German Women Filmmakers

German 281, Fall 1996

Silke von der Emde
Vassar College
Monika Treut
Hamburg/New York

Until the 1970s there were hardly any women film directors in Germany. Today there are proportionally more than in any other film-making country, and their work has been extremely influential. Films made by German women directors since the mid-1970s present a body of work that cannot be ignored; nor for that matter can the work of Leni Riefenstahl in the 1930s, although no feminist would want to claim her work for Nazis as feminist film. Directors like Leontine Sagan, Helke Sander, Ulrike Ottinger, Jutta Brückner, Margarethe von Trotta, and Monika Treut have made a huge contribution to feminist film culture, but until now critics of the German Cinema have focused almost exclusively on male directors such as Lang, Fassbinder and Wenders. We will examine how restrictive social, economic, and institutional conditions have compounded the neglect of women directors. We will explore the principal characteristics of women's film-making, and ask about the importance of the women's movement for West German films by women, the concern with the notion of a "feminine aesthetic," women's entry into the mainstream, and the emergence of a so-called post-feminist cinema.

In this course, we will cover a wide variety of films. Politically, they range from the anti-authoritarian Girls in Uniform, made just before the Nazi era, to Marianne Rosenbaum's pacifist film Peppermint Peace (1983) made at the height of the West German peace movement, from Leni Riefenstahl's notorious propaganda film for the Nazis Triumph of the Will (1935) to Monika Treut's The Virgin Machine (1988) promoting sexual choice . In terms of style, they range from the relative conventional Marianne and Juliane (1981) by Margarethe von Trotta to the much more experimental director Helke Sander with her film REDUPERS (1977), and from Jutta Brückner's narrative film Years of Hunger (1979) to the surrealistic Ticket of No Return (1979) by Ulrike Ottinger.

Because we are fortunate enough to have film maker Monika Treut with us this semester, we will be focusing on her films, and we will be able to hear and learn more about the production side of German filmmaking. Ms. Treut will be an important resource for the course.

The course aims to examine the films within the larger socio-historical context in Germany. Since this is a culture studies course, we will analyze 20th century German history, politics, and culture by looking at German films. Films by German women directors make up a body of work that cannot be ignored in any discussion of German cinema. In turn, filmmaking by women in the 1970s and 1980s cannot be examined without taking into account feminism's "second wave" in Western Europe and the U.S. Nor can film theory be examined without looking at feminist film theory. In this course we will talk about the fundamentals of film analysis and contemporary film criticism, so that the formal structures of the films can be understood. By the end of the course, students should be able both to do a "close reading" of a film and to place it within the larger historical context defined by the aesthetic and political debates in West German society to which the films respond.

Silke von der Emde, CH 133
Tel.: x 5618
e-mail: vonderemde
Office Hours:
M: 2:30-3:30, Th 11:00-12:00
Monika Treut
Avery Hall

German 281: German Women Filmmakers

M, W: 11:30 - 12: 45

Week 1: September 2 - 4: INTRODUCTION
Brief Overview of German Film History
Read (for Wednesday)
bulletLesage, "Feminist Film Criticism: Theory and Practice"
bulletKnight, "The Absent Directors," pp. 1-21
Week 2: September 9 - 11: IS THE GAZE MALE ?
Josef von Sternberg, The Blue Angel (1930: 94 min)
bulletJosef von Sternberg, Fun in a Chinese Laundry (excerpts)
bulletJohnston, "Women's Cinema as Counter-Cinema"
Week 3: September 16 - 18: BODY POLITICS I: EARLY LESBIAN FILM ?
Sagan, Girls in Uniform (1931: 88 min.)
bulletR. Rich, "Repressive Tolerance to Erotic Liberation"
bulletA. Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality & Lesbian Experience"
Week 4: September 23 - 25: BODY POLITICS II: Sexual Choice
Monika Treut, The Virgin Machine (1988)
bulletKnight, ch. 6: "A Change in Direction" 150 - 172 , esp. 162-170
bulletColin Richardson, "Monika Treut: An Outlaw at Home"
bulletMayne, "Woman at the Keyhole"
Week 5 : September 30 - October 2: DOCUMENTARY
Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will (1935: 110 min)
bulletJ. Lesage, "Political Aesthetics of Feminist Documentary"
bulletR. Rich, "Leni Riefenstahl: The Deceptive Myth"
Week 6: October 7 - 9: DOCUMENTARY, BIOGRAPHY
Ray Müller, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl
bulletSusan Sontag, "Fascinating Fascism"
bulletMulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"
Week 7: October 14 - 16: the "Private/Public" Dichotomy
Helke Sander, The All-Round Reduced Personality (REDUPERS) (1977: 100 min)
bulletKnight, ch. 1: "Divided History";
bulletG&GC: Marc Silberman, "Interview"; and
bulletG&GC: Rich, "He Says, She Says: The Power of the Narrator in Modernist Film Politics"

