It occurred to me while working on the last article for this website (Carole Lamberti) that its time to turn the burner down on the East German Cinema Blog. I’m not abandoning the site or the subject. I’ll still write about films when they are made available with English subtitles, and I’ll definitely be updating some of my entries along the way to reflect this, but I won’t be seeking things out the way I have been, or doing deep dives into the people and events (if that interests you, I recommend my book, which covers all these topics). I’ll continue to watch the films of East Germany and will continue to write about new releases made available with English subtitles. I’ll also continue to add images and fix errors in the existing articles. I know some of the links in earlier articles are no longer valid, so I’ll be correcting this issue from time to time.
I started the East German Cinema Blog in September 2010 and the road to this blog was an odd one. In 2008, I’d started taking German classes to help me work the Drupa and Photokina trade shows in Germany. I was taking German classes at the Goethe Institut, and watching German films and TV shows to help keep me get used to hearing the language. One night, I turned on the German movie channel that I subscribed to, and there, on the screen, was a giant boa constrictor stretched across a table covered with hors d’oeuvres. This was immediately followed by a woman screaming while bouncing on a trampoline, then some crazy psychedelic raga music while women danced provocatively and a woman in a leather jumpsuit caressed the snake. It was already weird as hell, so imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a film from East Germany called In the Dust of the Stars.
At the time, the films of East Germany were an undiscovered country as far as I was concerned. None of the film buffs I knew were familiar with the films, and there was little information out there about them. The prevalent attitude was, “aren’t those just dull propaganda films?” Well, no, as it turns out. I was already a film buff, and had written extensively on everything from horror movies to biker films and I also had a fascination with things that nobody either cared about or paid attention to. East German films seemed like a perfect fit for my peculiar approach to both movies and culture.
As I investigated the subject more, I discovered that, although In the Dust of the Stars is still one of the weirdest films to come out of East Germany, it’s by no means an outlier. There were plenty of interesting stories and unique films from the GDR that nobody was talking about but deserved more attention. I made this my mission and the East Germany Cinema Blog was born.
While researching the subject, I learned that I wasn’t the only one interested in the films of East Germany. In the States, Barton Byg was a pioneer in the field of East German film research. He wrote about these films before the Wall came down, and created the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst where he taught German studies. It’s thanks to Barton Byg that you can watch so many of these movies with English subtitles now. In the UK, it was Seán Allan, who, along with John Sandford, was the editor of DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946 – 1992, the first mass-marketed book on the subject. Even back in 2010, the books I could find that covered East German cinema were obviously intended for students taking German studies at their local universities. All very academic with way too much talk of diegesis, and ontology, and prices guaranteed to keep the average person from purchasing them.
The first book to break from this approach was Sebastian Heiduschke’s East German Cinema: DEFA and Film History, which came out in 2013 . It’s both readable and entertaining. Sebastian (wisely, I came to realize) confined his discussion to twelve of the better DEFA films, all of which are available with English subtitles from the DEFA Film Library. If you’re new to East German films, this book is a great place to start. I wish it had been around when I started my website, although, come to think of it, had it been around, I might not have even bothered creating the East German Cinema Blog.
I could not have created this website without lots of help. Especially Hiltrud Schulz at the DEFA Library, who has kept me in the loop on the films they are releasing here in the States. Scholarly folks such as Barton Byg, Evan Torner, Sebastian Heiduschke, and Dr. Claudia Sandberg, were invaluable resources. The East German film director Jörg Foth (whose films Latest from the Da-Da-R and Biology! Are must-sees) was especially helpful when it came to facts about DEFA and life in East Germany before the Mauerfall. His fellow East German directors Iris Gusner and Christa Kulosa also contributed important details to my articles on their films.
If you’re interested in seeing any of the movies listed here, many are available for viewing with English subtitles on the Kanopy streaming service, thanks to the DEFA Library at UMass Amherst. If you speak German, you can find a list of services that stream DEFA films on the DEFA Stiftung website. Most of these are available only in Germany, but any good VPN will help you get around this restriction.1 If you can’t decide what to watch, check out my article What Should I Watch on this blog. It sorts the films into distinct categories based on the kind of films you like. All of the films listed in that article are available with English subtitles.
In the meantime, I’m about to start a new website that will about something entirely different, although there will be some overlap. I’ll post more about this through my various social media accounts. You can find me here:
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