THE NEW GERMAN CINEMA
French Impressionist or Italian Neorealist cinema can be discussed as a group of filmmakers sharing broad assumptions about film form, style, and subject. After the early 1960s, however, most new cinemas in both West and East were not clear-cut stylistic movements. During this era, a new cinema often consisted of younger filmmakers who happened to make films that won international recognition.
The New German Cinema offers an example. Most historians consider it to be a development out of Young German Film (Film History: An Introduction, pp. 436-438). It includes several diverse trends: the political wing we discussed in Chapter 23 (pp. 548-551), the sensibilist trend (pp. 599-600), and diverse works of female, gay, and lesbian directors (pp. 593-596). By the late 1980s, New German Cinema had become a broad term for all independent filmmaking in West Germany since the 1960s, and many historians believed it continued into the 1990s.
The term itself played a direct historical role. In the 1970s, international film culture took young filmmakers as representatives of a "new German cinema" as yet unacknowledged in their homeland. The New York Film Festival, the Cannes festival, the Museum of Modern Art, and other institutions helped build up the sense of a new trend in international art cinema. After directors such as Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders won recognition outside Germany, their reputations became elevated at home. State support of production was accompanied by initiatives from cultural agencies such as the Goethe Institute, which helped promote the director-based Autorenfilm in other countries by circulating films and subsidizing filmmakers to tour with their works.
For some historians, the radical edge of the 1960s and 1970s films was blunted as the films became absorbed into the European art cinema. By 1979, when Schlöndorff's Tin Drum, Fassbinder's Marriage of Maria Braun, Herzog's Nosferatu, and von Trotta's Sisters won international acclaim, the process of assimilation had become evident. During the 1980s, new directors—particularly women—received government and television funding, and several of them gained international recognition. Once in place, the idea of a "new" national cinema could be developed and exploited by the nation as a sign of cultural prestige.
For extensive discussions of how the New German Cinema came to be treated as a distinctive trend in film history, see Eric Rentschler, West German Film in the Course of Time (Bedford Hills, NY: Redgrave, 1984), and Thomas Elsaesser, New German Cinema: A History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989).