Werkleitz Festival 24.-26.Oktober 2008

Black and Tan
Dudley Murphy, US 1929, 19' *
Black and Tan, by the coauthor of the classic Ballet mécanique, is in many ways a transitional work. Experimental elements are embedded within a narrative plot, making the film more “easily accessible” to the audience. The actual antiracist stance of the film—promoting black music—is thwarted as if in anticipation of future racism: while the black upper class is represented positively, the two piano movers are steeped in toxic stereotypes. Thus, the film depicts the transformation from biologically justified to socially legitimized racism. Nonetheless, it successfully captures the soul of jazz in breathtaking images (see also If You Ever Have the Blues ...). There is another Duke Ellington film that was also one of the first reeducation films shown in Germany, but it is not available online (Duke Ellington & Orchestra, 1945).  



Private Snafu: Spies
Chuck Jones, US 1943, 4'
While German World War II propaganda privileged a rather monumental documentary style à la Riefenstahl and Ruttmann, the Americans produced a great deal of animation. Private Snafu: Spies is one of the funniest anti-German propaganda cartoons of all time.



The Autobiography of a Jeep
United Films, US 1943, 10'
Another key difference between German and American propaganda during World War II was the treatment of the individual. Whereas German propaganda the notion of a Volkskörper (racial corpus) was ubiquitous, and individual fates were almost never chronicled, American propaganda always focused on an individual; in this film it is expressed through the subjective narration of a jeep. It, too, was shown in occupied Germany as a reeducation film.



Supervising Women Workers
Kerkow (Herbert) Productions, US 1944, 11'
During the war, women played a critical role in the arms race. Interestingly, democratic America was quicker in deploying women in the work force than Nazi Germany, where, for ideological reasons, women were accepted only reluctantly. Especially in post-1945 Germany, women were mainstays of industry—scores of men had been either killed or were prisoners of war. That is why Supervising Women Workers was released so quickly in German movie theaters in a breathtakingly badly dubbed version titled Die Frau als Fabrikarbeiterin (The Woman as Factory Worker). Unfortunately, that version is not online. The delightful commentary on the film’s website is a must-read.



Your Job in Germany
Frank Capra, US 1945, 12'
Your Job in Germany was screened to American soldiers on ships headed for Europe; harmless “homeland” images combined with aggressive narration show a remarkable similarity to Nazi propaganda: "Every German is a potential source of trouble. Therefore there must be no fraternization with any of the German people. Fraternization means making friends. The German people are not our friends. You will not associate with German men, women or children.” It portrays the history of the German people as one of pure aggression, beginning with “Führer No. 1” (Otto von Bismarck), " Führer No. 2" (Kaiser Wilhelm II), and ending with "Führer No. 3" (Adolf Hitler). The main goal of American soldiers was to prevent a potential fourth chapter. But the film seems not to have made a particular impression on the GIs: the Americans in Germany were generally regarded as the friendliest of the four occupying powers.



My Japan
U.S. Treasury Department, US 1945, 16'
The propagandistic reeducation of the defeated people by American occupying forces found a parallel in Germany and Japan. In both cases it was successful, which is all the more interesting given the differences between the cultures. While the anti-German and anti-Japanese propaganda films from the United States all possess the same aggressive tone, the anti-Japanese films have added a significant biological racial component. In My Japan, a sinister mental superiority is attributed to the Japanese, a prejudice and irrational fear that would again be repeated in the 1970s with regard to the Japanese economy.



Our Job in Japan
[Frank] Capra film unit, US 1946, 18'
Victory over Japan is cinematically framed by a Beethoven symphony. In a strange and unpleasant episode about Japanese “brains”; the narrator repeatedly assures us that their brains are “the same as ours,” even though the images portray a fundamental difference.



Meet King Joe
Sutherland Productions, US 1949, 10'
After the war, the thrust of American propaganda within the United States was now directed against a new enemy: communism. The degree to which this threat was felt can be seen in the sheer mass of anticommunist short films that either depicted life under socialism as terrible, or—as in Meet King Joe—showed the blessings of capitalism, especially for the common worker. It isn’t only the name of the film that reminds us of how "Joe the Plumber" is being exploited in the current presidential campaign in the United States.



