Director: G. W. Pabst
Production: Nero-Film (Berlin) and Gaumont-Franco (Paris), the collaboration of these two companies frequently referred to as Nero-Film AG; black and white, 35mm; running time: 85 minutes, French version is 93 minutes, length: 3060 feet (German version). Released 1931.
Producer: Seymour Nebenzel; screenplay: Ladislaus (Laszlo) Vajda, Karl Otten, Peter Martin Lampel and Fritz Eckardt, from a story by Karl Otten; photography: Fritz Arno Wagner and Robert Baberski; editor: Hans Oser; sound recordist: A. Jansen; production designers: Ernö Metzner and Karl Vollbrecht; French advisor: Robert Beaudoin.
Cast: Alexander Granach (Kaspar); Fritz Kampers (Wilderer); Daniel Mendaille (Pierre); Ernst Busch (Kaplan); Elisabeth Wendt (Françoise); Gustav Püttjer (Jean); Oskar Höcker (Emile); Hélèna Manson (Albert's wife); Andrée Ducret (François); Alex Bernard (Grandfather); Pierre Louis (George).
Otten, Karl, and others, Kameradschaft, in Le Cinema réaliste allemande, edited by Raymond Borde, Lyons, 1963.
Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, Princeton, 1947.
Joseph, Rudolpf, editor, Der Regisseur: G. W. Pabst, Munich, 1963.
Buache, Freddy, G. W. Pabst, Lyons, 1965.
Amengual, Barthélemy, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Paris, 1966.
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Eisner, Lotte, The Haunted Screen, Berkeley, 1969.
Manvell, Roger, and Heinrich Fraenkel, The German Cinema, New York, 1971.
Atwell, Lee, G.W. Pabst, Boston, 1977.
Barth, Hermann, Psychagogische Strategien des Filmischen Diskursesin G. W. Pabst's Kameradschaft, Munich, 1990.
Metzner, Ernö, in Close Up (London), March 1932.
New Statesman and Nation (London), 5 March 1932.
Spectator (London), 12 March 1932.
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Potamkin, Harry A., "Pabst and the Social Film," in Hound andHorn (New York), January-March 1933.
Manvell, Roger, in Sight and Sound (London), November 1950.
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Luft, Herbert, "G. W. Pabst," in Films in Review (New York), February 1964.
Luft, Herbert, "G. W. Pabst," in Films and Filming (London), April 1967.
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Carroll, N., "Lang, Pabst, and Sound," in Ciné-Tracts (Montreal), Fall 1978.
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"Kameradschaft oder Neoverismo anno 1931," in Filmkunst (Vienna), no. 124, 1990.
* * *
Kameradschaft is a noble film—in theme and execution. It reflects the proletarian idealism of its time. It smacks of Toller and Rolland, and like them it has at the back of its mind a shadow of doubt. In 1931 in Germany events were moving slowly to the rise of Hitler, which all the good will in the world could not stop, and the film does in fact end on an ironic note.
The action turns on a single event. On the borders of France and Germany a vein of coal cuts through the frontier. Above ground a frontier post separates two communities; in the mine a brick wall separates the German and French workers. From the very first shots of boys quarrelling over a game of marbles to those of three German workers who decide to spend a Saturday night in a French dance hall, the director G. W. Pabst sets the mood of the film. Action is sparked off when an explosion in the French mine is reported to the German miners as they stand naked in the great shower room with their clothes raised above the sprinklers by chains. Ernst Busch, their spokesman, decides to lead a rescue party which ultimately breaks through the frontier barrier and arrives at the gates of the French mine to the astonishment of the waiting and despairing relatives. "Les Allemands. Ce n'est pas possible." The rest of the film is concerned with the rescue.
Pabst has stamped the exterior and interior of the mine with uncompromising realism. The people are the protagonists, and individual characters never leave the ambience which shapes them and to which they belong. With the brilliant cooperation of his designer, Ernö Metzner, Pabst has achieved a triumph of studio construction. Life in the mine and the terror of the disaster are translated into film terms that remain unforgettable. No music is used. The noises of the mine, the clanking of chains, metal rubbing against metal, the whirring sounds of lifts—all this brings the strange world of the miner vividly before the spectator. It is a shared and illuminated experience. Pabst's great humanity shines through the film. Its technical virtuosity is no less. Wagner's camera catches the light shining in darkness, follows the ravaged, terrified faces. It gives significance to darkness.
There is no plot as such. Human relations are hinted at. But the mine disaster leaves us in no doubt as to those relationships: Françoise and her lover; The old man and his grandson; The three German friends. All are people we know, and from the event Pabst creates a richly textured canvas of life and reality.
Faces haunt us. The hysterical miner, tap tapping a signal on metal pipe, who hears the guttural sounds of his German rescuer wearing a gasmask; he thinks he is back in the war and hurls himself on his rescuer. Anna dragging her child beside the lorry that carries her husband to the dangers of rescue work. The actors do not play in this film; they are embedded in it.
The technical problems of creating movement in a narrow space were superbly overcome, as were the problems of proportioning light in dark areas. But above all it is the great spirit of Pabst that is the real triumph of the film.
Sadly, as the miners celebrate their new found friendship—"Why must we cooperate only at times of disaster. Why not every day"— below ground the brick wall which was smashed to allow the German rescuers through is rebuilt with much official rubber-stamping and exchanging of documents. A new shadow was falling on the German people.