LOTHAR WARNEKE'S Unser kurzes Leben (Our Short Life, 1981) presents viewers with a character negotiating her identity in professional life and public and private spaces. Adapting Judith Butler's position on gender performance to a broader context, we can say that for the protagonist, Franziska Linkerhand, the negotiation is “a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint.” The “scene of constraint” in this instance is primarily the discipline in which Franziska works. An architect, she labors in a state-run institution that can be read as a cipher for the approximately thirty-year-old East German state she inhabits. The film frames this discipline as a microcosm of the totalitarian state, drawing on parallels to offer ways of seeing the state that may not be otherwise self-evident. Unser kurzes Leben points to architecture as an exploration of how the body moves in and experiences space. An endeavor in drafting and building, architecture is also a kind of diagnosis and treatment of the individual and of social bodies in space. A close reading of the film amplifies and helps further theorize the aspects of identity related to time, space, and repetitive acts that Judith Butler made so pivotal in Gender Trouble.
While Unser kurzes Leben depicts a woman trying to negotiate her way within a traditionally male-dominated field, the film does not draw overt attention to gender as a category of analysis. Given that architecture can be seen to represent a system of control and is tied to nation and the body politic, examining its depiction here reveals how the ostensibly objective spaces and places through which people move are marked by multiple ideologies that intersect with and complicate each other and are difficult to contest on a daily basis. The film demonstrates how understandings of gender and nationality coalesce and shape the physical world and the professions—architecture standing in as an example—and how, once shaped, the physical world and those professions in turn elicit sets of gendered and national performances. And so the film instantiates the East German male citizen as fundamentally different from the East German female citizen who becomes, in an ambivalently sexist way, the model citizen.
IN THE 1950S AND 1960S, the SED's active promotion of amateur filmmaking was aligned with its so-called Bitterfelder Weg cultural policies, a top-down directive that sought to create a bottom-up workers’ culture. But to what extent did the state's appropriation and promotion of amateur filmmaking coincide or conflict with what Josie McLellan has described as East Germany's “bottom-up model of the sexual revolution”? With a 1958–59 film produced by a Berlin-Friedrichshain Schmalfilmgruppe (small-format film group) as its focal point, this essay explores the manner and means by which East German amateur film functioned as what Teresa de Lauretis has termed, after Michel Foucault, a “technology of gender.” Even though the GDR leadership “was proud of its destruction of legal patriarchy,” Donna Harsch observes that “women's equality remained, nonetheless, peripheral to the utopian vision, for women's rights did not promote class equality or a collective mentality, much less raise productivity.” Though reliant on and responsive to the staunchly patriarchal policies, discourses, and initiatives coming from the male-dominated SED, East Germany's amateur film movement nevertheless created numerous possibilities, as I will show, for the articulation, negotiation, and contestation of gender roles and equality under socialism.
Drawing on Jean-Luc Nancy's “postdeconstructive” philosophy of embodiment, sense, and sexual difference, this chapter analyzes the aesthetics of maternal labor in Zu jeder Stunde (At Any Moment), an amateur film “mit Spielfilmcharakter” (with the character of a feature film) that was televised on an April 30, 1961, episode of a monthly amateurfilm advice program, Greif zur Kamera, Kumpel! (Reach for the Camera, Pal!). Both directed by and starring Frau and Dr. Strasburg, the sixteen-minute fictional short follows a doctor (Dr. Strasburg) who must decide between supporting his dying wife (Frau Strasburg) in the hospital and making a house call to save the life of a pregnant woman facing a difficult home birth. The doctor chooses duty over love, ostensibly proving his unselfish commitment to others “at any moment,” even when it comes at the cost of passing (so to speak) on his own wife's passing.
