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Crossing the Wall

The Western Feature Film Import in East Germany


Rosemary Stott

More than twenty years after its collapse in 1989, the Berlin Wall remains a symbol of the vigour with which communist East Germany kept out the ‘corrupting influences’ of neighbouring West Germany. However, despite the restrictions, a surprising number of artistic works, including international films, did ‘cross the Wall’ and reach audiences in the wide network of cinemas in East Germany.
This book takes a fresh look at cinema as a social and cultural phenomenon in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and analyses the transnational film relations between East Germany and the rest of the world. Drawing on a range of new archival material, the author explores which films were imported from the West, what criteria were applied in their selection, how they were received by the national press and film audiences, and how these imports related to DEFA (East German) cinema. The author places DEFA films alongside the international films exhibited in the GDR and argues that film in East Germany was actually more transnational in character than previously thought.


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Chapter TwoNational Cinemas in the Film Programmes of the GDR:The American, British and West German Film Import 95


Chapter Two National Cinemas in the Film Programmes of the GDR: The American, British and West German Film Import The American Film Import For the GDR, America was the source of the most abhorrent excesses in filmmaking, as well as the target in the print media for a barrage of polemical writing outlining such excesses. Focusing on the excessive brutality, sex and horror in the Hollywood film and branding the American industry with terms such as the ‘factory of nightmares’ (Alptraumfabrik), articles of this type epitomised the ideologically hardline anti-Americanism which was propagated in the GDR in the 1950s, but which diminished considerably, at least in theoretical writing on film, by the late 1970s. Given this back- ground, it is somewhat surprising at first glance that there existed a high degree of continuity in terms of the number of American films imported to the GDR from the 1960s on. In the 1950s, only four films were imported in total,1 which undoubtedly ref lects the level of anti-American feeling during this period, although it does not bear out the ‘ban’ on American imports referred to by Wolfgang Gersch.2 From the 1960s onwards, films from the USA became a regular feature of cinema programmes. Over the 1 The Charlie Chaplin Festival (Charlie Chaplin, 1916/17) and Salt of the Earth (Herbert J. Biberman, 1953) were imported in 1955 and Marty (Delbert Mann, 1955) and Not as a Stranger (Stanley Kramer, 1955) were imported in 1957. 2 Wolfgang Gersch, ‘Film in der DDR....

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