SCREEN-L Archives

March 1995, Week 5


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Condense Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Richard Figge <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 30 Mar 1995 20:24:40 CST
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (88 lines)
----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Donald Larsson inquired about the song and the singer of Lil Marlene.
While in Germany in 1981, I wrote the attached review, which I hope will be
of interest.
Review of Fassbinder's "Lili Marleen"
Richard C. Figge
        One of the lesser paradoxes of World War II was the fact that the
Germans' favorite war song was also the favorite song of the Allies.
Recorded at the beginning of the war by Lale Andersen, "Lili Marleen" made
absolutely no impression until by chance a disc jockey with Germany's Radio
Belgrade started using it as a signoff number at three minutes to ten in
the evening-the record ends with a bugle blowing taps.  The piece became so
popular, among Germans and Allies alike, that for three minutes every night
the firing on the front lines stopped as the men on both sides listened to
the sentimental song about the soldier whom the war has separated from his
        Lale Andersen was rocketed to fame on the basis of this one song.
Her highly romanticized memoirs tell of her career-the rise to stardom, her
love for a Jewish resistance worker and musician, her own involvement with
the resistance, and her nearly fatal fall from grace with the Nazis.  These
memoirs provide the basis for "Lili Marleen," the new film by Rainer Werner
Fassbinder, Germany's most prominent director.
        In this picture Fassbinder has abandoned the coldness and austerity
of his earlier films and concentrated on mass market appeal.  The
marketability of the film abroad is also enhanced by the fact that it was
shot in English and features international stars Mel Ferrer and Giancarlo
Giannini in addition to the Fassbinder regulars. "Lili Marleen" is bright
and glossy, so striking in its technical craftsmanship, so smooth in its
evocation of the war years, that viewers here are speaking of Fassbinder's
having entered a Hollywood phase in his career.
        Fassbinder has intentionally chosen a film style to reflect a kind
of consciousness.  The lush visual effects recall not Hollywood so much as
they do the films produced by the big German UFA studio of the thirties and
forties.  The Nazis exploited the media, especially film, more effectively
than any other totalitarian regime, and they made it easy for people to
close their eyes to real events in favor of the appealing version of
reality provided by the Ministry of Propaganda.
        The young singer Wilkie (played by Hanna Schygulla) is an
opportunist and political innocent.  When confronted by her Jewish lover
(Giannini) with her cooperation with the Nazis, she protests, "But I'm only
singing a song-there can't be anything wrong with that!"  Like so many
others, she is interested in surviving and prevailing in difficult times,
and she is intoxicated by celebrity and the glamorous trappings of Nazi
        In a recent interview Fassbinder said, "In 'Lili Marleen' I have
tried to make clear that certain aesthetic possibilities of Nazism can be
fascinating.  And Wilkie is captivated by everything that gives her a
chance of a career.  People closed their eyes to what was going on and were
left with only an aesthetic reality.  Even when Wilkie was involved with
the resistance movement, it was only out of love for her friend, not out of
political conviction.  Her consciousness changes  only when she see things
that make it impossible for her to close her eyes and ears any longer."
        Unfortunately, Fassbinder's intention to show a false consciousness
through all these appealing images is a risky one that may be lost on many
audiences.  The expert handling of soft focus, star filters, and studio
lighting, the slick camera work and editing, the lavish sets and costumes
will make the film seem for many viewers like a nostalgic re-creation of
the war years in Germany.  In the end, Fassbinder's entertaining film
glosses over the problems it claims to deal with.  The tactics of the
Gestapo are  trivialized, and Nazi atrocities are kept at a distance.
Hitler's presence is suggested, however ironically, by a flood of pure
light.  Even the scenes of "real" battlefield horrors have a distinct aura
of the studio set.
        "Lili Marleen" comes as part of a wave of books, films, and stage
productions about the Hitler years.  The Third Reich was the most
photogenic of all dictatorships.  That fact presents special problems, and
too many of these works are caught up in the trappings of fascinating
fascism.  Critical judgment of these efforts should depend in large measure
on how well they manage to go beyond the deceptive surfaces of the Nazi
Richard Figge
The College of Wooster