Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Barometers of GDR Cultural Politics: Contextualizing the DEFA Grimm Adaptations

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Barometers of GDR Cultural Politics: Contextualizing the DEFA Grimm Adaptations

Article excerpt

From its first adaptation of the Grimms' "Das tapfere Schneiderlein" ("The Brave Little Tailor") in 1956 to its last adaptation of the Grimms' "Die Gänsemagd" ("The Goose Girl") in 1989, the East German state studio, known as DEFA (Deutsche Film- Aktiengesellschaft), produced twenty-three featurelength live-action films for children based on tales by the Brothers Grimm.1 This count does not include animation films, silhouette films, and particular Grimm adaptations shown only on television. Out of the two hundred children's films made by DEFA between 1946 and 1990, more than 10 percent are Grimm adaptations. Filming the Grimms' folktales served DEFAs designated task of educating and entertaining young authences. The importance of children's films was reflected in the fact that they constituted a separate production category alongside feature films, news and documentary films, and popular scientific films.2

Most children's films DEFA made during this period were adaptations from literary sources, among which the Grimms' printed collection of folktales is by far the most frequently utilized. DEFA set out to transpose these fairy tales onto the screen in order to extrapolate political, ideological, and didactical significance for the present. This essay analyzes selected film adaptations of the Grimms' fairy tales by situating them in their respective historical period; it also examines how these adaptations evolved with the changing political stakes from 1956 to 1989. The essay looks into the reception of the films within the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and evaluates the reviews against the cultural atmosphere of their respective periods. It shows that the conception of the films, as well as their reception by reviewers, responded quickly to vacillating liberal and repressive trends and thus functioned as a barometer of GDR cultural politics. Generally speaking, the films of the 1950s and 1960s are co-opted to serve the official rhetoric that the newly established proletarian state is antifascist and anticapitalist. In the ambiance of the Cold War, these films suggestively associate the capitalist West with wealth and power represented by the aristocracy and the socialist East with virtues like diligence, love, and humanity exemplified by the working class. The films of the 1970s are politically interesting because they move from critique of capitalist regimes to internal critique, encoding the latter, however, in seemingly innocuous fairy-tale films. In the last decade of the GDR, the films seem to be less politically significant and instead present topical diversification, high technical achievement, and aesthetic pleasure.

Filming fairy tales was not an uncontested decision for DEFA, which explored this genre with much reservation due to the initially believed contradiction between the cultural politics of the GDR and the fairy-tale tradition. As literary products, fairy tales have been subjected to the censoring hands and minds of editors, who - like the Grimms - usually belong to the bourgeois class. Thus, published tales contain layers of revisions and additions that reflect the middle-class belief and value system. The conviction that they "bear die stamp of their reactionary bourgeois recorders" made them highly dubious in the eyes of the GDR cultural functionaries (Bathrick 167). Moreover, a narrow understanding of realism in the GDR let the tales appear "idealistisch, illusionär-romantisch und mystisch" ("idealistic, illusorily romantic and mystic"; Richter-de Vroe 19). Gruesome details contained in the tales were also suspected to cajole devious thoughts and behavior. For all of these reasons, the question arose in the GDR whether to expose young minds to fairy tales, especially the collection by the Grimm brothers. The Grimms' tales were repudiated accordingly during the immediate postwar years in the GDR.

The GDR was not alone in its initial trepidation toward fairy tales, which had received the same fate of condemnation and rehabilitation in the Soviet Union. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.