Posts Tagged ‘cinematography’

...und deine Liebe auch

By the summer of 1961, the political situation in East Germany had reached a tipping point. The Bundesrepublik’s decision to start using the West German Deutsche Mark in West Berlin, in spite of agreements to the contrary, had created an unsustainable imbalance between the two halves of the divided city. Many East Berliners found it far more profitable to work in the west, creating exactly the scenario that East Germany was trying to eliminate—a class structure based on individual capital. Director Frank Vogel and screenwriter Paul Wien got together that summer to create a movie on the subject. They had the idea for a story about two brothers; one committed to the communist cause, and the other a Grenzgänger (border crosser) obsessed with money and self gratification. Vogel and Wien had started working on the project when a remarkable thing happened: the wall was built. Like everyone else, Vogel and Wien woke up Sunday morning August 13, 1961 to find that the two halves of the city had been cut off from each other. They immediately recognized the dramatic potential of the situation. It gave their story the decisive moment it had been lacking. They rewrote the screenplay and Vogel quickly got his film crews out to capture the moment. The end result is And Your Love Too (…und deine Liebe auch), one of the most important films in DEFA’s catalog.

The film follows Ullrich Settich and Klaus Husemann, two brothers separated by more than different last names. Ullrich is an avid ham radio enthusiast and an ardent communist. He lost his parents during the war and was adopted by Klaus’s mother, to whom he became a devoted son. Ullrich is a bit of a boffin, more interested in communicating with people in other countries via ham radio than building relationships with the people around him. If he were around today, he’d be working in an IT Department.

Klaus, on the other hand, has no interest in either politics or gadgetry. He likes money and the luxuries it can buy. He works as a taxicab driver in West Berlin, where his tips push his income well past what the average East Berliner was making at the time. Like his adopted brother, he’s not great at building relationships, but in Klaus’s case it is not because he doesn’t have the social skills, but because he simply doesn’t care that much about anyone else. It is obvious that Klaus bears some animosity toward the nerdy Ullrich. He doesn’t hate him, but he’s not exactly fond of him either. It becomes apparent that he never completely accepted the idea that Ullrich was his brother. When the two run into each other while visiting their mother’s gravesite, Klaus invites Ullrich to join him on a date with Eva, a dark-eyed mail carrier that he met earlier that day. Ullrich joins him and the trio go out on a date together, first to a nightclub, where Klaus flaunts his wealth, and then to Ullrich’s apartment for drinks afterward. Like Ullrich, Eva believes in the communist cause. She thinks Klaus is a bit of a buffoon, but she is physically attracted to him nonetheless. In truth, she finds Ullrich more to her liking, but events keep getting in their way.

That same night, while the trio is sitting around Ullrich’s apartment, Ullrich is called away by a late-night visitor. He tells Klaus and Eva that he has to take care of an emergency at the factory where he works, but really he is part of the brigade that puts up the initial barbed wire fence separating East and West Berlin. Suddenly, Klaus finds himself cut off from his source of easy income and he’s not happy about it. It doesn’t help that his brother his one of the people responsible for his sudden change of fortune.

Filming the events happening along the wall turned out to be a stroke of genius on Vogel’s part. Almost immediately, the East German government made it illegal to film the Berlin Wall, making this one of the only documents of the time told from the East German perspective. The film also includes shots of West Germans reacting to the wall and letting the film crew know exactly how they felt about it. These scenes make this film both an effectively realistic film, and a document of the times. In this respect, it is slightly reminiscent of Haskell Wexler’s classic, Medium Cool, which follows a newsman reporting on the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and in which the actual film crew found itself trapped in the middle of the infamous police riots. But the film it more closely resembles is John Cassavetes’ Shadows, with its black-and-white photography, its candid shots of people dancing at a club and talking intimately, and its raw, emotional style.

