Heiner Carow's powerful film The Russians Are Coming, about the final days of World War II, was made in the GDR in 1968. However, it did not receive state authorization for release at the time and could only be painstakingly reconstructed in 1987. This double DVD presents a new, restored version of the film and allows viewers their first ever opportunity to compare it with Career (1971), in which Heiner Carow made use of parts of the unreleased material from The Russians Are Coming.
Die Russen kommen (The Russians Are Coming) - GDR 1968/87 - Directed by: Heiner Carow - Written by: Claus Küchenmeister, Heiner Carow - Cinematography by: Jürgen Brauer - Music by: Peter Gotthart - Cast: Gert Krause-Melder, Viktor Perewalow, Dorothea Meissner, Norbert Christian, Karla Runkehl, Wsewolod Safonow, Hans Hard-Hardtloff Produced by: DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme Premiere: December 3, 1987 (Berlin, cinema "International")
Karriere (Career) - GDR 1971 - Directed by: Heiner Carow - Written by: Heiner Carow, Hermann Herlinghaus - Cinematography by: Jürgen Brauer - Musik: Peter Gotthart - Cast: Horst Hiemer, Gert Krause-Melder, Katja Paryla, Rüdiger Joswig, Friedrich Hitzer, Wsewolod Safonow, Viktor Perewalow, Norbert Christian, Rolf Ludwig Produced by: DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme Premiere: April 15, 1971 (Berlin, cinema "International")
About the making and restoration of Die Russen kommen
In The Russians Are Coming, director Heiner Carow and screenwriter Claus Küchenmeister tell the story of the final days of World War II from the perspective of a member of the Hitler youth. For this boy, an ardent devotee of National Socialism, the day that will later become known as "Liberation Day" in the GDR brings about the collapse of his entire world. Originally included in the DEFA production schedule in 1966 as a reserve entry for the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1967, the almost-finished film was aborted in 1968. It would not be completed until 1987. A DEFA film about fascism without an anti-fascist hero would have been unusual at any time, but The Russians Are Coming strayed too far from the dominant narrative and was inopportune.
The withholding of authorization for release did not mean the project was over for DEFA: the production was to be completed, but in a different form. Beginning in January 1969, there followed long and painful disputes about conceptual changes, Küchenmeister withdrew from the project, and Carow wrote a new screenplay with Hermann Herlinghaus. The result was the film Career, which was released in 1971 and which Carow later disowned. The original story of the boy Günter now merely provided the backstory for the development of the adult Günter Walcher, who has risen to a middle-management position in the West Germany of the 1960s and who unscrupulously and for the furtherance of his own career plays a significant part in the firing of an awkward trade union official.
Paradoxically, the very fact that an outright ban was not imposed on The Russians Are Coming and that at least in DEFA's internal production logic it was continued as Career resulted in the loss of most of the original negative. only about thirty minutes, which were used for flashback sequences in Career, survived; the rest was discarded, along with other residual material from Career.
Fragments of positive film stock from various other sources also survived. Numerous, often contradictory, legends have grown up around the creation and storage of this material, but it is not possible to give absolute credence to any of them. Documents from the DEFA studios support the conclusion that the GDR's then Minister of Culture, Klaus Gysi, ordered the creation of a duplicate positive in order to secure the work that had been completed up to that point. Subsequently, both this duplicate positive as well as parts of the original working copy disappeared completely and the film faded into obscurity.
Almost twenty years were to pass before the makers of The Russians Are Coming got the chance to take the surviving fragments of positive film stock and the sections of the original negative contained in Career and rearrange them like a puzzle. The result of this laborious reconstruction process was a film whose content matched the filmmakers' original intentions. Aesthetically the result was exceedingly original and highly appealing. Light and dark areas often contained barely any detail, sometimes appearing simply as expanses of black and white. Sometimes the characters were surrounded by a strange, shimmering halo or dissolved into a blur. In addition to this, there were the countless instances of damage to the film stock that could not be repaired with the means available at the time.
When we began the job of restoring the film in 2014, we found an apparently random collectionof differing elements in the German Federal Archives. Up until then, our conception of the condition and quality of the footage had been primarily influenced by the cinema copies made in 1987. So we were even more surprised to discover a large number of fragments of unexpectedly good picture quality and beauty among the surviving footage. Especially in the preserved segments of the working copy, we discovered details that we had never seen on the big screen before. this made it both possible and necessary to reconstruct the film anew from all the different elements and achieve a much more detailed result than in 1987. Thanks to the digital technologies at our disposal today, we were able to better match the various elements with each other and to make the changes between them softer and less noticeable then the filmmakers were back then.
DVD features (2-disc DVD)
- Die Russen kommen 1968/87, 88'
- Vergleich Rekonstruktion 1987 - Restaurierung 2016 2016, 19'
- Karriere 1971, 82'
- Gespräch mit Kameramann Jürgen Brauer 2016, 47'
Edited by: Filmmuseum München and Goethe-Institut
DVD authoring: Tobias Dressel, Gunther Bittmann
DVD supervision: Ralf Dittrich, Stefan Drössler
First Edition March 2017