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Reviewed by:
  • A New History of German Cinema ed. by Jennifer M. Kapczynski, Michael D. Richardson
  • Barbara Hales
A New History of German Cinema. Edited by Jennifer M. Kapczynski and Michael D. Richardson. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012. Pp. 673. Cloth $115.00. ISBN 978-1571134905.

Alongside Hans Helmut Prinzler’s Chronik des deutschen Films (2005) and Sabine Hake’s German National Cinema (2007), A New History of German Cinema presents a complex picture of German film history and culture of the twentieth and twenty-first [End Page 194] centuries. A New History presents scholarly essays on both canonical and non-canonical works of German cinema contextualized in one of seven historical periods: Part I: 1895–1918, Part II: 1918–1932, Part III: 1933–1945, Part IV: 1945–1961, Part V: 1962–1976, Part VI: 1977–1989, Part VII: 1990–2011. The editors make the case that grouping the films by these historical periods allows one to see their “social, political and cultural contexts” (4). In addition to approaching films through periodization, the volume also treats various actors and themes that cut across the seven periods.

Kapczynski and Richardson stress the value of approaching films both synchronically (meaning constructed in the moment) and diachronically (the shifting of this meaning over time) (5). For example, Valerie Weinstein’s essay “10 January 1927: Brigitte Helm Embodies Ambivalence of the New Woman” traces Helm’s career in Weimar and early Nazi Germany, while Barbara Kosta’s essay “16 May 1992: Marlene Dietrich’s Berlin Burial Links Postunification Germany with Weimar Republic’s Internationalism” situates Dietrich’s independent persona as one that transcends time and space (522–23). Examples of thematic and technical influence cutting across time periods can be seen in Anton Kaes’s “29 November 1923: Karl Grune’s Die Straße Inaugurates ‘Street Film,’ Foreshadows Film Noir.”

The volume additionally provides significant treatment of major political and social themes including race, ethnicity, gender, and trauma. Some examples of essays focusing on race and ethnicity include Tobias Nagl (“6 March 1920: Chinese Students Raise Charges of Racism”), Cynthia Walk (“31 January 1929: Limits on Racial Border-Crossing Exposed in Piccadilly”) and Andrea Reimann (“10 February 1999: Berlinale Premiere of Four Turkish-German Films”). Essays that treat trauma include Philipp Stiasny (“4 March 1921: With Das Floss der Toten . . .”) addressing World War I and Ulrike Weckel (“22 March 1946: Screenings of Die Todesmühlen”) and Erin McGlothlin (“22 January 1979: West German Broadcast of Holocaust”) covering the Holocaust. Essays treating gender include Heide Schlüpmann’s coverage of Asta Nielsen (“27 May 1911: Asta Nielsen Secures Unprecedented Artistic Control”), moving through the Nazi period with Antje Ascheid’s essay on Lilian Harvey (“19 June 1935: Celebration of Lilian Harvey’s Return”) to Annette Brauerhoch’s coverage of seventies feminist film discourse (“24 June 1974: Launching of Frauen und Film”).

A New History concludes with sections on recent cinema: Part VI: 1977–1989 with the end of DEFA, as well as Part VII: 1999–2011 and contemporary German cinema. Especially interesting are the issues surrounding West German coverage of unification and the Stasi experience, including the films Good Bye Lenin! (2003) and Das Leben der Anderen (2006) (Reinhild Steingröver, “2 February 1988: Last Generation of DEFA Directors”). Germany’s interest in reviewing the past through “heritage cinema” such as Nirgendwo in Afrika (2001), as well as Hitler’s last days in Der Untergang (2004) (Michael D. Richardson, “8 September 2004: Der Untergang”) [End Page 195] is significant to an understanding of Vergangenheitsbewältigung in current film and cultural history.

The analyses in this volume treat various films with both depth and breadth. Close reading, archival material, and synchronic/diachronic studies make this volume a useful resource for film historians and cultural studies scholars. The volume is particularly valuable for its inclusion of noncanonical works. In addition to its value for film scholars, the book is useful for classes covering the politics and culture of the time period. Hans Helmut Prinzler offers strong praise for the volume, lauding it as the “Film Book of the Year, 2012.”

Barbara Hales
University of Houston–Clear Lake


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