Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968 ed. by Christina Gerhardt and Marco Abel, and: 1968 and Global Cinema ed. by Christina Gerhardt and Sara Saljoughi
The fiftieth anniversary of 1968 has provided welcome opportunity to reconsider both the legacy of the era and its temporal definition. While 1968 looms large as shorthand for global youth-led revolt and left-wing protest, it is often subject to oversimplified tropes of generational rupture and long-term failure to achieve political change.
Both coedited by Christina Gerhardt, these volumes focus on cinema to expand the popular understanding of 1968 in distinct yet complementary ways. Celluloid Revolt considers the significance of 1968 for German-language cinema, thereby disrupting the traditional assumption that only West Germany had a relationship with these revolutionary events. 1968 and Global Cinema similarly overcomes "the division of cinema studies into fields defined by national boundaries or regions, often designated as 'First World' or 'Third World'" (6). In doing so, it explores the complex interplay between the cinematic waves of the global sixties and asserts the significance of developments outside the USA and Western Europe.
Both volumes follow on from Fredric Jameson's view of the "long sixties" to define "1968" in terms of the "long 1968." This at once emphasizes the particular significance of that year—Global Cinema describes it as a "watershed" (1)—while also taking into account the "wide-ranging set of artistic, political, social and economic practices and forces" (2) experienced to varying degrees in different contexts around the world across an extended timeframe from the early 1960s into the 1970s.
Celluloid Revolt deepens the reader's understanding of how German-language cinema engaged with the events of the long 1968. Most importantly, it subverts the usual narrative that associates the politics of this era exclusively with West Germany. The book is divided into two parts, with the first part featuring chapters on the different cinematic relationships of West Germany, Austria, and East Germany with 1968. Although Austria receives only one chapter, it is striking that two fifths of these chapters are devoted to the GDR. The volume therefore demonstrates its commitment to overcoming the dominant association of West Germany with 1968 by treating the two Germanies as near equals. The chapters by Patricia Anne Simpson and Evelyn Preuss stand out for demonstrating how the revolutionary concerns of 1968 were not absent in East German cinema but rather manifested themselves entirely differently. Simpson focuses on documentaries directed by Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann on Vietnam to demonstrate how "the representation of the Vietnam War [End Page 204] in the GDR was refracted through the lenses of a history that aligned the socialist state with the internationalism of revolutionary resistance to fascism, colonialism, and imperialism" (202). Evelyn Preuss, meanwhile, argues against the "dichotomous categorization of market vs. planned economy, freedom vs. censorship, and veritable art vs. propaganda" (222). This does not do justice to the heterogeneity of East German cinema whose "revolutionary impetus" has often been overlooked (222).
The second part of Celluloid Revolt consists of a set of three interviews with the filmmakers Harun Farocki, Birgit Hein, and Klaus Lemke. The interview with Harun Farocki—accompanied by a new introduction—is especially thought provoking, for it was made on a different anniversary to that of 1968, namely the twentieth anniversary of the German Autumn. In 1966, the inaugural class of the German Film and Television Academy included both Farocki and Holger Meins, who later joined the Red Army Faction (RAF). Although Farocki never crossed over to the RAF, his films provocatively addressed themes of political violence. The discussion of Holger Meins and his departure from filmmaking toward direct political action serves as a reminder of the divergent legacies of the long 1968.
1968 and Global Cinema, meanwhile, enables the reader to pan out from such German particularities to consider the multifaceted ways in which screen cultures engaged with the long 1968 across national and linguistic boundaries. By putting the global cinemas of 1968 into dialogue with one another, the book makes an important contribution to the decentering of Europe from the politics of 1968, especially given that decolonization and anti-imperialism were experienced far more immediately in countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The book is divided into two parts. The first half engages with political cinema during the sixties, including films produced prior to 1968 that expressed anticolonial struggles such as The Battle of Algiers (1966). The chapters progress chronologically to cover such diverse contexts as Portuguese Cinema Novo, the Czechoslovak New Wave, the early student films of the German Film and Television Academy in West Berlin, and film cultures in Latin America, Japan, Korea, the US, and Western Europe. Most importantly, the book illustrates the ideological, artistic, and economic currents that flowed across national boundaries. These currents were not unidirectional and so they further disrupt the idea of Europe as the epicenter of 1968. Cinema in the so-called Third World was influenced by the experience of anticolonial movements, which in turn influenced the political cinema of the so-called First World both aesthetically and politically.
The second half, "Aftershocks," considers the continued reverberations of new waves in global cinema into the 1970s. In his essay on Hong Kong, for example, Victor Fan argues that film theory became a forum for cultural criticism after the 1967 leftist riots. Elsewhere, Nadia Field studies the influence of Latin American Third Cinema on L.A. Rebellion, a group of African and African American filmmakers who [End Page 205] studied at UCLA. Both these chapters illustrate the book's overall argument that there existed a feedback loop between cinema and global politics and assert the influence of non-Western film theory.
In 1968 and Global Cinema, Gerhardt and Saljoughi put film culture into international dialogue "to renew interest in a period that has suffered from the discourse of failure attached to radical politics in what is now firmly the era of late capitalism" (17). 1968 has traditionally been oversimplified in temporal and geographical terms, too. Both these volumes make significant contributions toward overcoming these issues. Celluloid Revolt uses the analytical category of German-language cinema to lessen the focus on the geographical and political divisions between the two Germanies, thereby enabling East Germany's relationship with the revolutionary politics of 1968 to be considered seriously through the cinematic lens. 1968 and Global Cinema similarly collapses the distance between the so-called First and Third Worlds by demonstrating the flow of anti-imperialist politics and aesthetics across national boundaries through the medium of cinema and its discourses.
The idea of the long 1968 is key to the books' ability to redress the discourse of failure traditionally attached to that year. The typical images of mass protest from 1968 have often overshadowed the memory of movements that made long-term gains throughout the sixties, especially the Women's Movement. Three chapters in Celluloid Revolt are devoted to remedying this imbalance by focusing on feminist filmmaking as political activism even before the second wave of the Women's Movement. Helke Sander is a leitmotif throughout these narratives, from her early German Film and Television Academy films in the late 1960s to the First International Women's Film Seminar, which she cofounded with Claudia von Alemann in 1973.
Celluloid Revolt and 1968 and Global Cinema successfully redefine cinema's relationship with 1968 across the axes of politics and aesthetics. Although the breadth of subject matter might initially appear overwhelming, it illustrates perfectly the books' contention that 1968 cannot—and should not—be contained within a single, Western European narrative.