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More Genre Cinema, the “Red Western,” and Stardom in East Germany: Apachen (Apaches, Gottfried Kolditz, 1973)

  • Sebastian Heiduschke

Abstract

An incredulous look—generally the initial reaction when someone encounters one of the East German Western films for the first time—often yields to an admission that the film was unexpectedly enjoyable and entertaining. The fashion in which DEFA took up the Western, a film genre that “had grown [ … ] to a sophisticated formula in which American history and ideology—and the Western genre itself—could be reflected upon and examined in detail,” also reveals once again how East German feature films were deeply entrenched in the communist party’s political agenda.1 Genre cinema was eyed suspiciously in DEFA for some time for its proximity to filmmaking à la Hollywood and for its lack of either socialist realism or political didacticism.2 A number of events during the height of the Cold War resulted in a change of mind: between 1966 and 1979, DEFA produced a dozen Westerns that turned into blockbusters. Along with the films, Gojko Mitic emerged as star actor who ranked among the most admired faces of East German cinema by the time he made his eighth DEFA Western, Apachen, in 1973. Perhaps even more important, the stories and the film star Mitic brought audiences back to movie theaters to watch the highly anticipated Indianerfilme (films about the Native Americans), as DEFA’s “red westerns” came to be known, and seven of them broke the record of more than three million tickets sold each.3

Keywords

Star Actor Movie Theater White Settler Native American Culture Beef Steak 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Thomas Schatz, Hollywood Genres (New York: Random House, 1981), 64.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Daniela Berghahn, Hollywood behind the Wall: The Cinema of East Germany (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 39.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Rex Strickland, “The Birth and Death of a Legend: The Johnson Massacre of 1837,” Arizona and the West 18, no. 3 (1976): 257–286.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See also the analysis of Der schweigende Stern in chapter 7. For more on Welskopf-Henrich and her significance in East Germany, see Glenn Penny, “Red Power: Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich and Indian Activist Networks in East and West Germany,” Central European History 41 (2008): 447–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 11.
    Vera Dika, “An East German Indianerfilm: The Bear in Sheep’s Clothing,” Jump Cut 50 (2008), http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc50.2008/Dikaindianer/index.html.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Andre Bazin. “The Western: Or the American Film Par Excellence,” in What is Cinema? vol. 2, ed. and trans. Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 140.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Film scholar Katie Trumpener makes an important case for the proximity between DEFA and Eastern European Cinema in “DEFA: Moving Germany into Eastern Europe,” in Moving Images of East Germany: Past and Future of DEFA Film, ed. Barton Byg and Betheny Moore (Washington DC: American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, 2002), 85–104.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Some East Germans mentioned rather ironically that after the building of the Berlin Wall, they also lived in some type of reservation—much like the Native Americans. See Friedrich von Borries and Jens-Uwe Fischer, Sozialistische Cowboys: Der Wilde Western Ostdeutschlands (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2008), 28.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    Charles Barr, “CinemaScope: Before and After,” Film Quarterly 16, no. 4 (1963): 4–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 23.
    See, for example, Peter Uwe Hohendahl, “Von der Rothaut zum Edelmenschen. Karl Mays Amerikaromane,” in Amerika in der deutschen Literatur: Neue Welt, Nordamerika, USA, ed. Sigrid Bauschinger, Horst Denkler, and Wilfried Malsch (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1975), 229–245.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    Jeffrey Sammons, Ideology, Nemesis, Fantasy: Charles Sealsfield, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Karl May, and Other German Novelists of America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  12. 25.
    It is difficult to determine the exact number of tickets sold because Rialto did not keep statistics before Tobis Film was founded in 1970. The revenue for this film was nearly 6.5 million Deutsche Marks, according to Michael Petzel, Karl May Filmbuch (Bamberg: Karl-May-Verlag, 1998), 403.Google Scholar
  13. 26.
    Christian Heermann, Old Shatterhand ritt nicht im Auftrag der Arbeiterklasse (Dessau: Anhaltische Verlagsgesellschaft, 1995).Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    Gerd Gemünden. “Between Karl May and Karl Marx. The DEFA Indianerfilme 1965–1983,” in Germans and Indians: Fantasies, Encounters, Projections, ed. Colin Calloway, Gerd Gemünden, and Susanne Zantop (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 244.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    For the notion of a void in the 1960s, see Rosemary Stott, “Entertained by the Class Enemy: Cinema Programming Policy in the German Democratic Republic,” in 100 Years of European Cinema: Entertainment or Ideology?, ed. Diana Holmes and Alison Smith (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 27–39.Google Scholar
  16. 31.
    Günter Agde, ed., Kurt Maetzig—Filmarbeit: Gesprüche, Reden, Schriften (Berlin: Henschel, 1987), 285.Google Scholar

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© Sebastian Heiduschke 2013

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  • Sebastian Heiduschke

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