October 18 - 27: FALL BREAK

Week 8: October 28 - 30: Representing History
Margarethe von Trotta, Marianne and Juliane (Die Bleierne Zeit) (1981: 106 min))
bulletKnight, ch. 5: "Is There a Feminist Aesthetic?" 122-149.
bulletG&GC: Barton Byg, "German History and Cinematic Convention Harmonized"
Week 9: November 4 - 6: Sexual Repression &the Cold War I
Jutta Brückner, Years of Hunger (1979: 114 min)
bulletKnight, ch. 3: The Women's Movement" 73-101, esp. 88-89.
bulletG&GC: Barbara Kosta, "Representing Female Sexuality";
bulletG&GC: Silberman, "Interview with Jutta Brückner"
Week 10: November 11 - 13:Sexual Repression &the Cold War II
Marianne Rosenbaum, Peppermint Peace (1983: 100 min)
bulletKnight, ch. 2: "Critical Reception," 51 - 69
bulletG&GC: Weinberger, "Marianne Rosenbaum and the Aesthetics of Angst"
Week 11: November 18 - 20:FEMINIST DOCUMENTARY
Helke Misselwitz, Goodbye Winter (1988: 115 min)
bulletRosenberg, "Goodbye to Winter: An Interview with Helke Misselwitz";
bulletJ. Lesage, "Political Aesthetics of Feminist Documentary"
Week 12: November 25 - 27: The Avant-garde Vision I
Ulrike Ottinger, Ticket of No Return (Bildnis einer Trinkerin) (1979: 100min)
bulletKnight, ch. 5: "Is There a Feminist Aesthetic?" 129-33;
bulletG&GC: Silberman, "Interview"; and
bulletG&GC:Hansen, "Visual Pleasure, ...: Interview with Ulrike Ottinger";
Week 13: December 2 - 4: The Avant-garde Vision II: "BAD GIRLS"
Monika Treut, Female Misbehavior (1992)
bulletCamille Paglia, Sexual Personae (excerpts);
bulletBell, Whore Carnival (excerpts)
Week 14: December 9: Course Summary and Conclusion(s)

Assigned Readings

bulletBordwell/Thompson, Film Art
bulletJulia Knight, Women and The New German Cinema
bulletArticles from Frieden, McCormick, Gender and German Cinema: Feminist Interventions (2 vols) (= G&GC; on reserve in the library)
bulletXeroxed articles and hand-outs to be distributed in class

Recommended Readings

bulletCorrigan, New German Film: The Displaced Image
bulletEisner, The Haunted Screen
bulletElsaesser, New German Cinema: A History
bulletFrieden, McCormick, et. al., Gender and German Cinema: Feminist Interventions (2 vols)
bulletGiannetti, Understanding Movies
bulletKracauer, From Caligari to Hitler
bulletKuhn, Women's Pictures: Feminism and Cinema
bulletMast and Cohen, eds, Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings
bulletNew German Critique 24-25 (Fall/Winter 1981-82)
bulletPflaum and Prinzler, Cinema in the Federal Republic of Germany
bulletPhillips, New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen Through the 1970s
bulletRentschler, West German Film in the Course of Time
bulletRentschler, ed. German Film and Literature: Adaptations and Transformations

These books can be found on reserve in the library.


  1. Short film reviews or discussion of the reading, aproximately 1 page each (typed), every Monday.
  2. Opening class discussion of film with one or more other students - at least once. You are asked to prepare background information on the film/the filmmaker, talk about importatnt issues the film raises, and prepare questions for the discussion.
  3. Midterm paper (essay based on sequence analysis); 5 pp. minimum.
  4. Final Examination: choice of short essay questions and identifications.

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