Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968

New from Camden House is Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968, which provides new insights into German-language cinema around 1968 and its relationship to the period’s epoch-making cultural and political happenings. Our thanks to editors Christina Gerhardt and Marco Abel for sharing a few words about the origins of their new volume.  

This book results from a number of collaborative efforts in which we have engaged over the last decade. We first met at the German Film Summer Institute meeting at the University Michigan in 2008, which Eric Rentschler and Anton Kaes organized around the topic of German cinema around 1968. Both of us have long been interested in the relationship of German-language cinema and politics, especially of leftist politics. Over the next decade, as we pursued our own research—Tina on political cinema and the sixties and seventies, which culminated in her Screening the RAF: Historical and Cultural Memory (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), and Marco on the Berlin School, which resulted in his The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School (Camden House, hardback 2013; paperback 2015)—we kept working together, organizing conference panels (GSA, MLA, SCMS) and co-editing a special issue for the German Studies Review on the Dreileben trilogy. In addition, Tina co-edited 1968 and Global Cinema (Wayne State University Press, 2018) and edited “1968 and West German Cinema,” a special issue for The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture (2017); Marco, in turn, co-edited “What was Politics in 68? A Special Issue on the West German Sixties,” also for The Sixties (2014).

Collaborating on Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968 was thus a logical step for us to take, as we knew that this would give us the chance to productively merge our mutual interests in a moment of German film culture that, notwithstanding the seemingly never-ending flood of writing on ’68 itself, has remained remarkably understudied.

When putting the volume together, we wanted to make space for the recovery of films from that era made not only in West Germany but also in East Germany and Austria (we are excited about Andrew Stefan Weiner’s contribution on the Austrian Filmmakers Cooperative and wish we had received more submissions on Austrian cinema). Likewise, we wanted to go beyond the well-known filmmakers of that time period and put more focus on the lesser discussed aspects of German-language film production such as feminist cinema and the films coming out of the dffb; the feminist filmmaking is discussed in a series of essays by Tina, Madeleine Bernstorff, Ervin Malakaj and Fabian Tietke; the dffb by, again, Tina and Tietke as well as Timothy S. Brown, Priscilla Layne and Tilman Baumgärtel in his interview with the late great Harun Farocki.

Ich bin ein Elefant, Madame, 1969. Directed by Peter Zadek.

We also decided that in order to do justice to the complexity of this filmmaking moment in German-language Screen Cultures we should include work on the kind of cinema that is usually not considered political, let alone “leftist,” and the contributions by Lisa Haegele on the St. Pauli sexploitation films, Ian Fleishman on a DEFA summer comedy, Evelyn Preuss on East German cinema at a crossroads, Sean Eedy on DEFA animation films, Thomas Elsaesser on West German workers’ films and Patricia Anne Simpson on DEFA documentaries, and Marco’s interview with New Munich Group enfant terrible, Klaus Lemke, all heeded this call. Last but certainly not least, we also wanted to include essays addressing the avant-garde impetus that percolated this filmmaking movement: Michael Dobstadt’s lead essay on Peter Zadek’s woefully forgotten Ich bin ein Elefant, Madame, Kalani Michell’s essay on Hellmuth Costard, and Randall Halle’s interview with experimental filmmaking pioneer, Birgit Hein, all do so in exemplary fashion.

In addition to our desire to broaden the scope on the films coming out of the moment of ’68 in German-language screen cultures, however, we also wanted to offer a way of thinking, or re-considering, ’68 that might strike some as somewhat strange, askew, even polemical. To wit, not only do we argue for a consideration of ’68 through the lens of what we define as a long 1968 precisely in order to demonstrate how “1968” is only insufficiently conceptualized as a matter of one year (or two, for in West Germany 1967 is perhaps, as a single year, more crucial than 1968) but we also argue for the necessity of considering the long ’68 as an event. Doing so, we argue, works in crucial ways against two dominant tendencies in conversations on the legacy of ’68: either nostalgia for that period or, more frequently, dismissal of the ’68ers as, at best, naïve and, at worst, responsible for all the bad things that led to the decline of German culture since. Either of these attitudes towards ’68, we submit, is diagnostically shortsighted and politically either defeatist or reactionary.

In contrast, we argue that starting to think of ’68 as an event—we take our impetus from Gilles Deleuze’s short essay on May ’68 in France, a move that may very well not be easily digestible to scholars of the German-language ’68—has the potential to reframe conversations about the topic so that its cultural and political moment reappears anew, in its full potential that may yet have a chance to be actualized in the future, if not in our present moment.

In short, conceptually framing Celluloid Revolt in this fashion is meant to re-frame the book’s very contributions, inviting readers to think about them through a more or less explicitly affirmed utopian lens. We realize not even all of our contributors might agree with our take on the long ’68 yet hope that reading their efforts not just with the authors’ intentions but also, at times, slightly against the grain contributes to realizing this volume’s goal, in order to initiate a rich conversation about this largely forgotten cinematic moment of German-language screen cultures that, in turn, may perhaps also allow for a re-energized conversation of the very question of ’68.

This guest post was written by Christina Gerhardt and Marco Abel, the editors of Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968. Christina Gerhardt is Associate Professor of German and Film Studies at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and Marco Abel is Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968
Edited by Christina Gerhardt, Marco Abel
Hardback / 9781571139955 / £60 or $74.25

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