Gemunden, Gerd. Continental Strangers. German Exile Cinema, 1933-1951.
Gerd Gemunden's Continental Strangers. German Exile Cinema, 1933-1951 features excellent dose readings of six films directed by German-Jewish filmmakers in the 1930s and 1940s, contextualizing their work at the intersection between Hollywood studio production and their experience in the film industries of Berlin and Vienna. However, conceptually, Gemunden adds little that is new to the landscape of German exile studies, given that his book is an almost exact remake of a special issue of New German Critique, "Film and Exile" (2003), edited by Gemunden and Anton Kaes.
Both publications comprise an introduction and six essays. The special issue comprised analyses of German exile films by well-known Germanists--Kaes on Fritz Lang's Fury (1936), Gemunden on Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1941), Lutz Kopnickon Robert Siodmak's The Dark Mirror (1946), Edward Dimmendberg on Kraucauer and film noir, and Jennifer Kapczynski on Lorre's Der Verlorene (1951)--and a reprint of the essay by Siegfried Kraucauer that was the subject of Dimmendberg's contribution. Gemunden, as the sole author of the present volume, replicates the special issue's focus on individual films as representatives of various genres. He discusses Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934), William Dieterle's The Life of Emil Zola (1937), Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1941), Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die(1943), Fred Zinnemann's Act of Violence (1948), and Peter Lorre's Der Verlorene (1951). In two cases, then, the films discussed in the two publications overlap.
It is gratifying to see Gemunden follow my earlier lead in my work on the intersection between German-speaking exiled filmmakers, national cinema industries, and film genres, in declaring that "the study of genres is key to understanding exile cinema" (14). He focuses on the genres of horror, biography, anti-Nazi film comedy and drama, film noirs, and Trummerfilme, curiously ignoring musicals, a genre in which German emigres were more prolific than any other, comedies apart.
One might wonder, though, about Gemunden's definition of German exile cinema as "an English-language cinema, made by American studios for an American audience" (11). If one took this definition literally, his inclusion of Der Verlorene, for which he provides no explicit justification, would be problematic. It was a German film, shot in Germany with German money that exiled producer Arnold Pressburger received as Wiedergutmachung. But more importantly, what of the almost twenty years of German exile cinema research by Kathinka Dittrich van Weringh, Helmut Asper, Kevin Gough-Yates, Tim Bergfelder, Christian Cargnelli, or Francis Guerin, to name only a few, who have analysed German exile films made in Austria, Hungary, Great Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Russia, etc.? The great majority of German exile films were made in Hollywood, to be sure, but not all of them. Conversely, the need to function within locally defined film production systems and to conform to genre expectations of both national and international audiences existed as much for emigres in European film industries as it did for those in Hollywood. Gemunderis remit, then, is in fact the cinema of German exiles in Hollywood, not German Exile Cinema in general.
German exile films could be produced by individual emigres, rather than teams (11), it is true, but Gemunden's focus on Hollywood films directed by bona-fide auteurs--Ulmer, Lubitsch, Siodmak, Lang, Zinnemann--seems unduly narrow. He ignores the work of exiled scriptwriters, excepting of course Bertolt Brecht in Hangmen. Thus, the exiled writers and Max Reinhardt intimates, Heinz Herald and Geza Herczeg, who wrote Zola, go completely unmentioned, as does Melchior Lengyel for To Be or Not to Be. Gemunden's selection of auteurs also reveals his literary, art film bias. He chooses directors whose work has been canonized, rather than including at least some directors less fashionable with the critics, whether Henry Koster or Hans Brahm or Max Nosseck, whose work also shows clear traces of the experience of exile.
The exile status of the selected directors too is an admittedly thorny issue. If we discount Lorre, only Lang and Siodmak were literally exiles from Nazi Germany. Ulmer, Dieterle, Lubitsch, and Zinnemann were firmly established in Hollywood before 1933. Granted, these earlier emigres identified themselves as exiles after 1933 and, for the most part, they could not have returned. Even so, one needs to reflect critically on the nexus between exile-specific factors and Americanization at play in their work. If, on the other hand, Gemunden assumes that all Germans working in Hollywood were exiles, then why does William Wyler not fall under this rubric? What made him supposedly more American than Ulmer or Sam Spiegel?
In conclusion, German Exile Cinema offers some interesting and detailed close readings, but misses the mark as an introductory text for the field of German Exile Film.
Jan-Christopher Horak is the Director of the UCLA Film Sc Television Archive and a Faculty member at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. His most recent monograph, Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design, was published in 2014.
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|Publication:||The German Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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