Lost in the Rubble The vibrant German film industry, which boasted a cinematic tradition and star system

relatively independent from Hollywood, found itself in shambles in the aftermath of World War II. During the Third Reich, cinema served as Goebbel’s most powerful propaganda instrument. Nationalistic films celebrated nationalism and militarism and entertainment movies projected images of immaculate social stability. For its role in disguising the unpleasant realities of the fascist regime, Nazi cinema has earned itself the name, “Dream Factory.”1 If Third Reich film was the era of dreams, then the postwar era was a rude awakening to a rubble-strewn reality, punctured by recurring nightmares instead of blissful dreams. It was this new state of mental being that the German Trümmerfilme, or “rubble films,” attempted to reflect. Made mostly from 1946 to 1949, the rubble films only constituted a brief period in German film history in a shortlived attempt to cultivate a new sensation of space. The Germans’ experience with space was hardly pleasant. For a set, rubble filmmakers could use the real tragic ruins of actual German cities. This close connection between diegetic space and the actual space in which Germans found themselves stressed the fact that, unlike the Nazi Dream Factory, the Trümmerfilme dealt with the real tangible problems of the here-and-now in order to locate meaning in the cold hardships of everyday existence. These hardships actually brought more Germans to the cinema. The theater was a warm place with comfortable seats in a time of chronic heating and housing shortages. For a populace with few resources, it was the most economical form of entertainment and provided the promise of temporary escape from the miseries of everyday life.


Robert R. Shandley, Rubble Films: German Cinema in the Shadow of the Third Reich (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), 9.

Initially, German film demand went unfulfilled, for cinematic infrastructure had largely been destroyed and the Allies initially prohibited German films. Before long, the Allies realized that film could be a useful medium for entertaining and pacifying a destitute and antagonistic occupied people. Since German film demand could not be filled by current production, the British and Soviets took up previously produced German films that the occupation censors deemed appropriate for viewing by the German public. The Americans, on the other hand, chose to mostly import Hollywood films to Germany. In addition to Hollywood’s commercial ambition of infiltrating the German film market, the Americans also had cultural and political purposes. As Roger Manvell describes in The German Cinema, “In the American Zone these films were considered to be carefully chosen for their ‘escapist’ value and for their gradual infiltration of new, more ‘democratic’ values. The result was an initial release of about fifty Hollywood films prepared by the Motion Picture Export Association of America with sub-titles in German.”2 For the time being, the films fulfilled the logistical purpose of providing cheap entertainment and escapism for an impoverished and war-stricken German people. These films facilitated the occupation by redirecting the energies of German frustration away from the streets and into the domesticating sphere of the theater. The Allies avoided showing anything controversial or “which might appear to be propaganda or to hint even at the recent war in Europe,”3 for their main concern was keeping the general peace. In contrast to the other occupation powers’ approach to films, the Soviets quickly seized film as a medium for active political reform and cultural engagement. Rather than using the cinema simply as a means of distraction from the current state of affairs, the Soviets wanted to make the Germans face their past and address an ignominious history of fascist abuses. It should

2 3

Roger Manvell, The German Cinema (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 102. Manvell, 102.


be noted that almost all of the politically ambitious rubble films were made under the auspices of Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA), the centralized state-owned East German film company inaugurated by Soviet occupation authorities. DEFA’s purpose was to “reeducate” the German citizens, which involved confronting the wrongdoings of the recent past and eliminating fascist ideology in favor of socialism. With the production and screening of the rubble films, audiences that retreated into theater space to avoid the berubbled exterior would only be confronted again by rubble on the interior film screen. Those seeking a few hours of escapism would be sorely disappointed. Initially, the rubble films produced in DEFA studios met with critical and popular success. The 1946 films, The Murderers Are Among Us (Die Mörder sind unter uns, Wolfgang Staudte) and Somewhere In Berlin (Irgendwo in Berlin, Gerhard Lamprecht), did well amongst international critics and at the box office. However, by 1947, “rubble film” had become a derogatory term. As Heide Fehrenbach remarks, “The gritty realism of Trümmerfilme soon wore thin, and German audiences began to demand films that corresponded more to their fantasies than mundane social realities. By early 1948, the genre was bust.”4 Initially, international critics and filmmakers mistakenly imagined that the rubble films would play the role of unearthing and addressing repressed memories of a Nazi past. However, German audiences, who considered the rubble films excessively preachy and somber, were more interested in retreating to glamorous fantasies than dismantling the Nazi Dream Factory. Rather than facing the past, people preferred to be entertained or distracted away from it. Especially in West Germany, the people were forward-looking; the rubble was being cleared and the economy was picking up. Before long, West Germany would enter a new era of prosperity, outpacing both of its West European


Heide Fehrenbach, Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity After Hitler (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 149.


