Bertolt Brecht

Translations from the German
by E. J. Campfield

The most prominent figure in 20th century European theatre, dramatist Bertolt Brecht also worked with limited success in Germany and Hollywood as a screenwriter and producer. Brecht is credited as co-author of the screenplays for five movies and numerous scenarios for films which never saw production. His first film script, an adaptation of his own Three Penny Opera, was directed by G.W. Pabst. But the film's producers objected to Brecht's political slant, and by the time it was completed and shot, the script retained little Brechtian flavor.

The screenplays and pitch scenarios from Brecht's Hollywood exile period (1941-47) all fell victim of the industry's assembly line approach to film making. This is particularly so of Hangmen Also Die (auteured by Fritz Lang) and an adaptation of Brecht's Herr Puntila. His Mother Courage script languished in development hell more than three years, only to be pulled from production shortly after shooting began and never finished. Overall the Brecht film experience was a dismal disappointment.

The only film project through which Brecht achieved any real degree of satisfaction was his own independent production of Kuhle Wampe (1932) which he co-wrote with Ernst Ottwald. Despite scholarly debate that Brecht contributed only storyline, sparse dialogue and his not-insignificant name to the script, while it was Ottwald who was the main writer on the project, Kuhle Wampe is a significant work of Weimar era German cinema and remains unquestionably the best example of Brechtian film.

There is precious little good material on Brecht and film in English translation. The links that follow include my translations of two Brecht essays regarding Kuhle Wampe and a script excerpt of the film's opening act as they were published in the Winter 1982 issue of Prism International. As no copy of the original script is known to have survived, my work is a transcription/translation from the film itself. Also below are three additional Brecht commentaries on the film business that are, in my experience, ironically as true today as they were many decades ago when Brecht first penned them.

· Kuhle Wampe (Or Who Owns the World?) (screenplay)
· Sound Film: Kuhle Wampe or Who Owns the World? (essay)

· A Small Contribution on the Topic of Realism (essay)
· On Film: A Discussion (essay)
· Concerning Film (essay)

· Hollywood (poetry)