In the 1960s a young generation of West Germans began to reject the filmmaking of their parents (and even grandparents), as they were beginning to reject many of the premises on which their parents had reestablished their version of Germany. In 1962 a group of young film-makers published the Oberhausen Manifesto at the festival in the town of that name. They wanted a radical shift in Filmkultur to recognize cinema as an art equivalent to other arts and thus equally deserving of public support. The Young German Film sought new forms of expression while looking back to prewar cinematic traditions. It embraced American popular culture while criticizing much of American politics, particularly internationally. It turned to German literature for inspiration while rejecting notions of high and low culture and consciously stressing an auteur cinema.
The German state responded by expanding support agencies, subsidies, and training institutions. The Kuratorium Junger Deutscher Film (Board for Young German Film) offered, from 1964 on, interest-free loans to screenplays found worthy of support, yet first-time filmmakers still found it difficult to find distribution and exhibition. Established industry circles countered by securing loans from the Filmförderungsanstalt for companies demonstrating box-office success, which led to a flurry of cheap, often sensationalist productions. The new generation's films began to appear in 1966 with Abschied von gestern ( Yesterday Girl ) by Alexander Kluge (b. 1932), a film-essay challenging genre cinema with a fragmented narrative and a critique of social norms. Volker Schlöndorff (b. 1939) began his literary adaptations with his Der junge Törless ( Young Torless , 1966) based on the famous novella by Robert Musil (1880–1942). Social realist, even documentary style went together with experimental and avant-garde developments and a wide-ranging critical stance toward modern mass culture and media. Jean-Marie Straub (b. 1933) and Danièle Huillet (b. 1936) influenced their contemporaries, although they never found a large audience, with films like Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach ( The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach , 1968), which refused narrative authority and examined the relationship of time and space in film.
Parallel to these developments, mainline popular cinema carried on by producing pop music films, low-level porn under the guise of social comment on sexuality, detective stories, and even remakes of the Karl May westerns. However, by the early 1970s, with new film-makers gaining recognition overseas, cinema rapidly became one of Germany's cultural export flagships under the title New German Cinema, and was then validated by foreign opinion. German public identification with the new wave—some even proudly hailed it as a new "Golden Age"—was mixed with unease at the film-makers' potential excesses. The generation of the early 1960s stressed the Autorenfilm (author's film) as pro-grammatic, as it privileged individual creativity against commercial and industrial expertise. This meant that filmmakers were not only their own directors but scriptwriters, producers, and editors as well. In 1971 these filmmakers launched a short-lived attempt to secure their own distribution by founding the Filmverlag der Autoren, but it was never able to compete with mainline companies.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1946–1982) was by far the most prolific and controversial filmmaker of this generation, with a formidable productivity from the late 1960s to his early death in 1982. He was also an important figure in radical German theater. His Angst essen Seele auf ( Ali: Fear Eats the Soul , 1974) is still provocative in its depiction of love between a middle-aged German woman and an immigrant worker from North Africa. His Chinesisches Roulette ( Chinese Roulette , 1976) offers remarkable shot compositions to support its melodrama, and his Lili Marleen (1981) takes up the theme of Nazism through an examination of the way Nazi media promoted a star cult. Probably his best-known film is Die Ehe der Maria Braun ( The Marriage of Maria Braun , 1979), where his own "star" actress, Hanna Schygulla (b. 1943), portrays the career of a woman during the German "economic miracle," displaying the sexual politics that paralleled socioeconomic developments. With Lola (1981) and Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss ( Veronika Voss , 1982), The Marriage of Maria Braun forms the "Trilogy of the Federal Republic," a tableau of the history, politics, culture, and style of Fassbinder's homeland.
