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  • Introduction:Cold-War German Cinema
  • Marc Silberman

The unconditional surrender of the German Military Command on 7 May 1945 summons the image of a clean break with twelve years of National Socialism. Initial Allied policy – agreed upon by Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States – of dismantling the National-Socialist administrative apparatus and economic infrastructure was not meant so much as a punitive measure but rather as the first step in achieving that tabula rasa. Yet other realities–the Allies' economic interests in the rapid reestablishment of the German market and the ideological pressures of Cold-War conflict – modified the original agenda. The recovery and reorganisation of the German movie industry is prototypical for the relation of rupture and continuity prior to the economic miracle in West Germany and the introduction of a socialist command economyin East Germany.

Among the first orders issued in Summer 1945 were guidelines to regulate the control of information. Each of the occupation authorities assumed responsibility for licensing and censoring the materials in its respective area. The aim was to disassemble the centralised organisational structure of Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry as well as to counteract the effect of its information manipulation. Film production, distribution, and exhibition fell under these general regulations, but because the joint Allied Control Commission deliberately discouraged a centralised movie industry, each of the Allies developed its own policies and agencies to carry them out. In the Western zones, where print media were considered the primary instruments for information dissemination and reeducation, the movie industry was reorganised largely under American direction for entertainment purposes and according to the economic priorities of the Hollywood studios and their marketing needs. In the Soviet zone the cinema was regarded along with schools as the preferential means for reeducation, so Soviet authorities rapidly implemented measures to jump start movie production, not as a commercial enterprise but rather as part of the larger cultural sphere subordinated to political and ideological priorities. While the state-owned DEFA studios in the East mirrored the vertical monopoly structure of the earlier UFA studios in the Third Reich with generous government funding and secure employment for those who were ideologically acceptable, the movie industry in the Western zones and, after 1949, in the Federal Republic of Germany, was explicitly planned from the outset as a decentralised, commercial entertainment enterprise.

The articles in this issue explore aspects of postwar cinema culturein Germany that qualify these general lines of development under the pressure of Cold-War tensions. Jennifer Fay presents the well-defined agenda of civic education through motion pictures pursued by the American occupation authorities in 1948, an especially hot moment in the Cold War when the currency reform in the Western zones pushed through under American supervision triggered the Berlin blockade by the Soviets. The decision in this year to (rush) the release in occupied Germany of MGM's Ninotchka (a 1939 comedy about the transformation of a communist spy into a sensual hedonist) as well as the choice of topics and iconography in the newsreel series Welt im Film (produced by Americans for the German public) reflected the reigning American logic that capitalism, consumerism, and individualism were as important as freedom and democracy in the ideological arsenal. (Re)-reading the 1948 satirical feature Der Apfel ist ab, Fay shows how a very early comedy produced in the West allegorises a widespread sense of ambiguity precisely toward this model of citizen participation.

The other contributions in this issue examine attempts on the part of the East German DEFA [End Page 3] studios to respond to audience demands for popular genre films rather than ideologically driven features. Marxist-Leninist theories ignored entertainment, regarding recreation and distraction as diversions from intellectual and moral forms of art and education, which in any case were related less to subjective desire than to larger political and economic circumstances. As the basis for operational decisions about film content, such views excluded the concept of taste based on popular sensibilities, because cultural integration and collective identity had nothing to do with emotional structures of the personality and everything with the state's changing socio-political and economic demands. At the very genesis of DEFA, then, stood...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-3905
Print ISSN
0892-2160
Pages
pp. 3-5
Launched on MUSE
2006-01-26
Open Access
No
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