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Defining DEFA's Historical Imaginary: The Films of Konrad Wolf Author(s): Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel Reviewed

work(s): Source: New German Critique, No. 82, East German Film (Winter, 2001), pp. 3-24 Published by: New German Critique Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3137408 . Accessed: 03/02/2012 12:30
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Defining DEFA 's Historical Imaginary: The Films ofKonrad Wolf


ThomasElsaesserandMichaelWedel
A decade or so since the demise of DEFA, can one begin to thinkof a history of GDR cinema, conceived within German film history as a whole, and of a historyof Germancinema fully within the international debates on national cinema, film, and history? It seems a daunting not agenda.After the fall of the wall, the task of 'integrating' only territories and people, but also the artsand culturallife was evident. Equally evident was the dangerof selectively appropriating GDR heritageor the rewritingthe differences across the West Germanmodel. For cinema, East German film cultureposed special problems, since, comparedto the GDR's literarylife, it had largelyremainedterra incognitafor West Germanyand the wider Westernpublic. Where it figured at all, it was either seen as a parallel,popular-commercial cinema (underthe special conditions of state capitalism),or as a parallel auteur cinema (Wolf, Beyer, Carow, and so forth as the equivalentsof Kluge, Reitz, Herzog, Fassbinder,etc.).' The result were ratherskewed symmetries,especially since it was hardlyfeasible to regardEast Germancinema as a countercinema in the same sense that the political cinema of Jean-LucGodard in the 1970s, the films of GlauberRocha, or the New Braziliancinema were once understood.The exact placing of GDR cinema must remain an open issue, one thatfuturehistorians no doubtseek to address.2 will
1. See the contributions Film in der DDR, ed. Peter W. Jansen and Wolfram to Schtitte(Munichand Vienna:Hanser,1977). 2. See also Enno Patalas,"Feindkultur Die zerissene Leinwand," 3: Die Zeit (28 Oct. 1999) 61-65.

TheFilms of KonradWolf

We are no specialists of DEFA cinema;we cannot contributeto the more dedicatedmicrolevelsof this placing.Ourperspectiveremainsboth from a distanceand from outside. We shall try to maximize the advanbring.For instance,when looking at how the tages that these drawbacks GDR cinemahas been explicitlyor implicitlymapped,we noticedthat in a number of (traditional)film histories the approachwas paratactic, which is to say, the DEFA/GDRcinema was more or less added to the existing cinema(s)of the FederalRepublic,as if the problemwas one of mere contiguity,filling in some newly emergingwhite and gray areas in the otherwisesolid cinematiclandscape.3But such a map is little more thanthe off-limits sign to a minefieldas soon as one steps into the terrijudgements, tory itself: a minefield of contendingdiscourses,normative debates.We cannotpresumeto do more here than state and prescriptive this this fact,butthis essay confirmsthe necessityfor addressing agenda. Given these mostly contextual or metacriticalquestions, it may be on surprisingthat we are nonethelessconcentrating one director,Konrad Wolf. In fact, we offer what is ideally a close textual reading of individualworks. Our thesis will be that some of Wolf's best-known films offer the Westernviewer suddenmomentsof recognition:of other cinematic idioms, of unsuspectedechoes, of strikingparallelsto styles, film hissignatures,and motifs known from nationaland international tory. The working hypothesis derived from these moments of recognition (which are, of course, also moments of miscognition) does not furnish a radicallynew readingof Wolf's work, nor will it provide a sure strategy for opening the general DEFA output. It is conceivable that Wolf is not entirelyunique,and if our points resonatein otherfilms our of GDR cinema,this would clearlystrengthen argument. The broaderaim, however,is to show how the conceptualinclusionof GDR cinema into Germanfilm historynecessarilyresituatesthe internationalplace and discursivespacesof bothGDR and FRG cinema,perhaps the rephrasing whole questionof the identityof Germancinema. How of does it affect the articulation the well-knownbreaksand continuities, the the constructions genealogies,the inventionof traditions, tropesof of
Pflaumand Hans 3. See the respectivechapterson GDR cinema in Hans Giinther Deutschland:Der neue deutscheFilm von Helmut Prinzler,Film in der Bundesrepublik Mit den Anfdngenbis zur Gegenwart. einemExkursiiberdas Kino der DDR (Munichand Vienna:Hanser, 1992) 149-87;see also the chapterby WolfgangGersch,Geschichtedes deutschenFilms, eds. WolfgangJacobsen,Anton Kaes, and Hans HelmutPrinzler(Stuttgartand Weimar:Metzler, 1993) 323-64.

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

the master narratives, and the relation of mainstream to margins and of alternative to oppositional practices? Including DEFA in German film history would, above all, overcome the straightforwardand seemingly ineluctable ideological binarisms, according to which the historical contiguity of East and West German cinema has resulted in two quite separate developments within two politically and socially antagonistic systems. For pragmatic reasons, a closer look at only a few of Konrad Wolf's films - Lissy, Divided Heaven [Der geteilte Himmel], I was Nineteen [Ich war neunzehn], and Solo Sunny - will have to suffice, prefaced by a quotation from another source altogether, West German television. It serves as a reminder not only of the intervention of television in this debate, but also television's role in politicizing the media institutions, including the film historical apparatus, co-opted very quickly during the process of unification. Alerting one to the delicate problems of speak-

ing about GDR cinema in the first place, it cautions against assuming that there is a position to speak from 'outside' which is not already 'inside' otherpoliticalanddiscursiveformations. History of the Victors[Siegergeschichte] On the evening of Germany'sDay of Unification,KonradWolf's 1964 film Divided Heaven was broadcastby a regional television station, introduced the popular West German Hannivan Haiden: announcer by
Tonighton N3 we presentto you the GDR film DividedHeaven,which was made by KonradWolf in 1964. A film which is consideredby many film critics the very epitomeof GDR film art in the 1960s. An outstanding production, carefullyarranged images, and on top of it, a scriptbasedon the novel of the poet ChristaWolf. Whatelse could one ask for?Since the lastBerlinFilmFestival,however,audiences know of other [GDR] films fromthatperiod,films which rightaftertheircombanned,suchas TraceofStone [Die Spurder pletion,were immediately Steine] by FrankBeyer, or Just Don't ThinkI'm Crying [Denk bloss nicht,ich heule],directed Frank by Vogel. Both films areexciting[topiof cal] state-of-things descriptions a society longing for change. How differentin this respectthe film of KonradWolf. In the guise of an manufactures ideologicalclich6after one allegedlove story,the director mouthedcartooncaptionsas uneroticandinaneas can scarcely another, be imagined.In this respect,however,DividedHeaven is an extremely revealingdocument,testifyingto the kinds of intellectualadjustments necessaryfor a film to makeit into the GDR cinemasin 1964.
4. On the regionalTV stationNord 3, 3 Oct. 1990.

