Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler

Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler

Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler

Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler

Synopsis

Heide Fehrenbach analyzes the important role cinema played in the reconstruction of German cultural and political identity between 1945 and 1962. Concentrating on the former West Germany, she explores the complex political uses of film and the meanings attributed to film representation and spectatorship during a period of abrupt transition to democracy.

According to Fehrenbach, the process of national redefinition made cinema and cinematic control a focus of heated ideological debate. Moving beyond a narrow political examination of Allied-German negotiations, she investigates the broader social nexus of popular moviegoing, public demonstrations, film clubs, and municipal festivals. She also draws on work in gender and film studies to probe the ways filmmakers, students, church leaders, local politicians, and the general public articulated national identity in relation to the challenges posed by military occupation, American commercial culture, and redefined gender roles. Thus highlighting the links between national identity and cultural practice, this book provides a richer picture of what German reconstruction entailed for both women and men.

Excerpt

Entertainment offers the image of "something better" to escape into, . . . something we want deeply that our day-to-day lives don't provide.--Richard Dyer , Entertainment and Utopia

On 9 May 1945, the day of unconditional surrender, few in Germany were preoccupied with thoughts of cinema. By all accounts, most Germans were intent on one thing, das, Überleben, or mere survival, and Allied armies were grappling to impose a victor's order on the wartime chaos. Over a dozen major cities had been badly damaged: the former Reich capital--which U.S. general Lucius Clay declared "the city of the dead"--had 75 percent of its buildings destroyed, Düsseldorf was more than 90 percent uninhabitable, and a British observer was trying to ascertain just how many "catacomb people" were living in the underground labyrinths below the rubble of what had been Cologne. the Allies needed to establish order, locate and arrest Nazi officials, contain the spread of disease, insure public hygiene, and organize the basic requirements of life for the conquered population and its newly liberated victims. There were serious shortages of housing, clothing, food, and soap; cities were without water, gas, or electricity; transportation and communication lines were damaged or destroyed; roads were impassible; and mountains of rubble had to be cleared. Moreover, the Allies were faced with the historically unprecedented dislocation and migration of millions. Forced laborers, concentration and death-camp prisoners, and prisoners of war had to be fed, housed, provided medical treatment, and, in some cases, repatriated. Over the course of the next year, nearly 10 million refugees entering from the eastern reaches of the former Reich needed to be absorbed and integrated. Day-to-day life remained precarious through 1948, when deaths from malnutrition, disease, and exposure to the cold finally fell off. Until then, survival depended on a combination of stamina, skill, and resourcefulness, as official rations (only 800 calories per day . . .

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