I was at the movies recently and saw a trailer for the Baader Meinhof Complex, a German film about the infamous Red Army Faction (RAF) directed by Uli Edel based on the book of the same name by Stefan Aust.
The trailer surprised me, and I’ll tell you why.
I happened to see the movie last fall when I was on a trip in Europe. It tells the story of the RAF from formation to imprisonment. They murdered police officers, shot and bombed judges and state officials, bombed a newspaper office, bombed the US Army barracks in Frankfurt and much more. They were most active in the 1970s, but did not officially disband until 1998.
The film does not portray them as heroes or freedom fighters. It shows a group of misguided, angry, rebellious and somewhat sadistic young people (even Jean-Paul Sartre thought Baader was an ‘asshole’). The son of one RAF victim even praised the film for showing the group as ‘a merciless, ruthless gang of murderers.’ Christopher Hitchens comments that the film ‘interrogates and ultimately indicts (and convicts) the West German terrorists rather than the state and society which they sought to overthrow.’ It is a great film and I recommend it…
BUT, we have this US trailer, which leads in:
Germany 1967. The children of the Nazi generation have grown up in the ruin their parents created. They vowed fascism would never rule their country again.
We see clips of action, police brutally pursuing protesters, a young woman (RAF member) being shot by police, one clip where a hot shirtless Irmgard Möller announces that ‘screwing and shooting are the same’.
We hear Möller speak of ‘resistance’ and ‘historical responsibility.’ We are asked: ‘Rebels? Radicals? Criminals? Heroes? Martyrs? Murderers? Victims? Villains? Icons?’
As if the historical record is far too ambiguous to know…and all with The Who’s ‘My Generation’ in the background.
Dark music comes in to inform us the West German security officials are the real villains. The fleeing RAF terrorists are innocent. The narrator explains, ‘In the fight for freedom, they lost themselves to the cause and ignited a revolution around the world.’ Lost themselves to the cause? What does that even mean? Ignited a revolution? Where?
Is this bizarre to anyone else?
I found the UK version of the trailer. Heavy music, riots, crime sprees, a female RAF member killing someone, hijackings, BOOOOM:
A group of radicals were ready to change the world. Revolutionaries. Criminals. Murderers. A true story. Europe’s most notorious terrorists.
Heavy-handed, sure. But perhaps better acquainted with the reality of the film. The German trailer too is much different from the American.
For some reason, Hollywood (behind the marketing of this film, not its creation) seems incapable of marketing anything about revolutionaries without romanticizing them (for instance, Che, a film about a ‘heroic’ butcher, dead-beat dad, and failed/’romantic’ revolutionary). Fortunately, the Baader Meinhof Complex doesn’t play along with their dreams.
Do Hollywood studio execs and marketing wizards have fonder memories of the New Left and the late 60’s and early 70’s (or what they can remember of it) than the Germans do? Probably. While the times they were a’changin’ in the US, the German experience was much more traumatic.
RAF violence traumatized a people dealing with demons of WWII past and divided by the Cold War. For an excellent account, check out Bringing the War Home by Jeremy Varon.