occupiers, France and Britain. With a bright future, full of the diversions inherent in a capitalist consumer economy, no one wanted to look back. Indeed, by 1949, few German films were being produced for the sake of hashing out the nation’s contentious past. Most films shied away from political topics altogether.
Chart 1: German films completed or in production but not yet released at beginning of 1949
period/biographi cal films 5% pure entertainment 44%

political 15%

deals w/contemporary issues but not political 36%

Even films that did attempt to confront political or contemporary issues often tried to soften its bite by applying humor to otherwise serious problems.
Chart 2: Breakdow n of political film s humorous or satirical 15%

Chart 3: Breakdow n of film s dealing w /contem porary issues

non-humorous 85%

non-humorous 52%

light, humorous 48%

The dark, menacing shadows of the rubble films, and its struggle with sobering questions of war guilt and responsibility, were rarely welcome on German screens by 1950. Critics complained that German film “betrayed its initial promise,”6 for the general feeling was that “the talents which had shown their initial strength during the three years of social adjustment were soon to be stifled, unless they turned wholly in the direction of escape.”7
5 6

Number of films in each category from Manvell, 112-113. Fehrenbach, 148. 7 Manvell, 113.


In a sort of final judgement on the film of that era, Fehrenbach says, “Some of the best postwar German films had been the earliest”8 – the rubble films. Rubble films, as their name suggests, dealt with the horror of the devastated German cityscape and the project of reconstruction. They involved a break with previous ways of representation and expressed a desire to distinguish themselves from the classical continuity and linearity of the Ufa film system’s style. Rubble films experimented with the emotionally charged mise-en-scéne of the Weimar Expressionist tradition, borrowing from detective thrillers and film noir. German filmmakers believed that a new way of looking at history required a new cinematic language. Wolfgang Staudte’s The Murderers Are Among Us (Die Mörder sind unter uns, 1946) was the first film made by DEFA and is considered by many to be the finest and most characteristic rubble film. In it, Dr. Hans Mertens, a recently returned veteran from the German army, occupies an apartment with a former concentration camp victim, Susanne Wallner, with whom he eventually develops a romantic relationship. During the film, he encounters his former army captain, Ferdinand Brückner. Brückner, who had ordered the liquidation of Jewish civilians during the war in Hans’ presence, is now settled comfortably back into civilian life as the owner of a factory. Hans, haunted by guilt, attempts to kill Brückner but is stopped by Susanne. In the hands of the law, Brückner eventually ends up behind bars.


Fehrenbach, 148.


1 Above is the first shot of The Murderers Are Among Us. A large piece of rubble obstructs our view and confines us to a shallow and claustrophobic space, but the camera slowly rises out of the mire to orient us with the larger environment. However, it is a muddled orientation, with canted framing. Throughout the film, a lack of establishing shots results in this indeterminacy of space.

2 The camera appears as tipsy as the drunk protagonist, Hans, shown in image 2. Throughout much of the film, Hans wanders and meanders through the rubble landscape. Just as the wrecked streets are no longer arranged in neat straight lines, Merton’s motion through these streets is similarly irregular. Having lost his control over space, the rubble exerts sway over Hans’ movement.


Mirroring Hans’ psychological turmoil and confusion, most of the film is characterized by oblique camera angles and destabilizing viewpoints. The composition of elements on the screen is frequently at odds with the limits of the frame, as in image 2, where the ground and buildings appear slanted. Gravity no longer acts as the centralizing force that pulls towards the bottom of the screen. This spatial tilt indicated by much of the camera positioning, and the disorientation of the entire German nation, is made explicit by a poster of Deustschland hanging crooked on a crumbly wall:

3 Having lost its moral compass, the nation must, in a manner of speaking, “set things straight.” The opposition between the screen’s composition and its frame are accentuated by scenes with strong diagonals:



Like image 3, both of the above scenes are shot with oblique angles. Image 4, shot from a low angle, pictures a passing train and image 5, shot from a high angle, shows Hans ascending the


stairs. In both cases, people are traversing diegetic space within a screen space slashed with diagonals. Train tracks or railings obstruct our view. The shot in image 4 is taken almost right below the tracks, inducing a sense of claustrophobia. The film’s constant refusal to give the viewer a neat, satisfying visual composition indicates that German sight has been badly damaged. Only now is the nation’s blindness during the years of the Nazis being revealed. Mirrors and windows, which are common metaphors for the cinema, appear cracked and broken throughout the film. Thus, cinema has registered the trauma of the war era, during which time Nazi propagandists usurped the screen and inflicted blindness upon the populace. In one scene, a lady takes her broken eyeglasses to be fixed by a local eyeglass repairman. He says, “I’ll see if I can find another frame that fits.” Indeed, this statement could be a manifesto for the makers of rubble films – searching for a new cinematic frame to counteract the distorting lens of the Nazi Dream Factory. He goes on to say, “This junk here is giving me a new start in life.” Similarly, German filmmakers were taking the rubble, the utter devastation and seemingly worthless trash left by the war, and reappropriating it towards building a new cinematic spatial orientation and repairing Germany’s sight.

