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The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2002.
DEFA = Das Ende fur Alle = 'Dead End for All' (creatively translated)
At cinematic calamity in Germany forms the core of Leonie Naughton's book, which traces the collapse of a national/ regional film studio, the Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA), in Babelsberg, a suburb in the town of Potsdam, just off the bottom left-hand corner of Berlin. The Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft was the direct heir of the legendary UFA studios from the Weimar Republic and thus the major counter-weight to the Bavaria Studios in Munich. The studio served the Nazis, of course, but after 1945 the Russians ensured that production continued. So UFA begat DEFA as the state film-maker of the former East Germany, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). That regime imploded so spectacularly one night in November 1989, when the fall of the Berlin Wall became a surreal stage for some of the greatest TV documentary theatre of the last century.
To open her account and analysis, Naughton states a basic premise:
Considering that 'all [complex societies] periodically rewrite their dominant national mythology to reflect shifts of power, political expediency and taste [and] the past is a central battleground for the contestation of cultural identities' (Welsh, Pickel and Rosenberg, 123), in the context of unification, film functions as a means of rewriting the past and redefining or consolidating cultural identity (p.22).
Naughton presents the collapse of DEFA as an allegory for the entire Abwicklung, the winding down and the winding up of so much of the industry, social fabric, infrastructure, culture and identity of the 'other' Germany, the poor relation of the Bundesrepublik in the West. Over this, she becomes personally engaged:
Once again, it was suggested to me that only 'foreigners' or East Germans would be concerned about the fate of eastern film culture in a unified Germany. This 'assertion led to an imaginary point of identification with Ossis on my part, one that is evident at numerous points throughout this book (pp.3-4).
Fortunately, she does not suffer from extreme Ostalgie '([n]ostalgia for the East)' (p.19), a particularly German 'retro' cult of things GDR, which has arisen in the late '90s and reflects, beyond the stylistic in-joke, a nostalgic yearning among some in the East for an ostensibly simpler time of social security and …