Although there are other people in the film, And Your Love Too is essentially a three-person movie. Everyone else in it plays a bit part. Playing Ullrich is Armin Mueller-Stahl in one of his first starring roles (for more information about Mueller-Stahl, see The Flight). Like Erwin Geschonneck, Manfred Krug, and Erik S. Klein, Armin Mueller-Stahl was one of those DEFA actors that could be counted on to deliver an outstanding performance every time. When And Your Love Too was made, Mueller-Stahl had already started to gain attention in East Germany for his performance in Frank Beyer’s Five Cartridges (Fünf Patronenhülsen), but 1962 was his year. That year, he appeared in two classic DEFA films—And Your Love Too and Königskinder (Star-Crossed Lovers), released early the same year. He also starred in the TV-movie, Die letzte Chance (The Last Chance), about a Jewish pianist who comes face to face with the man responsible for his internment at Dachau during the war.[1] Mueller-Stahl makes Ulli both sympathetic and nerdy, not an easy feat considering the fact that he also spends part of the movie as a border guard. The weakest scenes are his interludes with a fellow ham radio enthusiast from Cuba named Alfredo, but they are worth noting for the fact that Alfredo is played by the Mexican actor/director Alfonso Arau, who has appeared in many Hollywood films and directed the popular Mexican film, Like Water for Chocolate.

Kati Székely in ...und diene Liebe auch.

Kati Székely plays Eva, the female component of the romantic triangle. With her dark eyes and black hair, Ms. Székely didn’t look like your average German. Her father, Hans Székely was a writer, who often worked in film, earning an Oscar with Benjamin Glazer for Arise My Love’s original story. Hans Székely also contributed scripts to several UFA films, including Joe May’s classic, Asphalt. In 1934, Ernst Lubitsch asked him to write some scripts for him in Hollywood. Hans eventually emigrated to the United States and applied for citizenship, and Kati was born in New York City in 1941. After Senator Joseph McCarthy started his anti-communism crusade, Hans again found himself in hostile territory and moved once more, this time to East Germany, where he continued writing plays and scripts. Kati became an actress and made a huge splash on the stage as Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank; a role she later reprised for an East German TV-movie. Besides the role of Eva in And Your Love Too, Ms. Székely is best known for her portrayal of Vinonah in The Sons of the Great Bear. After her turn as Vinonah, Kati stopped working as an actress and went to school to study psychology. After the Wende, she and her husband, the popular East German actor, Jürgen Frohriep (Stars), divorced and she moved to Switzerland.. She currently works as a psychotherapist in Walenstadt, Switzerland.

Klaus is played by Ulrich Thein, a talented actor, who also directed several TV movies, wrote plays and film scripts, and composed music. Thein’s father was a bandleader for a theater in the West German town of Braunschweig, and Thein was an avid harpist and piano player. He studied music and acting, and started working at the Staatstheater Braunschweig after graduation. In 1951, he moved to the GDR to work at the Deutsches Theater, a rare coup for someone so young. During the fifties, Thein appeared in several DEFA films, including Gerhard Klein’s Alarm im Zirkus (Alarm at the Circus) and A Berlin Romance (Eine Berliner Romanze), and in Kurt Maetzig’s Castles and Cottages (Schlösser und Katen). He also reprised his stage role as the title character for the film version of Hotelboy Ed Martin, the German translation of the blacklisted, American playwright Albert Maltz’s play, Merry-Go-Round. Like his co-star, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thein was a talented musician. He wrote and sang the song, “Fuchsbau-Boogie” for his role in Günter Reisch’s Spur in die Nacht (Track in the Night), and contributed music to Mensch, mein Papa…! (Man, My Dad…!), which he also wrote and directed.

After the Wende, Thein found himself in a difficult position. Coming as he did from West Germany, without ever denouncing the GDR, he found it even harder than most other DEFA actors to get good acting jobs in films, and they all found it hard. He did some television work but complained that most of what he was asked to do was “shit” (“… ich will den Scheiß nicht machen, der mir von einigen Produzenten angeboten wird”). Thein died in Berlin in 1995.

