Posts Tagged ‘Manfred Krug’

When You're Older, Dear Adam
Egon Günther’s 1965 comedy When You’re Older, Dear Adam (Wenn du groß bist, lieber Adam) is a weird movie, made weirder still by the times in which it was made and the technique used to rebuild the film. The film tells the story of a boy who is given a magic flashlight by a swan. That’s not a typo. The boy paid the swan’s fare on the streetcar (also not a typo), and the swan repays the boy by tossing an old flashlight into the boy’s boat a little later on. It’s no ordinary flashlight. It has the ability to identify when people aren’t telling the truth. Liars suddenly find themselves floating in the air. The bigger the lie, the higher they fly. The boy runs around Dresden accompanied by jangly surf guitar, shining the light on people at random and causing havoc everywhere he goes. It’s an fun and mostly innocuous romantic comedy, but the folks in the SED didn’t think so.

As previously discussed here, the 11th Plenum led to the wholesale banning of several films in 1965-66. When You’re Older, Dear Adam had the dubious distinction of being in post-production after the Plenum occurred. Officials didn’t like the idea of a film that says that government officials sometimes lie, and started interfering with the production, eventually banning the film altogether. The screenplay was courting controversy even before it was filmed. In one scene, a group of soldiers taking their oath to defend the GDR suddenly finding themselves hovering in the air. Not surprisingly, this scene was never filmed, but even the scenes that were filmed upset the officials enough to call a halt to the film’s production.

Wenn du groß bist, lieber Adam

In 1990, when the process of reunification had begun, several of the films banned during the 11th Plenum were taken out of storage, restored, and screened. When the researchers got to Günther’s film, they found that portions of the soundtrack had been destroyed, leaving only the footage. Working from the screenplay, and feeling that the film was too important to simply abandon, they decided to compliment the missing dialog with crudely made intertitles that explain the missing dialog, making an already surreal movie even more bizarre. While watching the film, the viewer is sometimes presented with what looks to all the world like a typed index card explaining what happens next, followed by a scene of complete silence. It is disorienting and only makes sense if you are alerted to the reasons for it before you view the film.

As a nod to the story’s theme of absolute truth, the film begins with a voiceover narration identifying the main actors and the parts they are playing. Adam is played by Stephan Jahnke. As is often the case with young actors, it would be his only role. The rest of the cast primarily consists of veteran DEFA actors, including Manfred Krug, Mathilde Danegger, Christel Bodenstein, Fred Delmare, and Marita Böhme. Adam’s father—whose name is “Sepp Tember”—is played by Gerry Wolff. Wolff usually showed up in character parts and so was more recognized by his face than his name. The Wende had little impact on his career. He continued to appear in films and on television, and has done a fair amount of dubbing as well. His was the German voice for Yoda in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

The one new face in the film, besides Stephan Jahnke, is the Cuban actor Daisy Granados. Starting on the stage in Havana, Granados had been in only one other film (La decisión) when she took the part in When You’re Older, Dear Adam. Granados went to on to star in several widely acclaimed and award-winning films in Cuba, including Retrato de Teresa (Portrait of Teresa), Cecilia, and Un hombre de éxito (A Successful Man). Until his death in 2005, Granados often worked with her husband, Pastor Vega. In 2012, she was scheduled to appear in a play as part of the TEMFest (Teatro en Miami Festival), but local Cuban ex-pats got the performance cancelled after a rumor circulated that Granados said something bad about Juanita Baró, a popular Miami Cuban dancer and wife of exiled Cuban writer Manuel Ballagas. More recently, she appeared alongside Es­linda Núñez, Mirta Ibarra, and the Lizt Alfonso dance company in a performance of the dance musical Amigas as part of the celebrations for the 38th International Latin American Film Festival in Havana.

Daisy Granados

Director Egon Günther was already no stranger to censorship when this film was made. His first film, The Dress (Das Kleid), which he co-directed with Konrad Petzold, was banned because officials thought that its story of a walled city and a populace that is told to ignore their common sense was an attack on the building of the Wall and the government’s attempts to justify it. In truth, that film began production a year before the Wall was built. Günther barely avoided censorship again in 1968 with Farewell, and received criticism once more in 1972 for the on-screen kiss between two women in Her Third. In 1978, Günther showed he lost none of his feistiness or unfettered creativity over time when his TV-movie Ursula was banned in Switzerland for its surreal approach to the story of the Protestant Reformation movement and the Battle of Kappel.