6 Image 6 illustrates the brokenness and fragmentation of German vision. Throughout this whole scene of dialogue between Hans and Susanne, one of the windowpanes bisects Hans’ face. The uncanny effect of viewing Hans’ divided face underscores the neurotic divide within Hans’ inner

being. Visual reinforcements of this tortured psychological fragmentation appear throughout the film. The low-key lighting characteristic of film noir casts Hans’ face in high contrast, indicating his torn feelings. Below, Image 7 features a shadow of Hans cast upon the ceiling, shot from an unusual angle. The shadow, representing the demons populating Hans’ mind, is upside-down and signifies the overturning of Hans’ being.

7 Hans’ overturned being, torn between dualities of dark and light, is the result of witnessing the liquidation of Jewish civilians during the war. In a flashback to this traumatic moment, numerous juxtapositions intensify the horrific quality of the scene. As the sound of gunfire during the liquidation rattles outside in offscreen space, this sound mixes with the cheery singing of German officers during a holiday party. The décor of the room is that of bright holiday cheer. One shot shows a crucifix, with a helmet hung on one side of the cross and a bayonet laid on the other side. This militarized crucifix depicts the contradictions that rack Hans’ mind throughout the film. Joy, suffering, religion, and violence are all joined together in one unholy cacophony. The literal absence of harmony is signaled in the beginning of the movie through discordant jazz music. Later, Hans breaks up a chess game in a fit of drunken rage. Chess, which divides up the board space and playing pieces into the two neat binaries of black and


white, jars with Hans’ experience with ambiguity and the mixing of seemingly irreconcilable notions, such as the crucifix and bayonet, during the war. Hans verbally expresses his rejection of simplistic moral binaries and abstractions with the statement, “Only in fairy tales is there a choice between good and bad.” Another time, Hans says, “It depends on your viewpoint.” Indeed, the entire film attempts to capture multiple viewpoints in a fragmented and destabilized way of discerning space. Hans’ comment on viewpoint is even more striking in light of the fact that, regarding the most traumatic and important scenes of the film, we are given no view at all of the action. The intensity of the scenes lies in the tension between offscreen and onscreen space. In the climax of the film, Hans prepares to kill Brückner, the army captain who ordered the massacre. Here, Hans’ offscreen presence is indicated only by a ghoulish silhouette that overshadows the terrified Brückner.

8 The shadow, again, represents Hans’ inner demons and ghosts of guilt and responsibility. Brückner, who also symbolizes the inner demon of both Hans and Germany, is visually interior to Hans’ shadow. Hans’ desire to kill Brückner is thus an attempted exorcism of his own darkened soul. In this scene, the viewer hears Brückner narrate Hans’ actions rather than seeing it firsthand. Brückner first comments on Hans’ ominous facial expression and then exclaims in alarm that Hans is taking out a gun. Hans’ shadow grows larger and larger in contrast to the


captain, soon engulfing the captain in darkness. The audience must fulfill the phenomenological role of imagining rather than seeing the tortured face and soul of Hans as he prepares to commit murder. In this scene, Hans is nothing more than a shadow, a ghost of a man. Offscreen space is also connoted by Hans’ stares toward the direction of the camera. Usually, he is not staring at anything in his immediate surroundings, but rather, into his inner self or into the past.



A gradual zoom to close-up of Hans’ face heightens the intensity of the scene and challenges the viewer to look through Hans’ eyes and into his psychological space. In image 9, Hans initially appears to be staring frontally at us, but he is actually staring through us and into the past. The blurred edges of the screen space signal to the viewer a shift in space and time to a flashback in Hans’ mind, and the scene is accompanied by a sonic flashback to nonsimultaneous sounds of war. In image 10, Hans is listening to the captain’s Christmas speech. He stares offscreen to the right, presumably watching the captain, but is concurrently looking into the past and begins flashing back to the time of the massacre. Thus, offscreen space establishes both spatial and temporal tensions. During the massacre flashback, the viewer initially assumes that the screen shows Hans’ visual memory. However, to our surprise, Hans walks onto the screen from the offscreen left. Since Hans could not possibly remember seeing himself from a third-person point of view, he


must be imagining the memory, or reconstructing a traumatic moment. He is thinking of how he must have or would have looked. Hans is horrified to view his own powerlessness through this imagined memory. The third-person point of view expresses the introspective desire to see or represent one’s self. All of the rubble films are obsessed with scrutinizing and representing Germany, the collective “self.” Thus, Hans’ imagined memory represents the rubble films’ attempts to re-imagine the role of the German people during WWII atrocities. Introspection is figured again in image 11, which features the windows to Hans and Susanne’s apartment. Hans, a former surgeon who has now lost his will to practice medicine, uses his old x-rays to seal up the broken windows. He tells Susanne, “Here you see a day out of my past,” and begins to recollect memories of himself. Ironically, rather than using these windows to look into the present exterior space, Hans and Susanne use these windows to look into the past and the interior. The x-rays symbolize the film’s attempt to introspect, to look inside a human being. Hans finds it necessary to first confront his past and himself before he can become outward looking.

