Springtime in Munich –

The Munich Group 1966–1969

Essay by Bernd Brehmer

It’s been four years since the signing of the Oberhausen Manifesto, which proclaimed the death of «Papa’s Cinema» and demanded a renaissance of German film. This, however, did not take place until 1966. International success for a few directors opened up new paths. But before these paths could be followed, questionable institutions and stakeholders would already obstruct them. It is no surprise, then, that the Filmkritik – the central body of West German film theory – would ask in 1967: «Is the future already over?»


Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz and Hans Rolf Strobel struggle with bills for the implementation or the dismissal of state film funding and already call out for a new manifesto. Meanwhile, in Munich, a small group of film aficionados work on their own version and vision of filmmaking. «Rudolf Thome, Eckhart Schmidt, Klaus Lemke, Max Zihlmann, Marran Gosov, May Spils, Martin Müller, Werner Enke – the new Munich Group of the late sixties. Listening to music, going to the movies, living the life. From the Nouvelle Vague they borrowed the idea that good fortune and good cinema could be found just around the corner. The cafés in Munich and the boardwalks in front of the picture houses with their displays became the locations for their films.»


> more

At first, there were short films: «Sketches that gave an idea of what would follow. Films that were written in one single afternoon in a café or at night at the kitchen table while the girlfriend was asleep. Films that resembled notes in a diary and which today are snapshots of life in the sixties» (Hans Schifferle). These were simple exercises that already hinted at something great. One can literally feel the energy and passion in the offing. At that time, Thome and Schmidt also worked as film critics and they made no secret of their enthusiasm for American and French cinema. Contrary to their colleagues in Paris – who were also auteurs avant la lettre –, they didn’t know the luxury of having a cinematheque. They had to glean visual experience in Munich’s movie theaters. Frieda Grafe gets to the heart of the issue when she says that «the dream of the American cinema is not a new one, and it’s a European one. It was spurred by an envious admiration for a cinema that is free of all deposits of other arts and notions of art. American cinema is a synonym for pure cinema.»


Early in 1967, Filmkritik spreads the news that three members of the «New Munich Group» (as opposed to the «Munich Group», which consists mainly of the signatories of the Oberhausen Manifesto) have plans for their first features. Klaus Lemke wants to film Time for Action, for which he wrote the screenplay together with Max Zihlmann. Eckhart Schmidt plans Nach Amerika (To America). Rob Houwer, a central figure of the Junges Deutsches Kino who has already successfully worked with Volker Schlöndorff, wants to produce both of these films. Last but not least, Rudolf Thome’s first feature would be called [Transistor 5000]. We will never hear again about any of these films. Instead, they in quick succession film 48 Stunden bis Acapulco (Lemke, 1967), Jet Generation (Schmidt, 1968) and Detektive (Thome, 1969). They are all friends with similar cinematic passions and a boundless enthusiasm for filmmaking and storytelling. They all help each other. «The Munich Group presents itself as an animal with several heads – thoughts and functions are shifted back and forth like a glass of beer. The result: Klaus Lemke and Dieter Geissler play in a film directed by Rudolf Thome with a script by Max Zihlmann (Galaxis). Dieter Geissler acts in a film by Klaus Lemke with a script by Max Zihlmann. Martin Müller was the assistant director (48 Stunden bis Acapulco). Martin Müller and Klaus Lemke starred in a film by Martin Müller, with a script by Marran Gosov (Die Kapitulation). And so on and so forth» (Film, July 1967).

Putting on airs is a game that Lemke, Thome and Martin Müller share: how somebody sits down, puts on a pair of dark sun glasses, lights a cigarette and counts the money. The choice of the right piece of music from the jukebox literally decides their future destiny. As if incidentally – and filtered through American cinema – one learns a lot about the West German mentality in the late sixties. Eckhardt Schmidt, who never felt like he belonged to this particular group, rather took Warhol and Antonioni as models and features his girl-pop-icons in a version of Blow up at the Isar river. And in the middle of it all: Roger Fritz, the charismatic fashion photographer who already reflected on life in the sixties in the Zeitgeist magazine twen and for whom it was only a matter of time until he would direct his first film: Mädchen Mädchen (1967), a «subversive and subtle, almost surreal intimate play» (Olaf Möller), seems like a solitary work in the middle of a vibrant spirit of optimism.


