Posts Tagged ‘Günter Ost’

Just Don't Think I'll Cry

Ever wonder what it would be like to be James Dean growing up in East Germany? Look no further than Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry (Denk bloß nicht, ich heule), which captures that same inchoate teenage angst, but from an East German perspective. This film could not have been made before 1963. That was the year SED published its Youth Communiqué, which stated that young people should not passively attend school, but should be encouraged to be participate in the educational process. Filmmakers began to explore this topic as a basis for films. Perhaps if Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry had been made in 1964, it might have made it into the movie theaters. Unfortunately it was made in 1965, which put it squarely in the crosshairs of the 11th Plenum. The film didn’t stand a chance. It was shelved and didn’t see the light of a projector until after the Wende.

Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry is the story of a rebellious young man named Peter who has been kicked out of high school for writing an essay critical of the state. He hangs around with a bunch of other Halbstarken (usually translated as “juvenile delinquents,” but translated here as ”punks”), who spend their time carousing and generally behaving badly. Peter meets Anne, the daughter of a man who spent the war in a concentration camp for his communist views. The man runs the local agricultural collective, and, as one might imagine, Peter’s irritation with the state of things doesn’t go over well with him. As with Dean’s character in Rebel Without a Cause, much of Peter’s rebelliousness stems directly from his relationship with his father, but in Nicholas Ray’s film, it is Jim’s disgust for his father’s weak-will that spurs his behavior. In Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry, Peter’s attitudes toward the GDR are the result of his adulation of his step-father, a bitter drunk who passes on his hatred of the state to Peter.

Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry is directed by Frank Vogel, who got his start as an assistant director on Konrad Wolf’s Genesung (Recovery). He began directing films in 1958 with Klotz am Bein (Ball and Chain), and shook things up in ‘62 with And Your Love Too, which took on the subject of the wall while it was still being built. That film ruffled a few feathers, as did his next movie, Julia lebt (Julia Lives), which looks at the issue of social class in East Germany (a supposedly non-existent thing in the GDR). Both of those films made it into the theaters, but as far as the leadership was concerned, he went too far with Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry. It would be a couple years before he was allowed to direct a film again. Apparently he placated the powers that be. By the seventies, he was back in the directors chair on a regular basis although his later films skated around controversial topics. As with many of the people who worked at DEFA, Vogel’s career ended with the fall of the wall. He never made another film after the Wende and died in Berlin in 1999.

Playing Peter is Peter Reusse, an actor who kept busy both on the stage and in films in East Germany. Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry would have been his first starring role had it not been shelved. When it finally was screened in 1990, the Tageszeitung, a daily newspaper out of West Berlin, rightly dubbed Mr. Reusse the “James Dean of the East.” In spite of the setback caused by the rejection of the film, Mr. Reusse continued to work in movies, and television. He appeared in several episodes of the popular East German crime drama Polizeiruf 110. After the Wende, Mr. Reusse ended his acting career, devoting his time instead to writing and art. He has written at length about his experiences in East Germany, mostly from a negative perspective.

Anne—the Natalie Wood of the film, if we are to continue the Rebel Without a Cause comparison—is played by Anne-Kathrein Kretzschmar. Ms. Kretzschmar studied acting at the Theater Academy in Leipzig and this was her debut role. Her next film was Karla, making it two films in a row that were banned by the authorities; not an auspicious beginning to a budding film career. After that we only saw her in a few television productions and on stage, primarily the Dresden State Theater.

Denk bloß nicht, ich heule

The cinematographer was Günter Ost—the most imaginative cameraman to come out of East Germany. Ost frame compositions are the most interesting you’ll see in any East German film. People are occasionally restricted to the farthest corner of a shot while the landscape behind them takes over the scene. Sometimes Ost uses the frame to show the philosophical gulfs that exist between characters, while other shots seem to suggest that the needs of the country are greater than those of the individual. Unfortunately for Ost, his style became synonymous with the things that the doctrinaires in the SED felt were wrong with DEFA films. After this film and Karla were shelved, Ost never made another film for DEFA again. Fortunately, he did resurface after the Wende to help reconstruct this film to its original version.

The music in the film was by Hans-Dieter Hosalla. He is best-known today for his music from the Märchenfilm, Das hölzerne Kälbchen (The Wooden Calf), and the Indianerfilm, Apaches, but he composed soundtracks for many other excellent East German films, including Professor Mamlock, Divided Heaven, and Murder Case Zernik. The score for Just Don’t Think I’ll Cry is an unusual one that jumps from Nino Rota bop, to Munsters rock, to jittery jazz, to romantic flute music. It is the perfect score for this movie, reflecting the confusion and lack of direction that roils inside the main character. Hosalla was born in Efurt. He worked with Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble during the early fifties, composing music for Brecht’s plays. He started composing film scores in 1958, beginning with Gerhard Klein’s Märchenfilm, Geschichte vom armen Hassan (The Story of Poor Hassan). Hosalla continued to write film scores until the late seventies, at which time he retired from the movies, devoting his time, instead, to the Berliner Ensemble stage productions. He died in 1995 in Berlin.

When the film was screened for party officials, they weren’t happy with the results and requested several cuts and reshoots. Vogel complied, but nothing he could do—or could have done, really—would placate them. The film ended up on the shelf alongside the other “Rabbit Films,” and wouldn’t appear on movie screens until 1990, when it was screened at the Berlinale Film Festival.

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...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.

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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.