Christiane F.

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Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo, directed by Ulli Edel, was released in 1981; a year before Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s death, the point in time which critics seem to agree marks the end of New German Cinema. The style of the film, social realism, puts it in the same vein as the films of Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta. Like the latter’s The Lost Honor Of Katharina Blum (1975), Christiane F. is an unflinching expose’ on a corrupt sociological phenomena in West Germany, though this time the corruption is not manifest in the media, but rather a disenfranchised, drug addicted youth culture (with Christiane herself played by Natja Brunckhorst).

During the period of New German Cinema (1968 – 1982) there was a tradition, to which Christiane F. very much adheres, where filmmakers, dealing with either fiction or non-fiction source materials, would title a film after the main character. According to Thomas Elsaesser this strategy was designed to replicate newspaper headlines and imbue films with a sense of reality. Edel, of course, shoots Christiane F. with the same gritty realism as an American underground film made in New York, and thus reiterates the aforementioned strategy visually. But Edel’s gaze is one of moral superiority not inclusiveness; passing judgements and doling out pity on the players in the films brutal drama as he sees fit.

The title Christiane F. also signifies the film’s source material, a series of interviews with teenage drug addicts who have turned to prostitution in order to support their “habits”, conducted and edited into a novel by Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck. When this work was initially published the author’s deleted all of a subject’s last name except the initial (a standard practice in German journalism). This again stresses authenticity by means of the film’s title. Fassbinder famously took the same approach with his far more stylized and subversive Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970).

Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo was one of the most internationally successful German films of either the 1970s or the 1980s. The whole youth of Europe began to emulate the style of the title character. The international success of Edel’s film far surpasses that of his contemporaries which include von Trotta, Schlondorff, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and of course R. W. Fassbinder. One reason may be that, until that moment, few German films connected so directly to the youth market or it could be the soundtrack by David Bowie that helped publicize the film elsewhere (Bowie also appears in the film performing the title track off of his album Station to Station, though the version in the film is lifted from his live album Stage). Regardless, where Edel may not have critically surpassed his peers, he certainly out did them in ticket returns and demonstrated that financially (and not just critically) West Germany had finally become a cinematic entity to be reckoned with.

By 1983 German cinema again began to dissipate from the consciousness of international cinema and would not truly re-emerge till the mid-1990s. In this interim, most filmmakers of the New German cinema would migrate to Hollywood, leaving only a few critically successful filmmakers behind to preserve the national cinema of Germany that took the entire 1960s to reconstruct. Fassbinder’s final film Querrelle (1982) and Christiane F. would be the high water marks for German cinema in regards to both financial and critical success. Since its release in the U.S., Christiane F. has become a cult classic, with only very limited home video releases.

This brings me to a rather odd occurrence. The DVD for the film from Image Entertainment has no subtitles. Instead, one has the option to either watch the film in dubbed English or its original German. While this may make for a compelling memory exercise, I have found it to be immensely frustrating. This is a film in desperate need of a restoration and blu-ray upgrade.