11 Juxtaposed with these introspective images is the house of Brückner, who ordered the liquidation of civilians during the war. Feeling neither guilt nor remorse, he has re-entered civilian life with confident vigor. Décor emphasizes the difference between Brückner and Hans.


12 Above is a conventional shot that neatly establishes the comfortably open space of the room. The verticals of the walls and horizontals of the windowpanes are parallel and perpendicular to the edge of the frame, thus leaving the viewer with a satisfying sense of order. Brückner’s resettlement into civilian life is trim and well organized, mirroring his clean conscience. Hans’ chaotic and cluttered apartment, which echoes the confusion of his guilt-ridden mind, stands in complete contrast to Brückner’s bright room. Brückner’s room has already been repaired from the damage of the war. He says, “Even got real glass in the windows.” This clean and clear view onto the outside world offered by Brückner’s new windows contrasts with Hans’ x-ray window, which communicated Hans’ need to first examine the past and the interior soul. The Nazi cinematic aesthetic, what Eric Rentschler called, “the cinema of clear lines and straightforward answers,”9 is a major source of criticism in The Murderers Are Among Us. The décor of Brückner’s room is only instance when Staudte attempts to portray the “Nazi aesthetic.” In his films, Staudte reinterpreted three spatial figurations in Nazi cinema: rotation, seriality, and verticality. To see how Staudte dealt with these spatial formations, we must first examine two films by Nazi propagandist Leni Reifenstahl: Triumph of the Will (Der Triumph Des Willens, 1935) and Day of Freedom (1935).

Eric Rentschler, The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and its Afterlife (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996), 53.


Triumph of the Will, a documentary of the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party rally, starts out with a shot of a flying plane, thus establishing the spatial sensation of loftiness or height. Within this plane is Hitler as he flies towards the masses of faithful followers at Nuremberg. A shotreverse-shot sequence between the airplane and the enthusiastic masses on the ground establishes a dialogue between Hitler and his subjects carried out in a relationship based on vertical spatial difference. Later in the documentary, this relationship is further reinforced by angle of framing.



When giving his speeches, Hitler is viewed through low-angle shots, exaggerating his size and stature and elevating him to a semi-religious figure of power and excellence. The crowds, on the other hand, are shot with high angles, rendering them small and dependent. As Hitler delivers his fiery speeches, the spectators are almost in a position of worship, with their necks arched as they raptly look up at his figure and listen to his words. Various tracking shots across soldiers’ helmets, belts, boots, and weapons furnish the sensation of spatial repetition. Serial images appear on one side of the screen and exit on the other in seemingly endless succession. These tracking shots celebrate uniformity and sameness. With the swelling crowds, the soldiers represent limitless unanimity and solidarity. The endless repetition conjures up the idea of infinity, which in turn suggests the infinite might of Germany. Seriality also invokes the idea of mass production, which characterizes industrial efficiency. The industriousness of the German people is represented in a scene in which soldiers awaken and

immediately fall into their respective roles in the army like a swarm of bees. Some are in charge of serving rations, some are in charge of washing the uniforms, and others prepare the jeeps. The dynamic army is a massive and well-oiled social machine. Each solider is a devoted cog in the spinning wheels of this war engine. In Day of Freedom, a documentary about the readiness and power of Germany’s armed forces, seriality and uniformity is again a main visual theme. The opening shot of Days of Freedom is shown below in image 15. The corridor of bayonets seem to go on into deep space forever, communicating the endless might of the German army.

15 Staudte would later mimic this composition of serial visual elements extending into deep space. For example, image 16 shows a scene from Staudte’s The Kaiser’s Lackey (Der Untertan), when a group of young men carry out mindless and conformist rituals to gain membership to an exclusive club.


16 This unquestioning conformity is what allows the German army to operate with machinelike efficiency. In a military exercise in Day of Freedom, the soldiers are perfectly in sync with the military machines, operating with fantastic coordination. The spatial movement of rotation is omnipresent in the functioning of these machines, with frequent extreme close-ups of the spinning propellers and wheels of military planes and vehicles.

17 Circular motions do not imply circular paths – the rotating wheels of a German tank hurls the vehicle forward in a linear motion of conquest and progress. Each cog in the wheel of the German military machine spins tirelessly for the forward advancement of the nation. The soldiers constantly spin the wheels and gears of large artillery guns in order to elevate the angle of the guns.


