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Halbstarke and Rowdys: Consumerism, Youth Rebellion, and Gender in the Postwar Cinema of the Two Germanys

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 August 2020

Priscilla Layne*
Affiliation:
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Abstract

In the second half of the 1950s, American films about “delinquent youth” took West Germany by storm. Although these films were not screened in East Germany, the still open border between the FRG and GDR allowed young people in both states to see these films. Many adopted American clothing styles and music in both Germanys. Two films, the West German production Die Halbstarken (1956) and the East German production Berlin–Ecke Schönhauser (1957) addressed “delinquent youth” in the German context and became quite popular. The article compares the competing images of femininity in both films, which linked the problem of “delinquent youth” to consumerism, pop culture, and “weak parents,” but portrayed young women very differently. While consumerism in the West German film was in a gender-specific way linked to femininity, the East German film linked consumerism to a class society and displaced it to the West. Contemporary film reviews and press treatment of main actresses reflected these differing attitudes toward gender and consumption.

In der zweiten Hälfte der 1950er Jahre eroberten amerikanische Filme über „auffällige Jugendliche“ Westdeutschland im Sturm. Obwohl diese Filme im Osten nicht gezeigt wurden, konnten dank der noch offenen Grenze, junge Menschen aus beiden Staaten diese Filme sehen. Als Folge kopierten viele Jugendliche im Osten wie Westen den amerikanischen Kleidungs- und Musikstil. Zwei Filme, die westdeutsche Produktion Die Halbstarken (1956) und die ostdeutsche Produktion Berlin–Ecke Schönhauser (1957), thematisierten das „Jugendproblem“ im deutschen Kontext und wurden schnell populär. Dieser Beitrag vergleicht die konkurrierenden Bilder von Weiblichkeit in beiden Filmen, die das Problem der „delinquenten Jugend“ gleichermaßen mit Konsumismus, Popkultur und „schwachen Eltern“ in Verbindung brachten, dabei jedoch junge Frauen sehr unterschiedlich porträtierten. Während der westdeutsche Film das Konsumverhalten in geschlechterspezifischer Weise mit „Weiblichkeit“ verknüpfte, verband der ostdeutsche Film Konsum mit der Klassengesellschaft und verlagerte ihn in den Westen. Zeitgenössische Filmkritiken und die Behandlung der Hauptdarstellerinnen beider Filme in der Presse spiegelen diese unterschiedlichen Haltungen zu Geschlecht und Konsum wider.

Type
Article
Copyright
Copyright © Central European History Society of the American Historical Association, 2020

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References

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7 The screenplay for Die Halbstarken was written by Tressler and Will Tremper and produced by the Inter West Film GmbH; and the 1957 East German DEFA movie Berlin–Ecke Schönhauser was based on a screenplay by Wolfgang Kohlhaase.

8 Alexandra Seibel does a comparative study on rebellion, consumerism, and gender comparing West Germany with Austria, but does not mention East Germany. See Seibel, Alexandra, “The Imported Rebellion: Criminal Guys and Consumerist Girls in Postwar Germany and Austria,” in Youth Culture in Global Cinema, ed. Shary, Timothy and Seibel, Alexandra (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), 2736Google Scholar.

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30 Heiduschke, “Authority, Mobility and Teenage Rebellion,” 284. In a West German distribution letter explaining the film's plot, initially Jan's father is simply unemployed and he and his mother support the household. This suggests that in the initial script Tressler intended to make Jan's father seem even weaker. Inter West Film GmbH. Inhaltsangabe. Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Frankfurt a.M. (DN) (12470 Microfilm).

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