New German cinema

New German Cinema

Prof. Santhi Jayakekara, PhD


In the post-war period in West German cinema there was a situation of a creative ambiguity of schizophrenic topics.

New wave of German cinema is the direction in the post-war period in West German cinema, which is connected with the renaissance of national cinema. It was the end of the 60s and it began to blossom in the 70s.

So-called pioneers of this direction were Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff, Alexander Klutsche, Werner Schroeter etc.

“New cinema” played a significant role in the process of renovation in Federal republic of Germany. The motivation for young film directors was the work by the French “New wave”, “Angry young men” in England, “New York Underground Films”.

At the beginning of the 60s 26 young German film directors signed “the Oberhausener Manifest”, where they refused to serve both to the political propaganda and the commercial direction.

The typical character of the German cinema has become an average German citizen with its everyday problems and fears to lose his job.

The representatives of “the young German cinema” depicted the country at its changing times, which resisted traditional system of values of the ancestors that are blamed for nationalism and mass homicides.  Career orientation and the traditional female role were under criticism.

In 1965 the kuratorium of “young German cinema” with the starting capital was launched. Federal lands started financial backing of German film directors and local cinemas. Higher TV and cinema schools were founded.

At the end of the 70s and at the beginning of the 80s the cinema was at its rise. It may be proved by the number of the prizes awarded at the film festivals.

Even though mecca of German film makers and Brlin film festival is the major social and political topic, new German cinema has gone beyond these frameworks and is of high importance for cinema fans.

A viewer, tired of banal jokes from Hollywood comedies and typical love stories, now chooses European, namely German dramas.

The pioneers of “the new German cinema”.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a German film director, screenwriter, actor, and playwright. He was the leader of the new German cinema.

He worked in the archive of the newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung“and as a statistician in the theatre. He wrote his first play “Just a piece of bread”, and in 1966 he got the award for the third time at the contest of young playwrights.

That year he wrote two scripts for the two films “Parallels” and “Table tennis” and shot the short film “A city tramp”.

In 1969 the first films by Fassbinder were released: “Love is colder that death”, “Katzelmacher”, Gods of the plague”. The impact by Godar and Brecht is evident here.

On the cinema festival in Manheim the film “Katzelmacher” got the prize of cinema critics, “The Prize of Fine Arts Academy” and several prizes of Federal lands.

Soon Fassbinder addresses to melodramas and makes 3-4 films per year. He combined melodrama with politics and made the first commercial success releasing in 1971 the film “The seller of the four seasons”. But internationally famous he became after the release of the film “Fear eats the soul”, which got FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes.

In 977 the film in English “Despair” based on V. Nabokov’s novel was released. Critics declared that the film reached the level of Visconti and Bergman. The history of Germany in the 50s he showed in the three films: “Maria Brown’s Marriage” (1978), “Lola” (1981) and “Veronica Foss’s Melancholy” (1981).

The 14-episode TV film “Berlin-Alexanderplatz” was the biggest and the most ambitious project with the evaluation of 13 million German marks and was shown in the autumn in 1980.

His last film “Querelle” was released in 1982 and it was about the homosexual adventures of a sailor on a French port town. Fassbinder never concealed his homosexuality (even though he was officially married). He had sexual promiscuity and abused drugs.

At the same time he lived and worked on the border. He died of cocaine abuse at the age of 37 and managed to shoot 43 films during his short life.

German film director Wim Wenders

In 1967 he entered Higher Cinema and TV School in Munich. During his studies he shoots and finances a range of his short films.

His first full-length film “Summer in the city” (1970) was his graduation work. He combined his studies with working on reviews on the films.

In 1971 he collaborated with the other cinema workers and launched the production of new German films (Filmverlag der Autoren).

After the graduation he shoots his first fiction film “The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty” (1972).

But the official recognition came with the film “The Wrong Move”, which got six Federal Prizes of cinema press. The next film “Kings of the Road” was shown in Cannes and was a great success in Germany.

