- Homemade Men in Postwar Austrian Cinema: Nationhood, Genre and Masculinity by Maria Fritsche
In Homemade Men in Postwar Austrian Cinema, Maria Fritsche examines the topic of postwar Austrian cinema within the framework of gender and specifically masculinity. She sets out to examine how gender in film contributed to constructions of Austrian nationhood and questions of whether there is an Austrian cinema at all. The premise of the book is fascinating, and she presents to an English-speaking audience the topic of postwar Austrian film, which is still underexplored outside of German-speaking Europe. She starts her acknowledgements with: “Thanks to the many reruns of Austrian films on national television, the images of pre- and postwar Austrian cinema have accompanied me from an early age” (ix). These films indeed have reached many generations of Austrians and Germans since the 1950s, and thus it is great to see a book that deals with this important aspect of postwar pop culture.
The book is very interesting, but it has two problems, the first of which is that the author attempted too much by conflating questions of nationhood, masculinity, and even sexuality in examining postwar Austrian films, which make the book read like a thesis that is desperate to make its point but ultimately jumps to interpretive conclusions without understanding the complexities of Second Republic Austria in the first decades after the war. The second problem is that although Fritsche acknowledges continuities in film [End Page 134] from before 1945, the book ultimately isolates postwar film from pre- 1945 film, whereas it is well established that there are numerous continuities in West German and Austrian film after 1945, given that most postwar film directors and actors continued making drama and comedy films much as they had before the end of the Nazi era. In fact, several plots and even whole films were remade in the 1950s without much innovation. Even the Heimatfilm is not an invention of the postwar era, and many Heimatfilme originated still under the Nazis but were deemed politically harmless by the Allies after the war. Rather than focusing on the postwar period as an isolated construct, the book would have benefited from a critical analysis of what changed and of what stayed the same on the screen. To what extent was Austrian film a constant within a time of great upheaval? That would have been a worthwhile question to explore. The film director Willy Forst once remarked that he made his most Austrian films still under the Nazis. Exploring this issue might have helped explain why Austrians continued to enjoy recylced film plots in their national cinema until the late 1950s.
The book also discusses Hofrat Geiger (1947) and Hallo Dienstmann (1952), both of which have not received enough attention in English-language scholarship, but the author goes off on a tangent with Hofrat Geiger that she regrettably does not substantiate. Under the subheading: “Keeping Up Appearances: Der Hofrat Geiger” (154–59), she examines Paul Hörbiger playing Hofrat Geiger and Hans Moser playing his servant Ferdinand Lechner as being in a “concealed homosexual” relationship. While it is certainly interesting that the two men have been living together for a long time, the author misses the typical servant-master relationship in the film as well as the conext of the film, in that the era was defined by rebuilding after the war, so nothing is as it should be, including personal relationships. The author’s premise is fascinating but ultimately not convincing. Many of Hans Moser’s film characters before and after 1945 were single men, often widowers or bachelors, and in fact Moser in real life had to live separated from his wife while she hid in Budapest from 1939 to 1944 because the Nazis considered her to be Jewish. Furthermore, German and Austrian moviegoers admired Moser’s characters for their exaggerated flaws such as a massively failed career or a mere ill temper, but all of his characters were above all morally impeccable, and thus Hans...