But the real star of this film is the cinematography. Sometimes believably candid and at other times carefully composed and stunning, the cinematography flows through this film like a symphony, always surprising and compelling. Bird’s-eye views of cobblestoned streets are intermingled with handheld street shots, intense close-ups, and long shots. The man behind the lens was Günter Ost. Ost recognized that the film was exploring new territory for cinema, calling it a documentary “Spielfilm”—a term normally reserved for non-documentary features. Ost was a young cameraman (only 25 when filming began) with no shortage of ideas. His work on this film was so startling, that some officials in the SED weren’t too sure the film should be released at all, and it was only after SED president Walter Ulbricht’s wife Lotte intervened that the film was given the green light. Ost’s style became associated with a new kind of filmmaking that the old guard wasn’t too keen on, so it was no surprise that after the 11th Plenum, Ost and the films he worked on, were singled out for criticism. Ost career as a feature film cinematographer effectively ended with the 11th Plenum. After the Wende, he was called upon to help restore Karla, which he shot for Herrmann Zschoche. Along with Werner Bergmann and Günter Marczinkowsky, Ost is one of the best cinematographers to come out of East Germany and it’s a shame he wasn’t given more opportunities to demonstrate his talent.

Director Frank Vogel was also affected by the 11th Plenum. Vogel had studied film in Moscow and worked as an assistant to Konrad Wolf—one of East Germany’s best directors. With And Your Love Too, he helped relax the creative restrictions on filmmaking by creating a film that is both imaginative and strongly supportive of the SED’s wall-building efforts. He followed this with Julia Lebt (Julia Lives) and Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry (Denk bloß nicht, ich heule), which was banned after the 11th Plenum. The Plenum put an end to DEFA’s creative boom during the early sixties (see The Rabbit is Me). Although he continued to make movies, his later films don’t have the energy and enthusiasm of his earlier efforts. His last film for DEFA, Die Gänse von Bützow (The Geese of Bützow), suffered criticism for its uncertain handling of Wilhelm Raabe’s historical satire, but one can hardly blame him for approaching this project with caution.

The screenplay for And Your Love Too was written by Paul Wiens, an East German poet and translator who famously threatened Günter Grass with physical violence during a joint meeting between Gruppe 47 and the East Germany’s Writers’ Union. Grass made the statement that all the good East German writers had already fled to the west and a heated argument with Wiens ensued, culminating in Wiens’ threat. Wiens was an ardent communist who—it was learned after the Wende—worked for many years as an informant for the Stasi. Wiens was born in Königsberg (Kaliningrad), but grew up in Berlin. His mother was Jewish, so when things got too hot in Germany, they fled to Switzerland. After the war, he returned to the Soviet sector of Germany where he worked as an editor and translator for the Aufbau publishing company.

During the fifties, Wiens wrote screenplays for some of Konrad Wolf’s first films, including, Einmal ist keinmal (Once Doesn’t Count) and Genesung (Recovery), Leute mit Flügeln (People with Wings), and Sun Seekers. And Your Love Too was Wiens’ last screenplay. During the sixties he devoted his time to his administration roles in the Kulturbund der DDR and the Berlin district of the East German Writers’ Union. Toward the end of his life, he worked as the editor-in-chief of Sinn und Form (Meaning and Form), an influential East German intellectual magazine. Wiens died in 1982 and is buried in Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery in Berlin (Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde). None of his books are currently in print.

And Your Love Too didn’t do very well at the box office. The film required an audience that shared the politics of the film’s protagonists, and not everyone did. The hundreds of people who had been earning a living by working in West Berlin undoubtedly could identify more readily with Klaus than Ulli and Eva. Even other communist countries couldn’t quite tell what the film was trying to say. It probably didn’t help that the romantic angles in the story are handled with the same conflicted perspective as the building of the wall. Everyone knows what they want, but what they get is not always the same thing. The film also requires its audience to connect the dots in a way that film-goers (at least in the west) are not accustomed to doing. Nonetheless, the film is one of the most important films in the history of cinema, and that is not hyperbole. Regardless of your political perspective, you should see this film.

