The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970’s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize. According to Zipes, the reality of the Bunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).
According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters.
While the film itself is a somewhat dull watch, until the very last bits of the movie when Katharinaunshackles her discontent, fellow historian Jack Zipes does an excellent job separating these two renditions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum while they are simultaneously attempting to convey the same story. However, his comment regarding the drama of American, so-called, “good cop, bad cop” motif is somewhat lacking. The American filmic expressions of the late 60’s and early 70’s, depending on the genre you’re talking about, are not vague impressions of the time in which they were made. Consider the gruesome social critiques in the up and coming era of Savage Cinema, especially the word of Wes Craven, in films like: The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes as perfect examples of political unrest in American cinema. Savage Cinema was loud, gruesome, and not the lease bit disturbing, but these films also compelled audiences to question the validity of the times. Last House on the Left, if anything else, begged the question if reactionary violence was a justifiable resolution. The Hills Have Eyes was a critique about repression and violence and repercussion using the most taboo form of expression: cannibalism. And there are many more examples during this era to pick from. Regardless, Zipes makes an interesting case regarding the wild swings on the pendulum during Germany’s political unrest of the 1970’s with the RAF and student base movements. The media, if anything, should keep government (of all walks) in check, not condone extreme reactionism.
Sources: Jack Zipes, The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1976.