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
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.
Wampe (Or Who Owns the World?) (screenplay)
Film: Kuhle Wampe or Who Owns the World? (essay)
Small Contribution on the Topic of Realism (essay)
· On Film: A Discussion (essay)
· Concerning Film (essay)
· Hollywood (poetry)