Published reviews

Reception in the United States, by Alan Andres.

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).

The appearance of DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT in America was even quieter. With HEIMAT having been ignored or dismissed eight years earlier, there was little to no press attention. During its brief theatrical exhibition in New York City in 1993, Stephen Holden provided the single national film review in The New York Times.

Here are some excerpts from his review:

DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT "is an alternately gripping and lyrical 13-episode serial about German life in the 1960's...Handsomely photographed and superbly acted with English subtitles and a remarkably evocative soundtrack, it might be the ultimate highbrow soap opera for couch potatoes except that there are no plans to show HEIMAT II on television in the United States...

Hermann Simon, "a hotheaded romantic who suggests a Germanic hybrid of Tom Cruise and Mandy Patinkin, leaves home in a fury, determined never to return to the town that drove away his socially unacceptable childhood sweetheart. Herrman emerges as the representative of a generation that today is in its early 50's. Arrogant, self-centered, and passionate, he is much more intellectual than any corresponding figure in American film set in the same period. One of the most intriguing qualities of HEIMAT II is the intellectual tenor of the conversation. Even in casual discourse, names like Leibniz and Schopenhauer are thrown around without a second thought. Unlike most films about artists, HEIMAT II shows its characters struggling to create.

"Running through HEIMAT II is a strain of romantic fervor that echoes the lofty swirl of Wagner's operas. Most of the characters take love seriously. In this still quite Puritanical atmosphere kisses are not exchanged lightly, and passions run deep and long. Many of the young characters' stories take sharp melodramatic turns, and some individuals die unexpectedly. These sudden reversals, along with the film's moody tone and expressionistic touches (black-and-white sequences are strikingly alternated with scenes in color) make it not quite realistic. Rather like the culturally literate never-never land of Woody Allen's New York, Mr. Reitz's 1960's Munich is the exotic city of a young man's dream."

As mentioned in the Times review, none of the scores of new American cable television networks ever hungry for programming saw fit to broadcast this 26 hour epic.

In a few selected cities art museums like Boston's Museum of Fine Arts or the Goethe Institutes hosted screenings to which a small dedicated following adjusted their calendars and attended. With little to no opportunity for advanced screenings due to the length of the film, reviewers either chose to either review only the first of the thirteen films or to ignore it all together. In the intervening nine years since the first appearance of HEIMAT, audiences for serious foreign films in American theaters have dwindled. (For instance Krystof Kieslowski's DEKALOG (made in 1988) which was released and widely reviewed in Europe did not receive a theatrical screening in New York City until 1996, following the success of his BLUE, WHITE and RED trilogy.) However like HEIMAT there are now plans for an American video release of DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT from Facets Video. Additionally in a few American cites the Goethe Institute have made available circulating video cassettes.

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