After watching his new film “An American friend” (1976) producer Francis Coppola made a very lucrative offer: to shoot the film “Hammett” and he had to move to America.

In 1981 the shooting was begun and in a year it was finished.

In Cannes the film was accepted skeptically, but his other film “The State of Things” got The Golden Lion in Venice. This film was shot between the beginning and the end of the shooting of the film “Hammett”.

In America his film “Paris, Texas” (1983) was shot, and it got The Palme d’Or in Cannes. Commercial success was provided.

But the most popular film shot in 1987 was “The sky above Berlin”. In Cannes he got the prize as the best film director, the first European cinema award “Felix” and the award from film critics in Los Angeles. And the film “Faraway, So Close!” is the sequel, and it was shot after the Berlin Wall Fall.

Wenders is the prize-winner of many awards and also bearer of the order and from 1996 the President of European cinema academy.

He shot 46 films and 19 of them are full-length ones. His hobby was rock music.

Werner Herzog is a film director, actor and screen writer. He is one of the pioneers of new German cinema.

As he was a student of University of Munich he shot his first film “Heracles” (1962). In 1963 he founded his own mini studio.

A mature film director’s creation begins with the film “Even Dwarfs Started Small” (1970) – the allegory of the political life and the riot of anarchists – dwarfs in the colony. Herzog makes documentaries and combines fiction films with documentaries, and documentaries with events.

Herzog always gave the main roles to Klaus Kinski, who he knew from the childhood.

In 1972 he finished the saga about еру conquistador Loque de Aquirra. The film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” made Herzog one of the most outstanding film directors at that time. This film analyzes the psychological nature of fascism. He always revealed in his films outsiders and extraordinary personalities, and so he does in the film “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser”, where the main character was played by the patient from mental hospital.

Together with the actor Kinski he made another historical films: “Nosferatu the Vampyre” (1978), “Woyzeck” (1979), “Fitzcarraldo” (1982) and “Cobra Verde” (1988). The film “Fitzcarraldo” became the biggest project of the film director.

In his film the following idea is obvious: – “charasmatical personalities” obsessed with crazy ideas.

From 1991 to 2001 Herzog made only the documentaries about the unordinary events in the distant places of the Earth.

The period of the life in Los Angeles takes him back to feature films. In the films “The bad lieutenant”, “Rescue Dawn”, “Invincible” he shot such Hollywood stars as Nicholas Cage, Christian Bale and Tim Rot.

In 2010 he became the head of the jury of the 60th Berlin film festival, where the Russian film “How I spent my summer” was awarded.

Herzog is neoromantic and sure that “all the everyday and common is ugly”.

He shot more than 60 films and 19 of them are full-length films.

Volker Schlöndorff is one of the most outstanding film directors of German cinema.

He studied political sciences in Paris. At the time of his studies he translated German classical films into French.

In 1960 he shot the short film “Who cares” about the life of an Algerian in Germany. But the film was prohibited.

His debut in the film “The young Torless” turned out to be extremely successful. The German award “Golden cinema film” for the script and directing, the award “Fipressi” in Cannes, the award “Golden Gates” in San Francisco.

After this self-assertion he started to shoot films based on his own script.

The film “The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach” made the great impact on the audience and film critics. Margarethe von Trotta became his both favorite actress and later a wife.

Schlöndorff makes his prominent masterpiece “The Tin Drum” based on the novel by Günter Grass. This is the tragicomedy about the boy revolting against the adult world by drum rumbling and screaming, which breaks glass. This film obtained  Palme d’Or, and Schlöndorff at the age of 40 became сlassic.

In 1980 he left for Syria, where he shoots the film “The Circle of Deceit”. After moving to America, he continues to make films and invites the biggest stars: Dastin Hoffman, John Malkovich, Natasha Richardson etc.

Staying a purely German film director by nature, he managed to conquer the audience both in Europe and America.

Since 2001 he has been working as a professor and he teaches cinema art and literature in the German cinema and TV academy”. He shot more than 40 films.