Volker Schlondorff's Cinema: Adaptation, Politics, and the "Movie-Appropriate"

By Hans-Bernhard Moeller; George Lellis | Go to book overview

19
A German Filmmaker in the
United States

After the completion of Swann in Love, Schlöndorff traveled to New York, where his brother Detlef had been living and where he had originally planned a three-month sojourn to seek a change of scene (Siclier 10). The stay became an extended one. With the production of Death of a Salesman (1985) at the then recently renovated Astoria film studios in Queens, Schlöndorff began his fourth, American period. It extends through his subsequent two features, A Gathering of Old Men (1987) and The Handmaid's Tale (1989), both of which were shot in the American South. With these projects, Schlöndorff joined and extended the tradition of German émigré and exile filmmakers.

Schlöndorff's reasons for staying in the United States doubtless had to do with the further deterioration of the film production situation in the Federal Republic. When a rightist Christian-Liberal (CDU) government under Helmut Kohl replaced the Social-Liberal one led by Helmut Schmidt in 1982, the film subsidy process underwent a radical reorientation. The New German Cinema has sometimes been regarded as the cinematic creation of the Social-Liberal government. By contrast, governments under CDU leadership have constantly favored the old-guard, commercially oriented film. Interior Secretary Friedrich Zimmermann sent a decisive signal of this new conservative policy in the summer of 1983. He rescinded previously granted funding for counterculture filmmaker Herbert Achternbusch's film The Ghost (Das Gespenst, 1982) due to alleged blasphemy (Horak 2; Pflaum, “Konzertierte” 24–28). This government intervention not only indicated an ideological reversal but also marked a shift in film funding. No longer was it a system based on cultural merit; now it was one based on industrial and economic models. Only a few large projects guaranteeing “entertainment value” would be funded in the future, according to Zimmermann. When Schlöndorff learned of the interior secretary's new directives while he was working on Swann in Paris, he drafted an open letter of

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