There is one good thing about the ban: It has allowed us to see a wide-screen, ORWOcolor film from 1965 in pristine condition. The print used for the DVD is scratch and dirt free, with absolutely no fading. Cinematographer Helmut Grewald’s color work here is spectacular, and Günther uses Totalvision (East Germany’s answer to Panavision and Cinemascope) to great effect. It is a prime candidate for a Blu-Ray release (if they can just do something about those terrible intertitles). Credit here must also be given to Alfred Hirschmeier’s spectacular production design, particularly the Tember apartment, and to costume designer Rita Bieler’s sharp looking outfits. Sadly, the fall of the Wall signaled the end of the careers for all three of these people. Hirschmeier worked on a couple TV movies after the Wende, but that was it.

When You Grow Up Dear Adam

Wilhelm Neef’s score is a lot of fun. Neef scored dozens of films for DEFA before stepping away from the movie business to concentrate exclusively on classical music compositions and performance. Today he is best known for his work on Indianerfilme such as Sons of the Great Bear, Chingachgook, the Great Snake, and Osceola, but he has contributed scores to a wide variety of films in a wide variety of styles, as this film well demonstrates.

Banning When You’re Older, Dear Adam was one of the worst missteps the government in East Germany made, and they made some doozies. Banning a movie with a plot about identifying liars is as good as saying “yes, we’re liars.” It is on a par with Richard Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” statement. If you have to say it, you’ve already lost the war. Plus, it’s generally not a good idea to try and suppress satire anyway. It has a way of returning to haunt its foes. Attempts to suppress satire go all the way back to Aristophanes and his battles with Cleon, and can be seen as recently as 20th Century Fox’s pathetic attempt to bury Mike Judge’s scathing (and depressingly spot-on) attack on American culture, Idiocracy.

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© Jim Morton and East German Cinema Blog, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim Morton and East German Cinema Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Dean Reed and Renate Blume

From time to time, East German filmmakers looked to America for source material. Bellboy Ed Martin was based on Albert Maltz’s play, Merry-Go-Round, and Chingachgook, the Great Snake took most of its story from James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking book, The Deerslayer. Jack London was a natural choice for DEFA. He was an ardent socialist, writing often about the struggles of the working class and the problems they faced in a capitalist society. London’s writing style is well suited to cinematic interpretation. It started in 1908 with some short films by D.W. Griffith and went on from there. Nearly everything he wrote has been made into a movie somewhere in the world. The Iron Heel—with its indictment of the way corporations help a select few scoop up all the money while the rest of the world struggles to get by—seems like a natural for film interpretation in the Communist Bloc, but it was only made twice, first as a silent film in Russia, and then again in Russia in 1999 (I’m not including the Ben Turpin and Paddy McGuire comedy reel, The Iron Mitt, which IMDB claims is also based on the book).

Kit & Co is based on several of Jack London’s “Kit Bellew” stories, first published in Cosmopolitan magazine, and later compiled into book form under the title Smoke Bellew. Many of the stories hark back to the folklore tradition of the trickster that we’ve seen before in the form of Till Eulenspiegel. Other stories are flat-out adventure tales. The film concentrates primarily on the trickster tales, and it follows these stories remarkably well. Kit’s first encounters with Joy Gastell are taken nearly verbatim from the book. Likewise, the roulette wheel caper, the egg grift and the dogsled race are presented here virtually intact.

You could hardly ask for a better cast. Manfred Krug, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Rolf Hoppe were all popular stars by the time this film was made, but, of course the real draw was Dean Reed. Here was an American—ein echter Amerikaner—starring in an East German movie. Reed was the perfect choice to play Bellew. His combination of boyish charm and rugged good looks suited the part to a tee.

Kit & Co was Dean Reed’s first East German film, but it wouldn’t be his last. The film was a major hit and ensured a highly successful career in the GDR for the American pop star. Reed went on to star in four East German films, directing the last two himself. His popularity extended past the borders of East German to the USSR as well. He was equally popular in Russia and was nicknamed “The Red Elvis.” The moniker was used for the title of a 2007 documentary about Reed. [See also, El Cantor and Blood Brothers.]