The Mullinaires
Handy (Jam) Organization, US 1953, 3'
The newly gained insights into mass manipulation during the World War were implemented not only for anticommunist propaganda purposes but also used to great advantage in advertising. The insights on which these in-house spots are based seem rather questionable. Nonetheless, the chorus of singing kitchen salesmen belongs to the strangest scenes that the employee motivation industry has ever spawned: an early precursor to karaoke.



Member of the Family
Handy (Jam) Organization, US 1954, 10'
In this Coca-Cola spot, one has to wonder whether the sticky cola from Atlanta was the only thing the boss and spokesman were “high” on. The company bluntly pushes itself as a global "member of the family" recalling, at least vaguely, other universal family members such as “Uncle Adolf” and “Papa Stalin.” Coca-Cola was unparalleled in its ability to combine the American way of life with its own product as an extremely successful sales strategy. (In the Werkleitz Festival Forum, we show Billy Wilder's brilliant comedy One, Two, Three , about Coca-Cola in occupied Germany.)



Practical Dreamer
Handy (Jam) Organization, US 1957, 14'
A sleepless housewife tiptoes to her refrigerator one night, only to discover her entire kitchen has disappeared. A male ghost’s voice welcomes her, and together they design her dream kitchen. These countless movies about equipping a kitchen always pursued a dual purpose: the new devices should be introduced to the woman, and they should put her back in her place—in the kitchen. One can interpret the 1950s as an attempt by the patriarchy to undo the forced emancipation of the war years—cf. Supervising Women Workers. The statistical reality, however, often looked quite different: most families in the United States in the 1950s depended on the wife’s income; the domestic goddess slaving at the stove was wishful thinking on the part of a male-dominated media industry.



A Day Called 'X'
Harry Rasky, US 1957, 27'
The film A Day Called 'X' is historically unique: in this CBS documentary, an entire city, Portland, Oregon, simulates an evacuation in the event of a hydrogen bomb attack. While the plot was conceived as a case study for improving methods for saving lives, the tense faces reflect the very real fear of total annihilation. Perhaps they knew only too well what war means, given that only twelve years had passed since World War II. Entire generations up to the 1980s were shaped by fear of the bomb. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the fear disappeared, even though the bombs didn’t.



Germany: A Family of the Industrial Ruhr
US 1958, 16'
A strange, “anthropological,” documentary about people in West Germany. The commentary is explicitly positive; nothing remains of the distrust in Your Job in Germany. Nevertheless, the film has something dark about it, reflecting in part the atmosphere of the 1950s. The mood is enhanced by the almost complete lack of a soundtrack and music, and the very dark film copy.



Red Nightmare
George Waggner, US 1962, 29'
A classic anticommunist film from Warner Bros. An American family man finds his hometown turned into a communist nightmare overnight. The narrator makes it very clear that such a scenario can only be warded off by the readiness of each individual to defend their country. "The proud hopes of a free world are founded on the dedication of individual Americans." George W. Bush was sixteen years old when this bit of wisdom was proclaimed.



Ich bin ein Berliner [I Am a Berliner]
John F. Kennedy, Germany 1963, 5'
The famous speech that turned JFK into a myth in Germany is seen here in full-length. Every American president who has visited Germany since has attempted to make a similarly poignant proclamation. Only Ronald Reagan succeeded (see below).



Santiago Alvarez, Cuba 1965, 6'
Based on the song Now, by Laura Horn, Alvarez denounces racism in the USA through a suggestive montage of weekly newsreel found footage. As in many films produced by socialist countries critical of America, the good (dead) Americans—in this case, "Jefferson, Washington, and Lincoln"—are contrasted with current conditions (see also the text by Claus Löser in the catalog Amerika). The 1965 film won first prize at the Leipzig International Documentary Film Festival.