Wim Wenders (b. 1945) is internationally celebrated and engages in the politics of Filmkultur . His Im Laufe der Zeit ( Kings of the Road , 1976) set many of his thematic and stylistic trademarks, like his fascination with American culture and the figure of the lone male wanderer as hero, which resurfaced in his Paris, Texas (1984), made in the United States with French financing. After several years in the United States (including a notable but flawed cooperation with Francis Ford Coppola on Hammett , 1982), Wenders returned home and shot his masterpiece, Der Himmel über Berlin ( Wings of Desire ) in 1987, combining remarkable images from Berlin just before the Wall collapsed with a mythical love story of an angel and the woman for whom he forsakes immortality. Wenders returned to the United States to shoot The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), a bizarre detective story set in a rundown residential hotel in Los Angeles. Applying his trademarks to an American cast in an American setting, Wenders continues German cinema's tradition of interaction with the United States and its filmmaking. In a Land of Plenty (2004) has its title borrowed from poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen, and results from cooperation with US writers, producers, and cast on a US theme: the continuing legacy of Vietnam. Technologically, Wenders also broke new ground by shooting mainly digitally. Don't Come Knocking (2005) meant working with Sam Shepard again and with a US cast, including Shepard himself, Tim Roth, and Jessica Lange. Its narrative resembles Paris, Texas in tracing the wanderings of a loner-male and his attempt to salvage his disastrous family relations. Wenders has also cooperated with Ry Cooder, on the documentary Buena Vista Social Club (1999), and with Martin Scorsese to contribute The Soul of a Man (2003) to Scorsese's TV series on the blues.
Werner Herzog (b. 1942) is regarded as one of the most eccentric figures of das neue kino . His films feature inspiring landscapes and controversial actors (the flamboyant Klaus Kinski [1926–1991], the strange Bruno S. [b. 1932]) at odds with their world. Herzog is also well known for the making of his films, whether hypnotizing the entire cast in Herz aus Glas ( Heart of Glass , 1976), dragging a boat through the Amazon jungle for Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes ( Aguirre, the Wrath of God , 1972), or feuding with actor Kinski. Other significant figures from this generation are Volker Schlöndorff, whose Oscar ® winning adaptation of Günter Grass's novel Die Blechtrommel ( The Tin Drum , 1979) is a remarkable treatment of a powerful exploration of German identity, and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (b. 1935), whose Ludwig, Requiem für einen jungfräulichen König ( Ludwig, Requiem for a Virgin King , 1972) and Hitler—ein Film aus Deutschland ( Hitler: A Film from Germany , 1978) present richly textured visions exploring the legacies of German Romanticism and nationalism, controversially depicting a particular German identity through irrational and nihilistic imagery.
Paralleling the New German Cinema, in the 1970s Frauenfilm (women's filmmaking) arose. Directors like Helke Sander (b. 1937), Helma Sanders-Brahms (b. 1940), Margarethe von Trotta (b. 1942), Ulrike Ottinger (b. 1942), and Jutta Brückner (b. 1941) have sought to redefine the practice and politics of filmmaking while criticizing the oppression and discrimination directed against women in the Federal Republic. The combination of national and family history in Deutschland bleiche Mutter ( Germany Pale Mother , 1980), by Sanders-Brahms, sparked controversy. Von Trotta's DiebleierneZeit ( Marianne and Juliane , also known as The German Sisters , 1981) took up the story of the Ensslin sisters for a subtle examination of the effect of terrorism on daily life by combining radical politics with personal history.
The German New Wave petered out in the early 1980s, around the time of Fassbinder's death. The political climate had changed from the idealism of the 1960s to the violence of the "extraparliamentary opposition" of the 1970s, with countermeasures by the state, together with public opposition to projects like nuclear power and the presence of US nuclear weaponry on West German soil. Many of these issues are reflected in Deutschland im Herbst ( Germany in Autumn , 1978), a collaborative project between several directors to depict the impact on German society of terrorism and the state's response to it.
Werner Herzog, one of the leading figures of the New German Cinema, has remained a radical individualist and a cinematic visionary for over forty years. His films disturb by their questioning of the bases of human civilization and its values. He first attracted notice with Lebenszeichen ( Signs of Life , 1968), a war story set on a Greek island, which depicts an individual soldier's futile revolt against his situation. Herzog won the Berlin International Film Festival prize that year for a first work, as well as a German Film Award for outstanding feature film.
In Jeder für sich und Gott gegen Alle ( The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser , 1974) he commented on fundamental social values via the historical account of a strange foundling child in nineteenth-century Germany. Herzog also tackled a difficult play by Georg Büchner, from the mainstream of German theater, in Woyzeck (1979). Herzog's favorite actor, Klaus Kinski, draws on his characteristic intensity to portray the destruction of a simple little man caught in an absurd, authoritarian society. In Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht ( Nosferatu , 1978), an homage to the director F. W. Murnau, Kinski gives a remarkably nuanced portrayal of the Dracula figure as a lonely and driven predator envious of his victims for their human relations. With Kinski, Herzog also explored megalomania in Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes ( Aguirre, The Wrath of God , 1972)andagainin Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987). Fitzcarraldo is an allegory of colonialism in its treatment of the actual historical events surrounding the hero's obsession with building an opera house a thousand miles up the Amazon River in the Peruvian jungle. During the shooting of this film, Herzog became involved with dangerous local politics, and one of his crew was killed while filming a wild ride down river rapids. Cobra Verde deals with the eighteenth-century slave trade between South America and Africa, with Kinski reprising his role of the obsessive adventurer who perishes through his overreaching ambition. After this film, Herzog and Kinski parted ways, as it was becoming increasingly difficult for the director to work with the erratic star.
