Left, Karla; right, Hands up or I’ll shoot!
My acquaintance with alternative culture behind the Iron Curtain was once largely limited to the flowering of Czech films during the Prague Spring (see also Life behind the Iron Curtain: a roundup). But now, having broached various subversive expressions under the GDR regime (e.g. here), I’m glad to learn of challenges to state orthodoxy in 1960s’ films there too, courtesy of the DEFA archive—which, along with eastgermancinema.com, has copious information on films for the whole period.
As this introduction comments,
These films were planned and legally produced with the authorisation of the German Democratic Republic, but banned shortly before or after being released. One may wonder: why didn’t this censorship occur earlier in the production process?
A DVD box set contains ten films from the period:
- The rabbit is me (1965), made to encourage discussion of the democratisation of East German society
- Just don’t think I’ll cry (1965): high-school senior Peter gets suspended for writing an essay that his teachers consider to be a challenge to the state
- Spring takes time (1965): the non-party engineer Heinz Solter is suddenly arrested and accused of approving a defective pipeline
- The lost angel (1966): August 24, 1937—a day in the life of expressionist sculptor and author Ernst Barlach
- Karla (1965): romance about a non-conformist young school teacher and a disenchanted journalist turned fisherman.
- When you grow up, dear Adam (1990): Adam receives a flashlight with special powers: every liar it shines on flies into the air.
- Trace of stones (1966): a film about living and working conditions in 1960s’ GDR.
- Hands up or I’ll shoot (1966): living in a small town, Investigator Holms is stuck looking for a stolen pet rabbit even as he dreams of cracking a big case
- Born in ’45 (1966), telling the story of Al and Li, a married couple living in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, who have decided to get a divorce
- Berlin through our eyes (1965): skilled workers confront hostile older colleagues who value experience over education.
Comments from the censors are revealing, such as:
- spreads skepticism
- questions young people’s socialist education and character
- the buildings look sad, inhospitable, dirty, and unkempt [Tripadvisor review for Tory Britain?—Ed.]
- propagates false ideals
- provides a distorted picture of our socialist reality
- anti-socialist, harmfully critical attitude.
Here’s a trailer for The rabbit is me:
And a clip from Born in ’45:
Here I suggested some parallels between depictions “after the event” of life under Chinese Maoism and the GDR.