Five years earlier than his feature debut, Parting from Yesterday—(Anita G.), which launched one of the most important film movements, the New German Cinema, writer-director Alexander Kluge, with Peter Schamoni, co-directed a 12-minute black-and-white documentary short anticipating the movement-to-come. Brutalität in Stein gathers historical testimony to puncture his nation’s attempt to overlook its recent Nazi history and just get on with its “economic miracle.” The year after this stark work, Kluge helped write and signed the Oberhausen Manifesto, which announced the need for the movement that would shortly arrive.
Influenced by Alain Resnais, especially his Statues Also Die (1953), which Chris Marker co-directed, Night and Fog (1955) and Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), Brutalität in Stein relies on our capacity to analyze tone. On drawings and images of German architecture at and around a Nazi rally area in Nuremberg, it superimposes recordings of speeches by Hitler, Hess and others to suggest that the buildings themselves have retained the memory of this Nazi history. An occasional zoom electrifies the film’s series of very briefly held stills, as does a sweeping camera up grandiose front steps. Hauntingly, by stately, silent forward movement—ghost steps—in symmetrical interiors, the film suggests a German crematorium and the connection among German political speech and spirit (as art embodies it), and the Holocaust. Discolorations on the outside of stone buildings double as reminders of spilt human blood. Another influence: Roberto Rossellini’s Germany, Year Zero (1947); but one must also note that Kluge and Schamoni’s film helped inspire Jürgen Böttcher’s tremendous The Wall (1990), where the Berlin Wall, while it is being dismantled, is transformed at night, by voice recordings and flickering film images from the past, into a sadly vanishing repository of a brace of German memory, history.
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