IMDB page for this movie.

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1. Die letzte Chance is based on a short story by East German writer Herbert Ziergiebel, who is best known for his science fiction novels. We’d see this same scenario revisited in a different form in Joachim Hasler’s Chronik eines Mordes (The Story of a Murder), starring Angelica Domröse, based on Leonhard Frank’s controversial novel, Die Jünger Jesu, published in 1947.

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey sent shock waves through the film world. While some complained about its nearly incomprehensible plot, everyone was impressed with the film’s technical achievements. It is not an overstatement to say that Kubrick’s film represented a quantum leap in special effects. The genre would never be the same again. The eastern bloc was particularly impressed with Kubrick’s film. This is partly because the Eastern Bloc saw science fiction as an extension of communist achievement, having made it into space first, but also because the genre offered filmmakers a chance to imagine a world on their own terms, without those wet blankets—the cold war, politics, and economic realities—getting in the way.

DEFA got off to a bang-up start in the science fiction department with Kurt Maetzig’s classic, The Silent Star, but this was an expensive film to make, and the GDR’s economy couldn’t take too many more films on that scale. After a subsequent lower-budgeted attempt to bring science fiction to the screen flopped (Der Mann mit dem Objektiv), the folks at DEFA shelved further sci-fi film projects in favor of cheaper, more topical subject matter. They still made fairy-tale films (Märchenfilme), crime films (Krimis) and a few musicals, but most other genre films were avoided or ignored. After the 11th Plenum, the winds of change shifted again at DEFA and genre pictures became fashionable again, most notably, with the Indianerfilme of Gojko Mitic. In 1970, Gottfried Kolditz, better known at that point as a director of musicals and fairy-tales, decided to create a space adventure using Kubrick’s film as a template, and Signals – An Outer Space Adventure (Signale – Ein Weltraumabenteuer) was born.

Signals starts when The Icarus— a research ship searching for signs of intelligent life in the universe—is destroyed by meteorites near Jupiter. When no signals are received from the Icarus, it is presumed lost, and attempts to retrieve it are abandoned. This doesn’t sit well with everyone, particularly Commander Veikko of the Laika and Pawel (Yevgeni Zharikov), a young pilot whose sweetheart is among the missing. While repairing unmanned space stations, the crew of the Laika continues to search for the missing Icarus, in spite of the official edict that the ship is lost.

DEFA created dozens of science fiction films, both for theaters and television (for a list of these, see Robert Gemmell’s comment post on the About page). Four feature films took place in outer space. Three of these (The Silent Star, Eolomea, and In the Dust of the Stars) are available as a set from First Run Features. The fourth is Signals, and while there is a version out in cyberspace that includes fan-authored subtitles, the film has not been officially released in United States. This is primarily due to the fact that the film was a co-production between DEFA and the Polish state film production company, Zespoły Filmowe, which means twice as much money and paperwork is needed to secure the film rights (there is an irony in private companies wrangling over the rights to communist films). Like Eolomea, Signals is slowly paced, and more cerebral than exciting, but it has its moments.1 The zero-gravity musical interlude is worth the price of admission, and the scene where Gojko Mitic and Alfred Müller play upside-down footsie on the beach is an amusing bit of homoerotic camp (I would say this is unintentional, but I’m not sure that it is: Terry and Konrad seem to have a very close relationship).

As with The Silent Star, the crews of the spaceships in Signals are aggressively multi-cultural, with nearly every major ethnic group represented. There is also—à la Omega in the previous film—a non-anthropoidal robot on-board the Laika to do the bidding of its owner, Gaston (Helmut Schreiber).

Signals is very loosely based on Asteroid Hunters (Asteroidenjäger), an East German science fiction  novel by Carlos Rasch. Rasch’s Utopian space operas were popular in East Germany, but when the wall came down they, as with many other aspects of East German culture, were assigned to the “dustbin of history” (to use a phrase coined by Leon Trotsky). After the Wende, Rasch became a journalist, but returned to science fiction writing in 2009 with his Raumlotsen (Space Pilot) series.