TheFilms of KonradWolf

Leaving aside the evident ignorancethat such a descriptionreveals of Wolf's film, it is itself "an extremely revealing document,"highlighting a mindset not just about films at a point in time when the GDR had just ceased to exist. What the announcer'swords illustrateis that in a unified Germany the past has its future ahead of it: much will be necessarybefore the divides will sub"intellectualadjustment" side and a viable history becomes possible. To this process, Hanni van Haiden's moderationmakes a contribution,significant in its double positioning toward the film (offering both an auteuristand a political reading).It attemptsa retrospectiverewritingof the DEFA canon, and in the light of the freshly uncanned,so-called forbiddenfilms [Verbotsfilme] of 1965, it quickly dispatches to the critical Gulag a film that was once regardedas the very icon of both Konrad Wolf's artistic credibility and of DEFA's status as a company preparedto invest in projects.5 politically controversial constellationof Hannivan Haiden(as television authorThe particular ity), Konrad(and Christa)Wolf's Divided Heaven, and the day of German unificationstand for a sort of self-fulfillingprophecyideologically teleology. As such, the occasion served as supportedby a retrospective which all too of the coincidences and overdeterminations, an allegory often seem to hauntthe historyof Germancinema,makingevidence and slip of the tongue so hard ideology, intentionalill-will and involuntary to disentangle,while nailing,in this instance,a whole periodto the cross of the two date-posts of 1965 and 1990. Constructingthe forbidden films as at once a moral, an aesthetic,and a historicalvanishing point from which GDR cinema could now be classified andjudged, West German television reassertsits putativerole in helpingGDR citizens to gain their political and economic freedom, adding to its spoils the cinema, 'liberated'in 1989/90, by revealingto the public both east and west the hidden and thus implicitly more authenticpart of the GDR itself.6 A more exemplary case of Walter Benjamin's assertion that history is
see 5. On the historyof the rediscoveryof the so-called Verbotsfilme, the essays and documentscollected in GiinterAgde, ed., Kahlschlag:Das 11. Plenum des ZK der 2nd SED 1965. StudienundDokumente, ed. (Berlin:Aufbau, 1999);also see BartonByg, "Whatmighthave been: DEFA Filmsof the Pastandthe Futureof GermanCinema,"Cineaste 17.4 (Summer1990):9-15. 6. On the role of Germantelevision in the process of unification,see After the eds. GeoffreyNowell-SmithandTanaWollen (London: Wall:Broadcastingin Germany, BFI, 1991); Mauer-Show,eds. RainerBohn, KnutHickethier,and Eggo Miller (Berlin: EditionSigma, 1992).

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

always writtenby the winners7is difficultto imagine:it is as if the forbidden films, had they not existed, would have had to be invented, so perfectlydid they fit into the re-writingstrategiesof West Germancultural institutions,their swift handiworkshadowing that of the trustee with regardto the GDR's economic,as opposedto cultural capital. 'Normalization'and 'Internationalization' It could be instructiveto see if this particularversion of Siegergeschichte has become widely acceptedamong West Germanfilm critics, some of whom enthusiasticallywelcomed the forbidden films, using them as a convenient excuse for not paying the obligatory 'GDRbonus.' The films providedthe press unexpectedlywith a historically documentedvariationon the public exorcism, which their literarycolleagues saw fit to administerto ChristaWolf, HermannKant, and Heiner Miiller.8 At the same time, the discovery of the forbiddenfilms offered ideological openings for those abusively known among their and former colleagues as turncoats[Wendehidlse], whose post-unification fresh starts the forbiddenfilms could supply with proof of politically neutralground at the heart of ideology (were the 'Verbotsfilme' not evidence "of a society longing for change"?).What is certainis that such easy passages from difference to indifference,from rejection to cannotguidehistorians the German of cinema. appropriation But what are the alternatives?What perspectives does currentfilm historiographyput at our disposal? Our initial appeal was to the socalled New Film History, in order to speak of the former East and West Germancinemas without falling back on fixed ideological positions and foregroundingthe different political interests.9 The New
7. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History,"Illuminations,ed. HannahArendt,trans.HarryZohn(London:Fontana,1992) 248. 8. In the context of the so-calledLiteraturstreit. This debatehas been excessively im documented,see, in particular,'Esgeht nichtnurum ChristaWolf':Der Literaturstreit vereintenDeutschland,ed. ThomasAnz (Munich:Spangenberg, 1991);Der deutsch-deutsche Literaturstreit oder 'Freunde,es sprichtsich schlecht mit gebundenerZunge', eds. Karl Deiritz and Hannes Krauss (Hamburg:Luchterhand,1991); also see the essays at includedin GermanLiterature a Timeof Change,1989-1990: GermanUnityand German Identity in LiteraryPerspective, eds. ArthurWilliams, StuartParkes, and Roland Smith(New York.:PeterLang, 1991). 9. For an overviewof some of the basic assumptions the New Film History,see of Thomas Elsaesser,"The New Film History,"Sight & Sound 35.4 (1986): 246-52; Paul einer neuen Filmgeschichtswissenschaft," monKusters,"New Film History:Grundziige tage/av 5.1 (1996): 39-60.

TheFilms ofKonrad Wolf

Film History could help 'normalize'this period of Germancinema history, in the sense of giving due weight to the institutionalaspects, the comparativedimension,and the definitionof the kind of public-sphere cinema in general representedin the former GDR. In short, what is meant by this at first glance highly ideological term normalizationis the desire to internationalizeour object of study, which would mean refiguring particular film-historical periods or national cinemas, in order to renderthem present in several discursive registers and visible on several interpretative planes. In opting for this approach,we find ourselves broadly in line with positions also put forwardby scholarsof GDR cinema in recent years, from whose work we have taken some cues. For instance, the specific institutionalcontext and industrialmode of GDR film productionand distribution,film finance and regulation, film exhibition venues, and audience reception have been impressively investigated,most notably for the early years of DEFA, by historianssuch as ChristianeMiickenberger, Ralf Schenk, and Thomas Heimann, basing their readings on recentlyaccessed archivematerial.10 A complementarystrategy would involve the reconstructionof the public sphere in which the cinema found its place among the arts and the leisure activitiesof GDR citizens, requiring historianto take account and includingquestions of forof the broaderfilm and media-culture, eign film import,the actualpercentageof DEFA's share of the domestic market, as well as tracing international generic influences feeding back into production,or identifying changing reception patterns and expectationsattachedto the cinema as distinct from television, itself a by key public sphere of the GDR, and as is well-known, structured an or international, 'Western'horizonof expectations,due to the high penetration of West German television in GDR households. As is suggested in the available inventoriesof all films screened in cinemas on the territoryof the formerGDR between 1945 and 1961, there was a surprisinglysubstantialpresence of West Germanpopulargenre films on GDR screens in the mid- and late 1950s, followed by their virtual
10. Christiane Milckenbergerand Gunter Jordan, 'Sie sehen selbst, Sie hioren selbst': Eine Geschichteder DEFA von ihren Anfdngenbis 1949 (Marburg: Hitzeroth, "ZeitderHoffnungen:1946bis 1949,"and Ralf Schenk, 1994);Christiane Miickenberger, "Mittenim KaltenKrieg: 1950 bis 1960,"bothin Das zweiteLebender FilmstadtBabels1946-1992, ed. Schenk(Berlin:Henschel, 1994): 8-157; Thomas berg: DEFA-Spielfilme Heimann,DEFA,KiinstlerundSED-Kulturpolitik (Berlin:Vistas, 1994).

