Like most of my generation, I watched old Austrian films on Saturday afternoons on television in the 1970s. Maria Fritsche, the author of this study about Austrian cinema from 1945–55, starts her book with such memories that she shares with many Austrians, which may demonstrate that these films maintained their influence long after they were first shown in the cinemas. Little did we know that the familiarity and strange pleasure we felt as children while watching these films would become the issues of a scholarly book.
Fritsche’s own personal history proves to be a priceless advantage that distinguishes this book from others, predominantly by German scholars, who [End Page 62] mostly treat Austrian cinema simply as a sub-category of German cinema. It is one of her many achievements to identify major differences between Austrian cinema and its German counterpart.
Fritsche’s study focuses on Austrian cinema between the end of the Second World War and the signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955: crucial and formative years for Austria’s Second Republic, and a time when Austrian cinema was popular and thus economically successful. Fritsche reads the 140 films she watched for this book as an important part and reflection of the discourses about nationhood and masculinity at this time. These two discourses are closely connected; Fritsche quotes John Tosh, who claims: “dominant masculinity is likely to become a metaphor for the political community as a whole” (4).12 One must add that not in all communities is it masculinity that symbolizes a group or a nation; there are also cases—India, for example—where the construction of a specific femininity has defined a nation.
The issue of national cinema is a tricky one. Undoubtedly, Austrian cinema has been closely connected to German cinema for most of its history. But Austrian film history as well as Austrian history in general is also defined by some essential differences with German history.
The reception of the films in question has differed in the two countries: whereas for Austrian audiences they play an important role in the construction of the nation-state, Germans may perceive them as a tourist fairyland in which Germans are welcome and Nazis past and present are suspiciously absent. Austria’s self-declared status as a victim of Nazi Germany was a role that was not available to post-war Germany. The difference in its stance towards the Nazi past clearly distinguishes Austria from Germany - it is a difference that is reflected in their two respective national cinemas.
Fritsche separates her large film sample into four genres: the historical costume film, the “Heimatfilm”, the tourist film, and the comedy. In the historical costume film, Austria’s history is reconstructed into a theme park-like fantasyland full of harmony and music, and free of any Nazis. In order to achieve that, these films must return to the Imperial and Royal monarchy and present a paternal, lovely (if sometimes rather dull) Kaiser Franz Joseph. They present forms of manhood different from those of Nazi ideology. Men became more sensible, understanding, musical and Austrian than the German, national-socialist ideal of “zah wie Leder, hart wie Kruppstahl” (tough as nails, hard as Krupp steel).
One feature that clearly distinguishes Austrian men from others in these films is their musicality. Normally seen as a feminine trait (see, for example, the endless discussion about this issue in the current American TV series Glee), in Austrian cinema musicality is used as a scaffold upon which to build a national image. Even the military is musical and more interested in playing marches than fighting battles. Repeatedly, Fritsche emphasizes the role and function of music and musicality in Austrian cinema, but beyond its connection to masculinity and nationhood this issue is not analyzed in any further depth – which is understandable given the focus of the book. The importance of music in Austrian cinema since its [End Page 63] beginnings is so essential that it can hardly be overlooked (or overheard in this case). Indeed, it is puzzling that there has been no study...