New Left Note
Saul Levine, US 1968-1982, 16mm, silent, 28'
Saul Levine was editor of the socialist student newspaper New Left Notes and thus was at the heart of the American radical movement. The restless hand-held camera, the intentionally “raw” montage, and the lack of sound clearly sets this film apart from the many filmed parodies of the time. It offers the viewer a seemingly direct impression of the times by means of its artificial beauty. Although New Left Note is a classic experimental film that plays with the materiality of film, it functions amazingly well on the Internet.



Black Panther Newsreel
san francisco newsreel (Lacativa & Machover & Shinoff), US 1968, 14'
Black Panther Newsreel pursues a completely different approach. Deliberately resisting the one-sided onslaught of images dictated “from above,” this film attempts to replace the old order of the past with an alternative political point of view “from below” (compare the difference in how society is portrayed in this film as opposed to the films from the 1940s and 1950s in this program). An extraordinarily successful approach: the loss of control over the media is forcing political leaders—at least in countries with freedom of the press—to justify their actions constantly. We still can’t rely on this to prevent wars, however. [The film can be found in a file together with Black Panthers—Huey! see below.]



Black Panthers – Huey!
Agnes Varda, France/US 1969, 31'
The protest against the Vietnam War and against racism in the United States united the American and international protest movements. French directors like Godard, Marker, and Varda shot films about the youth rebellion. Thus, one cannot necessarily equate the vehement criticism of United States policy with anti-Americanism, it was rather a fight with America against America (see also the program They Won’t Give Peace a Chance). Black Panthers—Huey! documents the struggle of the Black Panthers after Huey Newton’s arrest. [The movie is in a file together with Black Panther Newsreel; see above.]



Vietnam Napalm
Vietnam 1972, 2'
Nick Uts famous photograph of Kim Phúc, the girl burned by napalm, is an icon of antiwar photography; the original photo is now in the hands of art dealers. This lesser known film was shot shortly after the photo was taken. Not only are the images gruesome, so too the accompanying comments on YouTube, where we see American racism meeting its match in anti-Americanism (the fact that it was a South Vietnamese attack is given no further attention): "I want to kill American soldiers and George W. Bush. Fucking murders kids, men and women worldwide! I live in Poland. I hope that despite this a lot of American soldiers in Iraq will get lost." ... "Americans are the worst animals on this planet, criminals, terrorists, liers ... [sic] " ... "I hope you get napalmed, you fucking redneck" ... "hhmmm bomb a village with women and children, why did not you just nuke 'em" ... "Vietnamese are the ugliest and dirtiest race on the earth after Chinese. So you all deserve to die," and so on.



Sonne statt Reagan (Sun instead of Reagan/Rain)
Joseph Beuys, Germany 1982, 2'
In response to the planned stationing of nuclear missiles in Germany, a large-scale peace movement emerged, modeled on the 1960s, in which Joseph Beuys was also involved. The bogeyman of the Left was Ronald Reagan. In this clip, Beuys accuses Reagan of a “will to victory.” By employing this Nazi terminology, Beuys invokes an obvious and excessive comparison that can hardly be differentiated from Reagan’s notorious description of the Soviet Union as the “Empire of Evil.”



Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!
Ronald Reagan, Germany 1987, 4'
It certainly was not on account of the Leftist protests that Ronald Reagan transformed during his time in office from a “devourer of communists” to a serious peace negotiator with Gorbachev. His impressive speech, which following the fall of the Wall would be lauded for being prophetic, secured Reagan second place in the “best of” Berlin-speeches made by post-JFK American presidents (see above).



Born in the GDR
Sandow, GDR 1989, 4'
In 1988, Bruce Springsteen made a legendary appearance in the GDR at a "concert in support of Nicaragua" within the framework of the "5 FDJ rock summer." According to the official GDR view, the event was a failure: Not only did the audience wave homemade Stars and Stripes, they also enthusiastically sang along to “Born in the USA”. Despite the fact that the song’s text is actually critical of America, Bruce Springsteen shared at least one opinion of his unpopular President Reagan—he, too, demanded the demolition of "barriers" (=Wall). Katharina Witt, who announced the guest star, was mercilessly booed off stage. As a result, the GDR-band Sandow recorded a parody of the song entitled, Born in the GDR, which led to its becoming the unofficial anthem for reunification.



