"An artist has to be the funniest guy in the middle of the euphoria, to be the better [one] to step out of the euphoria and think what could happen."
These are the words of filmmaker J”rg Foth, a native of Berlin who experienced firsthand the struggle of German identity both on a national scale and within the film industry. Foth showed his film "The Latest from the Da-Da-R," a surreal chronicle of Germany in 1990 on the eve of reunification, at Bowdoin on Wednesday.
The title of Foth's 1990 film combines the German acronym for East Germany (DDR) and the title of the rebellious artistic movement Dada, which emphasized the absurd.
According to Foth, the film was "born of [the] struggle to make another type of movie," a cause which he championed in the 1980s when he fought for the inclusion of young artists and new ideas into the film production company of East Germany.
Starring German actors Steffen Mensching and Hans-Eckardt Wenzel, Foth's film follows two central figures.
Of the unique protagonists Froth explains, "[They] look like clowns, but I think in reality they are ghosts. Of course, you have to have the nature of a clown to be a ghost that is able to fall and get up [to] have a next life...."
"It helps both ghosts to appear in the shape of clowns," he said.
"In the history of clowns, there are different types of clowns," added Foth. "The white clown harlequin (the large one) is a white romantic, dreamy, loving clown, but the small one you could ... and say he is a black clown... earthy, garbage, [an] underground professor."
As part of their journey throughout the film, the clowns' immortal nature allows them to "cross the river from life to death." The film expresses an odd yet fitting dichotomy articulated by Foth as "funny and a warning."
Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Sarah Childress called the film "sublime and sad."
Much of the film's mood was determined by poetic songs relying on self-referential refrains.
One song centered on the concept of halves, a nod to the disjointed German state: "A half hearted word / I'm already half long gone / I half love you / I half love me."
Another stated explicitly, "I can think of no people more torn than the Germans."
"The music was extraordinarily poignant...contemporary lyrics set over a profound rich history of German music," said Childress.
The music does much to capture the "mixed emotions" Foth intended "The Latest from the Da-Da-R" to evoke.
The film is loaded with shock value.
For senior Leah Weiss, a student in 'Before and After the Wall: East German Traditions in Literature, Culture, and Film,' who attended the film, "the slaughterhouse scene certainly stuck out."
Foth explains that the scene, graphically depicting the tranquilization and subsequent slaughter of cattle, is meant to "stop the play, make clear it's not only a game; there are much more nightmares and much more reality behind the times that led to big dangers."
Foth continued, "...the death steps into the circle of art, not a puppet or a Halloween ghost, the real death happens in this scene."
Because the film was shot on location, Foth notes moments when "the reality destroys the art." This occurs in a confrontation between a protestor and one of the clowns.
A refrain sung in the film, "The clowns should be shot dead" eerily foreshadows the vitriol that would pervade the streets of Eastern Germany after the fall of the wall.
"Nightmares that hadn't happened yet did happen. In April 1990 nobody shouted 'hang them up we want money' [which] happened after factories in the East were closed," explained Foth.
"The Latest from the Da-Da-R" is a "Wende" flick, which translates to a film dealing with the shift from socialism to capitalism. Politics aside, it is formally a radical departure from the style of a traditional feature film.
According to Foth, the filmmakers "didn't think about audience" and were "spontaneous" in the making of the film.
Although the film was rejected by the sole East German distributor, the filmmakers were ultimately able to collaborate with a West German distributor who circulated the film back into the hands of Eastern Germans.
"The Latest from the Da-Da-R" was the first of four similar films made by Foth's artistic group.
"This film isn't a typical Cold War movie. It is a post-Cold War movie, our self-consciousness wasn't that of prophecy, but there are some nightmares in the film and some became true," said Foth.
Yesterday, Foth gave a lecture titled "Make Movies Not War; the Cold Cinema War in Germany."
"When I talk about Cold War in cinema I focus on [the] '50s and '60s, [the] real Cold War on its summit, when the wall was opened and the Cold War came to an end... I will try to give some examples and clips from old East German movies...make visible what the Cold War and the open wall in Berlin brought into...German feature film scripts."
J”rg Foth still calls Berlin home. Presently, he is Artist-in-Residence at the DEFA film library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.