Tag Archives: Film

How Hitler helped make Hollywood

GlobalPost, February 14, 2013
BERLIN, Germany — Two months after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor in 1933, Jews working in Germany’s groundbreaking film industry were warned there would be no place for them under the new Nazi regime.

“We will not even remotely tolerate that those ideas, which Germany has eradicated at the root, are able to make their way either openly or surreptitiously back into film,” Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announced that March. The powerful UFA studio canceled contracts for most Jews working there the following day.

Thus began the greatest rupture in German film history, marking the end of the golden age for Weimar cinema. Soon not only Jews, but left-wingers began fleeing the country, followed by others who saw no place for themselves in what would become the Third Reich’s propaganda machine.

Their departure would help transform another film industry: Hollywood. Of the some 2,000 movie professionals who left Germany in the 1930s, most ended up in California, where the techniques they pioneered back home would have a lasting impact on American film.

This week, the Berlin International Film Festival is honoring them in a retrospective called “The Weimar Touch.” More than 30 films dating from 1933 to 1959 are being shown in a program co-curated by the Deutsche Kinemathek film archive and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The selection explores not only films made by those immigrants after they left Germany, but also their influence on international cinema in general, from their experimental sets and lighting techniques to the way they viewed the world.

“Weimar cinema paid attention not only to the surface but the deep currents beneath,” retrospective director Rainer Rother said in an interview. “It was a cinema more of doubt than of self-assuredness, very open to nuances and ambiguities.”

Film was one of many arts that flourished under Weimar Germany, a period of nascent democracy and great instability between the end of the World War I and the Nazi rise to power. The political and economic uncertainty somehow translated into a great burst of creative energy that’s rarely been matched.

Although experimental works such as “Dr Caligari,” “Nosferatu” and “Metropolis” may be the first to spring to mind on mention of Weimar, Germany also boasted a vibrant commercial film industry that turned out comedies, musicals and other popular entertainment for the home market and international distribution.

But German cinema’s most creative and productive period ended with the exodus that began in 1933. Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Peter Lorre, Douglas Sirk, Max Ophüls, Robert Siodmak and Max Reinhardt were just some of the actors, directors and others to leave. Continue reading

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German Cold War film ‘Barbara’ eyes Oscar

GlobalPost, September 26, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — It’s the height of the Cold War in 1980. The authorities punish a female doctor from Communist East Berlin for applying to leave the country by banishing her to a provincial town. Under constant surveillance by the Stasi secret police, she’s determined to escape and join her lover in the West — until she’s gradually drawn to a fellow doctor in the ramshackle country hospital in which she now works, where she also develops a sense of duty toward her patients.

The tensions in Christian Petzold’s film “Barbara” have captivated audiences here since it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. It won the event’s Silver Bear prizes for best director and best actress and went on to win best film at the German Film Awards. Now it’s been selected as Germany’s submission for best foreign-language film to the American Academy Awards next spring.

The latest in a series of hit films to explore life in East Germany, it’s a strong choice.

Actress Nina Hoss, who’s starred in four previous Petzold films, plays the title’s eponymous protagonist with a restrained, nuanced performance. A glamorous Berliner, Barbara struggles to adjust to a lonely existence in her new home near the Baltic Coast. Quietly defiant, she’s subjected to regular humiliation, including full body cavity searches. She suspects everyone she encounters.

Rightly so: The local Stasi bigwig orders Andre, the hospital’s chief physician, to keep an eye on her. Despite the pair’s initial mistrust, however, their shared professional concern for two young patients prompts them to begin forming a bond. Continue reading

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An Ampel Mann: Alexander Scheer Profile

S Magazine, Issue 13

In the grand tradition of German metamorphosis, actor Alexander Scheer changes constantly, just as his beloved Berlin does. From playing a classical villain to being a rock god, from experimental theatre to international film festivals, from iron curtains to nonstop curtain calls.

The past is a foreign country, so the saying goes, and the past for German actor Alexander Scheer is hardly metaphorical terrain. “I was born in the East and when I was 14 there was a revolution and then suddenly I was in the West.”

The result, he says, was that “everything I had thought, everything I was used to, was suddenly turned upside down. It was wonderful.” Scheer’s story as an actor is thus the story also of his birthplace, Berlin. As a teenager growing up, he relished in the sudden anarchy and chaos that came with the fall of the Wall. Today, as one of the most successful stage actors of his generation, and with a burgeoning international film career, Scheer still lives in a state of perpetual flux, switching between genres and even art forms with a feverishness that masks the ease with which he does it. “Berlin is still constantly changing. You can’t ever say it’s a certain way. It’s just like me.”

