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The Last Tycoon of Germany: Bernd Eichinger, Neue Constantin Film, and the Reorganization of the German Film Industry, 1980-2000


This project examines the industrial and aesthetic changes that the West German film industry underwent during the final two decades of the 20th century through a case study of the distribution and production practices of German film distributor and producer Bernd Eichinger (1949-2011) and his company, Neue Constantin Film. Some scholars have called Eichinger a "prophet of neoliberalism" and have identified the 1980s and 1990s as a turn away from a state-sponsored, auteur filmmaker-driven New German Cinema to a market-based "Cinema of Consensus." This study challenges this view on two grounds. First, this study argues that the German film industry evolved from a purely market-based industry in the postwar period to a dual economy of market-based distribution and exhibition sectors and a subsidy-based production sector — an evolution that started in the 1970s and continued well into the 1990s. At first highly critical of the subsidy system, Eichinger responded by reshaping the operations of his company, Neue Constantin Film, around market-based principles, but ultimately learned to profit from the availability of public funding for his own film productions.

Second, this study observes that German cinema increasingly came under the influence of American cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. This study challenges traditional notions of “cultural imperialism” by arguing that Eichinger and Neue Constantin Film (along with other German film professionals) were active facilitators in the expansion of the American film industry through financing and releasing American films in Germany. Moreover, conceptualizing cinema as an "event," Eichinger appropriated certain principles from American high-concept cinema for his own productions, incorporating spectacle and spectatorial pleasure in films such as Die Unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story, W. Petersen, 1984), Bin ich sch�n? (Am I Beautiful, D. D�rrie, 1998), and Der Campus (The Campus, S. Wortmann, 1998).

Drawing on archival records and interviews with industry professionals, this study illustrates how the German film industry appropriated certain production and distribution practices and aesthetic influences from American cinema at this important juncture in film history and absorbed them into a uniquely German model of a dual economy that is still prevalent today.

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