NEW GERMAN CINEMA
Trevor Johnston talks to Thomas Elsaesser about his new book New German Cinema: A History and looks at a genre in decline.
It‘s become a truism of film criticism that the Seventies is synonymous with the Movie Brat generation of Hollywood directors (Scorsese, De Palma et al). the rise ofthe quality film from Australia. and the wave of talent known as the New German Cinema. That was the generic term for the batch of film-makers. among them Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Wim Wenders and Werner I Ierzog that brought German films to the forefront of the arthouse movie scene. In a new book however writer Thomas Elsaesser stips away the mythologies and accepted wisdom that has come to be associated with these names to reveal something of a different story.
‘The kind ofofficial version about all this was that the declaration made by the young film-makers at the 1962 Oberhausen film festival lead directly to the successes and star directors ofthe Seventies.‘ says Elsaesser. beginning to expand on the outline for his new study entitled New German ( ‘inema: A History. ‘That here you had a group ofartists striving for self-expression and forming a coherent movement. But basically that‘s both inaccurate and over-romanticised. because what determines the identity of any film-making culture is the financial conditions and processes of funding that enables the films to get made in the first place.‘
In the book he goes on to describe how the federal funding ofthe arts in
West Germany has proved crucial to the development of the country‘s cinema. which needed government subsidies to have any chance of existing within a movie circuit completely dominated by American distributors and American product. 1967 saw the first Film Subsidy Bill. but it was the 1971 Amendment that was to prove the real spur for the celluloid explosion that followed over the next decade. ‘Each regional arts funding committee was put in a position where films of a certain quality received a subsidy.’ Elsaesser explains. ‘and the money increased if the work was selected for a foreign film festival. There also began to be funding available for low-budget films from television. a model that (‘hannel 4 in Britain has successfully copied. All in all. it was a very encouraging climate.‘
The result was a high number of films. a good many of which were of an impressive standard. Television-funding in particular meant that social questions could be explored and the form of the cine-essay became currency. Getting a film accepted for a film festival however became a major financial incentive. and Elsaesser builds a convincing argument around the New German (‘inema‘s ability to travel as a significant factor in the rise to prominence of its star autoren. ‘They all had their own angle‘ reflects the senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia.
‘Fassbinder sold his films through his own charismatic character. Herzog had the Klaus Kinski connection. Wim Wenders had his fascination with America. all ingredients that proved to have a fascination for festival and arthouse audiences throughout the world.
In Germany though. the films surprisingly never even scraped into the top forty in the annual box office charts. Klaus Kinski and Fassbinder‘s dissipated lifestyles made them tabloid names but without their films being widely appreciated. Since the beginning of the Eighties the frightening increases in film budget costs have slowed down the rate of production. and many ofthe films have become too inward-looking to appeal to international tastes.
With Fassbinder dead. Herzog‘s Kinski cycle played out. Volker (The Tin Drum) Schlondorff an anonymous internationalist. only
Wim Wenders continues to retain his position of prominence.
Percy Adlon. who hit paydirt when he discovered Marianne Sagebrecht. could be running out of roles for his statuesque leading lady after Sugarbaby and Bagdad (ale if this year‘s lukewarm (‘anncs reception for Rosalie Goes Shopping is anything to go by.
Even if New German Cinema is to all intents and purposes now a dead duck. Elsaesser‘s painstakingly detailed work is probably its definitive text. Painstakingly detailed. it‘s an ideal way for even the non-academic reader to follow an analysis of the workings of the film industry that shows the ongoing worship of the director as creative hero to be something of a cultural simplification.
‘New German ( 'inema: A I I istory' is published by the British Film lnstitute/Macmillan (11133 hardback and [10. 95 in paperback.
ONES TO WATCH
Our pick of the tortmight‘s highlights onthe commercial and repertory circuits. . . For more comprehensive reviews and venue details see the Film Index. while complete programme details can be tound in the Film Listings. THE DURDS Latest offering from wayward fantasy talent Joe Dante hasTom I Ianks and co as a group of inquisitive neighbours wondering just what is going on behind the shuttersofthe most mysterious house on the block. Wide release from July 28.
RUNNING ON EMPTY Hollywood‘s Mr Liberal. Sidney Lumct. traces the domestic legacy of Sixties‘ radicalism with this look at the underground family life of a hunted activist couple and their kids. Glasgow Cannon Sauchiehall Street and AMCClydebank l()from July 28.
DAVID GOODIS SEASON Recommended compilation of LS
B-picturcs and post-Nouvelle Vague adaptations of the dark writings ofcult American chronicler of the hard-boiled David Goodis. Sec feature. Glasgow Film Theatre throughout August. PELLE THE CONOUEROR Solid virtues of storytelling and great performances have helped Billie August‘s saga of immigrant hardships to both the 1988 ('anncs I’almc D'Or and this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Edinburgh Filmhouse from July 27 until August 5.
THE LAND BEFORE TIME Animator Don Bluth's latest full-length cartoons is a cute tale of wee orphaned baby dinosaurs specially aimed at the very young. (‘annons from July 28. LENNY LIVE AND UNLEASHED Lenny Henry caught live in concert has him wheeling out Theophilus'l‘. i Wildebcestcandco.but with a few more rude ‘ wordsthanontelly. ()uite l fun. Glasgow and I Edinburgh ()deons from
HATS OFF TO STRATHCLYDE REGIONAL COUNCIL for awarding a grant of some £11K).()l)l)to Glasgow Film Theatre towards the cost of building a second auditorium and developing conference facilities. Director Bill I‘orsyth was on hand to present an initial cheque for half the final amount. and hopes are now significantly raised that the second screen will be up and running for l99ll‘s Yearof Kulture.
FILM FESTIVAL SEX SCANDAL STARTS HERE! While in upstate New York Iidinburgh I‘ilm Festival director discovered Dick. Dir/r being a fifteen-minute independent American short featuring a feast of shots of male genitalia intercut with various women‘s reactions to them. The Festival folk are still trying to find a space for it to fill. but cries of ‘Jingsl (‘riy vcnsl IIeIp Ma BoabY‘ are to be expected it they couple it w ith the restored Gone With [he ll'inil.
The List 28July— 11) August 198913