Having started out doing underground theatre and modelling in the newly reunified city, Scheer, 35, had his breakout film role in the 1999 comedy Sonnenallee, before he embarked on a ten-year odyssey through Germany’s theatrical landscape, even as he returned repeatedly to his first love, cinema. His first big English-speaking televised role came in 2010, depicting the dangerous right-hand man to the international terrorist Carlos, in the eponymous five-hour thriller. He’s now to star in an experimental theatre production of Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler at Berlin’s legendary Volksbühne, while his latest shoot, slated for release in November, is a children’s fantasy film, in which he plays, of all things, Santa Claus. It’s an endearingly uncool part for Scheer, perhaps the most rock-n-roll of all German actors.

Read the full article here (PDF):

smag13 – alexanderscheer

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Where the Germans Speak Gibberish: A Comic Take on the Immigrant Experience

Most German films about immigration take a grittily realistic approach, focusing on urban tension and social problems. But one filmmaking duo of Turkish-German sisters decided to use humor to tell the story of a guest-worker family. SPIEGEL ONLINE talked to Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli about their comedy “Almanya.”

When the Samdereli sisters started working on their script for their movie “Almanya” eight years ago, they had little inkling that its premiere at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival would come hot on the heels of a heated debate about integration in Germany. They simply wanted to tell a story about a Turkish-German family that differed from the usual gritty dramas about immigration.

“It is not that we wanted to make this movie because of the political situation,” director Yasemin Samdereli told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Instead, she says, they just wanted to tell a story about an immigrant family, one that bears some autobiographical similarities with their own lives. The result is a funny, at times sentimental, tearjerker that focuses on the comical misunderstandings between cultures rather than the fraught challenges of a multi-ethnic society.

Her younger sister Nesrin, the film’s screenwriter, explains how they wanted to show the reality of Turkish guest workers coming to Germany in the 1960s from a new perspective. “The story we wanted to tell hasn’t been told so far, so we thought we should try it another way.”

“We want people to see each other as human beings and just to see the family in the movie as a normal family that could be anywhere in the world,” Yasemin says, pointing out that the image of Turkish-Germans is currently quite negative. For example, they wanted to show that “not every Turkish father loses it because his daughter or granddaughter does things that he might not agree with.” Continue reading

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21st-Century Renaissance Man: James Franco Infiltrates the Berlin Art World

What happens when a Hollywood heartthrob and the art world collide? Berlin is about to find out as it plays host to James Franco’s first ever commercial gallery show. The actor spoke to SPIEGEL ONLINE about the challenges of overcoming the skeptism and embracing his own celebrity in his art.

The idea that Berlin has become a mecca for young artists from across the world has become something of a cliché, but the buzz surrounding a new art opening on Saturday night has less to do with the much-hyped city than the global celebrity of the artist himself.

Hollywood actor James Franco is launching his first commercial gallery show in the German capital, with works that address the anarchy and confusion of adolescence, and that also play with the unavoidable fact of his own fame.

The show features “childhood motives and images,” Franco explained to SPIEGEL ONLINE. “It’s about coming of age or defining oneself and the kind of self-definition that comes when you’re younger.” Continue reading

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Germany’s Latest Nazi Drama: New ‘Jud Süss’ Flops as Faustian Tragedy

“Jud Süss — Rise and Fall” tells the story of one man’s Faustian pact with the Hitler regime. The film shows Ferdinand Marian as a tragic figure who gained and then lost everything after starring in Goebbels’ pet project. But his biographer has berated the filmmakers for deviating from history and many critics have been scathing.

“Finally an anti-Semitic film of the kind we could only wish for,” wrote Josef Goebbels in his diary on Aug. 18, 1940. He had just seen the first screening of his pet project “Jud Süss” with Ferdinand Marian playing the lead role in the now infamous Nazi propaganda film. The Austrian actor’s Faustian pact with the Hitler regime is the focus of a new star-studded German film “Jud Süss — Rise and Fall” which had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival on Thursday night.