Go West
Howard Greenhalgh (Pet Shop Boys), UK 1993, 4'
The Pet Shop Boys’ cover version of the eponymous Village People song has been reinterpreted as a parody of the unification of systems after the fall of the Wall. In a certain sense, this clip can be considered the starting point of the Amerika festival:
During the Festival of Short Films in Oberhausen in 2005, Shai Heredia, director of Experimenta, asked whether I wanted to present a selection of my program The Fallen Curtain with her in Bombay. There was just one problem: because of censorship, Indian audiences were unaccustomed to seeing sex on screen. This presented certain limitations for an experimental film festival. We removed the film Amami se vuoi from the program, which showed Michael Curran’s partner spitting into his open mouth, a provocative film even for Westerners. On the other hand, we left Stan Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving, which shows in close-up the minute details of giving birth. This was a work which in its time nearly caused Brakhage to be shot to death in the Midwest. The reaction to this movie in Bombay in 2006 was surprisingly similar to that in Germany: breathless silence. After all the programs were screened, I asked Shai whether there were any reactions to any of the films that had been shown. She said the people were very angry about Go West. It was American propaganda. In answer to my reply that the video was made in England and meant ironically, she remarked: Indians really did hate America, and they’d need quite a bit more than a little irony. In the ensuing discussions, all the mistakes made by this abysmally awful country were listed in detail. This attitude wasn’t terribly new, anti-Americanism is also fashionable in Germany.



Rammstein, Germany 2004, 5'
Nowhere was the dominance of (Anglo-)American popular culture greater than in pop music. For decades it was practically frowned upon for German bands to sing in their own language—a phenomenon normally associated with postcolonial structures. The band Rammstein, named after the military air disaster at Ramstein Air Base, by contrast, sings mostly in German. They were harshly criticized for their provocative use of Riefenstahl material, also in the USA when it came out that the Littleton shooters were fans of the band. In this video, they deal with America’s domination of political culture: "We're all living in America / America is wonderful / ... / We’re making a darling dance / Freedom plays in all the hands / Music straight from the White House / And in front of Paris you can see Mickey Mouse." Ironically, Rammstein is now extremely popular in the USA.



Werner Herzog Gets Shot by LA Sniper During Interview
BBC, US/UK 2006, 3'
During a BBC interview, Werner Herzog is shot in front of the camera and reacts with astonishing composure.



Werner Herzog on Henry Rollins' Show
US 2006, 8'
In this interview he tells a story about the accidental “assassination” and develops a very nice theory about all the things that can happen to a foreigner in America: "This is part of the folklore out here."



National Anthem
Beyonce, US 2006, 3'
Since the Nazi era, any public display of patriotism is considered suspicious in Germany. For Germans, the Super Bowl ceremony along with the singing of the American national anthem and military parades makes it all the more disconcerting. The originally emancipatory power of black music has long since been used in service of the state. A veritable competition is happening on YouTube to pick the most beautiful from the hundred thousand clicked clips. Here are a few pearls of patriotic entertainment in order of respect: Mariah Carey (very sensitive, but lip-synched), Christina Aguilera (whose own performance is evidently more important to her than the anthem) and Roseanne (who should be glad she got out alive).



The Brave (National Anthem All-Star Version)
asponja, US 2007, 3'
Asponja couldn’t decide between all the beautiful performances, which is why he took his nine favorites and simply let them sing together in split screen. The result sounds horrendous, and it isn’t entirely certain whether National Anthem All-Star Version is parody or homage.



Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan
Iraq Veterans, US 2008, 19'
In 1971, the Winter Film Collective released the documentary film Winter Soldier. In a self-run war crimes tribunal, Vietnam War veterans testify to crimes they had either seen or perpetrated. The endless tape of witness testimony is harrowing in its radical austerity. The film has become a central document of the antiwar movement as well as a milestone in the history of documentary filmmaking (available on DVD). The video Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan builds on the tradition only in name, offering little more than a well-made television documentary. In a sense, the film testifies to the powerlessness of the peace movement to stop the Iraq war, which had began begun even before the war started—a protest which couldn’t develop charisma.



© Impressum