GDR Underground Films | Chicago Reader

GDR Underground Films

In the 1980s, long after “underground” movies had made their way into college courses, scholarly tomes, and even commercial theaters, East Germans were making real outlaw cinema—worrying that labs would notice the nudity in their footage or that secret police would recognize their films' subversive content (some works mysteriously disappeared). Originally shown on celluloid, they were seldom printed and today are screened on video, and because the artists had no access to contemporary experimental cinema their inspiration often came from Cocteau, Eisenstein, or surrealist classics like Un chien andalou. The films on this program offer a fascinating alternative to the prevailing avant-garde, their surrealism less Freudian than antiauthoritarian. In Cornelia Klauss's narrative Samuel (1984) figures await a train that never arrives, while a playful child draws the attention of sinister-looking men. Thomas Frydetzki's Little Angel (1985) is a heterogeneous grab bag of kaleidoscopelike abstractions and photos of trauma victims (it cuts from a man skinning a rabbit to a penis being masturbated). The most intriguing, Gino Hahnemann's September, September (1986), has a voice repeating the same short text in different tones: “Movement is power. . . . I. We. Film.” Some images repeat too, suggesting a film struggling to be born but trapped by the limitations of culture, or perhaps of words and images themselves. Also showing: works by Lutz Dammbeck, Thomas Werner, Volker Lewandowy, Tohm di Roes, Cornelia Schleime, Ramona Koeppel-Welsh, and Claus Löser, who curated the program. 94 min.

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