DEFA Film Library
at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Cinema of East Germany
The Land Beyond the Rainbow (1991, Dir. Herwig Kipping, director’s cut) was screened with a new 35mm print and – for the first time - with English subtitles during the WENDE FLICKS premiere in Los Angeles. Reinhild Steingröver from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester introduced the world premiere of the English subtitled print of the film at the UCLA James Bridges Theater on March 6, 2009:
Herwig Kipping was born in
in Meyen and studied first mathematics, then film in Babelsberg. He
was considered early on an unusual talent but also something of an
enfant terrible at DEFA. Kipping hoped to reach
his unconventional fare by educating them towards new sensory
experiences. Consciousness about pressing social-political issues of
GDR life in his opinion would not be raised through didactic
socialist realist films but by re-introducing the poetic element into
film. Fittingly, two of his three completed full-length feature films
focus on the life and work of Romantic poets, Novalis and Hölderlin,
while the yet unrealized projects include completed scripts on Heine,
Nietzsche, and Meister Eckhart. Kipping labels his film-aesthetic
approach “magical idealism,” emphasizing the need to elevate
visuals, metaphorical elements and poetic language over conventional
narrative structures and language. The young director openly rejected
the dominant socialist realism at DEFA in his 1982 diploma thesis
Poesie und Film, a study of the films of the Russian
avant-garde: Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovzhenko and Tarkovsky. He
alludes to the formalism debate of earlier decades when he demands
the primacy of form over content: “The poetic principle in film
consists of utilizing all aesthetic means to produce images that
express the subjective position of the director, his values, his
opinion, his inner disposition, thoughts, feelings, moods for an
allegorical depiction of a conflict, which cannot be solved
practically or logically” (Kipping, 202/203). Kipping’s diploma
film Hölderlin reflects this approach very well
reliance on the suggestive power of visual collage led to
difficulties within the school and by extension in the studio. His
film was only screened in small circles for select audiences (not on
television, as was customary for diploma films) and then quickly
stored away, while the director himself was reassigned to work in the
TV studio, where his next documentary project on a brigade of roofers
earned him a disciplinary party investigation and final dismissal.
Hommage á Hölderlin generated a very different
the few critics who were able to see the film, summarized in
exemplary fashion by Helmut Ullrich: “This is the type of film
lyricism, of which the great Hungarian film theorist Bela Balázs has
once dreamt.” (Miltschitzky, 33)
After several years of isolation and inability to work in film or television in the GDR he received a second chance in form of a scholarship to develop a film about his childhood in a GDR village during the early 1950s. Begun in 1986 under the title Schaukelpferd im Regen (Rocking Horse in the Rain) this project allowed him to conduct interviews with family and friends in Meyen to research the perceptions of ordinary GDR citizens during the early days of socialism. But under the existing DEFA conditions the film would have never found backing in the studio. Archaic images of grotesque violence, widespread corruption and the religious iconography used to depict Stalinist policies made the film untenable.
Only after the collapse of the GDR regime was Kipping able to use funding from the newly established production group “DaDaeR,” in 1990 to realize his script, now under the title Land hinter dem Regenbogen (The Land beyond the Rainbow). Funds in the group were limited, in fact only three films could be produced: The Land behind the Rainbow, Latest from the Da-Da-R (1990, Dir. Jörg Foth) and Banal Days (1990, Dir. Peter Welz). The head of the production group “DaDaeR,” Thomas Wilkening justified the production of The Land beyond the Rainbow in the following way to the studio:
If Kipping should have a chance to test his unquestionably remarkable talent in feature film, then this can only occur through our production group with its special conditions. These special conditions were after all created out of the recognition that an entire generation of GDR filmmakers had been prevented from realizing their own projects and that the views of an entire generation remain unheard. There will not be too many opportunities to make up for lost time. Our group is of the opinion, that Kipping’s material is especially suited to make an important contribution in this process.
Without interference by studio officials, Kipping set out to explore the roots of the socialist society that he grew up in. He provides a glimpse of his intentions through the selections of texts by authors such as Buñuel, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Hölderlin, Tarkovsky and Rilke for the film’s press kit. In an excerpt from Buñuel’s autobiographical My Last Sigh, for example, we read: “We deny our history and invent, make up a new one. We are afraid of what we have done. Subconsciously we sense our guilt and deny it.”
The film opened to mixed reviews typical for the period: West German critics reacted with bafflement or open hostility while East German critics were stunned by the radical aesthetic departure from what they had come to expect from DEFA in the 1980s. DEFA scholar Rolf Richter described the cathartic nature of Kipping’s film:
This film stands at the end of a film historic period and asks questions about the new beginning. I sensed, that the film might one day become a document for the turmoil of the times, for the tension, the liberation, the involvement, the distortions, and especially for the newly awakened desire for creative opposition, for eye opening art, which we wanted to pursue from now on because we had to make do without it and had fought for it for so long.
The Land beyond the Rainbow demonstrates Kipping’s deep-seated skepticism of all ideologies through its disjointed cinematic format. The film powerfully unleashes years of pent-up frustration over the inability to create poetic images—be they beautiful or horrific. Antje Vollmer, who was instrumental in nominating Kipping’s film for the German Film Prize in 1992, called the director an “aesthetic anarchist.” The film won the silver medal, thus giving the director funds for his new project: Novalis.
Despite his critical acclaim in the immediate post-wall years Kipping’s transition into the new Germany has not been smooth. His numerous applications for film funding on his Nietzsche, Heine and Eckhart projects have remained unsuccessful.
In the summer of 2005 he organized a private screening of a newly edited and expanded DVD version of The Land beyond the Rainbow at the Babylon cinema in Berlin. The new 2 1/2 hour version contained mostly material taped from commercial television as well as computer generated images that attempted to make the film less Wende-specific and more universal. Kipping was eager to discuss the old and new version with his audience and readily admitted the improvised character of the new film. Interestingly, Kipping was utterly unconcerned about his process of recycling prefabricated media images, the visual always already of our commercialized viewing habits. Mostly, he said, he needed to create new images and made do with what was available to him. The director now again without funds to create his own visual collages thus reverts to found images, i.e. pre-existing television images of the Iraq war from the news broadcasts and of Stalin from the History Channel and basic technology in order to remain productive, in motion.
Kipping’s The Land beyond the Rainbow remains as a meditation over false beginnings and the uses and abuses of ideologies while its fragmentary form reflects the programmatic expression of disconnectedness in every sense of the word.
Enjoy the film.
Reinhild Steingröver teaches German and film studies at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and focuses on contemporary German and Austrian film and literature. She co-edited After the Avant-garde: Engagements with Contemporary German and Austrian Experimental Film and is completing a book on Last Features: DEFA's Lost Generation.
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