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Reviewed by:
  • East German Cinema by Sebastian Heiduschke
  • Matt Lawson
Sebastian Heiduschke, East German Cinema. Palgrave MacMillan, 2013 ISBN 978-1-137-32231-0. Paper. 208 pages. $25.11.

East German cinema has received much academic attention since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but Sebastian Heiduschke’s lightweight volume may become a seminal ‘go-to’ work for scholars and students of the topic. By condensing a short academic text into fifteen bite-sized chapters, Heiduschke could be accused of oversimplification, but this streamlining of the subject matter was explicitly part of his aim in authoring this book. Heiduschke claims in his candid introduction that the book is for ‘novices’, [1] arising out of his frustration at the lack of ‘introductory-length’ [1] literature discussing East German cinema. So, by his own admission, he wrote this book for his own benefit as well as that of his students. However, its impact will surely go beyond his own classroom, and the introduction onto the market of an accessible, affordable overview of East German cinema should not be underestimated in terms of its worth.

Aside from being split into fifteen compact chapters, the book is more broadly split into two overarching categories. The opening three chapters sit under a subtitle of ‘Part I – East German Cinema’. This, according to Heiduschke, gives the reader the contextual foundation they need in order to engage with the remaining twelve chapters, which appear under ‘Part 2 – Freezes and Thaws: Canonizing DEFA’.

Part I provides not only a highly satisfying overview of East German cinema and the rise of DEFA, but also a concise, clear political and historical backdrop on which to base our film studies. Indeed, the first chapter (‘East German Cinema as State Institution’) provides an introduction that is refreshingly straightforward, jargon-free, and to the point—which is imperative but also difficult to achieve in a slim academic volume.

The second section of the book introduces the notion that the historical status of East German cinema is advantageous when it comes to its study. The reason is that it’s a ‘closed field’ [41], as Heiduschke claims. Despite restricting his study of films to 46 years’ worth of productions, the author highlights that there are still over nine thousand films available for potential analysis. It is on this basis that Heiduschke introduces the predominant section of his book: the remaining twelve chapters, each tackling one film.

The most pleasing aspect of the twelve case studies, appearing in chronological order, is the wide variety of film genres studied. We have everything from the so-called ‘Rubble films’ to science fiction and musicals. Heiduschke presents twelve equally fascinating case studies, which cover practically the whole spectrum of East German cinema. Documentaries and animated films are two genres that Heiduschke explicitly states he is omitting, claiming that they would require their own volumes.

However, this broad, quick-fire, canonical approach to the films is where the book might prove frustrating to some at times. While the case studies conform to the aforementioned jargon-free, straight-to-the-point approach present throughout the volume, there is often a feeling that the book is trying to cover too much in too little space, but also that it [End Page 61] covers too little for an introductory volume. Many of the case studies (the shortest of which runs to just six pages) seem to end without a conclusion, and the lack of a concluding chapter to the book as a whole may also leave the reader feeling a little short changed. It would have been advantageous for Heiduschke to draw the twelve case studies together at the end, but instead we are left hanging somewhat, hoping for just a little more context and a satisfying conclusion.

Despite these quibbles, there is no doubting that Heiduschke is largely successful in achieving his aim. He states himself in the introduction that the book has many ‘generalizations, simplifications and omissions’ [5], and with this in mind, he has still produced a remarkably concise, easy to access volume that introduces the novice and expert alike to East German cinema. The book is affordable for students, and is lacking the overt intricacy that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 61-62
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-23
Open Access
No
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