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

absence in the decades to follow.1 This went hand in handwith a gradual rescinding of import embargoeswith respect to western European and even Hollywoodproductions duringthe courseof the 1980s. Another researcharea that will undoubtedly profile the notion of the cinema's public sphereare the studiohistoriesof DEFA-Babelsberg. By highlightingthe influence of non-GDR stars and personnel,or charting the history of international one can identify unexpected co-productions points of industrial continuity and artistic cross-fertilization.12 They confirm, if a reminderis necessary, the large numberof formerUfa-, but also West Germanand western Europeanpersonnel in DEFA-studios until at least 1960. Of related interest,once one allows for a less monolithicpublic sphere in which DEFA cinema defined itself, are the increasingly numerous auteur studies - biographies, documentaries, interviews and anthologies- extendingbeyond directors,to encompass actors and art directors.These often point to ratherconscreenwriters, flictual patternsof influence and orientation which, as we shall suggest in the case of Wolf and the filmmakingelite of his generation,involved at the very least the double agendaof belongingto a filmmakingcollective obliged to define a domestic filmmaking practice,while at the same time competing at internationalfestivals. As such, GDR filmmakers were fully cognizant of the contemporaryinternationalcinema, as it mutatedafter 1945 from neo-realismto the nouvelle vague, and from
11. In the yearsbetween 1950 and 1961aroundseventyWest Germanproductions in theirmajoritypopulargenre films, but also documentaries children'sfilms - were and released with only a little delay in GDR cinemas. See the titles listed in Deutsche Filmkunst7.10 (1959): 314-15, and 9.2 (1961): 71. The official state-runfilm periodical the Deutsche Filmkunsttriedto counteract appealof popularWest German'imports'in a series of unsigned critical commentaries.See, for example, "Westdeutscher Film im Schlepptauder USA," 1.1 (1953): 120-23;"DerWestdeutscheFilm - ein hoffnungsloser Themen der neuen westdeutschen Fall?" 1.2 (1953): 177-79; "O alte Ufa-Herrlichkeit: 1.3 Filmproduktion," (1953): 163-66; also see Ewald H. Hagen, "Lustspielfilme stark gefiragt,"1.3 (1953): 113-16; ""Fiir gesamtdeutsches,nationales Filmschaffen," 2.1 Filmschaffende zum Gesamtdeutschen Film,"2.2 (1954): 39(1954): 4-5; "Westdeutsche 41. Detailed accountsof the film exchange between West and East Germanybefore the der wall can be found in Wolfgang Gersch,"Die Verdoppelung Femrne: Notizen von der anderen Seite," Zwischen Gestern und Morgen: Westdeutscher Nachkriegsfilm1946and 1962, ed. JiirgenBerger,Hans-Peter Reichmann, RudolfWorschech(Frankfurt/Main: DeutschesFilmmuseum,1989): 100-09;Schenk,"Mittenim KaltenKrieg"86-92. 12. Schenk, "Auferstanden Ruinen: Von der Ufa zur Defa," Das Ufa-Buch: aus Kunst und Krisen, Stars und Regisseure, Wirtschaft Politik, ed. Hans-MichaelBock und and MichaelT6teberg(Frankfurt/Main: Zweitausendeins, 1992) 476-81; Schenk,"Mitten im Kalten Krieg"93-101; Wolfgang Jacobsen,"ChaCha Bim Bamrn Bum,"Babelsberg: Ein Filmstudio1912-1992, ed. W. Jacobsen(Berlin:Argon, 1992) 279-84.

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TheFilms of KonradWolf

their respecIngmarBergmanor MichelangeloAntonioni representing tive national cinema, to eastern Europeandirectorsfulfilling a similar function,such as AndreiTarkovsky,AndrzejWajda,and Istvan Szabo, not to mention these filmmakers'exposure in the 1970s and 1980s to the New Germancinema and to New Hollywood.13In a turn known from the otherarts and public media (literature, theater,the visual arts), the GDR's film culture's access to travel permits, foreign currency, international contactsacted in a way familiarfrom GDR sports:as 'perdrugs'forthe artisticelite. formance-enhancing which has inspiredour Finally, anothermodel of internationalization nationalcinemanot so is own approach to look at the films of a particular or much across its auteurs,individualmasterpieces, underlyingnational In mythologies,but across populargenres and modes of representation. formulated the past decade, this position has been programmatically by in BartonByg with respect to GDR cinema,l4but it is also mirrored a numberof other recent publications,which have taken a fresh look at popularmusicals, fantas films, comedies15and GDR Westerns(the socalled Indianerfilme),1 or have challenged accepted views about not DEFA's massive and varied outputof documentaries,17 omitting its well-recognizedvanguard positionin the genresof the children'sfilm.18 WhyKonrad Wolf? Why then choose KonradWolf, who of all GDR film people is probably the most prominentauteur,GDR figurehead,and official cinematic Usually, his films have been read across a personal, if representative? not autobiographical matrix, in which poignantly political comments
Chris13. See, for example,Konrad Wolf s commentson films by Gallher/Schtibel, tianZiewer,Reinhard Hauff,andFrancisFordCoppolain Direktin KopfundHerz.: Aufzeichnungen,Reden,Interviews,ed. Aune Renk(Berlin:Henschel, 1989) 246-48. 14. BartonByg, "DEFAand the Traditions International of Cinema,"DEFA: East GermanCinema,1946-1992,eds. SeanAllan andJohnSandford (Oxford: Berghahn,1999). 15. For reevaluationsof these popular DEFA-genres, see the contributionsto Schenk,Das zweiteLebender FilmstadtBabelsberg. 16. Gerd Gemiinden,"ZwischenKarl May und Karl Marx: Die DEFA-Indianerversionappearsin filme (1965-1983),"Film undFernsehen 1 (1998): 37-41. A translated this volume of New GermanCritique. und 1946-1992, eds. GiinterJor17. Schwarzweif3 Farbe: DEFA-Dokumentarfilme der Ost: Dokumentarfilme dan and Ralf Schenk(Berlin:Jovis, 1992);Deutschlandbilder ed. DEFA von der Nachkriegszeitbis zur Wiedervereinigung, Peter Zimmermann (Konstanz:UVK-Medien/Olschliger, 1995). flfr 18. ZwischenMarxundMuck:DEFA-Filme Kinder,eds. IngeloreKinig, Dieter and Wiedemann, LotharWolf (Berlin:Henschel, 1996).