18 The artillery guns, lined up in a row, again recall the concept of seriality and repetition. Indeed, repetition is the inherent in the motion of rotation. In regards to verticality, the upward oriented cannons of the guns make them seem as if they are aspiring to loftiness, or as if these machines are glorifying their leader with the infamous upward pointing Hitler salute. Vertical height in Day of Freedom, just as in Triumph of the Will, is again symbolized by airplanes. The final sequence of the documentary is a montage of warplanes. The superimposed images of the warplanes, as one image fades into another, makes it appear as if they are flying in all directions at once. Their access to space is expansive, limitless, and infinite, communicating the spatial “freedom” stated by the title of the documentary. On the ground, soldiers also appear to be moving in all directions at once; soldiers marching across the screen from the bottom right to the top left then dissolve into another image of soldiers marching across the screen from bottom left to top right. In one instance of Day of Freedom, there is a low-angle low-level shot of an approaching tank. The tank rolls over the viewer’s entire field of vision, totalizing the space in a display of enormous might.


19 The constant rotation and repetition around and across the screen is mesmerizing, hypnotic. The near-magical powers of these spatial figurations become targets of criticism in The Murderers Are Among Us. Near the end of Staudte’s film, Brückner delivers a highly nationalistic Christmas speech to the workers at his factory. He says that, following the devastation of Germany in the war, they must unite to build a “brighter” Germany. The vertical dimension of space is again manipulated to define the relationship between a superior, Brückner, and his underling workers. Brückner, who sports a Hitler-like mustache, is shot from a lowangle while the factory workers are shot from a high-angle. The crowd looks up at him, captivated.



The sense of hypnosis induced by the crowd’s vertical relationship to Brückner can also occur with rotational motion. In a bawdy cabaret, close-up shots of a spinning phonograph and of twirling skirts associate rotation with two forms of culture, music and dance. The rotation


emphasizes culture’s hypnotic powers and its ability to spin lies and fantasies. The cabaret is associated with moral corruption and sexual lewdness, especially since Staudte chooses to shoot some of the sequence of spinning skirts from beneath the dancers’ legs:

22 The lewd captain agrees to meet the dancers in the dressing room, saying, “I always wanted to get a look behind the scenes.” The implication is that he wants to get a look under the dress, just as the viewers were offered earlier in the scene. Rotational motion in space corresponds with cyclical movement in time. Much has already been written on the erratic temporal quality of rubble films, mostly from a psychoanalytic perspective on memory and trauma. Drawing from Julia Kristeva, Erica Carter says that “Memory-time is cyclical, repetitive, ‘hysterical’ in the Freudian sense.”10 Many rubble film protagonists are subject to uncontrollable recurring nightmares about the traumatic war. Their temporal dislocation is manifested in the films through numerous flashbacks and a nonlinear narrative, all indicating that the rubble films are dealing with the question of a tortured history. Of relevance to this paper is the question of how this temporal quality of the rubble films is figured spatially. The film Rotation (Wolfgang Staudte), as the title suggests, centralizes the

Erica Carter, “Sweeping up the Past: Gender and History in the Post-war German ‘Rubble Film,’” Heroines without Heroes: Reconstructing Female and National Identities in European Cinema 1945-51, ed. Ulrike Sieglohr (London and New York: Cassell, 2000), 100.


issue of rotation, both temporal and spatial. Released in 1949, Rotation was the most expensive DEFA production up to that point. The story, which spans from 1925 to 1945, focuses on the life of a fictional character, Hans Behnke. Hans is an average man who is simply trying to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and son. When the Nazis come into power, Hans tries to stay away from politics, but joins the Nazi party simply for economic reasons, since he cannot keep his job at the printing press or get promoted unless he is a party member. As the film progresses and the evils of the Nazi regime become more clear, Hans reluctantly helps his Communist brother-in-law set up an underground printing press. When his naïve son, Helmut, finds out, Helmut reports his father’s treason to Nazi officials. Hans goes to jail and Helmut goes off to fight the war for Germany. By the end of the film, the war is over. Hans’ wife has been killed by the war and Helmut, having discovered the error of his ways, is reconciled with his father. The opening shot of Rotation features a large spinning roller, which we soon discover is part of a printing press rolling out newspapers. It is thunderous, relentless, and impersonal. Like the indifferent hand of fate, it recounts the unstoppable tribulations of history, declaring headlines like “4 MILLION UNEMPLOYED!” and “WAR!” The mechanical and repetitious reproduction of culture is featured again in a fade from the printing press to spinning record player in Hans’ home. The record player is playing happy and upbeat music that, beyond anything else, conveys a sense of middle-class complacency when juxtaposed with the previous monumental headlines. Staudte shows that Hans is part of this mechanized process of rotation and repetition, the end product of which is cultural reproduction. During the Weimar era, which was plagued by high unemployment, Hans takes a variety of odd jobs to earn money. In one instance, he is one of about a dozen men pushing a large wheel. It is uncertain what the wheel is intended to