IF THE MOVING IMAGE explores that which is visible, then the queer moving image exposes what is latent or understated within that visibility. As Alice Kuzniar writes regarding queer German cinema, “[it] provocatively plays upon what the eye can and cannot see… . [Q]ueer cinema is one of baroque display and theatricality that paradoxically hides as much as it reveals. It reminds its viewer that sexual difference is not always something they can see; by disrupting and scotomizing the optic register, it challenges the accepted notion that cinema discloses and makes visible an empirical reality.” The question remains, however, whether Kuzniar's queer cinema concept fits the media of the GDR. With respect to queerness in East Germany, I argue that the space of the theater applies not so much as the intimate confessional between friends. In East German films of the 1970s, the representation of queer relationships piques genuine curiosity in the viewer, while also subsuming these representations under the eye of state surveillance.
East German feature films and documentaries made by the state-sponsored DEFA film studios participated in regimes of representation and visibility that beckoned forth certain identity formations while banishing others to the margins of societal discourse. Institutions, politics, culture, and commercial concerns all played a hand in dictating such regimes. Monogamous heterosexual coupling was normalized in the GDR, and partially leveraged as one of the social dimensions that distinguished its form of socialism from homosocially charged National Socialism. As a corollary, few identity constructs in GDR cinema remained as invisible and obscure as bisexual polyamory, which I define as being involved romantically and sexually in more than one relationship with multiple partners of any gender, with all partners aware and consenting. Polyamory, according to Jeffrey Weeks, presumes “freely chosen relationships based on the potentiality of multipartnerships where rules and boundaries are negotiated rather than given or assumed.” If polyamory breaks the so-called “mononormativity” of a society preoccupied with monogamous relationships, then a bisexual polyamory queers the often heteronormative assumptions of “swinger” couplings in the popular imagination, such as in the films Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969, dir. Paul Mazursky, USA) and Swingers (2002, dir. Stephan Brenninkmeijer, Netherlands).
In July 2015, A GROUP of scholars including faculty, students, and professionals from outside academia met for the eighth biennial East German Summer Film Institute. Facilitated at Smith College by the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this summer workshop—entitled “Sex, Gender, and Videotape: Love, Eroticism, and Romance in East Germany”—took a dedicated and comprehensive look at the ways in which these themes appeared, disappeared, and were avoided or censored in East German film and television. The event included public screenings of material that had not been seen in decades and works that had never been shown outside of Germany. Guiding the discussions were questions surrounding sex, gender, and sexuality in East (and West) Germany and the Eastern Bloc that some scholars had examined especially in the mid- to late 2000s but that had not been posed in relation to visual media, the primary focus for this workshop. The film institute showcased East German portrayals of family life, corporeal pleasure, gendered embodiments of socialist citizenship, socialist married life, sex education, queerness, and the gendering of labor, both public and private, among many other topics.
Taking its cue from the wealth of unexplored or underexplored material introduced at and by that film institute, this volume gathers essays on a sample of televisual works produced in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) but points to the bountiful opportunities for engaging with East German texts while highlighting the need to illuminate and comprehend how sex, gender, and sexuality were implicit and explicit parts of real existierender Sozialismus (real existing socialism). Some of the films analyzed in this volume's contributions have never before been examined in scholarship as far as we can tell (e.g., Zu jeder Stunde in John Lessard's essay), or if so, likely only in German and less available to English-speaking audiences. In this volume's chapters that treat works previously discussed by scholars (e.g., Guten Morgen, du Schöne in Evan Torner's chapter), we find new readings, often experimenting with theoretical approaches that yield innovative interpretations.
Socialist Stars in the GDR
IN 1964, THE EAST GERMAN fan magazine Filmspiegel asked its readers, “Haben wir keine Stars?” (Don't we have any stars?) to which it answered, “‘Ja’ sagen die einen—‘Nein’ die anderen.” And then it offered, “Vielleicht hangt diese Meinungsverschiedenheit allein schon mit dem Wort ‘Star’ zusammen” (“Yes,” say some—“No,” say others. … Perhaps this difference of opinion has to do with the very word “star” itself). The star concept was seen as antithetical to socialist values and rooted instead in capitalist concepts of individualism, glamor, consumption, and scandal. However, by the early 1960s, it became clear that the state-owned East German film industry, DEFA, was in competition with western cinemas and could not ignore the important social, cultural, and political potential of having national star images: the domestic and international validation of an East German socialist culture, an appeal to public desire through the performance of individualized life experiences, or the embodiment of types such as the beloved rebel. From an official standpoint, a socialist star would offer an engaging performance of the “all-around” socialist personality.