Herzog also has produced several highly personal documentaries in Germany and elsewhere, and has done mainstream work for German TV. Among his impressive documentaries are Mein Liebster Feind—Klaus Kinski ( My Best Fiend , 1999), about the director's tumultuous working relationship with Kinski; Wheel of Time (2003), about the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhist rituals; The White Diamond (2004), about exploring the rainforest in a unique airship; and Grizzly Man (2005), about an actor who filmed himself living among grizzly bears and who, along with his girlfriend, was killed by one.
Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes ( Aguirre: The Wrath of God , 1972), Jeder für sich und Gott gegen Alle ( The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser , 1974), Stroszek (1977), Woyzeck (1979), Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht ( Nosferatu , 1978), Fitzcarraldo (1982), Cobra Verde (1987), Mein Liebster Feind—Klaus Kinski ( My Best Fiend , 1999), Wheel of Time (2003), The White Diamond (2004), Grizzly Man (2005)
Corrigan, Timothy. The Films of Werner Herzog . London: Routledge, 1986.
Doll, Suzi, and Gene Walsh, eds. Images at the Horizon: A Workshop with Werner Herzog . Chicago: Facets Multimedia, 2002.
When a more conservative government was elected in 1982, the subsidy system ceased to favor art cinema, even as the new technologies shaping video and TV continued to reduce cinema audiences. Mainline film-making enjoyed a boost with Wolfgang Petersen's (b. 1941) film Das Boot ( The Boat , 1981), a melancholy antiwar story of a doomed U-boat toward the end of World War II. The film's international success and the director's subsequent hit Die unendliche Geschichte ( The Never-Ending Story , 1984) launched Petersen on the well-trodden trail to Hollywood. In the 1990s Roland Emmerich (b. 1955) followed him, becoming a top US director, with Universal Soldier (1992) and Independence Day (1996). Other filmmakers found support through
closer collaboration with TV and, revisiting staple genres, the music industry.
Renewed public interpretation of the Third Reich was also reflected in filmmaking, as in Die weisse Rose ( The White Rose , 1982) by Michael Verhoeven (b. 1938), which depicted the courage of an actual student resistance group in Munich. He revisited the Third Reich in 1990 with a controversial film, Das schreckliche Mädchen ( The Nasty Girl , 1990), which used a mixture of techniques to focus on the difficulties experienced by a school-girl investigating her hometown under the Nazis. Sansibar oder der letzte Grund (Sansibar, or the True Reason, 1987) by Bernhard Wicki (1919–2000) explores difficult questions of guilt and responsibility through the allegory of an artwork rescued from the Nazis by a Communist and a Jewish woman. The most celebrated historical revision was Edgar Reitz's (b. 1932) Heimat—Eine deutsche Chronik ( Homeland: A German Chronicle , 1984), an epic depiction of a village in central Germany from the 1920s to the 1950s that was made for both TV and cinema release. Reitz's sequel, Die Zweite Heimat—Chronik einer Jugend ( The Second Homeland: Chronicle of a Youth ), thirteen episodes shot from 1988 to 1992, continued the story into the 1960s. Both gained attention abroad and caused much debate in Germany as to the cinematic depiction of memory and its relevance for German identity. ( Heimat 3 was aired on German TV in 2004.) The particular parochialism of the state of Bavaria appears in the work of Herbert Achternbusch (b. 1938), such as Servus Bayern ( Bye-bye, Bavaria! , 1977). In the United States Percy Adlon (b. 1935) adapted this story in Out of Rosenheim ( Bagdad Café , 1987), which teamed the Bavarian actress Marianne Sägebrecht (b. 1945) with the American actor Jack Palance and achieved enormous international success. However, the most successful West German filmmaker of the 1980s was a newcomer, Doris Dörrie (b. 1955), whose comedy Männer … ( Men… , 1985) combined a feminist viewpoint with borrowings from Hollywood genres in an international hit that set the stage for the more entertainment-oriented filmmaking of the 1990s.