Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Baader's Angels Preview

Still from The Legends of RitaICA, London
6-10 December

Coming up at the ICA in London is the intriguingly (if irreverently) titled film series, Baader's Angels, looking at the role of women in the German terrorist group Red Army Faction (aka Baader-Meinhof Gang). The series covers some 30 years of work made by German directors such as Schlöndorff, von Trotta, Fassbinder and Kluge.

Coming 30 years after the notorious Deutscher Herbst and in the current political climate in which terrorism is an omnipresent buzzword, the programme is a timely arrival. I emailed curator Pamela Jahn for some comment on it. Our exchange follows.

Kunstblog: I wanted to know why you picked this topic and what the themes were that linked the films.

Pamela Jahn: Marking 30 years since the deaths of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe in Stammheim Prison in October 1977, I wanted to look back at the history of the RAF, the German Autumn and the events of that time, but not simply as a historical retrospective of what happened back then. I was interested in finding a different angle or perspective and, at the same time, I wanted to look at more recent attempts of filmmakers dealing with this topic - especially after the reunification of Germany.

On the one hand, it is striking to see the number of women who were part of the RAF, not just the leaders Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, but many other young women. On the other hand, while researching the films, it was striking to see the great number of films which concentrate on female protagonists and the role women have played in the revolutionary struggle -- direct and indirect, politically and personally.

Given the striking number of female members of the RAF, this season revolves around questions of the roots and potential paths of women’s resistance and revolt as explored in many of the films about the RAF and German terrorism. Though some of the films are made in the 70s and responding to the paranoid political climate in West Germany 30 years ago they still feel timelier than many films made today, especially in regard to the world's current political situations.

KB: It seems to me the films look at individual stories, mostly fictional, but do not address the question of what drew women into terrorism.

PJ: By choosing these films, I am trying to create a space between both fiction and reality, that encourages people to think and to get their own idea about the whys and wherefores. Although all five films of the season have west German terrorism in common as a central theme, they do not all adopt the same position but offer a honest portrayal of the West German crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, or use their engagement with the past to suggest subtly different analyses of personal and state histories, and the role women have played in the revolutionary struggle, both politically and personally.

An idea of the atmosphere of fear, hysteria and public denunciation which was whipped up at the time, and of the role that the conservative, self-censoring media (yellow press) played in this, can be re-experienced through The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. The film is directed by both Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta who give the film a documentary feel though the story itself is fictional (the film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Heinrich Böll).

What is also interesting is the comparison between this earlier film by Schlöndorff and The Legends of Rita, made in 2000. In Katharina Blum you see a woman who came into contact with a terrorist but is not actually one herself. In The Legends of Rita, Rita is actually a terrorist. She is seduced into the terrorist movement through her sense of justice and she’s been involved in violent action. You would almost think that Rita is a kind of composite of various female members of the RAF. There are elements in her character that come from the real life of female members of the RAF. For example, in Rita’s story there are echoes of the life of Inge Viett, a member of the RAF who took refuge in East Germany to escape prosecution in the West and whose life is documented in detail in the documentary Greater Freedom - Lesser Freedom.

Christian Petzold’s film The State I Am In is less about history than about public memory in Germany today, which shows no sign of having resolved the social contradictions that led to terrorist violence in the 1970s. The film centers on the life of Jeanne, a teenage girl who is leading an underground existence with her former terrorist parents. For Jeanne ideological struggle has become a kind of banal reality, something that is obstructing her need to engage with the social reality around her. What remains in this film, which has won wide acclaim as one of the most powerful and controversial German films in the years since reunification, is the complex question of the personal and the political: the original German title Die Innere Sicherheit demonstrates the independence of the political (state security) and the psychological (the inner security, stable identity).

Baader's Angels runs 6-10 December at the ICA, London. The films are: Germany in Autumn (DEUTSCHLAND IM HERBST); The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (DIE VERLORENE EHRE DER KATHARINA BLUM); The State I Am In (DIE INNERE SICHERHEIT); The Legends of Rita (DIE STILLE NACH DEM SCHUSS); Greater Freedom - Lesser Freedom
(GROSSE FREIHEIT - KLEINE FREIHEIT). For further details please see www.ica.org.uk.

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