Date of Degree

6-2022

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Ria Banerjee

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Film and Media Studies | Other Film and Media Studies

Keywords

new german cinema, red army faction, film history, rainer werner fassbinder, german history

Abstract

The 1960s provided us with some of the most iconic protest images of the late-20th century. This was the result of worldwide unrest and the proliferation of filmmaking equipment, which led to a flood of photos and films depicting war and activism. Many of these images and films played a pivotal role in shaping the ever-evolving discussions surrounding the ‘60s. However, too often, radical imagery finds itself subsumed by consumer culture, a degradation that flattens radical imagery and turns it into consumer products. With this in mind, the work that follows is an analysis of one of the little-discussed chapters of the 60s and 70s, and it is that of the New German Cinema movement and its relationship with the Rote Armee Fraktion, or Red Army Faction (RAF), an armed Marxist-Leninist group founded in West Germany in 1970. The RAF arose out of a milieu which included student activists protesting Western military involvement in the Vietnam War, civil rights activists, and third world guerillas. The actions undertaken by the group throughout their first decade in existence, including bombings, and assassinations, would create West Germany’s most dire political crisis since the Nazi era, culminating in a crisis of legitimation remembered as the German Autumn, which saw the suicides of several of the militants and the assassination of SS officer-cum-prominent industrialist, Hans Martin-Schleyer. Throughout the 1970s young filmmakers associated with the New German Cinema sought to analyze the political situation as it was unfolding, their films contributing to the public discourse in concomitance with the government and the media. Four notable examples of these films are Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta’s Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann (The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, or: How Violence Develops and Where it Can Lead) (1975), a dark drama about the media’s role in forming public opinion, Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in Autumn) (1977), an experimental collective work released mere months after the German Autumn, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Die Dritte Generation (The Third Generation) (1979), a satire about an inept cell of radical militants, and Die bleierne Zeit (The Leaden Time, alt. title: Marianne and Juliane) (1981), an intimate portrayal about two sisters whose activism leads them down disparate paths. The filmmakers of the New German Cinema refused to underline their films with the Manichaean claims respectively espoused by the RAF and the government. These complex portrayals found offspring in films such as Christian Petzold’s Die innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In) (2000), a portrait of a family on the run after the reunification of Germany but were countered by glossy high-budget portrayals such as Uli Edel’s Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex (The Baader-Meinhof Complex) (2008). In focusing on the aesthetic structure of these films in relation to the political atmosphere of late-60s and 70s West Germany, I hope to shed light on questions concerning spectatorship, surveillance, the role of journalism, how politics disrupts personal relationships, and the kinship between artists and so-called terrorists.

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