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    Auge in Auge – eine deutsche Filmgeschichte

    By Ron Holloway | November 23, 2008

    In Auge in Auge – eine deutsche Filmgeschichte (Eye to Eye – All About German Film), a compilation documentary by film historians Michael Althen and Hans Helmut Prinzler, the “eyes” belong to ten prominent German film personalities who talk with unbounded enthusiasm about their favorite German films. The viewer is also treated to a tour of Berlin venues, a cinematic quest of “what is German” in German cinema, and insights into those milestone periods of film production that continue to intrigue us up to the present day – like: German Expressionism in the Weimar Republic, Nazi films under the Third Reich, DEFA film production in the German Democratic Republic, and New German Cinema (NGC) in the Federal Republic of Germany.

    Each time a filmmaker or cinematographer, a screenwriter or actor, speaks about his or her favorite film, a clip from the respective film is there to illustrate a point. The only drawback to Eye to Eye – All About German Film is that the filmmakers assume that the audience is already familiar with most of the German film classics to begin with, thus eliminating undue historical background facts about the discussed productions. Another irritating ploy is the manner in which names and titles are thrown into the melee like word-game-associations for the committed film buff.

    In the opening sequence, Tom Tykwer is ecstatic while analyzing scenes from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), images he can never erased from his memory. Certainly, this choice of a German classic to open the compilation documentary does neatly set the table, for few would question that Nosferatu ranks among the best vampire films made. DEFA screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase speaks with humor about the flair for improvisation in Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (1930), a late Neue Sachlichkeit film experiment coscripted by Billy Wilder and lensed by Eugen Schüfftan. Apparently, too, People on Sunday influenced Kohlhaase’s own collaboration with Gerhard Klein on Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser (Berlin – Corner Schönhauser) (GDR, 1957), about a streetcorner in East Berlin frequented by restless adolescents. Andreas Dresen recalls the impact made on him as a youth when he attended an East German screening of Konrad Wolf’s Solo Sunny (GDR, 1980) – a pathbreaking and taboo challenging film about the ups and downs of a touring popsinger, scripted by Wolfgang Kohlhaase.

    Film aesthetics take legitimate precedence in Eye to Eye discussions of favorite films. Wim Wenders, in one of the more rewarding sequences, takes a close look at the cinematic structure of Fritz Lang’s M (1931). By contrast, Doris Dörrie leans on feminist aesthetics to comment on the thematic structure of Wim Wenders’s Alice in den Städten (Alice in the Cities) (1974), Wim’s breakthrough film in the NGC movement. And Christian Petzold, currently Germany’s leading auteur director, recalls how a coincidental television broadcast of Helmut Käutner’s Unter den Brücken (Under the Bridges) (1945) once made a lasting impression upon him. Indeed, Käutner’s Under the Bridges, reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (France, 1934), deserves belated recognition if only because this forgotten production had slipped under the eyes of Nazi censors in the twilight of the Third Reich.

    A German name actor adds a bit of color to the compilation documentary. The erudite Hanns Zischler appraises the historical and thematic significance of Alexander Kluge’s low-budget Abschied von Gestern (Yesterday Girl) (1966), arguably Kluge’s best film. Dominik Graf talks about the impact of working with nonprofessional actors amid extemporized street scenes in Klaus Lemke’s Rocker (1972), shot from a script that barely covered a page. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus pays credit to the kingpin of the NGC movement when he details the creative shooting concepts initiated by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his Martha (1974) and Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun) (1979), both films warmly embraced by Manhattan audiences long before the German public did the same, simply because Martha, in particular, was aired primarily for the TV audience.

    Last, but not least, Caroline Link is unstinting in her praise of the social and historical importance of Edgar Reitz’s monumental Heimat – eine deutsche Chronik (Heimat – A German Chronicle) (1980), a TV-and-film series about the Simon family in the Hundsrück village of Schabbach that originally covered the years from 1919 to 1982. When the Heimat series proved to be such an audience success, it was developed into the Heimat Trilogie (1980-2004) that included Die zweite Heimat – Chronik einer Jugend (The Second Heimat – Chronicle of a Youth) and Heimat 3 – Chronik einer Zeitenwende (The Third Heimat – Chronicle of Historical Change). Altogether, the feature-film cycle in 30 parts runs 52 hours of viewing time – not including the extra footage recently integrated into the two-hour-plus Heimat-Fragmente – Die Frauen (Heimat Fragments – The Women) (2006).

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