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Post-Wall German Cinema and National History


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Since unification, a radical shift has taken place in Germans' view of their country's immediate past, with 1989 replacing 1945 as the primary caesura. The cold-war division, the failed socialist state, the '68 student movement, and the Red Army Faction -- historical flashpoints involving political oppression, civil disobedience, and the longing for utopian solutions to social injustice -- have come to be seen as decisive moments in a collective history that unites East and West even as it divides them. Telling stories about a shared past, establishing foundational myths, and finding commonalities of experience are pivotal steps in the construction of national identity. Such nation-building is always incomplete, but the cinema provides an important forum in which notions of German history and national identity can be consumed, negotiated, and contested. This book looks at history films made since 1989, exploring how utopianism and political dissent have shaped German identity. It studies the genre - including popular successes, critical successes, and perceived failures - as a set of texts and a discursive network, gauging which conventions and storylines are resilient. At issue is the overriding question: to what extent do these films contribute to a narrative that legitimizes the German nation-state?

Mary-Elizabeth O'Brien is Professor of German and The Courtney and Steven Ross Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies at Skidmore College.


O'Brien successfully points to cinematic trends and shifts and highlights the thematic interplay between individual historic events and their cultural conversions. . . . O'Brien's study of post-Wall cinema provides thorough and thought-provoking readings of history films and convincingly presents utopianism and dissent as core concepts in the current debates about German national identity. GERMAN STUDIES REVIEW

[S]ituates itself at the heart of contemporary debates about recent German history . . . . O'Brien's thematic and contextualist approach allows for an inclusive inquiry that overcomes binary models . . . . [W]ith its analyses of previously unexplored films, solidly rooted with a diverse set of critical responses . . . the book does great service to contemporary German film studies and offers some very suggestive socio-political insights. FILM CRITICISM

Examining how Germany's divided past shaped its present, this study focuses on contemporary films that look back to the legacy of the postwar period. O'Brien argues that utopianism and dissent, as practiced in both German states, have emerged as a model for imagining German identity in the present. . . . [H]er close readings of 12 significant films are well written and accessible, providing a convincing overview of how contemporary cinema engages with Germany's contested past. Recommended. CHOICE

16 powerfully expressive screenshots awake interest, a detailed index . . . makes locating things easy, the copious notes free up the discourse, which offers a convincing analysis of the corpus of the "history film" genre. Looking back at the Wende, the trauma of the Wall, and the Red Army Faction, the films appear as seismographs of the time. The recalling of then-topical conflicts opens broad perspectives. GERMANISTIK


First Published: 01 May 2012
13 Digit ISBN: 9781571135223
16 black and white illustrations
Pages: 348
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Camden House

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  Amnesia, Nostalgia, and Anamnesis as Reactions to the Wende
  • 3  In the Shadow of the Wall: Political Oppression and Resistance in the GDR
  • 4  The Wild West and East of Eden: The Red Army Factionand German Terrorism
  • 5  History Lessons: The Enduring Appeal of Utopianism and the Specter of Violence
  • 6  Epilogue
  • 7  Works Cited
  • 8  Index

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