Screened over January 8-30, 2009 on Facets DVD on flight en route to Tokyo, Japan, in Taipei, Taiwan, on flight en route to Newark NJ, and in Weehawken NJ
It would be fascinating to see a compendium of landmarks in the history of television series from around the world, if only to discern any common themes or aesthetic approaches among them. Two qualities that I associate with television – intimacy and duration – lend themselves well to novelistic narratives that sprawl across time and space and yet stay trained on conversations and seemingly small moments that unfold into the next, and whose implications may take several episodes to fully register (yes I’m looking at you, The Wire). Such is the case with Heimat, a 15 hour series made for German television that covers a 63-year period from the end of World War I to the early 80s. Set in a quiet town in the picturesque pastoral Hunsruck valley, the film reconsiders – and ultimately renews – the heimat movie genre that celebrated a nostalgic German ideal of rustic home life, frankly depicting a provincialism among its denizens that compelled them to comply with the Nazi regime.
The film succeeds, especially over the first half of the series leading to World War II, in resurrecting a bygone way of life simply through quietly observed details – the sound of the blacksmith’s anvil, the cumbersome lugging of a phonograph to an outdoor picnic – that fill the frame with textural authenticity. Family members come and go, and – like most great television series – the evolution of their relationships with each other is a major source of captivation. As both individual and collective fortunes rise and fall, the response of each distinctly defined family member to the prevailing mores of each successive era accumulates into an awesome genealogical tapestry. While stuffed with dramatic incident, to its credit the series never succumbs to melodramatic excess, with nary a brawl or screaming match in sight; instead we get lingering resentments or quiet acts of abandonment, the accumulation of which leads to the spiritual disintegration of the clan and the way of life they’ve held dear. Its insistent focus on small, in-between moments is a key to its persuasive effect of life in the act of being lived.
At first it’s puzzling to think that, despite the vivid, meticulous detail of ethnographic reconstruction of early 20th century small town life to behold, one can criticize the film, as many have, for holding a blinkered view of German history. Reitz barely makes mention of the Holocaust, though he does obliquely depict pre-War anti-Semitism and one Marxist family member being rounded up for re-education. His aim is to show life as it was lived and perceived by everyday rural middle class Germans, who implicitly stand in for the soul of the nation. Not unlike Forrest Gump, this approach yields a narrow, even self-satisfied approach to understanding the social forces that shaped the world around these people.
My other complaint with Heimat is that in its last few episodes it loses its focus on capturing the fabric of everyday life, instead succumbing to a dour view of present-day society presumably corrupted by the disposable values of American capitalism (symbolized by one family member who runs away to the US to become a millionaire). In this sense it truly is a heimat film, marked as it is by a comforting, restorative nostalgia for a past; this despite initially cataloging the many shortcomings of that era. It’s just ironic that a film that ultimately declares itself as a statement on behalf of meticulous authenticity against superficial product ends up compromising its own claims to the former in trying to rail against the latter.
Would you like to learn more?
The following citations were counted towards the placement of Heimat among the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:
Callisto Cosulich, Sight & Sound (1992)
Hans Gunther Pflaum, Steadycam (2007)
John Pym, Time Out (1995)
Kathleen Murphy, Steadycam (2007)
Philip Haas, Sight & Sound (2002)
Richard Barkley, John Kobal Book (1988)
Tom Abell, PopcornQ (1997)
Film (Eyewitness Companions) Top 100 Movies (2006)
Halliwell’s Top 1000 Films (2005)
John Kobal Poll John Kobal Presents The Top 100 Movies (1988)
Michael Wilmington 100 Best Films of the Century (1999)
New York Times The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (2004)
Sight & Sound Fistful of Five: The New German Cinema (2006)
The Guardian 1,000 Films to See Before You Die (2007)
They Shoot Pictures Highly Recommended Films
From the first site, here’s an account of the film’s historical reception in the United States:
Unlike the films of Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog, Reitz’s HEIMAT and DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT remain largely ignored in the United States. Undoubtedly the intimidating length and foreign language have had much to do with this neglect, however even within the rather specialized world of cinema critics and foreign film addicts, the works of Edgar Reitz are seldom cited. Now with its release on video in the United States it is possible HEIMAT will find the audience in America that has ignored it for the past twelve years.
HEIMAT received two national American television broadcasts: the first on the limited Bravo cable network in 1985 and the second on PBS during the fall of 1987. When I inquired of one of the programmers of Boston’s WGBH (the sponsoring PBS affiliate) why HEIMAT was never rebroadcast, I was told, “Very simple: no one watched it.” The PBS stations that did chose to pick it up broadcast HEIMAT in non-prime time schedules; in Boston it was shown at 11 PM or midnight on Saturday nights.
Prior to its broadcast incarnation in America HEIMAT also received very limited theatrical distribution. (Here it had a theater screening at Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art.) However unlike the nearly unanimous favorable critical reception in Europe, HEIMAT received a number of attacks by a few noted critics, criticism that has apparently colored the reception to the film in the United States in the years since 1985.