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

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refract, prism-like, institutional discourses about class, family, and nationalidentity.He almost always positions his heroes or heroines inbetween, a figurationeasily decodableagainst Wolf's backgroundas a Germaneducatedin Moscow, and as a Communist,burdenedwith the legacy of (Nazi-) Germany.The choice not to be concernedeither with these conflicting fields of negotiation,nor with the aesthetic choices of a subjective consciousness reflecting and thereby commenting upon official versions of this historyand reality,is thus partof a largerclaim: that Wolf's films raise questionsusually appliedto popular(in Western terms: commercial) cinema. Yet on what grounds can he be said to addressissues of genre?How far does he concernhimself with the continuity of nationalstylistic traditions,or show an awarenessof international cinematic conventions and developments? Before suggesting some of the evidence, it might be useful to justify our choice also withinthe largercontextsketchedabove. First of all, Wolf is an appropriate choice in a negative sense: if it is possible to show an acknowledgedauteurto have as his intertextthe and cinema, in both its mainstream art cinema idioms, then international our point about GDR cinema in generalbeing less sui generis than generally assumed gains a credibility it could not have if our examples were merelydrawnfrompopular genrefilms. Secondly, Wolf, while a recognized DEFA auteur, cannot be construedas an oppositionalartistin relationto the regime, given his prominence as high-profile emigr6. His official assignments included not only his party membership;he was chair of the Artists' Union, president of the Academy of Arts (East, 1965-1982), and member of the Central Committee of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) from by 1981-1982.19This point is also illustrated the fact that the one Wolf film not released at the time of its production,Sun-Seekers[Sonnensucher (1958/71)], was bannednot for fear of a possible corruptionof public morals or a threatto inner securityas was the case with the forbidden films of 1965/66. Instead, diplomatic reasons on an international scale guided the decision. At the time of its completion,the states of the Warsaw Pact were negotiating an agreementwith the United
19. Detailedhistoricaldocumentation Wolf's (film) politicalactivitiesin the conof texts of his variousinstitutional mandatsis foundin Konrad Wolfim Dialog: Kiinsteund Politik,eds. DieterHeinze andLudwigHoffmann(Berlin:Dietz, 1985);ZwischenDiskussion undDisziplin:Dokumente Geschichte Akademieder Kiinste(Ost) 1945/50 bis zur der 1993, eds. UlrichDietze andGudrun GeiBler(Berlin:Henschel, 1997): 188-389.

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TheFilms ofKonrad Wolf

States, a process which was feared to be irritatedby the release of a film aboutthe Soviet-run miningin Wismut.20 Thirdly, Wolf seemed suited as a case study for our hypothesis because, despite all their diversity, his films are to a greateror lesser if degree representative, not symptomaticof the two genres of DEFA cinema on which its claim for the foundationof an alternativetradition is built: the genres of the 'anti-fascist'film and the so-called contempoThis fact should make more visible our rary film [Gegenwartsfilm].21 attemptto open up the cinematicinnerlining, so to speak, of an important partof GDR cinema. Wolf's seemingly personalobsession of shuttling back and forth between the breaks in Germany'srecent past and the problemsof the GDR's then present-day realityappearsthus shaped not only by the double legacy of a socialist and a fascist workingclass, kindof discursivemarket. but also by the pressuresof a particular Melodramaand Pastiche: Lissy and Sterne In this specific yet extendedsense - and thus differentfrom the usual auteuristspecificity and representativeness we take Wolf's films to be tendencies in GDR cinema, at the center of symptomaticof important which is a problemwell-knownfrom other Europeannationalcinemas, namely the negotiationof a nationalidentityacross cinematicmodes of The denominatorcommon to most Europeanpostwar representation. cinema, including that of the GDR is the ambition to conceive of a nationalhistoryin nationalcinema that is capableof crediblyre-figuring terms of or simply as nationalfilm history. With Hollywood itself the clearestexample of a nationcontinuallyrewritingits historyas film history, such an approachwould shift the emphasis to the films' generic identitiesand intertextual giving less prominenceto the traimaginaries, art ditionaltraitsof European cinema, namely realism,and nationalcinvia ema's high culturelegitimation, artists,auteurs,and filmed literature. Wolf's films of the 1950s, while regularlycited as foremostexamples of DEFA's continuationof the traditionof the antifascist film, have more than once been accused of falling back on 'compromised'cinematic formulas.As in the jibe about ideological clich6s quoted above,
20. ReinhardWagner,"Sonnensucher (1958/1972): Notizen zur Werkgeschichte," Konrad Wolf Neue Sichtenaufseine Filme, Beitragezur Film- undFernsehwissenschafl 31.39 (1990): 34-64. Studiesin GDR to Wolf:FromAnti-Fascism Gegenwartsfilm," 21. See Byg, "Konrad et and Culture Society,ed. MargyGerber al. (New York:U of AmericaP, 1985) 115-24.

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Wolf has been associatedpopulargenres such as the Heimatfilmand the doctors' film, melodramatic stylizations,and plot constructions.But in an auteuristreading, a critical trajectoryis constructedthat sees the films from Einmal ist keinmal(1954) and Genesung(1956) to Sonnensucher (1959) and Professor Mamlock(1961) as a slow but steady process of artistic maturation. Only rarely are the genre elements in this of work valorized for the kinds of ambivalencethat so visibly body markthe formativephase of Wolfs filmmaking.22 Earlierthanhis West Germancolleagues, for instance,Wolf seemed to have realized that the filmic representation the Nazi past may dependon a peculiaraffinity of of the period with modes of the melodramatic. this respect, Wolfs In Sterne (1958) is well ahead of the New GermanCinema, which in the mid-1970s began to have its brief decade of internationalacclaim, largely thanks to a revival of melodramaand the woman's film, as genres that could open up the fascist period (The Marriage of Maria Pale Mother,andHeimat).Wolf's awardat the Cannes Braun, Germany festival anticipatesSchlondorffs Oscar for The Tin Drum, and a line could be also drawnfrom KonradWolf to RainerWernerFassbinder, or even from Sterne to Schindler'sList.23Sterne, furthermore, an archeis typal melodramaof the victim and victimizationwhich in a typically Germanpatternpredatingboth Wolf and, for instance,Sanders-Brahms, casts women as victims, in orderto test the male protagonists'capacity for change, while the women are tested for theirendurancein suffering. With its ending, where the man, despite his best intentions,comes 'too late' to rescue the woman he loves, Sterne, however, also invites comparison with many of the 'apologetic' moments in both Ufa/Nazi cinema and postwarWest Germanmainstream cinema. Where the latteris rightly regardedas self-pitying,Wolfs protagonistmight be given the benefitof his stoic resignation the markof innerresistance. as Yet the featurethis points to is not in the first instance Wolfs own ideological attitudeor possible complicity, but the kind of foreknowledge present in his target audience,used to encountermoral dilemmas
22. "A clear change occurredin Wolf's oeuvre, a shift fromthe pathos and pretentiousness of the early films to the supplenessand discretionof the laterones. .. . Wolf's aestheticmaturation shows a constant- if uneven- pattern progression." of Marc Silberman, "Remembering History:The FilmmakerKonradWolf," New GermanCritique49 (Winter1990): 167-68. 23. See Elsaesser, Positions: FromHolocaust,OurHitler, Positions, "Subject Speaking andHeimatto ShoahandSchindler's List,"ThePersistenceofHistory: Cinema,Television, and theModern Event,ed. VivianSobchack (New York& London: Routledge,1996) 145-83.