manufacture – it is simply one wheel in a larger capitalist machine. Similarly, Hans, like the undifferentiated men around him, is just one cog in the wheel of a faceless sociopolitical machine that he makes no attempt to understand. In another instance, Hans is explicitly used to in the project of cultural reproduction. He, along with several other men, walk the streets with signs that feature pictures of scantily clad women to advertise a local cabaret. During these odd jobs, Hans is always accompanied by several other men performing the same exact task. Seriality, or visual repetition, emphasizes the workers’ lack of individuality. In this film, rotation signifies endless repetition, especially the repetition of historical tragedies. Therefore, rotation leads to nothing but stagnation, a state in which humanity turns round and round in the same circle, never going anywhere. In contrast, rotation in Day of Freedom leads to forward motion and progress rather than stagnation. It is the rotation of the wheels of military vehicles that will allow the German army to surge forward and cut new ground, in linear rather than circular motion. Staudte, clearly, has a more pessimistic view of rotation. In his films, rotation implies fixation around a rigid locus or center, or rather, an imagined center based upon illusions of national destiny and ethnic superiority. At the end of Rotation, Hans’ son Helmut appears at a railroad crossing, looking exactly like his father did at the same railroad crossing in one of the first scenes of the movie. The similarity between Hans and Helmut’s situations at the beginning and end of the film suggests that history is repeating itself. However, contrary to rotation, the railroad implies linear motion. The crossing at the railroad suggests a transition from one space to another. Indeed, as Helmut and his fiancé approach the same fork in the road that his parents once approached some twenty years earlier, he takes the path on the left whereas his parents took the path on the right. Here, Staudte maps political space onto filmic and physical space, with the right path representing the


rightist fascists and the left path representing the leftist Communists. The implication is that Helmut has made the critical political choice to break out of history’s tragic cycles. Similarly, Staudte’s mission as a filmmaker was to break the calamitous cycles of historical violence by exposing the false discourses of fascism and nationalism. He aimed to counteract the Nazis’ degradation of German culture and to revive or rescue the German people from false texts. In one of the first scenes of Rotation, a long tracking shot depicts a train station that has been converted into a makeshift hospital. This scene takes place near the end of the war, so Germany’s loss is already imminent. The radio is on, enthusiastically recounting the war and confidently forecasting ultimate German victory. A poster says, “We shall never surrender!” The confidence and exuberance of the radio and poster, both forms of mechanically mass-produced culture, stand in stark contrast to the mood exuded by the listless and despondent nurses and wounded soldiers. The almost-complete silence of the passive and dejected people speaks the volumes of truth that the bombastic radio and poster attempt to conceal – that Germany is losing the war and that its people have already resigned to a state of defeat and misery. This tension, especially between the aural radio and the visual image of the tattered people, exposes the hypocrisy and lies disseminated by the fascist government. The honesty of the visual image is sometimes accompanied by genuine text. When Hans is thrown in prison, his scribblings and the scribblings of prisoners jailed there before him are etched onto a barren wall. It lists friends that were executed, days imprisoned, and other statements that embody a stark and spare honestly, in complete contrast to the embellished posters and radio announcements. At the end of the film, the camera tracks down a list of names – soldiers killed during the war. This internal military document, again with great restraint, speaks the horrible truth that laid behind the confident discourse of the Nazi regime. This list


and the etchings on the prison wall are private texts, not produced for public mass consumption. As such, they lack embellishment, and are naked and raw in conveying the horrible fates of individual people. Because the walls in berubbled German cities have fallen, the boundary between interior and exterior dissolves. The terrifying truths that laid hidden in private interior spaces, both physical and psychological, are exposed to the public. The rubble reveals the lies propagated by fascist cultural texts, often through juxtaposition. The juxtapositions often operate through tensions between the sound and the image, as in the case with Rotation’s scene of miserable people listening to the confident radio. In Roberto Rosselini’s Germany, Year Zero (Germania, Anno Zero, 1947), the camera tracks along the city’s rubble while a recording of one of Hitler’s speeches plays in the background. We hear Hitler say, “We shall succeed! Victory shall be ours!” in the context of the rubble, the embodiment of Germany’s utter failure and defeat. In Staudte’s The Kaiser’s Lackey, the main character stands upon a podium and delivers a militant nationalistic speech in a prewar setting. The next scene is set after the war in the same location, which has been reduced to rubble. The main character’s speech is repeated again, but this time, the visual accompaniment of rubble exposes the folly of his speech. If the spiring towers and majestic architecture of Triumph of the Will represents lies, then the rubble is the truth laid bare. In the permeable spaces of the rubble, hidden lies and hypocrisies are exposed. The facades of the buildings are gone – all that is left is the naked truth. Rubble space is the chaotic antithesis of the straight lines and orderly formations that figure so largely in Leni Reifenstahl’s films. Ironically, the background of the opening image of Somewhere in Berlin is that of a gridlike map, delineated in neat geometric blocks and lines.


