Table of Contents
Defining the Intentions of Producers
Film and Youth
DEFA's Sci-Fi: Attack on USA and the West?
Determining Success: Initial vs. Long-term Tendencies
When one thinks of DEFA films, two things can be certain. First, the images of science-fiction—talking robots, space expeditions to Venus, and nuclear warfare—do not come to mind. Second, because its productions contain such large quantities of SED propaganda, they are painful to watch. The DEFA film, Der Schweigende Stern is, however, an interesting case. Produced in 1960, it was not only the first science-fiction DEFA film ever made, but it was also the most expensive. The film has been characterized as suffering from “ideological overkill” and praised as “a fascinating example of GDR popular culture” —but is this all there is to it? Steinle writes that we can find a genuine appreciation for this and other DEFA films beyond the simplistic role of ideological propaganda; we can uncover the tight threads that held together the society of the German Democratic Republic. Similarly, Blessing argues that there was much more to GDR society (including its cinemas) than just a government who tightly controlled and manipulated its citizens; there is an endless amount that we can learn from DEFA films. I want to contribute to this new field by discovering new connexions and meanings.
This paper will provide a thorough analysis of Der Schweigende Stern. I argue that this film is reactionary. To do so, I look at the intentions of DEFA producers when making this film, and I analyze the ways in which the movie responds to western (primarily American) capitalist culture during the Cold War. I then discuss the overall success of the film and reflect if it still has any relevance today, some twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the Wende, and the complete disappearance of the German Democratic Republic from the world map.
Defining the Intentions of Producers
If the purpose of Der Schweigende Stern was to be a reaction, then to what was this exactly responding? Let me discuss a few ideas. Obviously, the GDR needed to entertain its citizens. “Entertainment is a guiding principle in the making and receiving of the arts and media”. Since entertainment is a definition determined by the people —they decide what is “good”—it made sense that the GDR’s film company, DEFA, wanted to create films that people in the GDR would like. The dwindling numbers who watched DEFA films at the theatre made this even more essential. Moreover, DEFA had to compete for viewers with American and West German films. In an attempt to gain back these viewers, DEFA entered a science-fiction film experiment. This genre would not be about tackling realistic problems, such as unemployment, adequate housing, or sexual equality; it would be about thrilling or entertaining the audience and, consequently, winning them back from the glamour of western science-fiction film. Vieth writes that “the sight of the rocket ship taking off, the jettisoning of its booster equipment to the near doom of the ship; the flight of meteors that endanger the adventurers; the use of colour for the Martian sequences…are among the calculated means used to thrill”. Indeed, these are the exact exhilarating images we see in Der Schweigende Stern: the Kosmokrator space shuttle races through a meteor shower in outer space; once the expedition has landed on Venus, we see a very eerie landscape in all sorts of odd purple and orange colours with some sort of substance—possibly lightning—blowing through the air. Again, the scene where the astronauts are almost consumed by a lava-like substance until it is suddenly blasted away by the shooting of a gun is an example of “to thrill”, which is still impressive by today’s standards. Even during the beginning casting credits of the film, Andrzej Markowski’s screechy music creates immediate suspense.
But Der Schweigende Stern was not only going to entertain: it was also going to legitimize socialism for the future. “[Entertainment] responds to real needs created by society […] That is, while entertainment is responding to needs that are real, at the same time it is also defining and delimiting what constitute the legitimate needs of people in this society”. The GDR wanted to use science-fiction film to help show its citizens what they could expect in the future for their socialist nation. Prognostik was the term used by GDR academia to foresee the coming challenges that the GDR would face and have to overcome. According to von Braun & Jürgens, showing that some hurdles would exist in the future—that things would not be completely utopic—would make the GDR’s socialist goals more believable. This was also true for science-fiction film. The existence of problems would “actively involve the viewer in the process of envisioning a communist future”. GDR citizens would need to work together to reach their shared collective goals; this would not just happen.
In Der Schweigende Stern, we see several examples of this mix. The film brings a sense of reality, so viewers believe that it presents a possible future. All things happen close to home. The Earth is actually endangered, and we see realistic scenes of the Gobi Desert and mountainous Siberia. There is also a connection made with the discovery of the cylinder containing the message from the Venusians and a 1908 meteor crater in Siberia.
The Prognostik is also evident in the film because not everything is perfect in the future and requires improvement. Upon discovery of a cylinder containing a message in an unknown language from the Venusians, scientists are unable to decipher the message despite the existence of a machine that can translate into and read any language. Similarly, Kosmokrator is a high-speed shuttle that brings the astronauts to Venus without a driver (it has auto-pilot), but it is not fast enough to miss a meteor shower. Also, in the concluding scene, Hawling, the American nuclear scientist who participates in the expedition to Venus, looks directly into the camera and engages the audience, stating that we must ensure that the Earth is peaceful before exploring life on other planets. Technology is only good if it creates harmony for humanity; without this function, there is no future.
 Fritzsche, 2006, p.374
 Ibid, 2004, p.681
 Soldovieri, 1998, p.394
 Fritzsche, 2004, p.682
 2008, p.615
 2010, p.236
 Ibid, pp.245-246
 Dyer, 2002, p.1
 Ibid, p.6
 Steinle, 2008, p.619
 Hellmann, 1983, p.11
 Fritzsche, 2006, p.373
 Vieth, 2001, p.39
 Dyer, 2002, p.26
 Fritzsche, 2006, p.367
 1959, p.60
 Fritzsche, 2006, p.368
- Quote paper
- Ryan Solcz (Author), 2010, DEFA's "Der Schweigende Stern" - a Successful Reaction?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/193436