In particular essays by J. Hoberman, “Once in a Reich Time” in The Village Voice (16 April 1985) and Timothy Garton Ash, “The Life of Death” in The New York Review of Books (19 December 1985), both took HEIMAT to task for excluding important aspects of German history during the period of National Socialism. As part of his attack Ash wrote:
“When you show the 1930s as a golden age of prosperity and excitement in the German countryside, when you are shown the Germans as victims of the war, then you inevitably find yourself asking: But what about the other side? What about Auschwitz? Where is the director’s moral judgment? To which the color filters insistently reply: ‘Remember, remember, this is a film about what Germans remember. Some things they remember in full color. Some in sepia. Others they prefer to forget. Memory is selective. Memory is partial. Memory is amoral.’
With this simple trick, Reitz manages to escape from the chains that have weighed down most German artistic treatments of twentieth-century German history. ‘We try to avoid making judgments,’ he writes. Not for him the agonizing directorial evenhandedness, the earnest formulations of guilt, responsibility, or shame. Not for him the efforts to ‘come to terms with’ or ‘master’ the past. Not ‘Vergangenheitsbewaltigung.’ Not Bitburg. Just memory and forgetting.”
In part it seems Reitz and his publicists may have brought this on themselves. When introduced in America, HEIMAT was described as “the German answer to NBC’s HOLOCAUST.” After these early reviews, the difficulty of actually locating a screening or airing of the film and the time investing while watching it deflected all but the most curious viewers.
Were one to search for literature on HEIMAT in an American library, there is little available. Two of the few scholarly books on German cinema currently available in America, FROM HITLER TO HEIMAT: The Return of History as Film by Anton Kaes (Harvard, 1989) and NAZI-RETRO FILM: How German Narrative Cinema Remembers the Past by Robert C. Reimer and Carol J. Reimer (Twayne, 1992), both cite Hoberman and Ash.
In addition Anton Kaes in his lengthy chapter, “Germany a Memory,” points out the “near total exclusion of the Holocaust” from HEIMAT. “Five of the eleven episodes (episodes 3-7 ) take place during the Third Reich, and the second episode includes the year 1933. Three segments deal with the years before the war (1935, 1938, 1938-39), while two concentrate on the war at home and on the front (‘The Home Front,’ 1943 and ‘Soldier’s Love,’ 1944).
Almost half of the film, a chronicle spanning sixty-three years of German history from 1919 to 1982, takes place during the twelve years of Hitler’s regime; thus more narrative time is granted in HEIMAT to the exploration and visualization of the causes, progress, and consequences of German fascism than in most full-length feature films or documentaries on National Socialism.” Like Ash, Kaes finds Reitz’s failure to directly address the social and political origins of the Nazi past a fundamental, if not, corrupt flaw in the film.
A more reasoned American critical response can be found in Thomas Elsaesser’s NEW GERMAN CINEMA: A History (Rutgers University Press, 1989).
Appropriately, the catalyst for Heimat was a cliche-ridden American TV miniseries called Holocaust that Reitz saw on television in the late-1970s, which he felt traduced German history in the Nazi era. At the time, Reitz had retreated to the North Sea island of Sylt in order to write poetry. He had ostensibly given up his career in cinema – one that started with a bang when his debut Mahlzeiten (Mealtimes), a love story about a couple that ends with the man’s suicide, won the best first film award at Venice in 1967. Like Fassbinder and Herzog, he seemed to be a titan of the new German cinema. By the late-1970s, though, he appeared to be washed up: critically mauled for his 1978 film, The Tailor of Ulm, deep in debt and out of ideas. He vowed never to make another film. Snowed-in at his island retreat, however, he watched TV and saw something that revolted him back into film-making.
The sentimentalism of the Holocaust series made him reflect on German history, but also on his own biography. Reitz had been born in 1932 in a Rhineish village called Morbach, leaving home at 19 in order to pursue an artistic career. He had thus rejected his Heimat, a German word that means homeland, connoting one’s spiritual roots, but that also signifies a place of innocence and childhood security. As with many of the characters in Heimat, he often felt an unfulfillable desire to return.
He started to make notes. Soon Reitz had a 250-page draft story set in a fictionalised version of his own village. He collaborated with writer Peter Steinbach, and that story became a 2,000-page screenplay. Released in 1984, Heimat 1 began with a young soldier, Paul Simon, walking home in 1919 from the battlefields of France, ostensibly to resume his life at his father’s blacksmith’s. But Paul casts off the stuffiness of his destiny: one day, despite having a wife and two young children, he leaves – and fetches up on Ellis Island.
Reitz was keen, in making his drama, to overthrow the traditional German genre of Heimat sagas that had focused invariably on German village life, and that had been used by the Nazis to romanticise the country’s past. The genre had been revived during the 1950s when, as an anti dote to the so-called Trümmerfilme, or “rubble films”, Heimat films became popular, if conservative, celebrations of Germany’s rustic past. “When I chose the title it was, of course, an important debate with the use of the term Heimat,” says Reitz. “I was countering two things – the pseudo-folklore form of Heimat used by the tourist industry, and its ideological use during the Nazi period. It was hard work to clean the term from the burden of history.” How did he try to do that? “What I tried to achieve is a realism of observation. It’s important not to be sentimental or engage in ideological preconceptions of one kind or another because all you achieve when you do that is put one ideology against another ideology.”