23 The contrast with the following image of rubble reveals how every cognitive map the Germans once utilized to grasp, understand, and navigate their landscape has been rendered useless. The title itself, Somewhere in Berlin, indicates the Germans’ inability to definitively place themselves in space. German loss is accompanied by the sensation of being spatially lost in the midst of the confusing and unmapped rubble. Rubble is characterized by lack of seriality or repetition since it cannot be reproduced. It portrays regression instead of progress; it is the endpoint – “year zero.” In contrast to the openness, expansiveness, and freedom of Riefenstahl’s films, the rubble films are characterized by claustrophobia. Whereas the tanks and planes appear to have commanding access to all spaces in Day of Freedom, Hans in Rotation is constantly excluded from or confined to designated spaces. Hans frequently finds himself excluded from bourgeois spaces, as in one scene when Hans’ face is pictured behind the fence of a wealthy family. During a scene set during the war, bombing makes space unlivable. Civilians seek refuge by hiding in the sewers of a city. Germany military officers decide to set of an explosion that floods the tunnel, consequently drowning the civilians, who are trapped in a space that contracts as the water encroaches. The flooding of the tunnel is shot from a low level, such that the water filling up the physical space of the tunnels is figured by greater filmic space allocated to the water as it


creeps up the screen. Earlier in the film, Hans and his family live in a dingy basement due to the bad economic conditions of the Weimar Republic. Hans’ inability to control the space in which his family lives is his greatest frustration, and he throws a tantrem bemoaning the fact that his family has to live in a basement, a “rathole.” These subterranean spaces, the sewers and Hans’ basement, represent the “subaltern” or working class people, who are suppressed both politically and spatially. Once Hans starts earning more money during the rise of the National Socialists, his family moves to a more comfortable middle-class home. There, they are constantly cleaning and trying to acquire commodities for the house. In The Murderers Are Among Us, Susanne is also constantly cleaning and trying to create order in the apartment she shares with Hans. However, Hans complains bitterly about the neatness of the apartment. The orderliness of that space is too much for Hans to endure, for his psychological being is characterized by chaos and ambiguity. Repulsed by the contradiction between the neat apartment space and his inner turmoil, Hans repeatedly retreats to the empathetic rubble. The rubble space is as dangerous and unpredictable as it is disorderly. Marked by instability, pieces of rubble could collapse at any moment. Before Susanne fixes up the apartment, water leaks in through cracks and wind sweeps debris through the broken windows. Porous boundaries allow a flow or flux between interior and exterior. In The Murderers Are Among Us, this breakdown of boundaries is a positive circumstance, for the neat lines drawn by the Nazis have been dissolved so that the contradictions within fascist culture can be revealed. The reduction of Germany to rubble, though horrifying, is simultaneously a cleansing process that reveals the terrible truth of the German past and allows the nation to redefine itself by building a better cultural edifice.


However, in films like Germany, Year Zero and Somewhere in Berlin, the rubble is a much more irredeemable and negative force. Violence created the rubble, and thus the rubble is only capable of propagating more violence. In the final scene of Germany, Year Zero, there is a shot-reverse-shot sequence between Edmund, the child protagonist of the film, and his nemesis, the rubble. Then, he jumps off the rubble and commits suicide. The next shot is that of Edmund’s body, which eventually exits the bottom of the screen as the camera tracks upward until finally, all we see is the rubble. Similarly, in Somewhere in Berlin, a young boy dies by falling off rubble. Throughout the film, the rubble is a menacing space. Though adults find it difficult to navigate and control the rubble, children run rampant throughout it in a state of near-anarchy. The adults cannot manage to discipline their children no matter how hard they try. Thus, the rubble is a primitive and uncivilized space. The militaristic children run wild; they enjoy playing war games by shooting fireworks throughout the rubble, destroying property and hiding from adults with impunity. In the end, the savage rubble must be tamed and order must be reestablished. Adults demolish the rubble and begin rebuilding in an effort to reclaim the space for civilization. Underscoring most of the rubble films is this belief that order must be reestablished, an order that is possible only with the resurrection of male agency. Much has been written about the role of gender in rubble films; here, I will only summarize the main points briefly. One of the major results of Germany’s defeat was “a collective loss of belief in the dominant fiction of ideal masculinity.”11 Many of the rubble films portray passive males that find themselves aimless and impotent amongst the rubble. Deleuze’s traditional SAS’ framework is no longer applicable; the male lead, instead of acting upon or transforming the setting, is engulfed by the rubble.12 It is the

