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‘Only one noble topic remained: the workers.’: sympathy, subtlety and subversion in East German documentary films

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/01/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Studies in Eastern European Cinema
Issue number1
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)49-63
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


That the workers and working life should have been a regular topic of representation in East German film, documentary film in particular, is no surprise given the significance of the worker in the state's self-understanding as the ‘first socialist state on German soil’. This article considers the role of the worker in East German film before focusing on those directors whose representations of workers either directly challenged or subtly undermined the state's preferred presentation. While many films used the worker in order to legitimise the state as the dictatorship of the proletariat and to promote a worker's consciousness in the German Democratic Republic, some filmmakers were more interested in de-anonymising their subjects, looking past the working environment to portray the worker as an individual, not an ideologically coded figure. The article looks in particular at a selection of films made by Jürgen Böttcher, including Drei von vielen/Three of Many (1960), Stars (1963) and Rangierer/Shunters (1981), and argues that some of Böttcher's portraits are simultaneously sympathetic and subversive, looking at both form (audiovisual composition) and content (in particular his focus on leisure, on individualism). Finally, I argue that the later films demonstrate the politics of silence and reflect on the implications of abandoning both voiceover and minimising dialogue.