For some sceptics, he did not succeed. Critic Leonie Naughton accused Reitz of having created a “bourgeois history of the Third Reich, a homespun tale of innocence”. How does Reitz respond to claims that his work is reactionary and bourgeois? “These definitions are now outmoded,” he argues. “In the 1960s and 1970s they were used as weapons, but now there are more important truths than these ideological truths. In life there are certain things that are important. They are a house, family, emotional connections through love. In all eras, all cultures have these things and that means if I tell a story using these things they can be understood worldwide. That’s why Heimat has not just been a German phenomenon but something that has been watched and understood around the world.”
- Stuart Jeffries, The UK Guardian
EDGAR REITZ’S ”HEIMAT” is a cinematic event, if not quite a masterpiece. It’s a massive, nearly 16-hour chronicle of life in Germany, from 1919 to 1982, as reflected in the fluctuating fortunes of the members of one family, initially peasant-farmers, in the fictitious village of Schabbach in the Rhineland. As literature, ”Heimat” bears the same relationship to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s magnificent, equally long adaptation of Alfred Doblin’s ”Berlin Alexanderplatz” that Herman Wouk’s ”Winds of War” bears to Thomas Mann’s ”Buddenbrooks.”
In spite of its length, ”Heimat” is immensely, easily watchable, a succession of mostly ordinary events and characters – history seen from ground level – vividly acted by a huge cast. It is, most of the time, a work of imagination and feeling, a real achievement for Mr. Reitz, who conceived the project, wrote it, with Peter Steinbach, and then directed it, with the backing of German television interests.
As the stoicism and peasant manners of the people of Schabbach give way to the easier expression of emotions and even to a kind of middle-class sophistication, the style of the film becomes more complex. ”Heimat” never looks like a television movie. It is beautifully photographed by Gernott Roll. Unlike television films, it does not place the most important information at the center of the image, in tight close-up. ”Heimat” looks big.
Mr. Reitz switches back and forth between images in black and white, or monochrome, and images in full color. Sometimes he will print a scene entirely in black and white with only isolated objects – in one case, the brilliant red of the Nazi banners -seen in color. Occasionally, this is quite marvelous – it has the esthetic effect of physical movement. At other times, though, it seems to be redundant or just self-conscious, which is also the case with some of the references to Great Moments of History.
Mr. Reitz is not a firm, original stylist like Mr. Fassbinder, whose films – even ”Berlin Alexanderplatz” – are breathtakingly concise. On the evidence of ”Heimat,” Mr. Reitz is a looser sort of film maker, but he is certainly an organizer, and ”Heimat” has a broad vision and a leisurely manner rarely seen in anybody else’s movies.
- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, April 6 1985
When Heimat was shown in Germany it was a major media event, surpassed only by the television screening of the American miniseries Holocaust in 1979. In fact, the genesis of Heimat lay in its director Edgar Reitz’s reaction to Holocaust. Reitz accused Holocaust of reducing the misery caused by the Nazis to a “welcome background spectacle for a sentimental family story,” of trivializing German history and, indeed, of willfully expropriating it for simplistic, entertainment purposes. He argued that what Germans needed to do was to take “narrative possession of our past” thus “breaking free of the world of judgments and dealing with it through art.” The way to do this, he argued, was to tell stories: “there are thousands of stories among our people worth filming, which are based on endless minutiae of experience. These stories individually rarely seem to contribute to the evaluation and explanation of history, but taken together they could compensate for this lack. We should no longer forbid ourselves to take our personal lives seriously.” The source of the problem is, of course, the Nazi past: “we Germans have a hard time with our stories. It is our own history that is in our way. The year 1945, the nation’s ‘zero hour,’ wiped out a lot, created a gap in people’s ability to remember. As Mitscherlich put it, an entire people has been made ‘unable to mourn.’ In our case that means ‘unable to tell stories’ because our memories are obstructed by the great historical events they are connected with. Even now, 40 years after the war, we are still troubled by the weight of moral judgments, we are still afraid that our little personal stories could recall our Nazi past and remind us of our mass participation in the Third Reich. . . . Our film, Heimat, consists of these suppresed or forgotten little stories. It is a chronicle of both a family and a village and is an attempt of sorts to revive memories. . . .We try to avoid making judgements.”
Reaction to the film in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, was extremely positive. It was only when Heimat was shown in the United States that the negative opinions which had been expressed in Germany gained a wider hearing. In the light of the above this should not have been surprising; as Thomas Elsaesser noted, calling a German film Heimat was a “calculated provocation and was bound to be controversial.” Likewise Anton Kaes: “scenes of provincial life are never innocent in Germany.”