In 1986, Reed was interviewed by Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes. Reed saw this as an opportunity to bridge the gap between the east and the west, and get back to making films in America, but years of living in East Germany had deprived Reed of the perspective he needed to conduct a successful interview with the likes of Wallace. When the episode aired, Americans were appalled by Reed’s defense of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and his comparison of Ronald Reagan to Stalin. Hate mail flooded in and angry right-wing DJs derided him on the radio. Shocked and desolate, Reed committed suicide at Zeuthener Lake near his home in East Berlin. He left a note apologizing for his suicide, but the Stasi hid the note from the public, preferring to let the public to think that his death was part of conspiracy rather than the cold hard truth that Reed killed himself.

Monika Woytowicz, Manfred Krug and Renate Blume

Joy Gastell is played by Renate Blume. Blume’s career got off to a roaring start with Konrad Wolf’s spectacular film, Divided Heaven, but after that her star dimmed a bit. She was married to director Frank Beyer for five years, and lived with Indianerfilm star Gojko Mitic for two years after that. For most of her time in East Germany, she primarily appeared in TV shows and stage plays. In 1984, she married Dean Reed, and they remained married until his death. After the Wende, she continued this career path, acting on stage and appearing occasionally on television. She has appeared in several popular TV shows, including Edel & Starck, In aller Freundschaft, and, Tatort, and Polizeiruf 110—both before and after the Wende.

Kit’s pal Shorty is played by the popular East German actor, Rolf Hoppe. Hoppe was one of the most popular character actors in East German. He appeared in dozens of films and TV-movies. He had a special knack for villains, and was often seen as the bad guy in the Indianerfilme. He received international acclaim in 1981 for his portrayal of the  Göring-like Tábornagy in the classic Hungarian film, Mephisto. In Kit & Co, Hoppe gets to engage in a different western stereotype: the sourdough—that grizzled prospector of the California and Klondike Gold Rushes. He has fun in the role and makes the character as engaging as he is on the page. Hoppe still appears in films from time to time, and he resides in Dresden’s Weißig section.

As with many of the better films from DEFA, the music for this film was by Karl-Ernst Sasse. Sasse, a classically-trained composer, normally followed a classicists approach to his scores, using lots of strings and full orchestration. Sasse felt, however, that this wouldn’t work well in a film like Kit & Co. Instead, he created a score that imitated the music of the period, with minimal orchestration. Some songs consist of nothing more than a bass viol, trap set, and a banjo. Other tunes add horns to mix with a sound reminiscent of a Salvation Army band. [For more examples of Sasse’s work, and further information on the composer, click on his name at the top of this post.]

Critics were divided on Kit & Co, but the audiences weren’t—they loved it. The Soviet Union made their own version the Smoke Bellew stories the following year (Smok i malysh) and DFF, the East German television company, made two more movies based on Jack London’s works (Alaska-Kids großer Coup and Der Mexikaner Felipe Rivera). Most recently, Bellew and Shorty returned to the small screen in the French mini-series, Chercheurs d’or. Considering the enduring popularity of Jack London’s work, we’re certain to see more films based on the exploits of Kit and Shorty. Kit & Co remains one of the best.

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Five Cartridges

After World War II, Germans had an understandably uneasy relationship with war films. While Hollywood rolled out film after film about the heroics of our fighting men, neither East Germany nor West Germany had much taste for this kind of film, not were the expected to. From the German perspective, war was not something to be glorified. It was an ugly business in which everyone who participated lost part of their humanity. The first few films out of DEFA after WWII discussed the war in these terms. A few even showed scenes of battles, but, for the most part, the preferred to steer clear of the subject of men at war. Konrad Wolf’s beautiful film, Stars, observed the daily lives of German soldiers during WWII, but these were men far from the front. The lives and camaraderie of the men in the trenches weren’t subjects that any German filmmaker were ready or willing to touch. When they did, it was usually in the most pessimistic terms possible, a perfect example being Bernhard Wicki’s anti-war classic, The Bridge (Die Brücke).