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The Films ofKonrad Wolf

in precisely this particular, generically overdetermined constellation. It directs our attention to similarities in the two respective public spheres East and West, and possibly Wolf's uncertainty about his audience at that point in his career.24 Hence, a film historian today might justifiably be more interested in the film's ambivalence about how to reorganize in the form of melodrama this conflicting ideological material and its codes of representation (i.e., the varieties of antifascist attitudes), rather than to judge with hindsight Wolf's degree of political correctness or hidden male chauvinism. His own solution to the ambiguities of his public sphere seems to have been the development of a style that is at once genre-bound and original, but whose originality to some extent

lies in the masteryof past idioms (or idioms of the past). To a degree
not often commented upon, Wolf shows himself in Sterne to possess a talent for historical pastiche which, paradoxically, seems to have ensured the film's reception as authentic in the context of a film festival like Cannes where critics recognized and honored in Wolf at once the auteur and the spokesperson of the 'better Germany.' This quality of pastiche of stylistic traditions and perfect mimicry of

generic conventionsis if anythingeven more strikingin Lissy, made the


year before (1957). The film, based on F. C. Weiskopfs 1931 novel, tells the story of Lissy, a woman from a proletarian background, and her equally working class husband Freddy, who both lose their jobs in the socioeconomic vortex of the economic crisis. On the verge of financial ruin, Freddy has a sort of epiphany from which he emerges a Nazi sympathizer and party-member, soon climbing the higher echelons of the SA. The effects of the couple's economic misery are aggravated by them having to care for their new-born child, while the crisis of working class solidarity and identity is mirrored in the fate of Lissy's brother Paul, a former communist and pickpocket, who finally joins the Nazis, but soon turns against the Party, disappointed by its attacks on communists rather than capitalist industrialists and businessmen. Paul is the victim of a shooting incident, for which his erstwhile communist friends are held responsible. Freddy's party mentor Kascmierczik, however, in an unguarded moment, admits that the murder was committed by the Nazis, wanting to rid themselves of an awkward witness. At the official Nazi
24. In his writings,statements,and interviewsfromthe 1950s and early 1960s colof lected in Direktin KopfundHerz, Wolf repeatedlyexpressedthis uncertainty spectato(49) rial address,and it was in this contextthat he spoke of the "Janus-facedness" of the popularsuccess of Sterne.

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

15

funeral, in which Paul is made the sacrificial hero, Lissy is so disgusted by the hypocriticalspeeches that she storms out of the church, leaving the viewer to infer that she is ready to forsake her newly acquireddomestic comforts, in orderto once more fight on the side of her truecomrades. Much of the film's uncannyfascinationresides in its ability to reconstruct the period of the early 1930s, achieved mainly by the many sequences reminiscentof films one has seen before.Lissy is repletewith carefully insertedcitations pastichingWeimar left avant-gardecinema, and extendingfrom Piel Jutzi to SlatanDudow: most visibly perhapsin Freddy's door-to-door montage sequence which is modeled on the jobThis has led commentators, who can search motif in Kuhle Wampe.25 also point to the use of an off-screen narrational voice framingthe dramatic events (and occurring in almost all of Wolf's early films), as Wolf's step towards Brechtianmodes of distanciation.26 However, an equally plausible intertextfor this kind of meta-diegetic commentary can be found in the practiceof contemporary mainstream filmmakingin West Germany,where the films of Kurt Hoffminann, Germancinema's most successful and prolific representative the time,27 often have a at voice-over. similarly'ironically'commenting What is even more strikingaboutLissy, however,is how painstakingly the film attemptsto negotiatethe divergentcinematicheritageof the time between the point of the narrated and the moment of narrationin its reconstruction the historicaldetailof city life (newspapers, of streetcaf6s, shoppingarcades)as well as the social and emotionalstatesof the protagonists. It this sense it can perhapsbe seen as a longinglydetailed,somewhat fetishist reconstruction the moment before the political fall of of 1933 (the 'Siindenfall' the communists, of fightingthe Social Democrats, instead of forminga popularfront against fascism). Today, however, it may just as much appearas a postmodern pasticheof historythroughits
25. Wolf shouldtherefore takenby his wordwhenhe statedthatin his two films set be it in the 1930s,Lissy andProfessorMamlock, was via "styleandimagery" he attempted that to achieve"immediate See [historical] credibility." Wolf,Direktin KopfundHerz 154. 26. Madina Spoden, "Lissy (1957): Gedankenbeim neuerlichenSehen," Konrad Wolf32-33. 27. With nine films getting an all-Germanrelease between 1950 and 1961, Hoffmannrankedfirst among Germandirectors.See Gersch 101-03. On the broadpopularity of (West) Germanmainstream at productions this time, which even surpassedthat of forCinemain DemocratizingGermany: eign imports,see Heide Fehrenbach, Reconstructing NationalIdentityafterHitler (ChapelHill: U of NorthCarolinaP, 1995) 148-68.

16

TheFilms of KonradWolf

modes of representation, deployingcinematically stereotypical plot situations and social spaces (Berlin backyards, intetypicallypetit-bourgeois identitieswell known fromthe popularcinema of 1920s riors),character and 1930s, female subjectivitiescaught in-betweenthe two worlds of 'new woman' self-emancipation and 'new order' consumerism,a split that Wolf captures admirablyin mirrors,self-displays, and mirroring of shop-windowdisplays. Whereasthe representation social mobility on the part of Freddy doubles a particularanxiety about the narcissistic in petit-bourgeois Germancinema,whose epitomefrom the 1930s to the 1960s was Heinz Riihmann,28 Freddy'sambivalence,as for instance in the scene of his anti-Semiticoutburstin front of a billboard,points to parallels in the 'fascinatingfascism' films by Visconti or Bertolucci in the 1970s. The scene is still a tour-de-force, minglingEisenstein'smontage cinemawith an almostoperaticvisual fantasmagoria. In the light of these repetitions parallelsout of time and place, the and melodramatic of the film, in which Lissy turns from the strong ending to carefullychoreographed, shadowyspace of the cathedral a symmetrically framedtree-linedavenue, is less of a stylistic breakwith the proletariancinema of the 1920s. Rather,it strikesone as an almost necessary complement,perfectingthe impressionof pasticheby giving the viewer a variationon the typical look of a Detelf Sierck melodramafrom the late 1930s, or an echo of the sombermise-en-sc~neof funeralrites in a Gustav von Ucicky or Veit Harlanepic from the early 1940s. Anachroin nistically, yet also appropriately the GDR context, Lissy raised the Germanfascism withouthavingrecourseto its issue of how to represent iconographysome 20 years before it was put on the agenda by Visconti, Fassbinder, Truffaut, Malle, or Bertolucci. Across the Divide: Divided Heaven Subjectivity restricThe early 1960s signaleda breakin GDR cinema.Aggravated were coupledwith a call tions on importsfromthe West's film production for contemporary subjectswhich could engagecriticallywith problemsof and everydayreality:a policy shift, for which the industrialproduction It has 'Bitterfeldprogram' become synonymous. is this breakthat is said
noticeable in the scene where Freddy 28. A doublingwhich becomes particularly transforms into a Nazi in frontof a mirror,a scene which, in termsof its social implicais tions, petit-bourgeois setting,and visual organization, almostidenticalwith the mirrorsequence in Carl Boese's Rihmann-vehicle The Detours ofHandsome Karl [Die Umwege

