Both the Germans and their American occupiers understood that films were supposed to support a democratic culture and worldview during the occupation following the Second World War. This essay explores how democratic culture comes to be defined at mid‐century through choice, and how two films that played in the Western Zones, Der Apfel ist ab (1948) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), take up choice as a formal aesthetic closely tied to a fraught democratic experience. Best Years, praised by German critics as a realistic portrait of American life, also adopts what the film critic André Bazin calls a democratic and liberal film style of deep focus compositions and shots of long duration that allow the spectator to choose what to look at in the frame. Yet, as even Bazin notes, this choice is slyly coercive. Der Apfel was a critical failure and thematises indecision within the narrative. In contrast to Best Years, it turns the optics of choice into vertiginous confusion in which there are no good choices. This essay argues that the democratic refusal in Der Apfel ist ab is an apt critique of ‘democracy as choice’, and that the film opens up new horizons of political invention.
German Life and Letters – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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