The girls or women in general were often the focal point of these narratives. Iris Berben, Uschi Obermaier, Ingrid Caven, Helga Anders, or Uschi Glas, to mention only the most prominent among them. But also Dginn Moeller, Monika Zinnenberg, or Isi ter Jung – whose names seem like straight out of an adventure and who would each merit their own article to do justice to their fascinating auras. Behind the camera, among all these serious men, a petite young woman tries to assert herself. She arrives in Munich in 1962 and accepts a few modeling jobs and shoots two short films that receive little attention (Manöver and Das Portrait, 1966). But in the end, she will direct the commercially most successful film coming out of this movement. Her name: May Spills. Her film Zur Sache, Schätzchen (Go for it, baby) (1968) came as a real bombshell and for years was the blockbuster of the Schwabinger Studentenkino. The one-liners of her co-writer and main protagonist Werner Enke turned into familiar sayings of timeless validity and can even today help to overcome awkward situations. Marran Gosov somewhat held the position of an outsider.


A Bulgarian living in Schwabing, who claims that film has nothing to do with sociology, but is rather a popular art much like the funfair or the vaudeville. Always avoiding slapstick by a mere hair’s breadth, he finds a very authentic tone for his small, cleverly pointed stories of everyday life. Between 1965 and 1975, Gosov shoots 5 features and 27 short films, which are used as warm-ups by distributors in order to receive tax breaks for the cinemas.


The University of Television and Film in Munich opens its doors in 1969. Its first class gathers a group of «Sensibilisten» («sensitivists», as opposed to the «Politicals» from DFFB Berlin): Wim Wenders, Gerhard Theuring, and Matthias Weiss. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Schroeter, who both applied without success, would soon play in an altogether different league. Werner Herzog is already working in much more exotic countries and spheres. Rudolf Thome films Rote Sonne in 1970 and Fremde Stadt (starring Roger Fritz) in 1972 before taking leave of Munich and moving towards the South Sea. Back in Germany, he makes the most beautiful German romantic movie of the 1980s with Berlin Chamissoplatz (1980). Henceforth he produces a new film almost every year. May Spils and Werner Enke shoot commercially successful films in Munich before being ditched in a rather indelicate manner by their distributor. Marran Gosov returns to Bulgaria to become the Minister of Culture. Roger Fritz attracts attention once more with his excessive tour de force of German genre film called Mädchen mit Gewalt (1970). After that, he successfully devotes himself to photography (and later the restaurant trade). With Anatahan Anatahan (1969) Martin Müller delivers a clear message about how everything is connected to everything (life, cinema, music). Until today, he is one of the most sought-after sound engineers of German cinema. After Negresco – Eine tödliche Affäre (1968), Klaus Lemke is no longer interested in big budget productions and relocates to Hamburg, where he creates an indisputable monument of German cinema with the film Rocker (1972), which was originally produced for television. He returns to cinema (and to Munich) only in 1979 and inaugurates his third creative period with Ein komischer Heiliger. Ever since then, he and Eckhart Schmidt, who is currently shooting a new fiction film in Rome, work tirelessly as real Guerilleros of independent film. Also in order to time and again rediscover what it means to make pretty things with pretty women – in keeping with a well-known motto of the nouvelle vague.

Maybe this program will allow us to listen to the heartbeat of a whole generation and we will be relieved to note: The Beat goes on!


> less


Zur Sache, Schätzchen!

Dialogue with Filmmakers of the New Munich Group


Sunday 29.05.2016