Germany and Hollywood

Valkyrie movie posterBesides the glaringly obvious World War II thriller Valkyrie, opening Christmas Day in the United States, there are several other current or upcoming German-Hollywood connections. The more dazzling Tom Cruise blockbuster about the attempted assassination of Hitler by German Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was directed by Bryan Singer (Apt Pupil, X-Men) and filmed largely in Germany for an estimated $80 million. But the much quieter film, The Reader, which opened recently in US movie theaters, was not only filmed in Germany, it is based on a German novel, Der Vorleser (The Reader), by Bernhard Schlink — a book made famous in the US by Oprah Winfrey. Directed by Stephan Daldry (The Hours), the film features Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, and a German actor by the name of David Kross, who plays the young character of Michael involved with Hanna (Winslet). It’s a Holocaust film with an interesting twist, looking at morality and guilt in a very personal way.

When I was living in Berlin last year, I kept reading and hearing about Cruise’s problems with German authorities about filming locations (and a film lab disaster in Germany that led to the re-shooting of some key scenes). Later came stories about Kate Winslet in the eastern German town of Görlitz to film The Reader in March 2008. In recent years, Berlin, or more accurately nearby Babelsberg, has become a popular place for Hollywood to shoot major films, including Aeon Flux (2005), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and Enemy at the Gates (2001).

Less known are several German and German-Swiss connections to the James Bond movies, beginning with the first seven 007 films and ending with the 22nd, Quantum of Solace (2008). A German Jew with the un-German-sounding name Ken Adam was the real “Q” behind the scenes, who as art director and production manager designed many of the sets and gadgets that made Mr. Bond look so good. (Born Klaus Adam in 1921 in Berlin, he also worked on nearly 90 other films, including Dr. Strangelove.) Goldfinger was one of Adam’s projects, and that great 007 film starred German actor Gert Fröbe (as Auric Goldfinger) and the Swiss Alps.

Some key scenes in Quantum of Solace have James Bond (Daniel Craig) dashing across the floating outdoor stage of the Bregenz Festival on Lake Constance in Austria. Those scenes and many others in the latest 007 adventure were staged by a German-born director who grew up in Davos, Switzerland. Marc Forster also directed the award-winning film Monster’s Ball (a best-actress Oscar for Halle Berry). Forster, who holds both German and Swiss citizenship, went to America in 1995 to study film at NYU. He later headed west to rapidly join two other, older successful German directors in Hollywood.

You do know that the great American sci-fi classic Independence Day (1996) was directed by a German, right? Roland Emmerich (b. 1955) also directed Stargate, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow. Air Force One and Troy were also helmed by a German. Wolfgang Petersen’s breakthrough film was the much-praised WWII U-boat film Das Boot (1981). His first Hollywood film was Enemy Mine in 1985. Petersen (b. 1941) has often worked with another German, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (also a favorite of director Martin Scorsese). Personally, I think Emmerich and Petersen, who started out so well, haven’t made a single really good movie in their last several outings. So far, Forster is on a roll with his first two major Hollywood efforts. I hope that continues.

Learn more about the many other German-Hollywood connections at my German-Hollywood Connection site.