According to Sonja Fritzsche in an article for German Studies Review, Kolditz fell ill during production and the project was taken over by its cinematographer, Otto Hanisch. This would explain a lot. The film lacks Kolditz’s usual pizazz, and seems more interested in the technical aspects of the special effects than the story. No doubt Hanisch was anxious to explore Kubrick’s film techniques for portraying rockets and zero gravity, but, unlike the 2001, Signals at least attempts to create back stories for the main characters (a common beef about the Kubrick film).

Every scene involving special effects inevitably must be compared to 2001, and inevitably Signals comes up short, particularly in the scenes involving spaceship docking and manoeuvring. To make such scenes believable requires that they be done slowly and deliberately, which doesn’t make for good entertainment. Kubrick’s solution was brilliant: he staged the scenes to Richard Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz, which turns them into elegant ballets of machines in space. In Signals, similar scenes seem rushed and end looking like exactly what they are: models on wires. When the exploration pods in Signals rotate in space, the music is not an elegant waltz, but weird calliope music, overlaid with the tick of a clock fed through an Echoplex. By itself, this music is interesting, but in conjunction with the visuals, the effect is too literal and not particularly exciting.

Better (or at least, wackier) use of music occurs in the aforementioned the zero-gravity exercise scene where the music—a cross between Esquivel and saxophone dance-hall music—offers a welcome relief from the drama that preceded it. As with several other Kolditz films, the music is by Karl-Ernst Sasse (see Her Third for more information on Sasse). In spite of my earlier criticisms about the use of music in the film, Sasse’s score is fun and strange. Like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, and Hans J. Salter, Sasse was a classically-trained musician who composed for the movie industry to pay the rent. Unlike those musicians, however, Sasse was not averse to exploring schmaltzy pop music and pure noise as sources of inspiration. As a result, a cross-section of Sasse’s soundtrack music encompasses nearly every style imaginable, from dissonant percussion to fifties jazz. In Signals, his music is an unlikely combination of experimental and kitsch and definitely deserves a listen.

There is some evidence that suggests that Kolditz wasn’t happy with either Hanisch or the resulting film. After Signals, Kolditz and Hanisch didn’t work together again (Hanisch did film The Scout (Der Scout), which was started by Kolditz, but he died before it went into production). Kolditz shot two more science fiction films (In the Dust of the Stars and Das Ding im Schloß). For these, he turned to cinematographer Peter Süring. This is too bad, because Hanisch was a talented cameraman and he does some interesting work here. The camera swoops, zooms, and spins; and in one scene between Pawel and Veikko, it swings back and forth like a pendulum. Add to this some bizarre editing by Helga Gentz and you have a potent mix of abstract bedazzlement. As with many other DEFA technicians (Peter Süring and Helga Gantz included), Hanisch’s career effectively ended when the wall came down.

The costumes were designed by Günther and Marianne Schmidt. Again, the template here appears to be 2001. For the Kubrick film, Sir Edwin Hardy Amies, was chosen. Amies was an odd choice, He was better known as Queen Elizabeth’s favorite designer—hardly a bastion of futuristic style. For Kubrick’s film, Amies took his cues from sixties fashion (most notably the Austrian designer, Rudi Gernreich), tempered by the director’s desire for zero-gravity practicality. The Schmidts’ designs have a similarly mod look to them, but seem more forward-thinking. In fact, they bear a marked similarity to Bob Fletcher’s costume design in Star Trek: The Motion Picture; although it’s doubtful that Fletcher ever saw Signals.

I don’t doubt that Signals will eventually be released with English subtitles. While it is not as strong as In the Dust of the Stars, it is as good as Eolomea and deserve to be seen by a wider audience.

IMDB page for the film.

1. Slow pacing, cerebral content, and frequent scenes of people debating political and philosophical viewpoints are commonly associated with DEFA films. Of course, there is more to East German Cinema than this stereotype, but stereotypes have their roots in reality (at least, in commonly perceived reality).