BRAZILIAN COFFEE DESTRUCTION AS A SYMBOL OF OPPRESSIVE GLOBALIZATION: 1932 WEIMAR MOVIE CLASSIC “KUHLE WAMPE”

February 12, 2011 at 12:13 am | Posted in Germany, Globalization, History, World-system | Leave a comment

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Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World?

“As the train starts moving, an older gentleman reads aloud a headline from the newspaper.

He informs the other passengers that Brazil burns 24 million pounds of coffee. Other passengers on the train discuss the issue of destroyed coffee. Anni briefly adds to the conversation stating that it’s malice for the Brazilians to burn their excess coffee. A young adult comments that no one on the train is going to change the world referring to the middle-aged and elderly passengers. A middle-aged passenger asks who will change the world. Gerda replies people that are not satisfied. The film concludes with the young adults walking out of the commuter train station while the group’s motto is sung in the background.

It’s reported that Bertolt Brecht directed this final “coffee debate” scene, which resembles a more sophisticated version of an agitprop play. The cutting style becomes very theatrical as the various speakers on the commuter train car reveal their political identities — conservative proto-fascist, clueless bourgeois, etc. Brecht peppers the talk with jokes and amusing character detail, while his main issue comes through strong: the existing capitalist system works for profits, not the good of humanity.”

The “coffee debate” is a symbol or microcosm of the world economy gripping the world ie globalization. The newspaper stories about worldwide unemployment levels is also a part of this “Weltwirtschaft” (world-economy) consciousness rising in the mind of average people.

Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World?, the 1932 echt Weimar early talkie directed by Slatan Dudow from a script co-written by Bertolt Brecht, is a great Weimar classic of left politics.

The movie begins with a title card one unemployed worker less. After the title card, footage is shown of: the Brandenburg Gate, a smokestack, a few factories along a river way, a locomotive and buildings. The footage transitions to various newspaper headings that describe the current worldwide situation in addition to the unemployment in Germany. In the next scene, there is a group of young adults, mostly men, riding their bicycles or walking toward a community message board that is on the sidewalk. Upon the arrival of a delivery boy, the people are rushing him to grab the classified ads. There are more people than available classified ads and the delivery boy turned people away.

Those that were fortunate to receive a classified ad look over the paper and start bicycling together to a job site. Upon their arrival at a job site they are turned away by a sign that reads, workers will not be hired. They continue riding in unison to another job location. They are shown riding into the entrance way one moment and the next moment riding out of the place. The men continue their journey to a third location. They momentarily enter the place on their bicycles, but quickly leave walking alongside their bicycle. As they are walking out of the job site, one of the men crumples the classified ad and tosses it onto the street. One of the men departs the group as he approaches a building. Another man briefly stops to hear a duo playing on the street and continues walking.

The following scene shows a middle-aged man lying on the sofa reading a newspaper. He sits up from the sofa and tells his wife that he can no longer financially support his son. The wife does not reply prompting the man to rhetorically ask does she care about anything. The scene shifts to a young man entering the residence. It is the man that entered the building from the street. He enters the dinning room sitting next to his father looking dejected. The father and son do not speak to each other as the mother brings a pot to the table. As the mother is serving the food from the pot, a young lady enters the dinning room. Anni, the daughter, greets the family stating the social services office is assisting a neighbor with their rent. The father and son do not speak, but the mother comments that they are unable to receive financial assistance. The father and mother criticize their son for not finding employment. Anni interjects telling her parents that there are no jobs. The father replies that seven months unemployed is no excuse and believes that his son is lazy. Anni mentions that her brother is not lazy since he has been looking for work. She calls her father lazy. The father gets mad saying she sits around the welfare office looking for a handout and leaves the dinner table.

Upon the father’s departure, the mealtime concludes since the mother collects the leftover food. The mother mentions that everyday is the same argument. As the mother clears the dinner table, Anni and her brother remain at the table. Anni smiles at her brother trying to cheer him up. She notices her brother does not respond and is concerned. In the following scene, the brother remains dejected sitting at the dinner table as Anni is nearby putting on lipstick in front of the mirror. She calls out from the window to her friend on the street that she is coming. As Anni leaves the room, the brother gets out of the chair. He walks toward the window and takes off his wristwatch placing it on the table. As he jumps out the window a scream is heard.

On the sidewalk people are standing around a body that is covered with a sheet. In the staircase two women are discussing that the person placed the wristwatch on the table before jumping. One lady says that the wristwatch would have been destroyed had the person wore it while jumping to their death. In another scene a lady states that the death is one unemployed worker less. A group of women say the person that jumped was a young fine man and that his father is unaware of the son’s suicide. The father is shown in a tavern speaking with another man that the unemployment in the United States is similar to Germany’s situation. The scene returns to the staircase where an elderly lady says that the boy had many years ahead of him. The camera shifts to the street where an ambulance is driving away with the body. A title card appears The best years of a young man.

The film shifts to footage of: a lake, grasslands and woodlands. Subsequently a magistrate appears on camera reading that the family must vacate the building for non-payment. In the following scene, Anni visits various social service offices seeking assistance. Turned away for financial assistance, she calls Fritz at work from a public telephone. Anni informs Fritz of her family’s situation. Fritz encourages Anni and her family to stay with him at Kuhle Wampe. In the following scene Fritz and Anni are driving in an automobile with furniture in the backseat. As they are driving down the street, a narrator explains that Kuhle Wampe is a tent city that is an hour outside of Berlin. Fritz, Anni and her family are seen bringing the furniture from the automobile and setting it down in an open space at Kuhle Wampe. As they are doing this, the camera shows that Kuhle Wampe is thriving since people are either playing chess, cards or cooking. Next, Fritz is shown hammering down the stacks to Anni and her family’s tent.