des sch6nenKarl (1938)].

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

17

to reverberate received stronglyin DividedHeaven,a film controversially while immediately abroad. by Wolf's domesticaudiences, appreciated As already mentioned, the film is an adaptationof a novel of the same title by ChristaWolf, who also worked on the script. Set across the time breakwhich was 1960/61 and the Berlin Wall, the story is told from the perspective of Rita who, after a nervous breakdown,looks back on her relationshipwith the chemist Manfredwho left the GDR because his revolutionaryprocess of dying cloth was rejected by the state-owned, manufacturing industry.Manfred opted for the FRG, in order to see his invention put to industrialuse, while Rita, who has trained as a school teacher and also works in a train carriagefactory between her love for Manfredand the soliduringher holidays, is tomrn darity toward her two fatherly mentors: her teacher, Professor and the veteranworkerMeternagel.After a brief visit Schwarzenbach, to Manfred in West Berlin, she decides to returnhome to the GDR, hopingfor a betterand fullerlife amongher 'own kind.' In speculating about the possible reasons for the controversiesthe film provoked,it may be important recall that objectionsdid not cento ter primarilyon the hot topics of flight from the GDR [Republikflucht] or the 'protective barrier' that divided the German nation (after all, quite a few films were made in the GDR aboutthe wall before Divided Heaven29):the protestsmostly concernedthe film's formal characteristics and its difficult, avant-gardemode of narration.30 And it does indeed make sense to refigure the problematicsof Divided Heaven aroundits mode of narration, markedas the film is by several parallel narrativestrands,a complex use of montage and menspatio-temporal tal reframing,and an obsessive returnto recurrent spaces, made up of metaphorical landscapes and city spaces, interior monologue flashbacks, and subjectivepoint-of-viewstructures. As a film highly reflexive of currentcinematic concerns - stylistiart cally, as well as thematicallyclose to the international cinema - it features lonely couples, caught in nameless anomie, generationalconof flicts, and painful inscriptions social and historicalrealitiesacross the consciousnessof female subjectivity. DividedHeaven thus situfocusing ates itself somewhere between MargueriteDuras's films with Alain
29. Erika Richter, "Zwischen Mauerbauund Kahlschlag: 1961 bis 1965," Das zweite Lebender FilmstadtBabelsberg 164-68. 30. For a summaryof the debate,see the review by Friedrich Hitzer,Filmkritik12 (Dec. 1964):650-51.

18

TheFilms of KonradWolf

Resnais,or the earlyAntonionifilms with MonicaVitti. In the context of a generic approach Wolfs films, these featureswould suggest that the to shift between the 1950s and the 1960s refiguresa change also in the public sphere. The identitypolitics connotedby the differentcinematic idioms place Wolf at the heartof a cultural malaise,usually seen as typically Western, and by the GDR as capitalist,in which physical wellbeing can go hand in hand with spiritualanxiety and desolation. But these associationsmerely serve Wolf as a space in which he can inscribe a much more historically specific, German malaise while giving the 'German-German problem'a voice that could be heardwithin the international art cinema. To represent the GDR topic of Republikflucht throughthe looking glass of Hiroshimamon amourand La notte puts a film like Divided Heaven in the same discursivedimensionin which at Girl [Abschied aroundthe same time, AlexanderKluge (with Yesterday's von Gestern],or Artistsat the Top of the Big Top:Disoriented [Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: ratios] and Edgar Reitz (with Mealtimes [Mahltried to place the Young GermanCinema.Seen in this context, zeiten]) Wolfs film takes on a new historicity,but also an avant-gardequality within Germanfilm historyas a whole which makes the 1990 comment by Hannivan Haidenseem the moreideologicallygrotesque. Authenticityas Simulation: I was Nineteen A similar readingof Wolf's subsequentfilm, I was Nineteen (1968), In would seem at first glance quite problematic. the subjectivetemporality of a filmic diary,I was Nineteenrevisitstwo weeks of historicaltime between 16 April and 3 May 1945, the last days of World War II. The is film's loosely structured narrative focalizedthroughthe subjectivityof the 19-yearold GregorHecker,bornin Cologne,who, afterspendinghis to boyhood in exile, is returning his native countryin the uniformof the officer in the becomes commanding Red Army. As such, he temporarily for small town of Bernauand functionsas a translator diplomaticnegotiations. Being mainlyresponsiblefor ideologicalagitationat the front,his weapon of choice is not a Soviet tank or Khalashnikovrifle, but a mobile audio-vanwith megaphone,microphone,and amplifier.His comofficers Vadim (a teacherin Germanfrom panionsare the germanophile Kiev who knows HeinrichHeine by heart)and Sasha, who possesses a special predilectionfor Germanfolk music and hit [Schlager] records. further consists of an allegoricalprologue,and is at The film's structure