According to its critics, Heimat‘s main problems lie as much in what it does not show as what it does. The argument here is one leveled against any broadly realist text, namely, that it cannot escape from the mental horizons of its protagonists. The same criticism can be leveled at some versions of the “history from below” mentioned earlier. Major political events and wider economic factors, which undoubtedly have their influences on individual private lives, are ignored or glossed over because that is what the characters themselves do. This might matter rather less if that history did not include the Third Reich. Indeed, almost half of the film takes place in the years 1933–45. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garten Ash stated: “when you show the 1930s as a golden age of prosperity and excitement in the German countryside, when you are shown Germans as victims of the war, then you inevitably find yourself asking: But what about the other side? What about Auschwitz?” Or as one of the film’s sternest critics, Gertrud Koch, has it: “in order to tell the myth of ‘Heimat,’ the trauma of Auschwitz had to be shut out of the story.” The Third Reich seems almost to take place off screen, and when Nazi activities are presented (which is not often) it’s in a curiously elliptical fashion and usually without much explanation— on the grounds, presumably, that this is how they were actually experienced by the characters. Accommodation with the Nazi regime is shown largely as comical, or merely opportunistic, or as the result of seduction of one form or another. Admittedly one or two characters— a Jew, a Communist—disappear, but no one seems to show the slightest curiosity about this. Again, all this might matter less were it not for the historical fact that the countryside was extraordinarily important to the National Socialists ideologically, politically and economically, and found a good deal of support amongst the peasantry. Reitz himself has said that to have taken on the Jewish question would have “overburdened the narrative” and that “the story would have immediately taken a different turn.” He has also argued that there were very few Jews in the Hunsruck and that people there were largely ignorant of Nazi genocide.
Unease about the representation of the Third Reich period is further compounded by the way in which postwar, modern Germany is shown. In short, it appears to be downhill all the way, and the main villain here is definitely America. (One begins to see why it was in America that misgivings about the film were voiced). But this is only the most extreme instance of a process throughout the film whereby no good comes from events, influences or people outside the Edenic, pastoral idyll of the Hunsruck. This comes dangerously close to a reactionary agrarian romanticism with disturbing similarities to the “Blood and Soil” ideology; moreover, it also seems to suggest that all of Germany’s contemporary problems, whether it’s the despoilation of the countryside or people’s inability to connect with their past, can be laid at the door of the Americans, thereby neatly letting the past 100 years of German capitalism (in which the Third Reich and the “Wirtschaftswunder” were both highly significant episodes) neatly off the historical hook.
—Julian Petley, Film Reference.com
Edgar Reitz’s 15-hour film is an attempt to restore a sense of continuity to 20th-century German history by presenting 63 years, from 1919 to 1982, in the life of Schabbach, a small village in the Hunsruck region. The chief characters are the members of the Simon family–the grandfather is a blacksmith, the grandson will be the founder of a precision optical company–and the shape of the plot is dictated by the century’s constantly changing economic and political conditions, driving some members of the family to emigrate, others to form alliances with the Nazis, others to find prosperity in the postwar “economic miracle.” Reitz avoids the ceremonial events–births, deaths, marriages–that usually punctuate this sort of family chronicle, concentrating instead on the textures of daily existence and the shifting relationships among the characters. Though not without its longueurs (the treatment of the 50s, for example, is largely limited to an extremely conventional tale of adolescent frustration and romantic revolt) and marked by a rising nostalgia for the “good old days” as opposed to the debased present, Reitz’s project stands as a monumental act of imagination, teeming with evocative incident and Proustian detail.
- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader
If you can imagine a work that fuses the collective memory of an area with that of the authors’, and then renders it on film in all it’s wandering yet richly detailed glory, you can conceive of the accomplishment that is known as Heimat. Drawing not only from his memories growing up in the region, but also from interviewing and conversing with hundreds of people from the Hunsruck region, Edgar Reitz created this cinematic version of oral history. Though the 52 ½ hour Heimat trilogy is fictional, Reitz’s cinenovel is far more true to life than at least 99% of the stuff that passes as docudramas or “based on a true story”. A dense multilayered text covering all facets of life from many angles, Reitz’s aim is to tell compelling stories that realistically observe mankind without judging them. Thus his study of life, which is never sentimental or ideological, helps free us from the stereotypical misconceptions about German citizens while providing an alternative to the tired accounts that dominate our perception of the past.
What we normally consider as history – the ruling party, the not so great dictator, the pointless wars – are always on the periphery in Heimat. Reitz avoids the usual cliches, refusing to depict the big names and notable events. He instead allows their respective presence and occurrence to seep into if not shape the narrative as much as it could be expected to, which in peacetime isn’t very much. However, if you’ve already returned from war you are forever changed, even if only through a certain alienation that’s inherent in trying to feel comfortable in a place that’s gone on without you for a number of years.
Though critics so used to old hat they miss it criticized Edgar Reitz for downplaying certain aspects that are thought to define 20th century German history, whether it be the depression or the concentration camps, I find Reitz’s film refreshing as it’s neither political nor apolitical. Reitz and cowriter Peter F. Steinbach show that while politics effect [sic] the lives of ordinary citizens to a certain extent, it’s rarely in the kind of direct, easy to pin down ways we typically see in the few movies that actually want to be political. In fact, the silly fads of the day hoisted upon the public by mass marketers and their enabling subordinates have far more obvious and widespread effects, if for no other reason then everyone encounters them everyday until they are replaced by the next craze. One example Reitz & Steinbach use is having Ernst get into the home “improvement” business, replacing traditional quality with phony stonewall facings. In all cases though, Reitz shows positive and negative aspects of change, and just as his characters do, the audience interprets the events through their own perspective.
