The slow but steady rise of German post-war cinema from provincial obscurity to international fame is often told as a story with a bold beginning (the Oberhausen Manifesto on 28 February 1962), a climax ( Time calling it 'the liveliest cinema in Europe' in 1978), and an abrupt ending (Fassbinder's death on 10 June 1982). This story also has a trajectory-a national cinema involved in coming to terms with the blemished identity of the country it represents. Many German films of that period also react to the troubled history of the medium itself as the prime Nazi propaganda tool. 'Never before and in no other country have images and language been abused so unscrupulously as here,' said Wim Wenders in 1977. 'Nowhere else have people suffered such a loss of confidence in images of their own, their own stories and myths, as we have.' The legacy of the National Socialist film -- an instinctive distrust of images and sounds that deal with Germany -- has deeply preoccupied the younger generation of German film-makers for the past quarter-century. How were they to find and create images of their country that deviated from those of the highly popular National Socialist film industry? A programmatic rejection of the Nazi film tradition has become a cornerstone of the identity and unity of German film since the 1960s.
The years 1961-2 were years of crisis in Germany: the Berlin Wall, erected in August 1961, seemed to cement the division of Germany into two alternative social systems (West/East; capitalist/Communist); the Eichmann trials in Jerusalem (concluded in December 1961) threw glaring light on the unprecedented crimes committed by the Nazi regime; and Chancellor Adenauer's attempt to quell the freedom of the press in the so-called Spiegel Affair was met with an unexpected storm of protest. It was also a critical juncture for German cinema. The commercial film industry that during the 1950s mass-produced highly popular, profitable, and unabashedly provincial films had to cope with a sudden collapse of its market. Within a few years, German cinema had lost more than three-quarters of its audience to television. While the number of television sets jumped from 700,000 to 7.2 million between 1956 and 1962, the number of movie-goers plummeted from 800 million to 180 million per year. For young film-makers in Germany the spectacular crash of the commercial cinema offered a chance and an incentive to experiment with alternative visions. They began to direct their own short films, several of which were awarded prizes at international festivals. Encouraged by the success of the British Free Cinema movement ( 1956-9) and the French Nouvelle Vague (the début films by Godard, Chabrol, and Truffaut appeared in 1959-60), a group of twenty-six German film directors and film critics, all between 20 and 30 years old, demanded a new cinema for Germany, a cinema that would link up with the emerging European modernist art cinema. Their brief but powerful manifesto, published on the occasion of the 8th West German Short Film Festival at Oberhausen on 28 February 1962, proudly proclaimed:
The collapse of the conventional German film finally removes the economic basis for a mode of film-making whose attitude and practice we reject. With it the new film has a chance to come to life. We declare our intention to create the new German feature film.
This new film needs new freedoms. Freedom from the conventions of the established industry. Freedom from the outside influence of commercial partners. Freedom from the control of special interest groups. We have concrete intellectual, formal, and economic conceptions about the production of the new German film. We are as a collective prepared to take economic risks.
The old film is dead. We believe in the new film.
The very claim to create a new film ex nihilo, in negation of history and tradition, recalls not only the futurist and other avant-garde manifestos in the early part of the century; its stance of pure creation also points to a Romantic notion of authorship not bound by economics or the expectations of an audience. Furthermore, the sharp line drawn between the 'old film' and the young foreclosed any productive co-operation between the industry and its enthusiastic challengers. In contrast to the French New Wave that was soon integrated into the mainstream, rejuvenating it in the process, hardly an attempt was made by the established German producers to finance the rebel film-makers, nor was there any desire on the part of the old guard to reform the industry from the inside. This lack of co-operation between the old and the new, the commercial and the experimental, the popular and the avant-garde has plagued the German cinema to this day.
Even though the manifesto failed to address the question of subsidies, it was tacitly understood that state support was needed to allow film-makers to be auteurs. Realizing the cultural benefits of a strong national cinema, the government installed a central funding agency, the ' Kuratorium Junger Deutscher Film', which with 5 million marks supported the production of twenty
Hannelore Hoger in Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel Ratlos ( Artists at the Top of the Big Top, Disorientated, 1968). Alexander Kluge weaves stills, newsreel, and found film into the story of Leni Peickert who tries to develop a new kind of circus
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Publication information: Book title: The Oxford History of World Cinema. Contributors: Geoffrey Nowell-Smith - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 614.
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