James Fischer, “Deleuze in a Ruinous Context: German Rubble-Film and Italian Neorealism,” Iris: A Journal of Theory on Image and Sound, No. 23, Spring 1997 (Coralville, IA: University of Iowa), 57. 12 Fischer, 58-60.


females that are actively engaged with the environment, constantly sweeping up the debris. The adult German male, who had been featured with such aggressive confidence in Nazi films, is reduced to dependence upon women and children. In Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (Zwishen Gestern und Morgen, Harald Braun, 1947) and StraBenbekanntschaft (Street Acquaintance, Peter Pewas, 1948), the customarily authoritative male narrative voice is replaced by a female voice, indicating a subversion in gender hierarchy.13 The potential of the rubble to overturn previous cultural and cinematic traditions was, however, not fully exploited. Though the rubble films acknowledged the toppling of male dominion as a result of the war, German filmmakers viewed this circumstance as a wound that must be healed. In other words, the previous patriarchal social system should and must be reinstituted. In Somewhere in Berlin, the children conspire to make the father return to his role as active head of the household. The father is the only person that can rebuild the family’s garage, and by extension, Germany. The film’s climax arrives when the father reassumes his rightful role by ascending a mound of rubble and working away. His central position and the screen and higher spatial level indicate his dominance over the project of reconstruction. Similarly, in The Murderers Are Among Us, the role of the female lead, Susanne, is to rejuvenate the male lead and restore his wholeness. Though Susanne is supposedly a concentration camp victim, her history and memories go completely unmentioned. Most rubble films only explore the traumatic experiences and war guilt of German males rather than focusing on the actual victims themselves. Women and Jews appear to be ahistorical – the promise of a future for Germany lays in the re-masculinization of Germany’s men. In The Murderers Are Among Us, Hans eventually regains the will to act and aggressively pursues Brückner. In Somewhere in Berlin, the film’s triumphant ending features the father

Carter, 94.


retaking his rightful place as the head of the family and of the community. Indeed, only Rosellini’s Germany, Year Zero fails to offer the hope of restoration of the previous social order. In Germany, Year Zero, masculinity fails completely. In a family with two men, one dies while the other refuses to find work. The women and a little boy, Edmund, must provide for the family. In the final shot of the film, after Edmund had committed suicide, the menacing rubble fills the screen space as an enduring symbol of despair. There is no indication that the rubble will be cleared away, or that Edmund’s family can ever be restored. Though Rosselini worked closely with DEFA to produce the film, Germany, Year Zero is more frequently classified as an Italian neorealist film than as a rubble film. Despite notable similarities, such as the rubble mise-en-scéne and the destabilizing of gender and social hierarchies, the rubble films attempt to resurrect and justify the old social order whereas Rosselini tried to reveal its inadequacy. The German rubble films never garnered the international acclaim enjoyed by Italian neorealism. Though the rubble films initially looked as if they could rival Italian films in the arena of international postwar cinema, they quickly faded out. Replacing rubble films were Heimatfilme, or “homeland films,” which celebrated traditional German purity and greatness. Gone was the anxious self-doubting introspection of the rubble films. The rubble films were meant to reconcile Germany with the rest of the world community, and international critics’ initially positive reception of the rubble films suggested that they could help reintegrate the nation into the global landscape. The Heimatfilme, however, was produced for a domestic audience and found little positive reception outside of Germany. The difference in spatial settings underscores the change in focus, from international to domestic, for the urban settings of the rubble films are socially nearer to international cosmopolitanism


than the rural countryside of the Heimatfilme. Whereas the Trümmerfilme were based upon a fundamental loss of center or rootlessness, the Heimatfilme was a return to imagined German roots, based in the primitive and unadulterated soil of the rural homeland. Whereas the urban spaces of the confrontational rubble films induce claustrophobia, the rural spaces of the escapist Heimatfilme are wide and open. The spatial expansiveness of the Heimatfilme indicates a relapse into the Nazi spatial aesthetic. Indeed, films about the heimat was common during the Nazi era. Thus, “rotation” or repetition can serve as a theme for this brief period of German film history. The Nazi cinematic aesthetic, though briefly interrupted by the rubble films, returned in the 1950’s in a different form, as Heimatfilme. The rubble films were fairly ambitious, but the “return of the repressed” or frank dealing with gruesome war memories would not truly occur until decades after the war. The fact that the rubble films were produced at all can be partially attributed to the ideological goals and commitment of the Soviet-controlled DEFA. In the end, the dark and unstable rubble spaces of the films proved unappealing to an audience that had to deal with real rubble space outside the theater. Nonetheless, the rubble films have left a legacy of images – images of destruction and folly. The rubble of Germany was a contested space that begged for some sort of meaning, and postwar filmmakers struggled to respond. Whether a symbol of despair over history or hope for a better future, the rubble image struck postwar Germany with its stark honesty both inside and outside of the theater.


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