German 265: The Cinema of the Other Germany
Nearly a decade after the fall of the
Berlin Wall, films from and about the former GDR are finally becoming available
to audiences, students, and researchers in the U.S. DEFA produced over
850 feature films and countless documentaries between 1946-1990, yet East
German film culture had remained terra incognita for the Western public
during the existence of the GDR. This course examines the successes and
failures of some DEFA films as they aspired to be a national cinema in
their own right. We will analyze this significant segment of German film
history in relation to the development of New (West) German Cinema and
think about the exact "placing" of GDR cinema within German film history
and international debates around national cinema.
The course is divided into six parts:
we will begin with a Wendefilm (films that talk about events leading to
the fall of the Wall) and we will discuss the idea of history as melodrama.
We will then explore a body of anti-fascist films produced in the GDR.
The analysis of these films will help us grasp important motivations and
political convictions of many East German directors, such as Wolfgang Staudte,
Frank Beyer, and Konrad Wolf. The "forbidden films" from 1965/66, which
until 1990 have never been seen before, show how advanced East German film
was already in the early sixties. The analysis of GDR Westerns, the immensely
popular series of Indianerfilme, will help us understand the way popular
culture worked in East Germany. A number of documentary films will give
students a glimpse at everyday life in the GDR while encouraging discussions
about the self-representation of artists in the GDR. The last film of the
semesterwill be a comedy by Frank Beyer, one of the last GDR films before
the Wall came down in 1989.
The course aims to examine the films
within the larger socio-historical context in Germany. Since this is a
culture studies course, we will analyze 20th century German history, politics,
and culture by looking at German films. In this course we will talk about
the fundamentals of film analysis and contemporary film criticism, so that
the formal structures of the films can be understood. By the end of the
course, students should be able both to do a "close reading" of a film
and to place it within the larger historical context defined by the aesthetic
and political debates in German society to which the films respond.