Casually at the Abyss
The New Munich Group
The New Munich Group represented one of the most interesting currents in West German cinema between 1964 and 1972, not least because it swam against the mainstream, against the films that film historians commonly refer to as the "New German cinema". This designation of the so-called "Oberhausener" - and then, in the 1970s, of the "New German Cinema" - took place not least at the expense of the New Munich Group. For after a few commercially successful films (Go For It, Baby; Nicht fummeln, Liebling) and after critical acclaim - especially from critics who, in the film criticism of the late sixties, positioned themselves as "aesthetic leftists" against a "political left" that, in their opinion, reduced films to their sociological content and meanings - the charming, "light" films by Rudolf Thome, Klaus Lemke, Max Zihlmann, Roger Fritz, the duo May Spils & Werner Enke as well as the youngest of the group, Martin Müller, have fallen out of film historiography and also the broader public consciousness despite one or two retrospectives.
The retrospective curated by Marco Abel, Mit Nonchalance am Abgrund (Casually at the Abyss), invites us not only to (re)view numerous films by the New Munich Group, but also to think about them differently and to seek the significance of this group precisely in the fact that it symptomatically reveals something important about German film culture. For the fact that the "aesthetic left" lost the "battle" against the "political left" on the level of film-critical practice had the consequence that, among others, the films of the New Munich Group in the late sixties and early seventies were not only not perceived or could not be perceived as "left". but also that they were almost necessarily erased from German film history, because the history of German film after '68 became one written by the victorious "political left" - a phenomenon that has consequences to this day.
What is noteworthy about the films is that they are interested in the affect of indifference, of nonchalance, and present it as an aesthetic attitude, which as such embodies a left-wing attitude that was both criticised by the "political left" and simultaneously takes up the emerging social changes in a surprising way and exposes them to critical scrutiny: To look the (neoliberal) abyss, which was only in the process of opening up at the time (and which was misjudged by the "political left" of the time), in the proverbial eye and still remain composed - that is the great and to this day unrecognised art of these "small" films.
With Nonchalance at the Abyss offers the opportunity to discover the films of the New Munich Group through a somewhat different analytical lens. Perhaps it is possible, after all these years, to look at them once again with new or (following Enno Patalas, who coined the terms "New Munich Group" and "aesthetic left") living eyes and - who knows? - to not only write them back into (German) film history, but also to productively re-locate their place as an important current of German cinema around 1968 through a revisionist approach.