Reitz’s masterpiece simply can’t be compared to traditional television, as there’s not necessarily a specific reason people do what they do, treat someone in the manner they treat do, especially one that’s specifically related to that character. One thing Reitz has done is eliminate the simplistic cause and effect that dope opera is based on, the actions of the characters are never so obvious we come to them ages before they do. Heimat isn’t the usual judgmental television crap that’s based on action and reaction, for instance someone has an affair so their spouse or lover breaks up with them and then everyone close to both of them is forced to take sides. There’s none of the typical situations that pit saint against sinner, everything exists in gray areas. Reitz isn’t about the decision or the damage done, so much as root of the problem. We see a person with an ambition, a discomfort, some subtle disquiet that nags at their soul until they follow it. He won’t explain it, and in fact it’s difficult to really put into words, but the central conflict of Heimat is between man and his homeland. His decisions aren’t based on loving his family or not, but rather whether he can be comfortable spending his life in the region. Everything else is secondary, and thus there’s a tremendous amount of collateral damage.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything where the characters have so many varying aspects. Reitz & Steinbach quite simply obliterate the concept of likeable and dislikable, allowing life to shape the characters and situation to shape life rather than consistently imposing a set of morals, values, ideals, which they either live up to or contradict. We are allowed to feel so many positive and negative emotions toward each character, many times at once, but also to so often be neutral. The characters are always complex, sometimes troubling, but at the same time both ordinary and impressive. We rarely focus too much or too long on their strengths or weaknesses. It’s not about flip flopping the characters, they change credibly but the goal isn’t to show them evolve or devolve as individuals, this is of course part of most great movies or novels, but greatness is never attained by narrow definition. Heimat is more about pitting the specificness of your roots against the universality of human experience to show lives so unique yet so familiar, a mix of the unfathomable (unless you’ve actually lived it) and the incredibly familiar (from your own experience). Reitz once commented that, “The work itself gives no answers whatsoever, but the observer gives himself answers. The work gives him time, and again the key to unlocking those secret rooms (of your own soul)”
Heimat is filmed as a memory, imbued with echoes of the past, both obviously (flashbacks) and symbolically (repetition of objects, events, with similar light and framing). Scenes of walking down a long straight road or even making a phone call are staged to evoke occurrences of the same event in the past. Life is a series of repetitions, differentiation coming from the ever changing if not evolving manner in which we experience it. The act may be the same, but each incident is slightly different, the aspects that are noticed, that come to the forefront or are disregarded yielding variance.
- Mike Lorefice, RB Movie Reviews
Films about World War II continue to consider the atrocities, suffering, and associated guilt over the Third Reich. And yet, in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates, and The Pianist history is often rewritten by means of stereotypes, neglecting the agonies endured by most Germans and the cultural complexities that led to Nazism. And when a movie like Downfall does portray detailed, even sympathetic German characters, it is met with controversy. It almost appears as if it is incorrect for Germans to talk about the misery they suffered as a consequence of Hitler’s regime.
Candidly portraying the economic prosperity brought by Hitler’s regime to the humble people of Schabbach, Heimat questions the impartiality of traditional history texts, and highlights the complexities associated with racism. Heimat further complicates its political discourse by observing U.S. segregation of African Americans during World War II, and pointing out that this was not different from German intolerance ideologies. The first U.S. Army soldiers who arrive in Schabbach, spearheading the battle against Nazi forces, are African American. But in the following months, after the fall of Berlin and once combat operations are over, only white officers appear in town. The next black character we see the African American chauffeur who drives Paul’s limousine, when he returns “triumphant” from the states in 1948, a wealthy entrepreneur (now played by Dieter Schaad).
With such details, Heimat offers a new perspective of historical events, showing how they continue to haunt our present. As much as the series addresses broad historical events, it remains focused on the Simons’ lives, losses, and regrets.
— Marco Lanzagorta, Pop Matters
In addition to its origins within German romanticism, the idea of Heimat also has more recent historical derivations. The Heimat movement of the 1890s arose in opposition to the rapid expansion of urbanisation and capitalism in what remained a largely rural society, and was grounded in a conception of German national identity premised on rural, traditional and feudal values. During the 1930s and 1940s the values of the nineteenth-century Heimat movement were also assimilated into the xenophobic ‘blood and soil’ ideology of National Socialism, and, in the 1950s, the spirit of Heimat reemerged yet again, within the genre of the commercial Heimatfilm.
The radical political configuration which emerged in West Germany during the late 1970s and early 1980s was characterised by a degree of anti-Americanism, and by the rise of anti-nuclear, environmental and devolutionary regionalist movements. Within this latter grouping, the regional and local were elevated in value over a national culture which was perceived as increasingly dominated by the materialistic values of consumer capitalism. It was against this context of a renewed interest in regionalism, and reaction to what was perceived to be the increasingly materialistic culture of the Federal Republic, that intellectuals turned to the idea of Heimat must, therefore, be seen as part of this more widespread attempt to both locate authenticity within local and regional experience, and resist the threat posed to such experience by mass consumer culture.
Heimat’s detailed perusal of the gradual destruction of the traditional and everyday by a commercially driven modernity complements the microscopic perspective adopted within the film. The small-scale, gradual changes which Reitz documents have a direct impact on the culture of the village, and so can be easily depicted within Heimat’s mini-narratives of a commonplace world which is under constant threat. However, this focus upon the fine textures of familiar life also means that Heimat inevitably pays less attention to larger-scale historical events, and this aspect of the film has led to criticism that Heimat is a revisionary and reactionary text, which avoids the more problematic, darker aspects of recent German history.
