Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Stalinism is not socialism’ ‘Capitalism is not freedom’ are two slogans that appear in Fatherland (1986) a film in which director Ken Loach attacks both the Stalinist form of Communism and questions how free is a so called ‘free society’ showing how the British police are stopping vehicles to turn back working men who want to exercise their legal right to picket in support of a strike and we eavesdrop on a radio talk show and hear how people are having their opinions censored. But the best example of the ‘grass is not always greener’ syndrome is seen through the eyes of Klaus Ditterman a protest singer who because the East German authorities take offence at his lyrics is expelled to the West. Klaus, leaving his wife and son behind, soon realises that he is entering a society that’s as repressive as the one he left behind in the GDR. On entering West Germany he is confronted with an American record label’s attempt to persuade him to sign a contract that will commit his soul to a corporate company that will control his every move and exploit him for their own political and capital gain. Against the record companies express wishes he refuses to sign the contract and travels to England with a French journalist to search for his father, a man who fought in the Spanish Civil War and is still a legend in East Germany but who Klaus has not seen since he was a young child. When he finally meets his elusive parent his prospective on life is completely changed.

Protest singer Gerulf Pannach.
This is the first of Ken’s movies to involve filming outside Britain and the first to make extended use of foreign actors.  Real life folk singer Gerulf Pannach in his one and only feature film plays protest singer Klaus Ditterman. Pannach who had his own problems with the GDR, being expelled from Berlin in the 1970’s after serving nine months in prison for ‘state hostile agitation’. Along with his partner, Christian Kunert he also wrote the music for the film. Paris born Fabienne Babe plays the journalist. You may recognise Christine Rose, who plays Lucy Bernstein the American record label executive, from her role as Angela Petrelli in the TV series Heroes. Channel 4 provided over 50% of the budget with French company Mk2 Productions putting up most of the remainder. 

Which is the most repressive side of the fence?
Ken Loach’s first feature film for five years was the closest he came to making a European art house movie, Fatherland was made at a time in the director’s career when he was at a pretty low ebb following the censorship of his work for television and the banning by the Royal Court Theatre of the stage play Perdition so it was no surprise that the film was not one of his best. Shoot on location in Berlin, four years before the wall came down, and at the University Town of Cambridge in England it was Loach’s first and only collaboration with socialist playwright Trevor Griffith.  I found the script rather muddled and not very dynamic and Loach admits that he had difficulty in working with the playwright who refused to amend it to fit the director’s normal way of working. There were also problems because a lot of the script had to be in German and the German actors had a job transcribing it precisely to the screen.  Singing the Blues in Red, its America release title, is a rather sombre and bleak movie and a missed opportunity that could have been far more powerful if scripted by say Paul Laverty or Jim Allen who incidentally scripted his next film Hidden Agenda (1990) from which Ken Loach’s career never looked back. 

Ken Loach at work in Berlin.

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