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Reviewed by:
  • Performing Politics
  • Phillip Novak (bio)
Jennifer Fay, Theaters of Occupation: Hollywood and the Reeducation of Postwar Germany. UP of Minnesota, 2008.

The usual approach to writing about film culture in postwar Germany is to restrict the discussion to films made by Germans, in order, as Jennifer Fay puts it in the introduction to Theaters of Occupation, "to assess how they negotiate Germany's complicated relationship to anti-Semitism and to the country's National Socialist past" (xxvi).1 Fay, however, is more interested in the postwar Germans' sense of the present than in their relation to the past; and she's less interested in postwar German films per se than in the ways those films functioned, along with the American movies screened as part of the Allies' efforts at reeducating the German public, in the staging of the encounter between a shattered Germany and a politically and culturally ascendant United States.2 Indeed, although much of the book's time and space are devoted to the examination of individual films and their reception, with all but one of the chapters turning around the consideration of what Fay calls a "nodal film" (144), Theaters of Occupation is less concerned with film than with ideology, cultural politics, policy, and political theory.3 Fay's main aims are to lay out a critique of American ideological commitments—especially, but not exclusively, those informing U.S. policy during the occupation; and to argue, in the course of laying out that critique,4 first, that the U.S. effort to reeducate the Germans, at least insofar as Hollywood fiction films and American-made documentaries figured in that effort, failed to produce the desired effects; and, second, that the German experience of America's reeducation campaign nonetheless promoted—inadvertently and in quite ironic ways—the development within Germany of a more genuinely democratic sensibility than the one the Americans were self-consciously aiming at.

This redefining of the discursive terrain is on the whole very productive. As Fay's analysis consistently demonstrates, a consideration of U.S. occupation policy regarding the reeducation of the postwar German population brings American ideologies into stark relief—mainly because the process of promoting American cultural identity more or less forced the Americans into wearing their ideological positions, as it were, on their sleeve. Moreover, the interdisciplinary nature of Fay's work—which masterfully weaves together elements from an array of disparate fields—produces treatments of individual films that are at once novel, compelling, and persuasive. Helmut Käutner's Der apfel ist ab (The Apple Fell, 1948), for example, has previously been thought to be of interest mainly because of the objections it raised among the clergy both before and during its release. Fay mostly sidesteps discussion of both the blurred religious allegory the film suggests and the cultural controversy that that allegory engendered. Instead, she presents Der apfel ist ab as a parody of democratic origins and as a political allegory satirizing the paucity of choices being made available to Germans as tensions between East and West began to rise. Her reading of this film is set in the context of a broader discussion of American cold-war propaganda as represented by Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka (1939), which the Americans put into heavy rotation in Germany in 1948, the same year Der apfel ist ab premiered, and by the Welt im Film (World in Film) newsreels that were a principal tool in the reeducation effort (and whose screening was, as Fay notes, "compulsory for all exhibitors in the U.S. and British zones until January 1950" [46]). As Europe generally and Germany particularly became staging grounds for the conflicts between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, both Lubitsch's film and the newsreels, Fay argues, presented reductive images of the competing political systems and of the distinctions between them—and by so doing worked to make the political choices before the Germans seem clear and straightforward. In Ninotchka, the choice between capitalism and communism is simplified to "one between embodied enjoyment and the suppression of desire, affect, and appetite" (90-91); the newsreels, simplifying further, offer a decision "between pleasure and unpleasure, survival and starvation, freedom...

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