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A Fragment Written Around 1932 Bertolt Brecht


The film KuWe Wampe was made by the young director S Th Dudow under great material difficulties. Most of the visual material had to be shot at the utmost speed, a quarter "of the whole film in two days, for example. The only assistance we obtained came from the Communist sports leagues, which on certain days . . . organised 4,000 worker-athletes for us. Because of the continuing difficulties of obtaining financial means, the making of the film took more than a year, and meanwhile conditions in Germany (fasciscisation, increasing acuteness of unemployment, etc) developed at a rapid rate. When the film was ready it was immediately banned by the censors.8 The content and purpose of the film emerges most clearly from a presentation of the grounds on which the censors banned it. The film represented the weary and listless adaptation of certain strata of workers to the ' marsh'. The Ministry of the Interior9 declared: this is an attack on Social Democracy. But such an attack is banned, just like an attack on the Church, etc, ie, on institutions that maintain the State.10 The film represented the fate of an unemployed youth, who does not manage to make contact with militant labour and who is driven to his death by the reduction of unemployment assistance for the young demanded in Bruning's emergency decrees. The Ministry of the Interior declared: this is an attack on the President11 who signed the emergency decree in question and who was here denounced for a lack of sympathy with the sufferings of the working class. The film represented the activity of the great Communist worker sports leagues, to which some 200,000 workers belong in Germany and which put workers' sports at the service of the class struggle.... A Small Contribution to the Theme of Realism*
Bertolt Brecht

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It is not often that the real effectivity of artistic methods can be successfully tested. Mostly one experiences at best agreement (' Yes, you show the way it is with us'), or that one has given an ' initiative' in some direction or other. Here is a little test which turned out happily. I had made the film Kuhle Wampe with Slatan Dudow and Hanns Eisler, a film which depicted the desperate situation of the unemployed in Berlin. It was a montage of a few fairly selfcontained parts. The first showed the suicide of a young unemployed worker. The censors made great difficulties which led Written sometime in the 1930's.


to a meeting, with the censor and the lawyers of the film company.12 The censor proved himself a clever man. He said: ' No-one disputes your right to portray a suicide. Suicides happen. Further, you can even show the suicide of an unemployed worker. That also happens. I see no reason to hush it up, gentlemen. I do however object to the way you have depicted the suicide of your unemployed worker. It is not in the interest of the public which I have to defend. I am sorry, but I must make an artistic objection.' We said (offended): ' ? ' He went on: ' Yes, it will surprise you, but I object on the grounds that your portrayal does not seem to me human enough. You have not depicted a human being, but rather, let us admit it, a type. Your unemployed worker is not a real individual, not a man of flesh and blood, different from all other men, with particular worries, particular pleasures, ultimately with a particular fate. He is very superficially portrayed, as artists pardon me this strong expression for the fact that we learn too little about him, but the consequences are of a political nature, and this forces me to protest against the release of your film. Your film has the tendency to present suicide as typical, as a matter not of this or that (morbidly inclined) individual, but as the fate of a whole class! It is your opinion that society induces young men to commit suicide by refusing them the possibility to work. And you really do not bother to go on to indicate what advice should be given to the unemployed to bring about a change in this situation. No, gentlemen, you haven't behaved as artists, not in this case. You did not try to present a single, shocking case, something no-one could have objected to." We sat disconcerted. We had the unpleasant impression that we had been seen through. Eisler sadly wiped his glasses, Dudow curled up as if in pain. Despite my dislike for speeches I stood up and made one. I strongly denied the accusations. I cited individual features we had given our young unemployed worker. For example, the fact that before "he hurled himself from the window, he took his wristwatch off. I claimed that this purely human feature alone had given us the inspiration for the entire scene. That we did in fact show other unemployed workers who did not commit suicide to wit, 4,000 of them, for we had also filmed a large workers' sports club. I protested against the monstrous suggestion that we had not acted artistically, and hinted at the possibility of a press campaign. I was not ashamed to claim that my artistic reputation was at stake. The censor was not afraid to discuss the details of the presentation. Our lawyers looked on in astonishment as a regular artistic debate unfolded. The censor emphasised the fact that we had lent . the suicide act a decidedly demonstrative character. He used the

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expression ' somewhat mechanical'. Dudow stood up and excitedly demanded that a medical opinion be sought. This would prove that actions of this kind often create a mechanical impression. The censor shook his head. ' That may be,' he said stubbornly. ' But you must admit that your suicide avoids everything in the way of impulsiveness. The spectator hardly wants to stop him, so to speak, as should happen in an artistic, human, warm-hearted presentation. Good God, the actor behaves just as if he was showing how to peel cucumbers! * We had a hard time getting our film passed. Going out of the building, we did not hide our esteem for the acute censor. He had penetrated far deeper into the substance of our artistic aims than our most well-wishing critics. He had read us a little lecture on realism. From the standpoint of the police.