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

19

two points early into the narrativeintercutwith historicaldocumentary is arounda numberof encounfootage. The narrative carefullyarranged ters and key situationsof recognitionand miscognitionbetween Gregor and his German countrymen,whose mythical subtexts extend into a poetic geography of dark labyrinths(in the sequence set in the catacombs of the Spandaucitadel) and wasted landscapes,most saliently in the film's final sequence,stagedaround Brandenburg a farm. Considereda filmic reworkingof Wolf's own experiences as a 19to year-oldpolitical refugee returning Germanyin Red Army uniform, I was Nineteen is generally regardedas Wolf's most frankly autobiographicalwork. Because of the way in which the film breakswith classical modes of narration spectatorial and address,it naturallypasses for an expression of personal vision, individual integrity, and historical Yet authenticity.31 what also catches one's attentionwhen reviewingthe film some 30 years after its first release, is how this authenticity-effect is accomplishedby the film's acute awarenessof cinematic traditions from aroundthe time in which it is historicallyset, many of which it rewrites.This dimensionof 'authenticity simulation'is perhapsmost as visible when after the last shot of the interview with a concentration camp employee taken from the 1946 productionDeathcamp Sachsenhausen [TodeslagerSachsenhausen] identifiedas documentary and footage, the film directly cuts back to the fictional interview with a landscapearchitect,where the viewer is disorientedbefore he is able to and statusof this identifythe story-characters thus the non-documentary Such a movementbetween factual and fictional is, however, sequence. only one kind of perceptualturbulenceamong the strong intertextual undercurrents powerfullyrun throughthe film's visual register.To that name only some of the most prominentsources: one can easily recognize Roberto Rossellini's Paisa (and not only the citation of its 'dead partisan sequence' in the opening) and the nowhere-cityof the same director'sbombed-outBerlin in Germany,YearZero, while the Spandau citadel sequence carefullychoreographs allusion and homage to an Jean Renoir's The Grand Illusion. Additionally,Wolf has a distinctly contemporary concept of how an 'authentic'public sphere is construed in terms of its media reality.There is hardlya sequence in the film not mediatedthroughhumanand technicalcommunication devices, such as
31. See, e.g., Silberman, "TheAuthenticity Autobiography: of KonradWolf's I Was Nineteen,"GermanCinema:Textsin Context(Detroit:WayneStateUP, 1995) 145-61.

20

The Films ofKonrad Wolf

bilingual translators, mono-microphones, popular hit and folk music records, and Schellack recordings of classical music from Bach through the Prussian "Hohefriedberg March" to Ernst Busch's Spanish Civil War song "Rio Guarama." At the same time, the literary references from Heine's "Once I had a beautiful fatherland" ["Ich hatte einst ein sch6nes Vaterland"] and the Reclam-edition of Kant's works (from which the landscape architect deduces his apologetic monologue), to the

O. E. Plauen comic book32to which Gregordevotes himself while listening to records, double this investment in the mediality of history with a literary layer. Wolf succeeds in using the cinema as a time machine of historical simulation, in which authenticity follows the course of an inward spiral, not so much one of personal memory and biographical reconstruction, but an inward spiral into (propaganda) media and (popular European) cinema history as public memory, its modes of representation and substitution, where history returns as film

history just as it was to returnin the New GermanCinema a decade


later. Indeed, the fact that since I was Nineteen was made, Germany's past has been rewritten as media history in Edgar Reitz's series Heimat and Heimat Two, the films of Fassbinder, or Godard's Germany, Year Zero suggests a common paradigm, bracketing several phases of postwar cinema in Germany. It thereby lets us perhaps begin to see some of the terms of the integrative history we outlined as a possible goal. Such as shift in perspective on I was Nineteen would also suggest a less symmetrical and more implicated reading of the German-Soviet matrix around which Wolf has spun not only I was Nineteen, but also the earlier Sonnensucher and the subsequent Mama, I am Alive! [Mama, ich lebe]. When set against the German-American axis so prominently figuring in, say, Wenders, Reitz and Fassbinder,33 it no longer seems too far fetched to think of the common basis of several directors' cinematic versions of 'national foundation films' as rooted in the classical movie tropes, such as the frontier with its definition of national identity and otherness, its geography of homelands, enclaves of civilization, and
32. Plauen's comic series "Fatherand Son," originally published in the Berliner IllustrierteZeitungfrom 1933 onward,was amongthe most popularduringthe Nazi-years well beyondthe time when I was Nineteenwas made. Plauen and sustainedits popularity himselfcommittedsuicide in a Nazi prisonin April 1944.Thanksto WolfgangKohlhaase, who clarifiedthis referencein an interviewwith MichaelWedel in Boston, 6 Sept. 1997. Friends:HollywoodEchoes in the New GermanCin33. See Elsaesser,"American ema,"Hollywood& Europe:Economics,Culture,NationalIdentity,1945-95, eds. Geoffrey Nowell-Smithand StevenRicci (London:BFI, 1998) 142-55.

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

21

What the road movie is for Wenders,the family minorityreservations? odyssey for Reitz, and the female melodrama for Fassbinder had already emerged in Wolf as a keen appreciationof the classical western, in the mannerof JohnFord,RobertAldrich, or even Sam Fuller! In this light, Gregor, the hero of I was Nineteen, is perhapsbest understood as the typical western figure of the Indian scout (ratherthan a returning Ulysses), allowing one to tracethe ways in which I was Ninein teen redistributes othemrness complex but significantways among Russians, Germans, Wehrmachtsoldiers, and S.S. members. Indeed, the final siege reproducesthe geographicalorganizationsof the westemrn's classic plot situationsand spatial set-ups from Stagecoach,Apache, or Run of the Arrow. Their recurrence I was Nineteen adds a quite disin tinct movie-mythologicallayer, which enters into competitionwith the more classical mythology of Styx and Lethe, also evoked by the river that landscapesand symbolic crossings staged in a Mark Brandenburg has all the harsh solitariness,but also the resolute solidity of an East Prussianoutpostof the Germanic pioneerspirit.34 Performingthe Everyday:Solo Sunny With Solo Sunny(1980),35 one is struckby anotherrelateddiscursive level, from which a comparativeor integrativehistoriographymight generatea set of terms useful in redefiningsome of the driving forces behindpostwarGermancinema.It concernsthe representation female of subjectivitynot across sexual liberation(in this respect Sunny needs no liberation,her autonomyis establishedin the very first lines of the film: "going to bed with me comes without breakfastin the morning,"she says at one point), but throughthe mediation of the public sphere of
34. As Byg has pointedout, allusionsto the classical U.S. westernare also evident in Wolf's Sonnensucher as well as in Frank Beyer's Five Cartridge Cases [Fiinf Patronenhiilsen](1960) and Spur der Steine (1966). Byg, "DEFA 1996 - Eine OrtsFilm undFernsehen3+4 (1996): 36-37. bestimmung," 35. The film, set in the GDR present,portrays nightclubsinger Sunny,member the of a touringbandbut longing for a solo appearance, who is replacedafterrefusingto sleep with the band's saxophonist the Norbert, as she refusesthroughout film to enterinto a just sexual relationship with her faithfuladmirer, cab driverHarry. the Earlieron, Norbertwho had his lips injuredin a fight, is himself temporarily replacedby the philosophical,amateur saxophonist,whose quiet, secluded lifestyle exerts a strong fascinationon her, but who himself is very casual abouttheirrelationship. After she has accidentallycaughthim in bed with anotherwoman, she enters into a major crisis which results in a suicide attempt.The film ends with Sunny, following her recovery, presentingherself as lead singerto anotherband,whose membersareof a visibly youngergeneration.