When Five Cartridges (Fünf Patronenhülsen) came out, it was like no other East German film. Visually, it looked more like a John Ford western or a Kurosawa film than anything DEFA had to offer; and in spite of the inevitable futility of their fight (after all, Franco won), it treats the soldiers heroically. Of course, it helped that they were fighting against fascism. We already caught glimpses of the contributions that the communists made to the fight against Franco in the Ernst Thälmann films. At DEFA it was okay for soldiers to be heroes as long as they were communists, but even so, this sort of front line battle saga was not that common.1

After WWII, the Spanish Civil War was largely overlooked by the western film community. André Malraux explored it in his 1945 film, L’espoir (Man’s Hope), and Hollywood neutered the story for the film version of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, but most films used it more as a passing reference than a plot point.

Five Cartridges featured some of DEFA’s best male actors: Manfred Krug, Erwin Geschonneck, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Ulrich Thein all get a chance to demonstrate why they would become popular with audiences in East Germany. Erwin Geschonneck had already proved himself—most notably in The Axe of Wandsbeck. The others were relative newcomers. Manfred Krug and Armin Mueller-Stahl were just starting their careers and we already see glimpses of why they would become two of the most popular actors in East Germany. Ulrich Thein, while not as popular as Krug and Mueller-Stahl, went above and beyond the call of duty for his portrayal of the radio operator separated from the others. To prepare for the scenes where he had to play a man who had gone without anything to eat or drink for several days, he did just that. Even the most rigorous method actor rarely goes that far.

Most of the film was shot in Bulgaria, whose sandstone hills were acceptable stand-ins for the Catalonian countryside, but the crew was only allowed a few weeks worth of shooting. After they ran out of time, the film had to make do with the Harz district in East Germany. The problem was that the dark, loamy soil and rock formations of the Harz area looked nothing like tan and sandy terrain of Bulgaria. To solve the problem, production designer Alfred Hirschmeier, the man behind such classics as The Silent Star, Carbide and Sorrel, and Jacob the Liar, was given the task of making the Harz landscape look like Bulgaria. His solution was to paint the rocks white. The end result is effective and is only noticed if you are looking for it.

Five Cartridges was written by Walter Gorrish, an author and screenwriter whose own life is worthy of a movie. Gorrish had first-hand knowledge of the Spanish Civil War, having fought in Spain himself as a member of the XI International Brigade. While in Spain, he served as adjutant to fellow writer, Ludwig Renn, the author of War, which stands alongside All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun as a classic anti-war novels of First World War. After fleeing Spain, Gorrish was captured in France, and was sentenced to prison. Later, he was conscripted into the Strafdivision 999—a military battalion comprised largely of political prisoners. While serving on the Eastern Front, Gorrick did what many others in his battalion did: He defected to Russia. After the war, Gorrish moved to the Soviet Sector of Germany, where he worked as a freelance writer. He only wrote a few screenplays, concentrating, primarily, on his writing. He died in 1981,

Cinematography was by Günter Marczinkowsky—quite possibly the best cinematographer in East Germany. Like Rolf Sohre, Marczinkowsky worked in film lab before he became a cinematographer. He began his career as a camera working under Robert Baberske, considered one of the greatest cinematographers of all time (see The Axe of Wandsbeck). After the 11th Plenum, Marczinkowsky was “disciplined” for working on Trace of Stones by being moved to television productions. In 1979, he moved to West Germany, where he continued to work primarily in television. He retired the year that the wall came down, and died in 2004.

Understandably, Five Cartridges was a hit in East Germany and helped propel Frank Beyer’s career forward. During the early sixties, he was one of the most well-respected directors at DEFA. He had almost back-to-back hits with Star-Crossed Lovers, Carbide and Sorrel and Naked Among Wolves. His career probably would have continued to flourish had the 11th Plenum not come down hard on the film industry, and, in particular , on his film Trace of Stones. From here on out, with only a few exceptions (notably, Jakob the Liar), his directing would be relegated to the small screen.

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1. We wouldn’t see Third Reich soldiers treated with the any respect in a German film until Das Boot. Even then, Sam Peckinpah got there first with Cross of Iron (a huge hit in Germany, by the way).

