Friday, 12 March 2021

heimat films 3

Heimat 3

The musical ‘The Sound of Music’ is based on (at least) two 1950s German films about the Trapp Family and can be seen as the über Heimatfilm. Bliersbach records that it failed commercially in Germany because by 1965 the conventions of such films had become unpopular with the public. (There are obvious problems in selling a musical in a country that speaks a different language.) In fact, if you watch “The Sound of Music” and any of the filmings of ‘Heidi’ (original novel by Johanna Spyri 1881) you have got access to the vital features of Heimatfilms.

I acquired Walther Killy’s book on German kitsch and found two excerpts from Ganghofer included in it.
Bliersbach records that the first showing of “Grün ist die Heide ” on German TV was in 1980, and 15 million people watched it. This is remarkable, but it is also interesting that this top film of the 1950s had never been televised before. The pattern seems to be that these films were dated but popular in 1951, wholly dated and no longer being made in 1965, and then super-popular in 1980 (and apparently ever since). I enjoyed “Grün ist die Heide” and this is actually a good film, despite certain limits. It definitely lapses into Nazi feelings, at around minutes 80 to 90, a scene where Silesians gather, wear regional costume, and listen to a sentimental song about how German Silesia (the Riesengebirge district) is. (Silesia was quite a linguistic mixture even in 1756, when Friedrich II grabbed it.) The lack of dialogue is actually part of why this scene is sinister. Upper Silesia, part of Germany as at September 1939, was transferred to Poland as part of the post-war settlement, with ethnic Germans having to (or, choosing to) leave. Quite a few of them went to Lower Saxony, which is why they appear in a film set on the Luneburger Heide. They don’t get to express their feelings – once again, this is a film with no peasant characters. They are probably peasants, they get on screen, but they don’t get to speak lines. At one point a character declares how obsolete she finds the Wandervogel romanticism of Hermann Löns. This is bizarre in a film based on a Löns story – but perhaps it is not based on the Löns story, but only named after a song by Löns, which is sung over the opening titles. All the same it is a bit like having a super-hero declare how childish and imperialist he finds super-hero films. (One story is that the scriptwriter had already written the script for a Löns adaptation under the Third Reich, and updated it in 1951 by adding a few songs, actually by Löns, and the story about the refugee ex-landowner.)
The writers I dug up tend to identify “Heide” and “Der Förster vom Silberwald” as the two key Heimat films, and they both have a character who is trying to get over the effects of losing their home in a region no longer ruled by Germany.
I said the Heimat genre is non-political. It is worth pointing out that there was a flourishing genre of war films during the Fifties – almost all accentuating German heroism and the loyalty of the ordinary soldier as opposed to the ones truly in authority. People who regretted the end of the Third Reich could go and watch these films – this was not the function of Heimatfilms. Bliersbach counts 224 war films made between 1948 and 1959. This is an astonishing number. It is a reasonable assumption that none of them have the Waffen-SS at centre stage, record the Army shooting ten civilians for every German killed by partisans, or show the Army rounding up “Jewish Bolsheviks” before handing them over to the ”experts” of the SS.

I am reluctant to link Heimatfilms to poetry, but there is really no doubt that the Heimat idea is pervasive in German (or Central European?) culture and that it is a structure of feeling which pre-existed the films and which finds expression in many different forms. This is obviously true even if it doesn't fit into the political programme of people who want culture to be a way of deceiving people, so that it is not about their real feelings, and they can be liberated from it by undermining and destroying culture. So if we take the relevant volume (10) of Hanser’s social history of German literature, applying to 1945-67, we find the chapter on post-war poetry is titled “the magic of the intact. nature lyric after 1945” and having as its first section “’Beautiful nature’– on the history of an escapist theme”. Obviously that line of poetry matches the Heimatfilm, even if it is not the kind of poetry you would generally find people reading in English translation. There is a key phrase "heile Welt" (an intact world, the world which you believe in if you have never been disillusioned) which comes from a Lehmann poem (probably), is always applied to nature poetry of the ten years after the war, and is applied with monotononous regularity to Heimat films.

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