restricted access The Cinema of Germany ed. by Joseph Garncarz, Annemone Ligensa (review)
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The Cinema of Germany.
Edited by Joseph Garncarz and Annemone Ligensa. London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2012. xii + 264 pages + 24 b/w illustrations. Hardcover $75.00, paperback $25.00.

The promotional text on the back cover of this sleek, cleanly designed volume (the German installment in Wallflower’s 24 Frames series) reminds us that “[e]very second of projected film consists of 24 frames of celluloid.” This technical fact has inspired both the series title and the number of essays included in each collection. In his introduction, co-editor Joseph Garncarz embraces the idea of German national cinema and explains that the book tells this cinema’s story in a “fresh and concise way,” with greater emphasis on popularity than on canonicity. Concise is accurate: one of the volume’s strengths lies in the contributors’ shared commitment to offer brief yet substantive treatments of their respective films, allowing the book to be as much a research-grounded handbook as it is a history. The fresh matter is more complicated.

Garncarz’s single-authored study Hollywood in Deutschland (2012) establishes a three-era paradigm for studying the internationalization of German cinema from the 1920s through the 1990s, with particular emphasis on the roles of the USA and Germany’s neighbors in Europe. To open The Cinema of Germany, he offers a condensed discussion of this model, which breaks down into the periods 1910 to 1963, in which “the overwhelming majority of successful films were German productions” (2); 1964 to 1979, in which films from western Europe gained greater popularity; and 1980 to the present, in which regular box-office dominance of American films has coexisted with the re-emergence of a popular German cinema (Dörrie, Tykwer, Wortmann et al.). There is a social dimension to Garncarz’s model as well: drawing on Helmut Klages, he argues that the generational shift in Germany, away from a broadly felt sense of “duty and acceptance” and toward a shared embrace of “self-realization” (5), played a role in the shifting fortunes of domestic and international productions.

It can be fruitful to conceptualize national cinema in terms of popularity and de-emphasize the political ruptures of Weimar, the Third Reich, and German division when determining the break-points of German film history. As readers work their way through the book’s 24 chapters, however, they will find that the essays generally do not develop the model. That is not to say that they reject it, but when observations in the essays occasionally mention Garncarz’s framing of these developments, they do so in a way that feels more coincidental than programmatic. This coincidental feel is also palpable within the group of essays, which do not refer to one another, even when, for example, brief mention of a film treated in a full essay elsewhere in the volume would make such cross-reference worthwhile. This is a bit odd, perhaps, but not inherently deleterious. And it does have the virtue of strengthening the modularity of the collection—every essay stands on its own.

That modularity is especially useful in a pedagogical context, and indeed there are many essays that will work well in courses on German film. An appendix offers [End Page 728] filmographical information on all titles discussed, and the essays generally open with good synopses of content and production context. In some instances, the essays do not quite progress beyond providing interesting facts and sketching analyses in point form. Many contributions, however, advance cogent arguments. Examples include Sidney Gottlieb’s discussion of Murnau’s Der letzte Mann (1924), which deftly blends precise technical observation into a nuanced interpretation of Murnau’s cinematic humanism; Stephen Lowry’s chapter on Die große Liebe (1942), which draws on a relatively large number of period and scholarly texts, without allowing a revealing close reading to become freighted by citation; Claudia Liebrand and Gereon Blaseio’s essay on Die Brücke (1959), which frames the anti-war classic in large part as a “teen film”; Ursula von Keitz’s chapter on Der geteilte Himmel (1964), another effectively balanced treatment of technical fine points and encompassing themes; and Seán Allan...