Revue um MItternacht

Communist musicals are in a class by themselves. So much so that in 1997, filmmaker Dana Ranga made them the subject of her fascinating documentary East Side Story—required viewing for anyone interested in the films of the GDR or other Eastern Bloc countries. In a world as grim and gray as East Germany could be, the colorful happiness and tuneful joy of the musicals exploded like psychedelic bombs on the movie screens of the former republic. Small wonder that they tended to pack people in. Right from the get-go the authorities didn’t think much of these happy, lighthearted features, but they made money, and even in an aggressively anti-capitalistic place like the GDR, money talked.

For a long time, DEFA had no intention of producing anything as frivolous as a musical, but the immense popularity of the DEFA Märchenfilme (fairytale films), which were made for East German children, but went on to become popular all over the world, helped pave the way for opera films (e.g., Zar und Zimmermann), which, in turn, opened the door for the modern musical.

In 1958, DEFA finally decided to give musicals a chance after a report showed that people in East Berlin would often cross the border to see the musicals playing in the western sector. Hollywood extravaganzas and their West German counterparts (most notably, the films of Marika Rökk) were filling West Berlin’s cinemas. DEFA decided to fight fire with fire. It was decided that as long as it didn’t contravene socialist values, a musical might be okay.

West Berliner Hans Heinrich—who had already directed the popular DEFA barge films, Kahn der fröhlichen Leute (The Happy Barge Crew) and Alter Kahn und junge Liebe (Old Barge, Young Love)—submitted a proposal for a musical to DEFA and it was accepted. The film Meine Frau macht Musik (My Wife Wants to Sing), was promptly shelved, but the popularity of the music, which was released as an LP, led the authorities to rethink this plan, eventually releasing the film, although changing some of the music (more on this in a future post).

But throughout the fifties, the DEFA authorities remained wary of the musical genre. As a rule, song-and-dance numbers had to be incorporated in a semi-realistic fashion into the stories. For this reason, two of the more popular films from this period were Maibowle (The Punch Bowl) and its even more popular sequel, Silvesterpunsch (New Year’s Eve Punch), in which the musical numbers are parts of shows put on by the workers at a chemical plant. Never mind that, like their American counterparts, these musical numbers defied the realistic limitations of stage production.

After the Berlin Wall went up, the East German government was anxious to show that, if anything, the newly constructed “Anti-fascist Protection Barrier” (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) would lead to greater creative freedom in the GDR. They started to greenlight movies that only a year earlier would not have gotten past the proposal stage. Films became more experimental and daring. This was the golden age of East German cinema—at least until the 11th Plenum in 1965 brought the renaissance to a screeching halt.

Into this new climate walked Gottfried Kolditz; one of the best directors to come out of East Germany. After studying at the University of Music and Theatre in Leipzig, Kolditz came to DEFA as a musical consultant for the films Mazurka der Liebe (Mazurka of Love), and Zar und Zimmermann (Tzar and Carpenter). He began his directing career as a member of the Stacheltier Group, which specialized in creating short films to play before the features. The Stacheltier Group created only one feature-length movie, Der junge Engländer (The Young Englishman) and it was directed by Kolditz. From there, Kolditz started directing features, mostly Märchenfilme. Over the years, Kolditz became DEFA’s go-to guy for genre films, directing musicals (Midnight Revue and Geliebte weiße Maus), Indianerfilme (Apaches and Ulzana), and science fiction (Signals and In the Dust of the Stars). With the exception of the Indianerfilme, Kolditz usually managed to get insert a musical number or two into his movies. The man clearly loved music.

Midnight Revue wastes no time letting us know that we are watching a musical. It starts with the smoky-voiced French chanteuse, Nicole Felix, singing about the “shadows of the past” (Das ist die Schatten der Vergangenheit) while suspiciously clandestine activities are going on in the next room. Activities that, as the song suggests, really were shadows of the past, when the cold war was raging across the porous border. Within the first half-hour of the film, we’ve been treated to a can-can, a hula dance (with East German women painted brown with what looks like shoe polish), and a Busby Berkeley-style number that includes women tap-dancing on pianos and playing accordions in tutus. Even if you don’t speak a word of German, the first half hour will keep you entertained.

