Heimat soon out on DVD

by Chris Bertram on June 30, 2004

Good news. I posted a few weeks ago about the availability of Edgar Reitz’s “Heimat on DVD”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000284A56/junius-21 and I’ve just found out that Tartan will be releasing it in the UK in August (Region 2 only, though). As some CT readers may have noticed, I’ve been watching rather a lot of German films recently. I’m getting somewhat depressed, though, by the fact that, though German cinema had a golden age in the 1970s and 80s, the last twenty years have seen a sharp decline in quality. Some directors are dead, of course, and others have taken to producing films in English for Hollywood. My local rental shop, which has “a very extensive range”:http://www.20thcenturyflicks.co.uk/ , has shelves and shelves of French, Italian and Japanese films on DVD but I’ve more or less watched my way through their German holdings. They have some more in store, but mainly on fading VHS tape since there has been no DVD release (at least in Europe). I’d like to think that this is just my perception and that there’s a treasure trove of recent German cinema that I’ve not discovered yet.



Sharon 06.30.04 at 9:40 am

A friend introduced me to Fassbender (hang on, have I spelt that right? my brain’s going screwy again) a couple of years ago, and ever since it’s been really frustrating that there are so few of his films at my local video stores. I want to see more!


raj 06.30.04 at 10:52 am

Fassbinder’s films were the only ones that I found particular interest in. We saw a film by Wim Wenders in the 1980s (don’t remember the English title–Wings of Desire?) that was absolutely boring.

The German cinema today–as a cultural artifact–is pretty much dead, largely because of the homogenization of cinema. Most films are produced for the international market. So a “hollywood” film might be shot at the Bavarian studios, with computer effects added in Bulgaria and then edited in London and the audio looped in who-knows-where.


Chris Bertram 06.30.04 at 11:24 am

Well I’m afraid I disagree very strongly about the merits of Wings of Desire, Raj.

But I also think your “homogenization of cinema” explanation is pretty much nonsense. Other national cinemas have flourished since the 1980s: Danish and Spanish cinema would be two good examples. So general global forces are certainly not a _sufficient_ explanation for the decline of German film-making.


Steve 06.30.04 at 12:54 pm

Might that have something to with the fact that Denmark and Spain had von Trier and Almodovar spearheading a national cinema, whereas Fassbinder overdosed, Wenders stopped making good movies, and Herzog’s production largely dried up after his period of mad genius (although he’s still making some very beautiful movies, I don’t believe he’s getting the funding to make feature films any more)? Von Trier and Almodovar are both very social filmmakers as these things go (von Trier through Dogme 95, Almodovar as the leading light of the Movida movement in the ’70s), and it seems like one sufficiently talented and productive director can really do a lot to spearhead an international interest in a country’s cinema.

Mind you, I don’t really know enough about contemporary Spanish film to know if this theory stands up, and I’m sure the huge Spanish-speaking media market has something to do with it. (That doesn’t quite expain Denmark, though.)


James Russell 06.30.04 at 1:45 pm

Of recent German films I must say I’m only familiar with Goodbye Lenin. Fortunately this is a brilliant film.

I suspect most national cinemas go through cycles of golden ages and shit ages. Australia (where I am) has been in a particular slump for a while.


James Russell 06.30.04 at 2:18 pm

That looks like one shit-hot video shop too. I’d kill for anything as good as that around here.


Chris Martin 06.30.04 at 3:43 pm

I think one needs to separate the issue of great directors from great films. Germany may not have a director as famous as Almodovar and von Trier, but it has had a number of good films in the last 20 years, such as Europa Europa, Run Lola Run, Wings of Desire, and Stalingrad.

In addition, I think von Trier is an awful director and am not alone in that assessment. Among Danes, Lone Scherfig is much better. I’ve only seen one Almodovar film, All About My Mother, and although it excelled in some areas, it was rather flawed in others.

By the way, greencine.com has a good selection of foreign films if you’re interesting in renting dvd’s online.


Dan Simon 06.30.04 at 7:09 pm

I’ve been watching rather a lot of German films recently. I’m getting somewhat depressed….



Elton Byington 06.30.04 at 8:02 pm

The Amazon.uk link above says the set is Region 0, meaning that it can be played on machines worldwide, providing they’ll handle the PAL video format. That means these discs will play on your PC, if no on a dedicated DVD player.

