A brief history of German Cinema

The history of German cinema is full of twists and turns, mirroring the history of the country itself in many ways. The years following the end of World War II were full of uncertainty, something that was reflected in the cinemas. Huge blank spaces appear in the years leading up to the Second World War as well, thanks to the influence of Hitler and the Nazis. Many talented cinematographers, directors, and other sources of expertise had left Germany as a result of the political and economic instability of the Weimar Republic. Many others would leave when Hitler comes to power. Most of them were bound for the United States and the promise of Hollywood which provided the freedom to produce the film content they desired. Over 1,500 film professionals would migrate from Germany after the Nazis came to power including Fritz Lang, Hans Zimmer, Peter Lorre, and Billy Wilder. Under Hitler, there was little advancement in the film industry due to the strict rule of a totalitarian government. All films produced during this time were under strict regulations and many were shameless propaganda pieces that worked to promote the Third Reich. After the fall of Hitler, Germany was divided and cinema began evolving in different ways in both East and West Berlin.  In East Germany, film production begins quickly under the Soviets. The production company Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA) becomes the most influential and begins producing massive amounts of films. It started off slowly, only producing 50 films between 1948 and 1953 due to severe restrictions. However, the rate of production soon increased: 900 feature films and over 3000 documentaries and short films are produced between 1953 and the fall of the wall. In West Germany, the focus is on the excitement of foreign films again being legal. Before, international films would be screened and very few would be allowed to be shown in the country. Many films produced during this time focused on the devastation caused by World War II, but many others focused on everything but the war. They were focused on entertainment; attempting to take the public away from their troubles and the memory of the war. German films were popular in Germany, but they could not compete with the film industries of Italy, France, Japan, and the United States, and thus were rarely shown internationally. The separation of East and West German cinema continued until 1989, when the wall finally came down.

Although Horst Buchholz only appeared in films from 1955-1997, there is no doubt that he, and many of his peers, felt the repercussions of Nazi Germany and the following division of Germany. Growing up in that time period had a huge influence on Buchholz’s career, even though his first film role was not until 1955. His performance in this film was well-received and allowed him to quickly gain a solid reputation. He rose to fame as he took on more roles and began to win awards. This ascension to stardom allowed him to appear in films both domestically and internationally. In 1959, he began to work out of Hollywood, bringing with him the ideals of German cinema as well as picking up some American ideals. Buchholz spent most of his career going back and forth between Germany and the USA filming movies in both locations in German, English, and (later, in 1991) Spanish. German cinema in the 60s, during the height of Buchholz’s career, was in a bit of a crisis due to stagnation that caused attendance rates at theaters to plummet. This causes many production and distribution companies to close their doors. In American cinema, this was not the case. In the early 60s, Hollywood was still riding out its Golden Age. Thousands of movies showcasing the talents of hundreds of actors and actresses were released during this time, making it the ideal market for any person seeking fame. Hollywood had enormous international influence as well, making it a haven for many talented artists who, for one reason or another, had been forced to leave their homes all over the world. Even when the Golden Age of Hollywood came to an end in the mid-60s, filmmakers were critically acclaimed as well as commercially successful. This trend continues today, with huge-budget blockbusters dominating the theaters instead of smaller, more frequent, low-budget films. German cinema was not able to improve until the establishment of the Film and Television Accord in 1974. This agreement between television providers and the German Federal Film Board made it easier for films to generate revenue. There was even a movement called the New German Cinema that managed to get state funding for the film industry. However, Germany’s film industry would struggle until the 90s, and has slowly been re-emerging in the new millennium.


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