Engendering the GDR : DEFA cinema 1956-1966
This thesis examines four films made during two key phases in East German film history in the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s which have earned critical acclaim for their challenge to cultural-political orthodoxy and which I read as national narratives offering political, social, cultural and historical constructions of GDR identity. I argue that narrative representations of gender and sexuality serve in the films as a means towards negotiating between affirmation and critique. My analyses are informed by a wide range of other DEFA films. Chapter One sketches broader political and film-historical contexts. Chapter Two examines the role that gender discourse plays in differentiating East from West in the depiction of the frontier city of Berlin in Gerhard Klein's Berlin-Ecke Schonhauser. Chapter Three focuses on Konrad Wolf’s adaptation of Christa Wolfs novel Der geteilte Himmel. It shows how the film articulates competing views of the GDR, but instrumentalizes the female character ultimately to endorse socialist society in a divided Germany, and expresses her attachment to this new society in terms of a family-type relationship. Chapter Four examines how Frank Vogel's Denk bloss nicht, ich heule seeks to mediate between the 'national' past and present, using a triangular family plot. In Chapter Five, the analysis of Frank Beyer's Spur der Steine centres upon the role of a lone female in the film's reforming exploration of the overwhelmingly male collective, but shows how it leaves the status of sexuality - whether for pleasure or for reproductive ends - unresolved. There has been little in-depth study of the way gender representation relates to constructions of the GDR in films of this period. This study remedies this omission, showing how the film-makers frequently rely upon conservative gender paradigms to manage the contradictions implicit in their project and how the endings of the films increasingly come under strain.