- Cinema and Social Change in Germany and Austria ed. by Gabrielle Mueller, James M. Skidmore
This readable and worth-reading volume presents a complicated image of contemporary cinema in Germany and Austria. We find ourselves, the collection’s authors argue, in a moment of remarkable cinematic innovation as well as one of deep-seated disenchantment. Mueller and Skidmore’s collection arrives at a fascinating time for cinema studies and not just within the examination of things German (and Austrian). Recent technological advances have changed the medium, its formal techniques, and the ways in which all of this can be received, viewed, and critiqued. The increasing, yet by no means universal, availability of digital cameras that produce high-quality footage combines with (sometimes) easier production via untraditional funding mechanisms (e.g., crowdsourcing) and distribution (e.g., on the Internet or on television). Some of these developments appear in the essay collection, although they are not treated in great detail. Taking a cue from Randall Halle’s important study German Film After Germany (2008), the editors do mention and engage with the idea, however, that film production and its associated funding structures have become ever more transnational in their composition and reach (2). As scholarship has done steadily in the past few decades, Halle’s volume included, the editors and some of the contributors question the usefulness of certain national rubrics when dealing with cinema. Nonetheless, Mueller and Skidmore position their volume in the landscape of other examinations of cinema, including Stephen Schindler and Lutz Koepnick’s volume The Cosmopolitan [End Page 243] Screen: German Cinema and the Global Imaginary, 1945 to the Present (2007) and Jaimey Fischer and Brad Prager’s The Collapse of the Conventional: German Film and Its Politics at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (2010). Like the work presented in these and other publications, Mueller, Skidmore, and the volume’s contributors examine to varying degrees the filmic legacy of, for example, the 1968ers and the New German Cinema in the development of post-1989 German (and Austrian) cinematic production and reception.
The contributors proceed from the understanding that cinema—German, Austrian, and European—has evolved dramatically in the past couple of decades, especially from its existence prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also in the wake of reunification. Despite and perhaps occasionally because of the evolving structures in its production and reception, cinema remains a medium through which filmmakers and audiences can engage with and critique their surroundings, including and especially the evidence of change for the better and the worse. The editors write that this volume joins other scholarship that positions cinema both “as a product and agent of social, political, and technological change” and “globalizing processes” (4, 7). Mueller and Skidmore note that the cinematic field in Germany—as Germany gets the most attention in this collection—has changed since the early 1990s, from Eric Rentschler’s coined term of a “cinema of consensus” to Sabine Hake’s understanding of what became a “cinema of dissent.” That is, German cinema expanded from what was primarily “popular, genre-driven, and box-office-oriented” to encompass more diverse works that also address and produce “explorations of a changing society” (3). Globalization gets a good deal of attention in this collection, as the editors concede that globalization, however controversial and variously defined, has contributed to, and continues to effect, a massive amount of fundamental change around the world. Approaching this changing cinematic landscape, the volume’s contributors ask direct and indirect questions about, for example, how filmmakers perceive and represent the present and future, how the contemporary state of capitalism shapes the cinematic field, how place and location can inform and define filmic art, how antisemitism and German understandings of Vergangenheitsbewältigung can appear in film, and how difference can play a role in these questions.
The volume comprises fifteen chapters, including the editors’ introduction, which are divided among four sections (excluding the introductory chapter) and each of...