The plot of the film involves the kidnapping of three prominent men in the film industry: an art director, a composer, and a dramaturge (a very important job at DEFA; see the Glossary for more information). It turns out that they are kidnapped by producer Otto Kruse, who wants to make a socialist musical; a kind of cavalcade of musical styles—in other words, the very film we are watching. The idea is to hold these men hostage and convince them to work on the film. Their response to this demand is that making such a film would be too difficult, too expensive, and too politically risky. “Too hot,” they sing (Zu Heiß). Associate producer Theo, and Kruse’s assistant, Claudia Glück, try to convince the men that a revue film is a great idea by conceptualizing various scenarios, which then come to life in the room, but to no avail. The men refuse to budge.

A fourth man—writer Paul Bielack—was also supposed to be kidnapped, but, unlike the other three, he knew of Kruse’s plan and sent his friend, an aspiring singer-songwriter named Alexander Ritter, in his place. Ritter is the only one of the four kidnapped men who thinks a revue film is a great idea, and immediately contributes his own ideas to the project. What no one knows is that Ritter had been lusting after Claudia Glück already. Immediately, sparks start to fly between Ritter and Glück. Ms. Glück thinks Ritter is arrogant and childish. He is, in her words, a halbfertiger Mensch (“half-finished man”). This comment really seems to upset Mr. Ritter (like most Germans, he doesn’t like anything half-finished). At this point, anyone who has seen more than one romantic comedy will realize that the these two will eventually get together, but not before a few more kidnappings, deceptions, and misunderstandings.

Playing Alexander Ritter is Manfred Krug, one of East Germany’s most multi-talented actors (see The Trace of Stones for more on Krug). Krug had already made a name for himself as an actor in the popular films Five Cartridges (Fünf Patronenhülsen), Professor Mamlock, and Königskinder  (Star-Crossed Lovers), but he first showed his talent as both a singer and an actor in Auf der Sonnenseite (On the Sunny Side), a film that parallels his own life in many ways. With Midnight Revue, he gets to unleash everything in his arsenal, except maybe his ability to play several different people in one movie. That would have to wait for Mit mir nicht, Madam! (Not To Me, Madam!), in which he portrays nine different people.

Playing opposite Krug as production assistant Claudia Glück is Christel Bodenstein. The public first saw Ms. Bodenstein as Traute in the Märchenfilm, Das tapfere Schneiderlein (The Valiant Tailor), but it was her turn as the arrogant princess in The Singing, Ringing Tree that she really caught people’s attention. A West German by birth, Ms. Bodenstein moved to Leipzig with her mother in 1949, where she enrolled in the Leipzig Opera ballet school. When she was 17, a chance meeting with director Kurt Maetzig at a Baltic resort led to a screen test for DEFA. She then moved from Leipzig and began studying acting at the Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam. Shortly afterward, she was cast in Slatan Dudow’s Der Hauptmann von Köln (The Captain from Cologne). From 1960 until 1978, she was married to director Konrad Wolf. As with many other East German actors, she did very little in film and television after the Wende, turning her attentions instead to theater. More recently, she has been working as a sculptor, with her work appearing in galleries in the Berlin area.

Although Krug and Bodenstein had appeared once before in the same film (Bevor der Blitz einschlägt), this was the first time they were paired as a romantic couple and it seemed to work. They were paired up twice more within a year (Minna von Barnhelm and Beschreibung eines Sommers). Christel Bodenstein is the classic example of the “triple-threat”—that rare individual who can act, sing, and dance. And while Krug isn’t the hoofer that Ms. Bodenstein is, he can hold his own against her in the other two categories.

The music for the film is by Gerd Natschinski, who had worked with Gottfried Kolditz before on Mazurka der Liebe. Along with Gunther Fischer and Karl-Ernst Sasse (who is credited in Midnight Revue as the conductor of the DEFA Symphony Orchestra), Natschinski is one of East Germany’s most prolific composers. He wrote much of the music for Meine Frau Macht Musik, but is best remembered for the relentlessly infectious songs in Hot Summer. After Midnight Revue, Natschinski turned to the stage, writing the music for Mein Freund Bunbury (My Friend Bunbury), East Germany’s first theatrical musical. He could also turn in a good dramatic score, as he did for Joachim Hasler’s Chronik eines Mordes (The Story of a Murder).