The style of editing and photography employed in Heimat also complements Reitz’s account of the gradual decline of heimat. The greater part of Heimat is shot in a realistic style using a black and white photography which confers a degree of documentary authenticity on its subject matter. At the beginning of the film, the camera-work and editing is often slow and meditative, and long-take, moving camera shots are much in evidence. However, in addition to this lyrical documentary realism, Reitz also employs more formative techniques in Heimat in order to poeticise his images, and infuse them with a sense of larger symbolism. In such scenes, the camera often lingers over objects, which then take on added, though ultimately enigmatic, significance. This focus on the poeticised materiality of objects recalls Kracauer’s demand for a cinema which can ‘redeem’ the physical world, and Reitz’s claim that, in Heimat, he wishes to ‘defend things in a society that consumes them and throws them away’ warrants further comparison to Kracauer.
Colour is also used in Heimat in a way which corresponds to Reitz’s wish to poeticise the traditional life of the village. Colour is only used in brief sequences, in order to suffuse particular actions and objects with a more general significance. However, the use of color, like the use of special lighting effects, complex multi-narrative structures and extreme close-ups, also makes Heimat a reflexive film. In addition to its realism, therefore, Heimat employs a series of formative devices whose principal function is to reveal the film’s artifice and formal construction. For example, as the film proceeds, and the traditional life of the village gradually gives way to the intrusion of a more modern, instrumental culture, the dominant realistic style of Heimat also breaks down. The meditative, poetic qualities which characterised the opening episodes of the film are gradually replaced by a more gaudy, abrasive and discordant style of film-making, which also signals the coming destruction of Heimat. These two contrasting styles of film-making not only symbolise the existence and loss of Heimat, but are also deployed in order to foreground the function and role of the film-making process.
- Ian Aitken, European Film Theory and Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Published by Indiana University Press, 2001. Pages 218-222
Heimat, I argue, is ultimately an uncritical reproduction of the Heimat myth, for Reitz does not critically explore the origins and functions of the myth, and is instead absorbed by it…
Reitz appropriated the Heimat discourse about the past whose legitimacy was based on the belief that memory is immutable: “I produce German memories because you cannot invent memories.” Unlike Hollywood films, the Heimat discourse, according to Reitz, did not manufacture the past, it reflected it genuinely. And yet, alongside this notion Reitz developed an acute awareness of the ways reality is constructed, rather than simply reflected, in films: “Many people in our profession make the mistake of confusing film images with reality… The entire lot of terrible television programs and commercial offerings in cinemas is in reality the revenge of the camera on those stupid abusers who think they are reproducing reality.” Heimat includes sensitive scenes of the ways in which the camera and technical instruments reproduce reality, whether by Paul and his radio, Eduard and the camera, Anton and cinema, Hermann and electronic music. The film calls upon viewers to be conscious of the deceptiveness of the camera…
The discrepancy between the claim to recover in Heimat genuine German memories and the inherent impossibility of representing reality on film creates a fascinating tension in Heimat. On the one hand, Heimat feels like a documentary that records life accurately through the use of black and white, the depiction of everyday life, and the centrality of quotidian material objects. Watching the film, we want to believe, and no doubt many do, that this was the way things really were. On the other hand, Reitz always alerts the viewer to the need to distrust the camera by showing how reality is reproduced and constructed by technical instruments. In fact, Reitz seems to tell us that while memories are cultural artifacts, they are at the same time genuinely ours. But as a project of national identity, Heimat gives priority to the ability of memory and experience to capture the past over the constructedness of film images. Although film cannot reproduce reality, Reitz appears to be saying, the memories reflected in it are closer to the truth when they stem from “real” experiences. Thus, Heimat implies, the experience and memory of Reitz and the people of Schabbach go a long way toward overcoming the obstacles of technology, they cannot be totally fake because they are based on “real” experience…
Reitz was influenced by the Heimat-film genre that reached its zenith in the 1950s, when more than 300 films were produced. The genre communicated a world of “little people” in villages between tradition and modernity. It conservatively emphasized stability of human relations, conformity to common values, and security in a familiar environment. Heimat films made it possible for people to “dream” of marriage and a happy family, prosperity, leisure, and, for the refugees from Eastern Europe and East Germany, of a new Heimat. The genre came under attack in the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962, in which twenty-six young German directors, including Reitz, opposed the conventional German cinema and the primacy of commercial considerations. Vowing to create “a new language of film,” the new German cinema developed the “anti-Heimat film,” which critically raised social, political, and ecological issues and demonstrated keen awareness of conflicts and injustices in German society…
Heimat… belongs neither to the classic Heimat films nor to the anti-Heimat films, but instead is, as one scholar put it, a “highly ambivalent adoption of the genre.” Reitz’s motivation was to counter the made-in-Hollywood rendition of German history by using an indigenous genre that represents and defines German identity. He created a unique Heimat film. From the classic Heimat films he adopted cinematic motifs and narrative patterns that had been considered trditional and conservative, while infusing them with New Left meanings from the 1960s and 1970s, such as rejecting the embellishment of reality and highlighting the experience of “little people” through oral history. From the anti-Heimat films he adopted the depictino of reali life (Schabbach is composed of hard-working people, of messy living conditions, and of jealousy), although he departed from it by not passing judgment and keeping a nostalgic longing for a putatively lost Heimat. By selecting elements from Heimat films and anti-Heimat films, Reitz seems to tell us that the genre is neither inherently conservative nor inherently progressive, but – if properly used through memory, experience, and storytelling – can be a mirror of the German ways of life…
