You can see the WHOLE FILM intact below. It is over 1 hour long (not a clip), and can be viewed full screen. Perhaps in times like this we don't need to be reminded how soul destroying it is to be unemployed. How do people keep going? Kuhle Wampe was made in Berlin in the summer of 1932, several years into the last Depression. It's an amazing film, so even though the first part is desolate, it "needs" to be seen again, especially now in difficult times. The full title is Kuhle Wampe oder: Wem gehört die Welt, "Who owns the world". Think about that. Do politicians and crooked bankers own the world or can ordinary people do anything?
Bertolt Brecht wrote the text and Hanns Eisler the music (and a lot of the political rigour). Eisler's music is wonderfully atmospheric. He's completely underrated as a writer of music other than agitprop. This film was made only 5 years after the movies became "talkies", so Eisler's music really is cutting edge invention for its time. Movie music does not have to be sentimental drivel, it can be art. Notice how little dialogue there is : so much is expressed through subtle gesture. No need for translation. This speaks whether you're German, Russian, Spanish. That's the socialist ideal, but it's also profoundly sensitive to how real people function. It's cinéma vérité by instinct, long before the concept was formulated. No wonder Eisler wasn't impressed when he worked in Hollywood.
Even more exceptional is the cinematography. It's outstanding. The first part of the film is a masterpiece, an overwhelmingly moving study, like an elegaic poem told in visual images and music. A young man searches for work. But everyone is unemployed, men everywhere on their bikes, searching for any glimmer of hope. The film shows the bicycle wheels turning endlessly, all that hard work leading nowhere. Long shots of cobbled streets, the tall, forbidding tenement where the man lives. For a moment he pauses to watch street musicians play an eerie mournful melody. We don't know yet but it's his last contact with the world.
Up he trudges to the cramped apartment he shares with his sister, his brutal father and downtrodden mother. Every frame is poignant, even the homily painted over the kitchen stove. The young man looks out of the window, where a shrivelled pot plant struggles to survive. He looks at his watch, his only possession of value, and carefully puts it aside......his mother walks up the endless flights of stairs. The window is open, the flimsy curtain blowing in the breeze. A crowd gathers round the young man's broken body. When I first saw this film as a teenager it was devastating. Now, when the situation has become real to so many, it is physically painful to watch, but steel yourself. It's important. Politicans, bankers and those who think unemployment is a lark should be tied and forced to watch.
The second part of the film focuses on the young man's sister. The family become destitute and get no help. So they move to Kuhle Wampe, a tent city for the homeless on the banks of a lake outside town. Surprisingly, life is not so bad. People stick together, sort of. Real life squatter camps are not much fun. The girl then starts hanging out with socialist idealists. There's a long sequence shot at a real life rally, with sports and music. Helene Weigel, Brecht's wife, appears with her theatre troupe, singing through megaphones. She's the short dumpy brunette. The girl's boyfriend is played by Ernst Busch (who sings the Jesus Revolutionary song in an earlier post). This is historic documentary not simply "film".
Interesting how the golden Aryan physiques on display presage other kinds of party rallies to come in later years, but that was the fashion at the time, nothing sinister.
At the end of this lovely day out, everyone goes back to town. They pour back into the world singing the Solidaritätslied, the now famous "Solidarity Song". Vorwärts und nicht's Vergessen! Forwards, don't forget! Heiner Goebbels (see posts below) has been a huge Eisler fan since his youth. In fact it was Goebbels who introduced Eisler to me ! A few years back Goebbels created a work called Eislermaterial, a composite of Eisler pieces against a wider background.
Nowadays we know about Stalin and Hitler, so we know the solution Brecht and his friends proposed is not quite that simple. But in those difficult times, the dream sustained people as a statement of faith and hope.
See the complete Kuhle Wampe by clicking HERE