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Visual differences between German and American movies


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#1 Dominic Gruenberg

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 04:11 PM

Hello guys,

During my practical semester three years ago I started to work right away and kinda let the last thing left to the bachelors degree, the thesis, unfinished. Now I have enough time and want to finish the degree.

I hope you can help me with my bachelor-thesis. My topic would read to something like this: “An analytic comparison between American and German motion pictures of the new millennium – is there a difference in style?” Basically I’m trying to pinpoint the differences so I can say exactly what it is that makes the movies look different. Besides the obvious difference in budget (which explains why they look different, but not how exactly), I found some in lighting, camera movement, digital make up, and what I still have to check, color correction.

First question would be: do you actually know any German movies? If yes, which ones (specifically from the past 10 years)?

It seems, that almost every picture in the states is colored by Deluxe or Technicolor, even the low budget ones. Do you know more about that?

Looking at the visual aspect, what in your eyes would be the main differences between German and American movies, and why?

It would be great if you could help me with my questions. Thank you very much in advance.
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#2 Dominic Gruenberg

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 06:04 PM

Does someone know somebody who worked in both markets who I could ask?

Edited by Dominic Gruenberg, 26 July 2010 - 06:05 PM.

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#3 Frank Glencairn

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 06:09 PM

I try to wrap my head around that question since more than one year now.
I have two feature films coming up (Spital and Rosemeyer) and I absolutely don`t want them to look any German.

Even in big German film like Der Untergang where you got all the props, locations, bells and whistles you can tell (even without any sound) in 2 minutes that it is a German production.

I found out by analyzing lot´s of contemporary German films that there is an excessive use and abuse of wide lenses, while US productions tend to use longer glass - unless it`s shot by Roger Deakins :D

Color grading is an other point and so is lighting. Die Buddenbrocks was a camera disaster. They managed it to make that huge history play look like a Tatort. Same applies to Keinohrhasen and Hinterkaifeck.

Frank

Edited by Frank Glencairn, 26 July 2010 - 06:12 PM.

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#4 Pat Murray

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 01:24 PM

Off the top of my head, "The White Ribbon" is the first German film which comes to mind. The director is Austrian, but I'm pretty sure the film is considered German.

Maybe you'd enjoy writing your thesis on a more defined period such as German Expressionist cinema versus Hollywood cinema in the 20s. But if you're looking to blaze a new trail, then I tip my hat to you.
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#5 Dominic Gruenberg

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 07:07 AM

Thank you for your replies. My thesis is getting somewhere now, but still I'd like to hear some input from you guys. It seems that German cinema isn't very popular in the world. When I worked in Canada, the only movie they knew was "Run Lola Run". But if you'd asked me what spanish movie I'd know, you'd see question marks all over my face. How about you, do you know any European movies (other than UK)?
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#6 Rod Otaviano

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 12:31 PM

I saw 'Berlin Calling' in an art-house theater here in Vancouver last year if I'm not mistaken ... and of course "The Lives of Others". A Brazilian friend who lives in Berlin recommended me "Small-Town Punks" ( Dorfpunks) but it hasn't come out on DVD here yet. Oh and ... "Good Bye Lenin", which is excellent.
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#7 Christian Appelt

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 04:36 PM

@Dominic:

Although I have no scientific answer to your initial question, here are some possible explanations:


1. German film is basically TV

Since the mid-1960s, the public film funding system (Filmfoerderung) depends on TV money. Hardly can a film be produced without TV money. The German cinema market is dominated by U.S. product, most domestic films are comedies or semi-arthouse stuff (women above 50 and/or Third Reich stuff, RAF-type 1970s terrorism is another option). TV people read, develop and greenlight scripts, decide about money, so they have a great impact.

Most German films, even if they have good actors and script, look depressing alike to me. When watching TV, I can spot a german-made movie after 2 seconds, sound turned off. They usually have a "play it safe", soft light look with greenish or yellowish shadows that make me sick. Or they stick to the "this shot blue on the left, yellow-orange on the right side" cliché which is not exciting either.

Either it's long lenses all the way, or the sets look cluttered with so much unnecessary detail that you. Neither long nor shorts focal length lenses are used in a creative way. TV style sideway camera movement is meant to keep audiences from falling asleep.
(Even worse are many French productions shown on ARTE TV, looking like they shot with surveillance cameras at +16dB under mercury street lights).


2. There is no free lunch (for copycats)

This goes for both cinema and TV productions from Germany. Anytime a special look or technique comes - mostly from the U.S. - everybody wants to use it. They see high quality TV stuff like CSI or 24 and try to imitate it at a fraction of the budget. Not possible. It was the same with bleach bypass, hand-held camera and imitation autofocus shots.
I am not against any of these techniques, but people tend to forget that nobody watches CSI, 24 or whatever because of handheld shots or rack focus stuff, but that these shows are well-scripted, character-driven and played by excellent actors.

Some German producers believe they can copy a look (and usually they fail even at the strictly technical level), use it as a kind of fancy wrapping to make mediocre routine stuff exciting to an audience. IT DOES NOT WORK. NEVER HAS.
Some German filmmakers think they can deliver on the same level of craftsmanship as their international counterparts - the truth is that they couldn't even if someone gave them the budget.


3. Dialogue driven screenplays

German screenplays tend to be very talky. Many films are no more than illustrated radio - like filmed plays with a few transitional scenes to link locations. Try to watch an average German film without sound, and you'll see what I mean.


4. Not knowing your history

From my experience with film students (I mean people from film schools), I got the impression that they know their Spielberg, Tarantino and Cameron, but nothing else.
If you watch a lot of German films made after WWII, there are real masterpieces of cinematography, especially in black & white.

You can be quite sure no student will have heard about NACHTS WENN DER TEUFEL KAM (1958, dir. Robert Siodmak), shot by DP Franz Krause who also did PATHS OF GLORY.
Neither will he or she have seen DIE ENDLOSE NACHT (Endless Night, 1964, dir. Will Tremper), shot in haunting anamorphic b&w at the foggy Berlin airport by DP Hans Jura.
They've never heard of DAS FEUERSCHIFF (The Light Ship, 1962, dir. Ladislao Vajda), as dark as b&w can get, shot by DP Heinz Pehlke.

It's not just about knowing the national film heritage, be assured most of them never saw a film by Tarkovski, Orson Welles, David Lean or Jacques Tati. I'm not suggesting that watching every movie made will make you a great filmmaker, but knowing techniques and styles will help making your own decisions, finding your own solutions.
Too many filmmakers are like would-be painters who never stepped in a museum or looked a reproductions.

To sum it up, if the average German film/TV look is not desired, it can be avoided simply: DO WHAT SERVES THE STORY. Work harder and tell your story in images that do more than keep talking actors in the frame.

In contemporary German films, I like the work of Fatih Aikin (SOUL KITCHEN, DP Rainer Klausmann). Very pure and simple stuff, always serving the story. The same goes for Tom Tykver and DP Frank Griebe (RUN LOLA RUN, THE INTERNATIONAL).
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#8 Christian Appelt

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 04:41 PM

- sorry for the typo stuff, couldn't edit my previous post any more...

Edited by Christian Appelt, 14 August 2010 - 04:44 PM.

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#9 Frank Glencairn

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 05:27 PM

Very wise words Christian.
Thanks for sharing.

Frank
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#10 Dominic Gruenberg

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Posted 15 August 2010 - 10:45 AM

Christian, thanks a lot for your "few" words. ;)
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