What did the “all-around” socialist personality look like, and how did she behave? By way of example, I look at Jutta Hoffmann (b. 1941), whose screen characters portrayed a problem for East German women: “the issue of her potential inner liberation and the difficulty of finding happiness.” In particular, Hoffmann's figures lived and functioned in a state where women found their roles in public life vastly expanded under socialism. This expansion came without the necessary fundamental changes to gendered hierarchical practices in the public sphere, or to private practices in matters of love, desire, and family. Stars like Jutta Hoffmann were expected to exemplify the gender-neutral qualities and characteristics of the “all-around” socialist personality: versatility, ability, accessibility, identification, and the embodiment of the values of work, community, perseverance, and strength. The individual experience exemplified in Hoffmann's performances of intersecting categories of identity challenged the ideology of the well-rounded and fully engaged “socialist personality” without questioning its validity.
Lothar Warneke's Die Beunruhigung (Apprehension, 1982), a lowbudget, black-and-white so-called Alltagsfilm (everyday film) or Frauenfilm (women's film) that features elements of documentary style, was among the most popular DEFA productions. It received several prizes, among others the so-called Großen Steiger (Head Miner), the audience jury's prize for the most effective movie screened within the past two years. Even though it sheds light on the situation of women in the GDR in the early 1980s, it is, however, not among the most discussed DEFA Frauenfilme of the 1970s and 1980s, like Heiner Carow's Die Legende von Paul und Paula (The Legend of Paul and Paula, 1973), Egon Gunther's Der Dritte (Her Third, 1972), and Konrad Wolf and Wolfgang Kohlhaase's Solo Sunny (1980). More remarkable still, existing scholarship tends to focus on how the protagonist, Inge Herold (played by Christine Schorn), takes charge of her life and seeks a fulfilling love relationship when she finds herself in a time of crisis after she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though “the question of how individuals cope with illness, pain, depression and death [is] at the forefront of Warneke's controversial film,” the influence of the healthcare system on the protagonist's ability to fight cancer and seek a reciprocated romantic relationship remains largely undiscussed. This approach, which reduces the medical diagnosis to a trigger for Inge's decision to scrutinize her interpersonal relationships, may be attributable to Erika Richter, the dramaturg. In her epilogue to Helga Schubert's film script, Richter stresses the significance of illness as an existential threat motivating an individual to rethink her life.
Yet this approach does not do justice to the complexity of the film, which addresses issues the government observed suspiciously—for example, illness linked with problems in interpersonal relationships. To comprehend the importance of Die Beunruhigung for a GDR audience, we need to consider the significance of film in the GDR, and analyze the cancerous female body—which quite literally contains the ills of society— within the idiosyncrasies of the GDR healthcare system.
THE 1972 FILM Der Dritte (The Third; released in English as Her Third, 2006), directed by Egon Gunther, was one of the greatest cinematic sensations of the GDR. Der Dritte earned domestic and international praise for its sympathetic portrayal of a lonely, twice-divorced working mother who pursues the man who will become her third husband. Like the contemporary blockbuster Die Legende von Paul und Paula (The Legend of Paul and Paula, 1973, dir. Heiner Carow), Der Dritte delighted audiences by emphasizing romance, intimacy, and personal fulfillment over ideology and morality. Brought to life with humor and through Jutta Hoffmann's talent in the starring role, Der Dritte's depictions of women's romantic, familial, and sexual lives resonated with viewers far beyond the borders of the GDR, who applauded its progressive treatment of a single female professional raising two children by different fathers. Gunther's protagonist, mathematician Margit Flieser, embodies the distinctive rhythms of women's emancipation in the public and private spheres: like many East German women, she has access to education and technical training, opportunities for career advancement, and the respect of her coworkers, but Margit must contend with inconsistencies between her professional empowerment and the enduring norms of feminine submissiveness and domesticity in romance and marriage. Margit bucks social expectations by actively pursuing her next lover and dictating the timeline of their courtship as well as the role that he will play in her family life.
