships like the one in Berlin um die Ecke between Olaf and Karin, who is married but separated, or the “illegitimate” love in Karla between the title character, a teacher, and the former journalist Kaspar. In the West German films, the break with prevailing rules may also be most clearly expressed in the couples. For instance, adultery was consciously featured in the ad campaign for Kopfstand, Madam! (Headstand, Madam!, Christian Rischert, West Germany, 1966/67). Es not only focuses on an unmarried couple and their problems, but above all portrays Hilke as a woman who can’t talk to her partner about her pregnancy and is forced to reach a decision alone.

 

Generational Conflict

Generational conflicts are also a theme in many of the films. The East German state and party apparatus had already warned of “manifestations of hooliganism” (Erich Honecker, 1965) in society and in art, because the films took as their subject matter conflicts that had, officially at least, already been “resolved”. The films portray critical young people, who strive to be actively involved in the development of socialist society, facing off against a veteran political cadre that was not always shown as entirely lacking in understanding. Yet the majority of the filmmakers and those running the studios were convinced that those films in particular were not an outright rejection of the socialist system.
Generational conflict also played a role in “Young German Film”. But while in the DEFA films, potential solutions played out – for instance a couple’s reconciliation in Jahrgang 45, Karla’s transfer to a different school with a new outlook, or the constructive cooperation at work in Berlin um die Ecke – the West German film narratives were less determinate. Uncertainty or resignation and compromise are the hallmarks of the protagonists’ lives in Der sanfte Lauf and Mahlzeiten (Table for Love, Edgar Reitz, West Germany, 1966/67).

 

The Economic Miracle and a Planned Economy

In 1966/67, the first post-war recession not only made a dent in the steady economic growth in West Germany, it also triggered a reality check. There was a similar reaction in East Germany to the consequences of an ineffective planned economy.
Both developments are visible in the films. In Spur der Steine, Berlin um die Ecke and the short Es genügt nicht 18 zu sein (Being 18 is not enough, Kurt Tetzlaff, East Germany, 1964-66/1990), factory labour norms, production targets and leadership structures are challenged. In the West, career-oriented men – such as those in the real estate sector in Es or Playgirl (Playgirl, West Germany, 1965/66) – are pitted against characters that question the singular goal of financial profit, for instance in Schonzeit für Füchse, Der sanfte Lauf or Marran Gosov’s short film … Und dann bye bye (And then it's bye-bye, West Germany, 1966).

 

Cityscapes

That attention to the world of work was accompanied by a tendency to shoot films on location, and the filmmakers availed themselves of documentary or journalistic forms. In Mahlzeiten, Elisabeth talks about her life, as did the young women interviewed about their weekend activities by Ula Stöckl, a student at Ulm’s design college, for her short film Sonnabend, 17 Uhr (Saturday, 5 pm, West Germany, 1966). Among the locations were a shipyard in Kopfstand, Madam!, a quarry providing the background for casual business talk in Der sanfte Lauf, a factory and a nightclub in Berlin um die Ecke, the university of Frankfurt in Alexander Kluge’s Abschied von gestern and a school in Karla. The choice of each of those places demonstrates an attention to location that made a decisive contribution to the new timbre of those films.
Berlin was often a featured location for the films from both the East and the West. In Playgirl by Will Tremper, the audience gets a look at West Berlin’s modern architecture, while the real estate agent in Es takes a tour of the war ruins near the Berlin Wall, which attracted investors from the rest of West Germany. In 1966, it was still easy to draw effective contrasts – such as in Jahrgang 45, with the crumbling elegance of pre-war buildings and dark courtyards in East Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood providing a counterpoint to the high-rises on the city’s periphery, only half finished but already providing seductive visions of dream living.

 

Studio Production vs. Independent Filmmaking

The films condemned by the SED were studio productions. They were thrown open; they shot on location; they were cast with inexperienced and, above all, fresh actors in the leads. Some directors, such as Jürgen Böttcher, even cast non-professional actors. And yet, the films were still made within the institutional framework of the state-run studio and had access to studio resources. By contrast, in the West, the auteurs tried to tread new ground apart from the established structures. They produced the films themselves; they had new ways of financing them, such as those provided by the Kuratorium junger deutscher Film subsidy organisation, and there were new distributors springing up, such as Atlas Film. Many young West German filmmakers coalesced into regional groups, for instance in Hamburg and Berlin, often localised around film schools aimed at professional training, such as Berlin’s DFFB film academy, founded in 1966.

As different as the developments in East and West were, 1966 was a year of parallel change in German cinema. Movement, uncertainty and openness are the common characteristics of these films that broke new aesthetic ground and had the potential to leave a mark.

 

Film Legacy

The 2016 Retrospective presented new prints or digitised films. The classic “Young German Cinema” films by Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, Volker Schlöndorff, and Peter Schamoni were shown in digital versions. For the Berlinale, the Deutsche Kinemathek, in cooperation with the Federal Film Archive, had struck a new print of Christian Rischert’s Kopfstand, Madam!. The censored versions of Karla and Jahrgang 45 were screened publicly for the first time. And we were proud to present rare short films such as Berlin Klammer auf Ost Klammer zu (Berlin open Bracket East close Bracket, West Germany, 1966), directed by West German filmmakers Fritz Illing and Werner Klett, but shot in East Berlin, or the virtually unknown experimental short Die Koffer des Felix Lumpach (Felix Lumpach's Suitcases, Gerd Winkler, West Germany, 1966).

 

Connie Betz, Julia Pattis, Rainer Rother

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