22

TheFilms ofKonrad Wolf

and show-business,signaledvia the stage, microphones, amplifiers,selfexhibitionand spectacle.In the Germancinema, this traditionof female as self-representation spectacle is, of course, most memorably (and ambiguously)exploitedin Ufa revue and operettafilms of the 1930s and early 1940s: Zarah Leanderand MarikaR6kk being the best remembered instances. As we know, by the time Solo Sunny was made, this particularmodel of problematizingfemale subjectivity via exhibition and spectacle was being rewrittenby directors associated with New (West) Germancinema, most eminentlyperhapsin the films of Fassbinder, who himself not only rewroteUfa show-vehicles (in Lili Marleen), but like so many other Europeanfilmmakersof the 1970s, took the female artisteas a metaphorfor linking fascism and show-business, while steeringthe concept of identitypast political, ideological, or genderedabsolutestowarddifferent breaks,continuities,anddisjunctures. If one situatesSolo Sunnywithin this very controversial field of referconstellationof writence, at the outer vanishingpoint of the triangular ing and rewriting,there emerges anotherfilm, as a kind of relay for all three cinematic modes across historical time and national boundaries: this film is Bob Fosse's 1972 Cabaret, and its heroine Sally Bowles directlyevoked at severalmomentsin Solo Sunny,and thus all the more as important a catalyst for the Germancinema in respect to its controversial cinematic and nationaltraditions,worked throughin relationto female subjectivity, culture,andthe publicsphere. popular What precisely the presence of this particular constellationNazi cinSunnyadds by way of another,metacritemalHollywood/Fassbinder/Solo ical dimensionto the film's engagementwith contemporary GDR reality is somethingwe refrainfrom speculating Thereare a numberof poson. sibly fortuitouspoints of contact, which such a transversalreading of aspects of Wolf's films establisheswith West German,European,and Hollywood cinematicpracticesand generic codes. The questionof their relevanceseems, at the very least, a legitimateone, andperhapseven one that makes commentssuch as Hannivan Haiden'sa little more difficult television. in the future,not only in film classes buteven on German Conclusion: Wolfand Fassbinder1982/1992 With Solo Sunnyone has, in a sense, come full circle, focusing - as with Lissy - on the female heroine, and locating the question of cinematic representations Germanhistory squarelyin the legacy of Nazi of

Thomas Elsaesser and Michael Wedel

23

cinema. The combination of national stylistic traditions and intemrnational genres, of the vanishinghistoricalreferentand female subjectivity give the imaginarymode of the cinema a special function in the narrativization present contradictions of and past realities. On the way to an integrativeand intemrnational history of the Germancinema, Konrad Wolf and his films thereforeappearto providesomethingof a missing link in this history, representinga work no less challenging and controversialthan that of any other German director long acknowledged as a key figure.To take note of the work of Wolf also means that the oedipal breakwhich has so stronglymarkedthe politics and the theorizationof West Germancinema, the gap would be both closed and remarkedbetween directorsbomrn before 1920 (e.g., KurtHoffmann,Rolf Hansen, and Veit Harlan,but also Helmut Kautner,Wolfgang Staudte, and Bernhard Wicki), and the directorsof the Young and New German in Cinema bomrn the mid-1930s and 1940s (Kluge, Reitz Syberberg, Wenders, Herzog, and Fassbinder).It is worth noting that not only in Wolf, bomrn 1925, but most of the otherdirectorsof the so-called second DEFA generation36- Gerhard Klein (*1920), Egon Giinther (*1927), Giinter Reisch (*1927), Heiner Carow (*1929), Joachim Kunert(*1929), FrankVogel (*1929), Ralf Kirsten(*1930), and Konrad Petzold (*1930)- were born between 1920 and 1930, a generation virtuallyabsentfromWest Germancinema. By way of concluding,one might, however,brieflyreturnto the Fassbinder/Wolfconstellation.1982, the year of the untimelydeath of both filmmakers,surely signals one of the most likely dates aroundwhich an integrativehistory of postwarGermancinema would have to constitute as itself-backward well as forward. attraction this coincidenceis of The of course a symmetry,which only covers up a numberof asymmetries. For just as telling as the parallelsin theirwork might be the commemorative culturethathas sprungup aroundthe two iconic dead directors, fairly the balancebetween the '10 years after' Fassbinder asymmetrical retrospectives of 1992, and the events on the same occasion for KonradWolf: was celebratedwith the huge exhibitionat Alexanderwhile Fassbinder and platz, extensivecinemaand TV retrospectives, multi-volume publicawith tions;Wolf, on the otherhand,was commemorated only a handfulof
36. Byg, "Generational Conflict and HistoricalContinuityin GDR Film,"Framing the Past: TheHistoriography GermanCinemaand Television,ed. BruceA. Murray and of J. Southern IllinoisUP, 1992) 202-12. Christopher Wickham(Carbondale/Edwardsville:

24

TheFilms ofKonrad Wolf

GDRAcademyof Arts.37 articlesanda rather quieteveningat the former GDR and FRG filmmakers,and There might be a way of approaching in thus postwar Germancinematography general, from a vantage point that is less concernedwith the obvious political and historicalasymmetrical symmetries,and which sees both traditionsmore obliquely, if not anamorphicallyand anachronistically.Granted, Fassbinder and Wolf stand for two different(but each far from official) versions of national history. On the one hand, there is Fassbinder'spanoramicand Balzacian attempt at delivering a complete social representationfrom late nineteenthcentury to the postwar years, with the focus on individual a strategiesof negotiationwithin existing social frameworks, cinema of long term shifts and historical continuity.On the other hand, there is Wolfs retrospection,obsessively zooming in on the same breaks (the seizure of power of 1933, World War II, the so-called zero-hour of 1945), each puttinghis charactersin between two worlds, moments of personal 'trauma'and political 'decision,' but leaving the significance of these historicalpoints of discontinuityuntouched.Despite these differences, anotherlook at cinematicmodes and historicalimaginariesin and framemight make the filmic heria wider international intertextual tage of both directorsand both Germaniesenter into a more productive dialogue. Such a considerationthrows into even sharperrelief the fact that the New GermanCinemano less than the GDR cinema are united in one point: their absence from today's cinema screens, along with their absence from the currentdebates about present-dayGermancinIn ema, so seemingly withoutmemoryor rupture. the light of this fact, the need to resituateboth cinemas, west and east, becomes even more pressing, since such a dialogue between public spheres and historical imaginariesmight well be the condition of possibility for both a German film historyand a Germanfilm future.

Vor 37. See the account of DietmarHochmuth,"Wiirdeeines Gesinnungstaiters: must zehn JahrenstarbKonradWolf,"Freitag 12 (1992). How quiet the commemoration von Trotta have been is furtherillustratedby the fact that only a year later Margarethe with the confession could begin her vote of thanksafterreceivingthe KonradWolf-award that she has never seen any of his films. This anecdote is reportedin GerhardSchoenDeutan berner,"Filmevon KonradWolf: Erinnerungen einen deutschenKommunisten," ed. schlandbilder:Eine Dokumentation, GabrielaSeidel (Berlin:Freundeder Deutschen Kinemathek,1997) 91.