Beneath Der Dritte's heteronormative surface, hints of queer longing attest to the emerging yet limited visibility of same-sex love in East Germany in the 1970s. Director Gunther's depiction of romance and intimacy, based on screenwriter Gunther Rucker's adaptation of Eberhard Panitz's 1969 novel Unter den Bäumen regnet es zweimal (Under the Trees It Rains Twice), invites queer readings of Margit's sexuality and of her relationship with colleague and confidante Lucie (played by Barbara Dittus). The polysemic term “queer” lends itself fittingly to a study of Gunther's figures because—by contrast with “lesbian” or “bisexual”—it suggests the ambiguity and fluidity of desires that come to expression in his film.
ONE OF THE more curious events in German film history took place in Berlin on February 9, 1991, when the full-length DEFA feature film Der Strass (Rhinestones, 1991, dir. Andreas Hontsch) opened to the general public at the Kino Babylon. Audiences saw a film that was started in one country, the GDR, and finished months later—after the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and German unification on October 3—in another one, the FRG. When released, the film had been financed half in East marks and half in West marks, as the currency union in July 1990 replaced East German currency with its West German counterpart. It was all the more curious because the director expected the film not to be released, but rather censored or banned due to its irreverent depiction of the GDR, personified in the figures of a photographer and the exotic dancer he pursues. Manifold changes in the country's political system more than just paved a path to democratic structures; they also enabled a new way of filmmaking independent of political restrictions. Der Strass became the first DEFA film made in a democratic GDR and became rather superfluous immediately, since, by the time of its release, the country of its production had ceased to exist.
By looking at Der Strass as a gendered spectacle, we propose a rereading of DEFA films produced during the Wende through a gendered lens. We perceive the film as a political statement articulated through the display of the eroticized female body. In our view, Der Strass embodies institutional and individual struggles against outmoded, inequitable methods of GDR filmmaking, as well as the opportunities offered by the historical changes for a frank, critical engagement with the failures of the political system. Thus, our approach to Der Strass is simultaneously informed by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's concept of a Third Cinema that perceives of film as political statement, and by Laura Mulvey's theorization of the cinematic politics of the male gaze. In the following, the deployment of the female body in Der Strass is analyzed as a common trope to titillate and to evoke visceral reactions from the audience.
ON NOVEMBER 2, 1988, the short documentary film Die andere Liebe (The Other Love, dir. Helmut Kisling and Axel Otten) had its premiere. This historical event, meant as a cinematic introduction to a subsection of GDR society, marked the slow and monumental progress that had been made in the realm of gay rights in East Germany—though not necessarily on purpose—while it also illustrated the tragic backwardness of this country that was and is, in so many ways, stuck in time. Different from other nations that transitioned from communism to postcommunism, the GDR essentially dissolved into the FRG. Unlike the more popular feature film that appeared the following year (Heiner Carow's Coming Out), Die andere Liebe (DaL) is often either left out of historical narratives or only briefly mentioned. In what follows, I examine the circumstances of the film's production and appearance in East Germany while considering the role it plays in our understanding of the development of German lesbian and gay history. More specifically, this essay will provide a reading of the film that identifies its affective engagement with various parties: the anonymous individuals it profiles, the GDR audiences, and the official state-run apparatus of film production, among others.
DaL mobilizes a number of forms of affect in its sequences, engaging with its intended audience of primarily heterosexual viewers. In using “affect” instead of “emotions” here, I refer to what Clare Hemmings has called “states of being, rather than to their manifestation or interpretation as emotions.” Hemmings explains that affects, unlike drives, their fellow psychological entities, may be adapted; indeed, they can be transferred to a variety of objects instead of being oriented toward or fixated on one goal as drives are. Affect allows for a general analysis of the text's provoked responses rather than one of specific audience members’ targeted emotional responses. Although DaL is ostensibly about “love,” as we could gather from its title, the original screenplay, and parts of the final voiceover narration, I interpret it as a work of the mobilization and deflection of shame—in other words, DaL takes gay shame and transforms it into homophobic shame.