For Reitz, the past was an organic part of reality before the foundation of West Germany and became a commodity thereafter. But this view has more to do with Reitz’s deep antipathy to West Germany than to any complex understanding of the modern perception of the past in general, and of German’s perceptions of the past in particular. The connection between consmer culture and perceptions of the past was common long before the foundation of West Germany. Heimatlers in imperial Germany saw in the Heimat idea not only a source of local and national identity, but also a source of profit. The two were united by the development of tourism. Heimat museums exemplified the connection because they attempted to attract tourists by marketing their past as worthy of a visit. But Reitz believes in a dichotomy of unconditional totalities between German national society dominated by consumerism and rootlessness after 1949 and a national society of authentic relations to the past, while refusing to consider that the both elements can intermix. Often (perhaps always) nations construct an idea that there once existed a pure, homogeneous national identity, uncorrupted by modernity and its offspring, consumer culture. This idea exists as an ideology, a belief, and a propaganda. But the coexistence of consumer culture with notions of roots and authenticity, that is, making authenticity a commodity for mass consumption, is what really happens. Here Reitz’s description of German identity is unsatisfactory not because he fails to include the Holocause, but because he fails to embrace the complexity of modernity.
- Alon Confino, Germany as a Culture of Remembrance: Promises and Limits of Writing History. Published by UNC Press, 2006. Pages 58, 70, 71, 77, 78, 79
Since [Heimat] is about German memory rather than history, and because it represents that memory as wholly turned upon itself, it leaves no room for those whom the Germans would rather forget or repress, that is, their victims.
And yet Reitz’s work too is dependent for its coherence not merely on an absence of representation, but also on a representation of absence. Conscious of a context of prejudice and genocide, evil and complicity, it must escape to the environment of a remote anachronistic village, finally connected to modernity only following World War II and the (apparently lamentable) Americanization of Germany. And yet, even in that distant location, the film cannot completely ignore a presence that its own realistic and traditional technique must somehow acknowledge. Hence, Reitz feels obliged to make for a momentary appearance of the absent, if only in order to indicate that the absent remained absent for his protagonists, even while they were actually there. He must make the point that the Jews had no role in German (rural) memory, precisely because he knows that German memory is inseparably tied to visions of genocide. Indeed, the major motivation of Heimat, as Reitz himself argued, was to give back German history to the Germans, after it was taken away from them by the Jews, who are the main protagonists of both Holocaust, the mini-series, and the historical event of Nazi genocide.
I suggest that the absence of the Jews is the fundamental subtext of Heimat, its motivation and the unspoken arbiter of its content. Without this absence, the film would have been nothing more than a sentimental, overlong tale of rural life in a God forsaken province. It is that absence that gives it meaning, providing it with the context it so emphatically rejects. In this sense Heimat is a film not about memory but about amnesia, that is, about the absence of memory and all that can be remembered and must nevertheless be erased.
- Omer Bartov, Germany’s War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories. Published by Cornell University Press, 2003. Pages 229-230.
ABOUT THE COMPLETE HEIMAT SERIES
The Wiegand and Simon family trees, featuring all family members who appear in the complete series:
Heimat 1 was accused in some quarters of bypassing key aspects of German history (notably the Holocaust); in Heimat 2, contemporary music and film were counterpointed against the heady politics of the ‘60s. Heimat 3, for all its filtering of history and politics postdating the fall of the Wall, is studded with more references to art, film and music than its even more monumental predecessors. Ultimately Reitz’ summation of the twentieth century seems to be a salvaging of the nineteenth. That alone is no mean achievement, and the three Heimat series must constitute one of the major contributions to film to date. But Heimat 3 in a sense returns to what the New German Cinema was not historically in a position to reclaim. With Heimat 1, Reitz claimed to be reappropriating German history (concretely, from its representation in the US series Holocaust ). Via Heimat 2, his final epic stakes claim to German art as Germany’s abiding historical heritage. The nation of poets and thinkers, whose remoteness from politics was viewed as a primary facilitator of Nazism, has become an ideal nation of artists, filmmakers and musicians, and its welcome back to the world stage is not without historical irony. The postwar stability of the old/new Federal Republic of course makes possible both finding Heimat in art, and gaining global acceptance. The fact that the Reunification Symphony evaporates might be a blow for contemporary music. It most certainly is a pessimistic historical gloss, and it is that which pitches us back to nineteenth century art.
- Roger Hillman, Rouge
ABOUT EDGAR REITZ
Edgar Reitz was born on the 1st of November 1932 in Morbach*, a small town in the German Hunsrück Mountains. There his father Robert owned a small clockmakers shop, and his grandfather Johann Reitz worked as a Blacksmith in Morbach-Hundheim. Edgar Reitz has two younger siblings. His sister Heli, and his brother Guido who assumed his fathers trade and took over the Clock Shop.
