Academic journal article German Quarterly

Wandering in/to the Rubble-Film: Filmic Flânerie and the Exploded Panorama after 1945(1)

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Wandering in/to the Rubble-Film: Filmic Flânerie and the Exploded Panorama after 1945(1)

Article excerpt

When director Wolfgang Staudte named the first German feature film to be made after World War II, he chose a title that resonated in important ways with film history. Die Morder sind unter uns (1946) deliberately cites the celebrated tradition of Weimar cinema before the Nazis coordinated and corrupted the renowned German film industry. Staudte's title for this film, the most famous of "the rubble-films," revisits Fritz Lang's intended title for M (1931), namely, Morder unter uns-a name sacrificed, as the anecdote goes, to a Nazi studio manager paranoid that the public would think that the title referred to the by-then already powerful National Socialists (Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler 218-29). In his study of M, Anton Kaes offers another, more credible reason: that, by the early 1930s, there were already too many films with "murder" in the title (16). In any case, Lang forfeited his original title, but not the film's basic concept: namely, that the serial child-killer is just one of the crowd, wandering around the city among and with the audience, reflecting, as Thomas Elsaesser has suggested, "the darker side of the flâneur" (145).

In choosing his own title fifteen years later, Staudte invoked Lang's M in part to reroute German film through its less problematic traditions after the Nazi-controlled Ufa years, during which Staudte himself appeared in Nazicontrolled productions. Various critics have subsequently highlighted Staudte's deliberate formal citation of Expressionist or worker films of the 1920s as a means by which to facilitate this bridge to Weimar (for example, Shandley 27). It remains, however, to examine the way in which the content of Die Mörder engages wiihM or other 1920s films. In particular, one important linkage that runs as a subtext through a number of the postwar rubble-films has gone unnoticed: the return of the flâneur, or, more precisely, the return of the return of the flâneur, as the 1920s avatar of this peripatetic figure was itself a return from the mid-19thcentury, as Walter Benjamin observed in his 1929 review of Franz Hessel's Spazieren in Berlin (a review anticipating his interest in this figure in his massive Arcades Project).

At first glance, the early postwar period would hardly seem an historical moment conducive to flânerie: the harsh contingencies of everyday life overwhelmed any would-be wandering dandies, who, like everybody else, were sure to be teetering on the edge of survival. And yet the German rubble-films-films shot shortly after the war (1945-1951) and engaged with their contemporary context-consistently of fer extended scenes and sequences in which the various Heimkehrer wander through the city, study the ruined cityscape, and become the key observers of the recent past as well as the ruinous present. If these postwar films are engaged in resurrecting and extending the traditions of Weimar films-in ways as of yet largely underanalyzed-I aim to investigate how they returned, meandering back, to invoke the idle, almost always male wanderer winding his way through city streets.

As in a number of 1920s films, the flâneur becomes the privileged means for representing both modernity-with its kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of the modern metropolis-as well as the city dweller's response to it. In a vein similar to M, rubble-films like Die Mörder sind unter uns deploy this figure in order to simultaneously invoke and problematize modern metropolitan contexts and experiences. Like .M, many rubble-films investigate the darker side of the flâneur in order to cast doubt upon the modernity that helped produce both the 1920s German flâneur and the decimated state of German cities after World War II. They deploy the flâneur, to subvert and negate marquee aspects of 1920s modern metropolitan social and cultural constellations. I argue that the figure of the flâneur brings together three intersecting threads: first, urban space as constructed by the panoramic gaze and what I term "panoramic memory"; second, the act and function of that panoramic memory in recalling the war and the bombing (as discussed in WG. …

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