Any word on Zweiter Heimat?


raj 06.30.04 at 9:03 pm

Chris Bertram · June 30, 2004 11:24 AM

>Well I’m afraid I disagree very strongly about the merits of Wings of Desire, Raj.

That’s fine. Different strokes, as they say. Actually, some of Fassbinder’s works weren’t exactly stellar, either. Berlin Alexanderplatz also stunk, as we learned when we rented the video tapes. It was apparently a TV miniseries in Germany.

>But I also think your “homogenization of cinema” explanation is pretty much nonsense. Other national cinemas have flourished since the 1980s…

And don’t forget Australian cinema. That was very hot in the US in the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. But, query what has the Australian film industry put out as identifiably Australian since Priscilla Queen of the Desert (which we fould to be an excellent entertainment)? I’m sure there is something that they have put out, but what, in an ongoing sense, set of films is identifiably Australian? They definitely made Guy Pierce a star (what a beautiful man!), but other than that?

We enjoyed The Fourth Man by Verhoeven, from the Netherlands, but that was in the early 1980s. I guess he bounces back and forth between the US and the Netherlands, but little of his work in the Netherlands seems to make much of an impact in the US.

We also enjoyed Peterson’s Das Boot–the original US release, in German with subtitles, not the dubbed version. Although we live in the US, we are German speakers, so the language was no problem for us. Actually, referencing this work raises an issue. From what I had read, Das Boot was originally a 6 hour mini-series made for German TV, that was subsequently edited for American cinema release. Query the extent to which works that might have been made for German cinema are instead made for German TV, and then released in the US cinema. Similarly, we enjoyed his Undendliche Geschichte.

There have been other German movies that we’ve also enjoyed, including, for example, Zuckerbaby http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090377/ and Taxi zum Klo http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081606/

But all of these movies were from the 1980s.

>So general global forces are certainly not a sufficient explanation for the decline of German film-making.

Actually, globalization, per se, might not be a sufficient explanation for the apparent demise of the German cinema, but it is probable that it, along with, for example, the lure of TV, is a substantial reason for the apparent demise as seen from the US.


Tobias Schwarz 07.01.04 at 4:23 am


I am fairly certain that you are the first person ever to have stated that the 1980s were a great period for the German cinema.

Should you run out of movies in your store try streaming these short movies


not all German, but most.

Of course, shorts don’t compare to features films, but they are – they can be – interesting showcases for talent.

As so many things in Germany these days, the German movie malaise is largely instutional. The sponsoring system of public funding and public-tv-coproducing has ahd an extremely crippling effect on creativity for all filmmakers except those who produce mainly for the international market and those who don’t care about funding, most of which are students or artists funded differently.

In 2002 I went to an exhibition in the NY Guggenheim featuring “moving images”. Visual art, not film – but surprisingly, about 50% of the artists were German. Whenever I mentioned this to someone “in the business” they did not seem too surprised, blaming a structural inability to translate this creativity into a marketable motion picture.

Of course, market size is more of an issue for a motion picture than for BMW – Das Wunder von Bern, one of the most expensive movies of 2003 cost 7.5m Euros in production, if I am informed correctly. That corresponds to the fact that German films get on averge about 15% of the box office intake, about 140m in 2003. But no one in LA would pick up a pencil for this – it’s extremely difficult to get funding. Even the little (but growing) VC that was made available largely through exploiting tax loop holes tend to put the money into productions with a higher probability of return (ie. international releases, think Whale Rider, for a better example of German film funding, think Driven for a bad one) So “culturally German” films are usually shot for tv anf released to the silver screen should they turn out well. It’s only a partial reason for the malaise, but it’s a valid one.

There is also a prevalent lack of quality “doctored” scripts, the unwillingness of many filmmakers to understand that shooting films is indeed a collaborative business, and a certain theatre-fixation in acting education. It wasn’t until recently that people have understood that great theatre actors can be abysmal in movies. But many of them are. I was once on a set where a former porn starlet played far better on camera than two veteren theatre actors.

Again, I’m not sure the German cinema was better in the 1980s. But the current situation – notwithstanding exceptions – is – in my opinion – mostly a mirror of the general German malaise. Fear about the future and one’s own ability to cope in an ever more uncertain world simply by changing things.


Chris Bertram 07.01.04 at 7:40 am

Thanks Tobias, that’s very informative. Great link too.

My judgement that the 1980s was a (part of a) great period was simply meant to register the fact that some of the great output of Fassbinder, Schlondorff, Herzog and Wenders spilled over into the 1980s.

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