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Editors' Notes 1. Prometheus-Film GmbH, a subsidiary of International Workers' Aid (Mezhrabpom), distributed Soviet films in Europe and produced and distributed agitational and fiction films in Germany. PrometheusFilm collapsed as a result of the bank crash of July 1931 and was dissolved in January 1932. The film was taken over by PraesensFilm GmbH on condition that actors, script-writers, producers and director forfeit their fees. 2. Threepenny Lawsuit. In 1929 Brecht and Weill signed a contract with Nero-Film AG for a film version of their Singspiel The Threepenny Opera on condition that they controlled scenario and music. In 1930 Brecht submitted an outline Die Beule (The Welt) closer to the later Threepenny Novel than to the original Singspiel; this was rejected by Nero-Film, whereupon Brecht and Weill sued. The case was heard in October 1930, and though Weill won his action, Brecht lost; he then settled with Nero-Film rather than appeal. The film was then scripted by B61a Balazs and directed by Pabst (1931). Brecht wrote an account of the lawsuit under the title Der Dreigroschenprozess which was published in the third part of his Versuche (1931): ' T h e Threepenny Lawsuit was an attempt to obtain justice on the basis of a contract. The study of it indicates a new critical method, the sociological experiment' (Bertolt Brecht: Versuche 1-12, reprint by Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin and Frankfurt 1959, p 144). 3. Bertolt Brecht and Ernst Ottwald; Slatan Dudow; Hanns Eisler; Robert Scharfenberg; Kaspar (?) respectively. 4. Cf Der Dreigroschenprozess III 3 : ' Man kann den Publikumsgeschmack verbessern,' Versuche reprint op cit, pp 261-4. 5. Notverordnungen. According to the Weimar Constitution, the President could rule by emergency decree unless vetoed by the Reichstag (para 48), and also had the power to dissolve the Reichstag (para 25). In March 1930 SPD representative Muller's Broad Coalition cabinet fell through disagreement over the possible reduction of unemployment benefit or increase of social insurance contributions. In July the Reichstag rejected the budget proposed by the new Chancellor, the Centre Party representative Briining, and also vetoed his subsequent emergency decrees to the same effect. The Reichstag was thereupon dissolved, but the elections of September did not resolve the issue. Henceforth the SPD abstained from

vetoing Brilning's emergency decrees. 6. In December 1930 German workers' athletes club formed a Struggle Union for Red Sports Unity, which by October 1931 had 2,100 branches with 110,000 members and close relations to a further 1,300 clubs. In January 1931, 1,000 delegates representing 25,000 - Berlin worker athletes formed the Arbeitersportsverein Fichte (Pinetree worker sports league), with two KPD members on the leadership. 7. Of the poems mentioned, the 'Lied der Obdachlosen', the 'Solidaritatslied', the 'Sportlied' and 'Das Friihjahr' can be found in Bertolt Brecht: Gesammelte Werke VIII, 366-70. The Svendborger Gedichte, a collection of poems written between 1933 and 1938 contains a poem sequence entitled 'Appell* IX, 686-8. 8. Submitted to the Film Inspection Office (Filmpriifstelle) in March 1932, the film was shown to officials of the Ministry of the Interior (Minister General Wilhelm Groener) who recommended its banning, which recommendation was accepted by the Film Inspection Office on March 31st; two dissenting officials demanded a further hearing in the presence of the makers and invited experts in the Higher Film Inspection Office. This hearing took place on April 9th, resulting in a confirmation of the ban. After a protest campaign in the press against the ban, Praesens-Film re-submitted a slightly cut version to the Film Inspection Office which, on April 21st, allowed the film, subject to further cuts, for exhibition to adults only; the Chairman, Regierungsrat Zimmermann, protested against this decision but withdrew his objection on April 25th. After a first performance in mid-May in Moscow, the fibn was released in Berlin on May 30th. 9. As explained in note 8, the Film Inspection Office banned the film on the advice of ' experts' from the Ministry of the Interior, Oberregierungsrat Erbe at the first hearing, Dr Haentzschel, Ministerialdirigent in the Ministry, at the second. 10. One of the extra cuts demanded at the third hearing was of a sequence showing nude bathing on a Sunday morning by worker athletes. The cut was demanded because church bells could be heard in the background, and, the censors claimed, this could be construed as an attack on the church. 11. The text has Gerichtsprasident (judge), but Reichsprasident (as referred to in these terms by the Oberregiersungsrat Erbe) must surely be meant. 12. Brecht, Dudow and Ottwald were present at the second hearing before the Higher Film Inspection Office on April 9th, at which hearing Praesens-Film were legally represented by Dr Otto Landsberg and Dr Dienstag.

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translations by Ben Brewster and Keith Tribe

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