1960–1970 Cinema in crisis and popular productions

1960–1970 Cinema in crisis and popular productions

In the late 1950s, the growth in cinema attendance of the preceding decade first stagnated and then went into freefall throughout the 1960s. By 1969 West German cinema attendance at 172.2 million visits per year was less than a quarter of its 1956 post-war peak.  As a consequence of this, numerous German production and distribution companies went out of business in the 1950s and 1960s and cinemas across the Federal Republic closed their doors; the number of screens in West Germany almost halved between the beginning and the end of the decade.

The "Hotel am Zoo" in full festival armor.
The “Hotel am Zoo” in full festival armor.

Initially, the crisis was perceived as a problem of overproduction. Consequently, the German film industry cut back on production. 123 German movies were produced in 1955, only 65 in 1965. However, many German film companies followed the 1960s trends of international co-productions with Italy and Spain in such genres as spaghetti westerns and Eurospy films with films shot in those nations or in Yugoslavia that featured German actors in the casts.


The roots of the problem lay deeper in changing economic and social circumstances. Average incomes in the Federal Republic rose sharply and this opened up alternative leisure activities to compete with cinema-going. At this time too, television was developing into a mass medium that could compete with the cinema. In 1953 there were only 1,000,000 sets in West Germany; by 1962 there were 7 million (Connor 1990:49) (Hoffman 1990:69).


The majority of films produced in the Federal Republic in the 1960s were genre works: westerns, especially the series of movies adapted from Karl May’s popular genre novels which starred Pierre Brice as the Apache Winnetou and Lex Barker as his white blood brother Old Shatterhand; thrillers and crime films, notably a series of Edgar Wallace movies from Rialto Film in which Klaus Kinski, Heinz Drache, Wolfgang Völz, and Joachim Fuchsberger were among the regular players. The traditional Krimi films expanded into series based on German pulp fiction heroes such as Jerry Cotton played by George Nader and Kommissar X played by Tony Kendall and Brad Harris. West Germany also made several horror films including ones starring Christopher Lee. The two genres were combined in the return of Doctor Mabüse in a series of several films of the early 1960s.


At the end of the 1960s softcore sex films, both the relatively serious Aufklärungsfilme (sex education films) of Oswalt Kolle and such exploitation films as Schulmädchen-Report (Schoolgirl Report) (1970) and its successors were produced into the 1970s. Such movies were commercially successful and often enjoyed international distribution, but won little acclaim from critics.


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