The eagerly anticipiated film, which makes more than a nod or two to Istvan Szabo’s 1981 film “Mephisto,” is the latest German-produced film to deal with the Third Reich. Following in the footsteps of films such as “Downfall” and “A Woman in Berlin,” the filmmakers will be hoping to emulate those films’ international success. However, its reception at the press screening on Thursday was marked more by boos than clapping and many reviews so far have been scathing. Even before the premiere it had already created something of a controversy, with Marian’s biographer berating the filmmakers for taking liberties with the true story. Continue reading

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Berlinale Retrospective Curator David Thomson ‘Film Is Built Upon Its Own History’

Renowned film critic David Thomson was faced with the daunting task of curating the Berlin Film Festival’s 60th anniversary Retrospective section. He tells SPIEGEL ONLINE how he made the almost impossible selection, why watching movies on the big screen is so important and reveals why he had never visited Berlin before.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Berlin International Film Festival is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2010. You were given the task of curating this year’s Retrospective section, which is intended to highlight the most notable films from the festival’s history. But how do you go about choosing almost 40 films from 60 years of the Berlinale?

David Thomson: It seems impossible and absurd to pick 35 or 40 films out of so many. But then you say to yourself: Well, let’s make it fun. I wanted to show what a lively, active festival this had been over a long period. And I wanted to use the span of this festival to show some tendencies in film history, the changes there have been. The emergence of Japanese film, Chinese film, the French New Wave — you have a lot of the big things that happened. Continue reading

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Back to the Future in Berlin: Restored ‘Metropolis’ Comes Home

After 83 years, Fritz Lang’s Sci-Fi classic “Metropolis” has returned to Berlin in its full glory. On Friday night 2,000 fans braved the snowy weather to watch the restored classic at the Brandenburg Gate. It took restorers a year to repair the damage to the newly discovered scenes. They say the original film was much more complex and interesting than just a sci-fi cult classic.

For over eight decades it was just a tantalizing El Dorado for film historians, but on Friday night a restored version of “Metropolis,” Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece, returned to Berlin. Over 2,000 people turned up on a snowy night in Berlin to watch the film projected onto a screen in front of the Brandenburg Gate, with an orchestra performing the original score in a simultaneous broadcast at a theater across town.

The event was the highlight of this year’s Berlin Film Festival, marking the return of one of Germany’s most influential films to the city where it made its debut 83 years ago. When the sci-fi classic was first shown in 1927 there was huge anticipation about what was then the most expensive German film ever made. But the 150 minutes of idealism and dystopia were a flop with critics and the public alike, despite the ground-breaking techniques and futuristic vision.

Once the US distributors got their hands on “Metropolis” they lobbed off a quarter of the film, making it all but incomprehensible in the process. While that did little to redeem it at the box office in the 1920s, the film went on to become an icon of German cinema and a reference point for many future sci-fi films from “Blade Runner” to “The Fifth Element.” Continue reading

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60 Years of Berlinale: A Film Festival of Propaganda, Stars and Scandal

The Berlin International Film Festival was a product of the Cold War. The US military administration wanted to bring a touch of glamour to a West Berlin that had survived the Soviet blockade. Since then, the festival has gained a reputation for championing political, provocative movies, and has been no stranger to scandal.

When the Oscar Martay, the film officer with the US military administration in Berlin, conceived of the idea of an international film festival 60 years ago, the Cold War was at its peak and much of the destroyed city was still in rubble.

The first Berlin International Film Festival in 1951 was designed to serve as a propaganda tool for the Allies just two years after the end of the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. The divided city marked the front line of the conflict with Soviet Russia and its satellite states in Eastern Europe and the US officials were determined to introduce a bit of glamour to the sector of the city they controlled. The festival was to be a “showcase of the free world.” Continue reading

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Berlin Return for Restored Classic: Film Festival to Show Uncut ‘Metropolis’

One of the most important works in cinematic history is to be shown in its complete uncut version at next year’s Berlin International Film Festival. The restored version of Fritz Lang’s silent classic “Metropolis” is to hit the silver screen 83 years after it first premiered in Berlin.

Fritz Lang’s silent opus “Metropolis” was the first film ever to be granted World Heritage status by UNESCO. Yet for years the version film buffs and auteurs had hailed as a masterpiece was incomplete. But next February, a Berlin audience will finally get to see the original version of the sci-fi classic in the city where it first premiered 83 years ago.

The Berlin International Film Festival is to show the fully restored movie in the city’s Friedrichstadt Palast venue on Feb. 12, accompanied by an orchestra playing the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. “Just about no other German film has inspired and influenced history as greatly as Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis,'” Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick said in a statement released on Thursday. “We are especially pleased and honored to be able to present the reconstructed original cut of this legendary and seminal film classic at the festival’s 60th anniversary.”  Continue reading

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