After Anni settles into the tent, she and Fritz go for a walk into the woodlands. The film shows footage of the grasslands and woodlands as a romantic song on intimacy is played. As the song concludes, Anni’s parents are sitting inside of their tent. The father is reading aloud a story from the newspaper, whereas the mother is writing an invoice of grocery expenses. In between the father reading and the mother writing is sporadic photos of food products and its price. In the next scene, Anni is working at a factory. Anni’s co-worker senses that she is not well and Anni admits something is bothering her. Subsequently, Fritz’s co-worker encourages him to marriage since alimony and taxes are the same amount in payment. Fritz replies that he wants his freedom.

Anni and Fritz are leaving the tent and walk past children. Anni starts to visualize images of children, healthcare clinics and caskets. After Anni’s visual sequence, she sees Fritz off to the streetcar. In the city, Fritz meets his friend outside of the theater. His friend asks Fritz about marrying Anni. Fritz replies that he wishes not to marry Anni. Next, Fritz is talking with an older gentleman over a cigarette about the situation with Anni. In this scene, Fritz mentions he has no other choice but to marry Anni. The older gentleman agrees to assist with the engagement party. At the engagement party, Anni and her mother are serving the guest food and beverages. Fritz is shuttling to and from the engagement party. He leaves with an empty case of beer bottles and returns with a full case of beer bottles. When Anni offers assistance to Fritz he rejects her offer. When she encourages him to take a break and mingle with the guest, Fritz declines. Anni asks Fritz why he put on an engagement party and he replied there was no choice. Upon hearing this, Anni walks away from Fritz. Inside the engagement party, the guests are joyous over beer and music.

As some of the guest at the engagement party are leaving drunk, Anni and her friend, Gerda, pack some belongings onto a cart. They inform a guest at the party of their departure from tent city. Annis parents tell Fritz they will stay, although their daughter plans to move away. In the following scene, Anni is at Gerda’s apartment. The friend suggests Anni should accompany her to the athletic competition in the following week to forget about Fritz. The following scene shows footage of industrial machinery and smokestacks. The footage fades out and there is a scene of young adults assembled inside a room. A banner inside the room describes that this is group of people participating in the athletic competition that Gerda mentioned. The camera shows various people helping out. A man is calling out peoples names to pass out fliers. Other people are making copies on a mimeograph. Some people are working on banners. Inside this room, a man asks Gerda where is Anni. She informs the individual that Anni is around and can speak with her on the day of the athletic competition.

The next scene shows a group of men riding on motorcycles. As the people depart on the motorcycles, another group starts marching and signing their group motto. In a subsequent scene, Anni is seen marching at the front of the group. Next, there is footage of: n motorcycle race, a rowing contest and a diving competition. During the footage of these athletic events, a song is played on togetherness and unity. Also, the song describes sacrifice to participate in athletic competition. The song concludes by showing the spectators cheering on the participants. During the celebratory moment a band interrupts singing they are the red megaphone. After the group briefly sings they put on a skit. The group impersonates a landlord throwing out a delinquent renter. As the skit is occurring, Anni is seen being attentive to the play. After the skit concludes, the group gets a loud ovation from the audience.

The motto that was sung as the group was walking down the street is heard again. As the motto is sung, the camera goes through the audience at the athletic competition. After the motto concluded, the participants and audience start to leave the area. Three people are sitting together as someone in the group is reading an excerpt from Hegel. Anni is sitting next to a guy friend. Next, some people are rowing away from the competition location. Others are riding away on their motorcycles and some people on bicycles. As people are departing the competition location, the group motto is heard in the background.

Next, the people are walking into the commuter train terminal and entering a train. On the train, Anni is smiling as she sees Gerda chatting with a guy.

As the commuter train starts moving, an older gentleman reads aloud a headline from the newspaper.

He informs the other passengers that Brazil burns 24 million pounds of coffee. Other passengers on the train discuss the issue of destroyed coffee. Anni briefly adds to the conversation stating that it’s malice for the Brazilians to burn their excess coffee. A young adult comments that no one on the train is going to change the world referring to the middle-aged and elderly passengers. A middle-aged passenger asks who will change the world. Gerda replies people that are not satisfied. The film concludes with the young adults walking out of the train station while the group’s motto is sung in the background.

It’s reported that Bertolt Brecht directed this final “coffee debate” scene, which resembles a more sophisticated version of an agitprop play. The cutting style becomes very theatrical as the various speakers on the subway car reveal their political identities — conservative proto-fascist, clueless bourgeois, etc. Brecht peppers the talk with jokes and amusing character detail, while his main issue comes through strong: the existing capitalist system works for profits, not the good of humanity.

The “coffee debate” is a symbol or microcosm of the world economy gripping the world ie globalization. The newspaper stories about worldwide unemployment levels is also a part of this “Weltwirtschaft” (world-economy) consciousness rising in the mind of average people.

Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World?
DEFA / Omnimago
1932 / B&W 1:33 anamorphic widescreen 69 min.

Kuhle Wampe oder: Wem gehórt die Welt?
Starring Hertha Thiele, Ernst Busch, Martha Wolter, Adolf Fischer.
Cinematography Günther Krampf
Set Design Robert Scharfenberg, Carl Haacker
Film Editor Peter Meyrowitz
Original Music Hanns Eisler, Bertolt Brecht (Lyrics)
Written by Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Ottwalt
Produced by Willi Münzenberg; Lazar Wechsler
Directed by Slatan Dudow

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