No discussion Midnight Revue would be complete without mentioning the colorful camerawork of its cinematographer, Erich Gusko. Along with Werner Bergmann, Joachim Hasler, and Günter Marczinkowsky, Gusko was one of DEFA’s most respected cinematographers. He got his start in 1955, working alongside Joachim Hasler on Richard Groschopp’s 52 Wochen sind ein Jahr (52 Weeks Make a Year). Over the  years, he worked on many excellent DEFA movies, including The Rabbit is Me, Lotte in Weimar, and Her Third. His work in various Märchenfilme and in Midnight Revue are especially vivid, taking full advantage of the eye-bleeding colors available to East Germany’s Agfacolor (later renamed ORWOcolor because of a copyright dispute with West Germany).

Also deserving of mention are Hans Kieselbach and Helga Scherff, who created the costumes for the film. Although Kieselbach did his first costume design in 1940, for the film Traummusik (Dream Music), that was his only effort under the Third Reich. His career began in earnest in 1948 with DEFA’s first science fiction film, Chemie und Liebe (Chemistry and Love). Midnight Revue was his last film. Helga Scherff, on the other hand, was in the middle of her career with this film. She was the costume designer for Konrad Wolf’s first film Einmal ist keinmal (Once Doesn’t Count), the first of Gerhad Klein’s Berlin trilogy, Alarm im Zirkus (Alarm at the Circus), Frank Beyer’s Carbide and Sorrel, and Kurt Barthel’s ill-fated Fräulein Schmetterling (Miss Butterfly). The costumes in Midnight Revue cover the gamut. The clothing worn by the characters is stylish and modern, and the outfits worn by the dancers are as outrageously colorful as they should be. Between the costumes and the cinematography, the film matches the visual overload of The Red Shoes and The Girl Can’t Help It (probably the only time in history these two movies end up in the same sentence).

Finally, no discussion of this film would be complete without talking about its production designer, Alfred Tolle. Tolle’s career at DEFA began with Das kalte Herz (The Cold Heart), the first East German Märchenfilm. From there he went on to do the production design/art direction for several more Märchenfilme, as well as a few classics from the DEFA catalog, including Einmal ist Keinmal, Auf der Sonnenseite, and Chronik eines Mordes. His last film was Joachim Hasler’s Hot Summer. Always imaginative, Tolle gets to explore his inner Busby Berkeley in Midnight Revue with a giant piano keyboard, a three-story cupboard filled with women playing musical instruments, and a stylized blueprint come to life. Working with him as a set builder on the film was Werner Pieske, who went on to become a successful production designer in his own right. Pieske got his start as a feature film production designer with Gottfried Kolditz on Frau Holle (Mrs. Holle) and Geliebte weiße Maus (Dear White Mouse). He was one of the people responsible for the look of Herrmann Zschoche’s oddball space opera, Eolomea. Toward the latter half of the seventies until the Wende, he worked primarily in television. He was also the production designer for Gottfried Kolditz’s last film, the heavily criticized Das Ding im Schloß (The Thing in the Castle). His career ended with the Wende. He died in 1992.

Beginning a movie with the kidnapping of three people is startling even today, but back then—after several reported incidences of East German spies snatching people off the streets of West Berlin before the wall went up—it must have hit close to home. Follow these scenes with one in which three experts tell us exactly why the very film we are watching can never be made. The public must have been as amused as the authorities were nonplussed. Like Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges—who discovered that through comedy you could skirt the Hayes Code—Kolditz uses humor to go places that no other East German filmmaker dared. As a document of its time, Midnight Revue is unique. It shows an East Germany that is moving toward the future with with hope and enthusiasm. Within a couple years, there would be no way this film could have been made. It broke every rule in the socialist book. Even after Erich Honecker relaxed the restrictions on film imposed by the SED at the 11th Plenum, it would be years before DEFA got back to this level of imagination and style, and even then, the buoyant vivacity of this film and Kolditiz’s other pre-Plenum musical, Geliebte weiße Maus, would never be matched.

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