AT FIRST GLANCE, the periods of culture discussed in this chapter seem similar. The early 1960s and the early 1970s are considered the most liberal periods of East German cultural history. They are also seen as comparable from a perspective of power politics: both have been interpreted as political concessions to the field of culture after major political ruptures. A second glance, however, reveals significant differences, especially as regards gender. Indeed, men dominate the movies depicting contemporary life in the GDR of the 1960s and women those of the 1970s. This corresponds to the overall representation of East German society in cinema, and more specifically, to the ability to transform it. Despite the evident abandonment of political master narratives and the “Ruckzug in den Alltag” (retreat into everyday life) that has been described as a leitmotif of literature and film in the 1970s, GDR cinema became neither apolitical nor acritical.
DEFA cinema of the 1960s—and East German narrative culture in general—followed a representational model, with characters designed to serve as allegories for tangible social problems. The narrative and visual organization of 1970s DEFA films predominantly follows another paradigm I call the mode of adumbration, and the gain in female agency in the cinema of the 1970s is indeed symptomatic of the latter. While most DEFA films in the 1960s show the GDR as a society in transition, the culture of the 1970s reflects a country that resigned from its ideological promise, a “developed socialist society” without a vision for its own future.
It is not by accident that this paradigmatic shift in the representation of society coincides with a change in perspective from presumably male approaches to others coded as female. More than 50 percent of contemporary screen dramas in the last two decades of East German cinema feature female leads, which is astonishing, given that the DEFA studios were male dominated. At the core of the evolving preference toward female protagonists lies a rather traditional gender bias delegating the reflection of power and struggle to male protagonists, while more psychological narrative functions were assigned mostly to female leads.
SOLO SUNNY (1980), Konrad Wolf's last completed film, is significant not only within the director's oeuvre, but also in the history of DEFA film as a whole. It marks both a generic breakthrough for a director otherwise better known for his antifascist films of the Second World War, and also the tail end of a group of late-1960s and 1970s DEFA woman's films, and the last gasp of the final brief period of liberal cultural policy in the GDR at the end of the 1970s. That fleeting window of liberalization, moreover, ended right at the time the film premiered, so that its reception and unusually lively public discussion were choked off before they could properly develop. The emigration of the film's starring actress, Renate Krosner, to West Germany only a few years later (1985) further diminished its public resonance, for those who “fled the republic” immediately became personae non gratae, put under a ban of public silence, once they left.
The film thus offers an unusual wealth of interpretative problems in terms of production (its aesthetic form) and of reception and spectatorship. It can be read both generically, as a melodrama and star vehicle, and also sociologically, as an intervention (Eingriff) into public discourse on women and private life. The “local genre” of the woman's film, in its ambiguous relation to melodrama and star vehicle, will be seen as the vehicle for this intervention, as the ground where questions of form and reception intersect. As will become evident, some of the formal and generic questions raised by the film can only be answered through its reception. Other tensions or contradictions may be illuminated by a comparative look at a recent debate on public and private politics (Judith Butler's influential reading of Antigone).
Although it is possible to view Wolf's film through an auteurist lens, what follows will seek to complement such attention to the immanent surface of the film with its reception history. Documenting that history is, in the case of the GDR, much more difficult than with Hollywood or New German Cinema, since public discussion of films was so highly regulated and even manipulatively staged by the state.
IN CONTRAST TO the majority of Hollywood Western films, which typically celebrated the pioneers’ courage in fighting the “savage Indians” on the American frontier, the East German Indianerfilm (American Indian film) of the 1960s and 1970s typically featured Native American focal characters. Here, the Native American heroes often gathered with protagonists of various national backgrounds in order to fight the cruelties of American capitalist expansionism. In many DEFA Westerns, this dynamic also plays out among the films’ international cast members: accordingly, the films’ counter-discourse not only celebrates the international solidarity among the fictional heroes on screen, but also emphasizes the actual international camaraderie of the “red brothers,” who unite for the production of this “red Western,” “borscht Western,” or “Eastern.”
