Images of Women in East German Cinema 1972-1982

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Some of the most successful and controversial East German films were produced during the 1970s, many of which featured a female protagonist. These films about women – directed almost exclusively by men – were in many respects so unique to the DEFA (the state sponsored East German film corporation) as to constitute a specific genre: the DEFA Frauenfilm (women’s film). Why did the female role under socialism hold such an attraction for the filmmakers?

Drawing on mostly unpublished archive materials, the author traces how the ideological discourse regarding the depiction of women in the cinema changed in response to international political developments, national trends and cultural policies.

In the first major study in English of women on the East German screen, the author argues that these women’s films did not merely challenge assumptions and desires regarding women as women, but that they became vehicles to critically represent the relationship between the individual and society in the GDR.

A close reading and contextualized analysis of eight representative Gegenwartsfilme (films engaged in the social reality of everyday life in the contemporary GDR) is employed to establish the significance of the female DEFA protagonist – essential for any discussion of East German cinema as a part of German film history.


“ ... While prior to 1989 not even a handful of books on East German cinema had been published in the Federal Republic – and none in English-speaking countries – the 1990s saw the rapid appearance of a number of volumes carefully documenting and describing the development of former East German film production. In academic circles, a flurry of activity led to numerous specialist conferences (usually with former DEFA-directors, writers or dramaturges in residence), specialist summer schools and scholarly articles covering a broad spectrum of subjects ranging from critical in-depth analyses of individual features to using the films as a window on East German society ... Based on close readings of eight carefully selected films which were widely seen and controversially debated by GDR audiences, Dr. Rinke’s study contributes significantly to the understanding of the reasons behind the use of female characters to express criticism of life in the private and public spheres of former East Germany. Furthermore, it provides an illuminating insight into the complexities of film production in an authoritarian state ...” – (from the Preface) Dr. Horst Claus, University of the West of England

“Dr. Andrea Rinke was a pioneer in the study of the East German cinema – a topic that has now gained a central place in the broader field of German film studies. Dr. Rinke hunted down, examined, and familiarized herself with an extraordinarily large number of what were then decidedly inaccessible films ... The result is a study whose value lies not only in its exhaustive, original, and clearly-focused investigation of its title topic, but also its stimulating and perceptive readings of a series of key East German films, and in its thoughtful and revealing analyses of the theory and mechanisms of both film production and reception and cultural politics in the GDR. It also provides an essential basis for any further work in this field, with its wealth of bibliographical, filmographical, and archival material ...” – John Sandford, Professor Emeritus, University of Reading

“ ... One of the greatest strengths of this book is that the analysis of any given film is always related to the wider context of developments in East German cinema generally, as well as to specific aspects of cultural policy in the GDR. By choosing to focus on a series of key films from the 1970s and 1980s, the author has produced a study that is likely to become a key work of secondary literature for undergraduate students with interests in film and feminism ... This pioneering study is a timely addition to a field in which there is currently very little in the way of secondary literature for students with limited knowledge of German ...” – Dr. Seán Allan, University of Warwick

"Andrea Rinke’s study on the representation of women in East German cinema is a timely addition to a growing but still relatively small number of English-language books on DEFA, as the state-ownedand -controlled film production company of the erstwhile German Democratic Republic was called. Like comparable monographs, including Joshua Feinstein’s The Triumph of the Ordinary (2002) or Leonie Naughton’s That Was the Wild East (2002), Images of Women in East German Cinema is based on a PhD thesis. This is reflected in the focused approach this study takes: of the 750 feature films made by DEFA between 1946 and 1992, eight representative films are selected, all of which center on female protagonists and all of which were made between 1972 and 1982. Case studies include the East German cult film Die Legende von Paul und Paula, Solo Sunny as well as less well-known films made by DEFA’s few female directors Alle meine Mädchen and Das Fahrrad." - Prof. Daniela Berghahn, Royal Holloway, University of London for German Quarterly Book Reviews

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface by Horst Claus
I. Women on DEFA Screens: The Socio-Political Context
II. Socialist Models: Trying to Live by the Book
III. Rebels with a Cause: Shaping the Future
IV. Private Dreamers: Flights of Fantasy
V. Filming Women: Female Perspectives
Appendices 1-2

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