During the time he attended school in Simmern, Reitz had already started acting and stage-managing in a theater subsidized by his German teacher Karl Windhäuser. After earning his Abitur (a diploma required to qualify for University entrance in Germany), he moved in 1952, motivated by Windhäuser, to Munich to study German language, literature, journalism, dramatics, and art history. During this time he was already sporadically publishing poems and narrations, and was a co-editor of a literary journal. He was fully engaged with the avant-garde of music, arts, literature and film, and in 1953 he was one of the founders of the “Studentisches Zimmertheater” (Small Student Theater), from which in 1954 the Studiobühne an der Universität München* emanated. However most of all Edgar was fascinated by Cinema and its technical side, and became a member of a film seminar, where film classics were analyzed and discussed. In other European countries, like in France or Poland, people attended film schools at that time to become filmmakers, but Reitz was learning to make films by actually making them. After his first attempts in 1953 he started opening doors to the professional world of filmmaking by working as a cameramans assistant, editors assistant, or production assistant. He started making his first own short films in 1958. In 1962 he joined the “Oberhausener Gruppe” around Alexander Kluge*. At the “Short-Film Days” of 1962 they published the “Oberhausener Manifest”* and declared the old german film as dead, promoting the “Young German Film”. In the period 1962-1965 Reitz was working as the chief of the agency for development and experimentation at the Munich “Insel-Film”. Together with Kluge and others in 1963, he founded the first German film school, the “Institut für Filmgestaltung”* at the HfG Ulm, where he taught direction and camera theory until it was closed in 1968.
In 1965/66 Reitz worked as cameraman for Alexander Klug’s Abschied von Gestern (Yesterdays Girl), in 1966 he produced his first own feature film Mahlzeiten (Lust for Love)* which in 1967 was awarded as the best debut feature at the Venice film Festival. For that film the camera work was done by Thomas Mauch, who 36 years later filmed the first four parts of HEIMAT 3. “Abschied von Gestern” and “Mahlzeiten” belong to the films, which influenced the “Young German Film” very intensely [besides: we can see the movie-posters of those two films in DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT, Film 13, at the wall of the bar he meets his assistant and Zielke]. In May and June of 1968 Reitz conducted a series of lectures in filming theory and practice at a Munich secondary school. This project was documented with the Film “Filmstunde” (Lesson in film). In 1971 he initiated the “Kneipenkino” (Pub Cinema), where visitors themselves were able to put together a program from 23 Kübelkind-Geschichten (Stories of the dumpster-child).
In 1971 Edgar Reitz founded the Edgar Reitz Filmproduktions GmbH* (short: ERFilm) in Munich, his own film production company, which since then produces not only his own projects, but also those films of other well-known directors. In the 70’s and 80’s they produced lots of documentaries, feature films and television plays, and were honored with numerous awards. Contemporaneously Reitz published many books and articles dealing with film-theory and film-aesthetics, but also narrations, essays, lyric poetry, and literal versions of his films.
After the flop of his most expensive film in 1978, Der Schneider von Ulm (The taylor from Ulm)*, Reitz turned away from feature film and his state-aided standards. He retired on the island Sylt in the north of Germany. There, after being poorly impressed by the American TV series Holocaust he developed his ideas for his most successful project, HEIMAT. With Heimat Reitz returned to his own homeland, the Hunsrück, and while working on the script for Heimat, released the documentary “Geschichten aus den Hunsrückdörfern” (Stories from the Hunsrück villages), which describes people’s life in the Hunsrück in an inimitable manner. After the release of HEIMAT in 1984, he immediately started working on DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT – The chronicle of a Youth, which internationally received even more attention than HEIMAT, but in Germany did not obtain that much acceptance.
In 1995 Reitz, among others, founded the European Institute of Cinema Karlsruhe (EIKK), and was appointed to a professorship at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung* Karlsruhe.
“HEIMAT 3 – Chronik einer Zeitenwende” was made in 2002-2004 despite being troubled by serious encroachments in Reitz’s artistic liberty from the financing tax supported broadcasting companies. In 2006 he combined previously unreleased scenes from all parts of the trilogy for “HEIMAT Fragmente – Die Frauen”, a philosophical discourse about memory.
Edgar Reitz lives in Munich and is married with Salome Kammer since 1995. Together with his son Christian he founded the company Reitz & Reitz Medien.
- Thomas Honemann, Heimat 123
When people and things pass out of reach of our sensory perception, when they go away, die or we go away, or time takes them from us, we experience pain. This pain is born of the hopelessness of ever being able to truly make things our own, of being able to love them, use or possess them. Even eating, the most intensive form of appropriation, is a modality of leave-taking. But in parting from things, they pass over into our memory, become integrated into the spatio-temporal relation to which we too belong. In taking leave, in this passage from a sensuous relation to a relation of memory, we discover the origin of the legends and stories, of the images that live on independently of any particular human being, like the wound that exists without a body. When one looks closely, film always has something to do with parting. Film concerns itself with things and people that disappear from our sensory perception, with this pain that every good frame reproduces and produces… Parting is the great theme of every film.
- Edgar Reitz, quoted in Eric L. Santner, Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany. Published by Cornell University Press, 1993. Pages 68-69