The red Western Blutsbrüder (Blood Brothers, 1975, dir. Werner Wallroth) not only presents one of the few interracial marriages in DEFA film, but also assembles two popular performers of GDR fantasies of the American frontier: the rock star and heartthrob “cowboy” Dean Reed from the United States as the white American deserter Harmonika (Harmonica), and DEFA idol Gojko Mitić from Serbia as his brotherin- law, the warrior Harter Felsen (Hard Rock). I argue that the representation of the on- and off-screen solidarity among the two male heroes reduces the heterosexual romance between Harmonika and the Native American maiden Rehkitz (Fawn, played by Gisela Freudenberg) to a mere catalyst for dreams of interracial antifascist male bonding. In this context, I investigate to what extent this counter-Western or “Eastern” follows narrative and visual amorous gender cliches of the Western genre and of DEFA films of its time and how it changes and reverses familiar romance plot patterns. Here, I am mainly concerned with the symbolism of the brown-faced DEFA Indianer as othered, racialized, sexualized, and gendered bodies, which represent sites for inscribing both similarity and difference in their romantic appeal to GDR spectators.
Real existierender Sozialismus, utopischer Sozialismus, and the Romanticism of the Diegetic and Nondiegetic Community of “Red Brothers”
According to Wolfgang Emmerich, the GDR's cultural production of the 1970s transitioned from realistic depictions of real existierender Sozialismus (real existing socialism) to a new form of aesthetics that he calls utopischer Sozialismus (utopian socialism).
Such is photography: it cannot say what it lets us see.
Jeder Schmerz konnte als Symbol fur unseren Schmerz herhalten. Das Ungenugen am Erlaubten war in den achtziger Jahren so drangend geworden, so allgegenwartig, das die Geste der Sehnsucht zuweilen von der larmoyanten Attitude kaum mehr zu unterscheiden war. Was mich heute an Helke Misselwitz’ Film uberrascht, ist deshalb, das er eine Distanz zu dem der DDR eigentumlichen Kummer findet. Nicht das—damals inkriminierte—Bild des Schiffs, das weit drausen fahrt, ist so bahnbrechend, sondern der Schwung, mit dem die Sehnsuchtsbilder in den Papierkorb fliegen. Tageslicht! Das Schiff tutet wie das Zeichen eines Entschlusses, endlich den eigenen Kummer zu wenden. “Fur die Frau hat sich nichts verandert.” Die Frau hat sich verandert.
[Any pain could be used as a symbol for our pain. The dissatisfaction about what was permissible had become so pressing in the 1980s, so ever present, that the gesture of longing was at times difficult to differentiate from a self-pitying attitude. What surprises me today about Helke Misselwitz's film is that she finds a distance to the grief that was so particular to the GDR. It was not the image of the ship that was so provocative at the time, but the energy with which those images of longing are flung into the wastebasket. Daylight! The ship is honking as a symbol of a decision to finally overcome the personal grief. “For the woman, nothing has changed.” The woman has changed.]
ULRIKE GRAMANN'S Surprise at re-viewing a short film from 1985 by Helke Misselwitz stresses the author's own locatedness as a viewer. In the GDR of the 1980s, Misselwitz's short film TangoTraum (TangoDream, 1985) was widely perceived as an expression of longing for travel and desire to escape the increasingly stifling atmosphere of late socialism. Certainly GDR censors agreed with such a reading and demanded to eliminate the final image, a giant ocean liner cruising across the screen. When Gramann encountered the film again fifteen years later at a retrospective in Oberhausen, she perceived less the grief over unattainable destinations than the decisive energy that swept such longings— literally—off the table. Gramann's verdict—“‘For the woman nothing has changed.’
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