Around 80 million people owning over 40 million cars are living in Manual-Diesel-Wagon Country. And as you know some of the most important and prestigious car manufacturers are based in Germany. It's said that his car is a German's most beloved child. Economically and culturally the automobile is a cornerstone over here.
Nevertheless, I suspect you don't know any German car movies. Am I right?
I was chatting with fellow Opponaut cabarnett a week ago about movies after I saw that he watched "(500) Days of Summer" during his train trip.
Being a true Jalop he brought up the E30 Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character drives in it. He also wrote that he is learning German and watches German movies. That got me thinking. What's the deal with German car movies and are there any German movies you Jalops might enjoy?
I won't include TV-Shows and television movies in my thoughts because the text is already (too) long and almost all of those movies and shows are appalling anyway.
(Full disclosure: I can't offer you any pictures or videos since I'm sensitive to copyright issues and therefore reluctant to use content I don't own in my articles. This is especially true for movies and music. However, if you were to open Youtube and Google in separate windows you might be surprised what you can find when you read my text closely...)
The German "Blockbuster-dilemma"
We can easily criticise Hollywood for overblown budgets and dumbing down everything, but the truth is that a good bunch of the movies made in Tinseltown are truly enjoyable. It's not surprising that they are an important part of pop-culture all around the world. So, let's start off with a simple truth: Good entertainment usually costs a lot of money!
Jalopy movies are quite often rather simple, more or less funny action-flicks to which I have a kind of love-hate relationship. A blockbuster like "The Fast and the Furious" for example is a bad movie and yet I watched it way too often for what it actually is. And I'll watch it again I'm afraid– not despite being full of Hollywood clichés but because of it!
It's worth noting that the German movie industry and audience are heavily influenced by Hollywood, so German filmmakers adhere to the same basic "blockbuster-formula" as their US counterparts. There are no noticeable differences in structure, story telling, characters, "feel" and overall technique. I mean, compare this to some Asian films…
The real discrepancy between the US film industry and movie-making in Germany is the significantly smaller budget of German productions. The most important reason for this is obviously the language barrier and the limited reach of German movies because of it.
As a result, a well funded, "risk-friendly" studio system to finance big budget productions was never established here. If you want to accumulate a decent budget you need funding from trusts like the "Filmstiftung NRW" (Film trust North Rhine-Westphalia) and other regional film funds. The problem especially with the state-owned enterprises like the Filmstiftung NRW is that their funding is often motivated by cultural and educational values a screenplay provides. This fundamentally contradicts the purely entertaining nature of a blockbuster movie. That's why the "big budget" – we're talking about less than $20 million - productions filmed over here are often rather serious movies which cover the most important (historic) German issues. "The Downfall" and "Das Boot" are good examples for that. And in a way it makes sense to produce those kind of movies here since the atmosphere is enhanced by German actors speaking the correct language and - in the past at least - filmmakers sensitive for the addressed issues. Said atmosphere is most likely a part of the reason why those movies attract an audience outside of Germany as well thus helping to increase the chances of those historic-drama movies to return the comparatively big investment in them.
Because of the necessity to create "value" even the more light-hearted German movies feel sometimes forced and cramped compared to Hollywood's finest.
It's a kind of vicious circle.
What I wrote helps to explain why movies like "Need for Speed", "The Hangover" or "The Hobbit" aren't produced in Germany and you might not have seen a "light-hearted" German movie yet.
But there is hope. What I described is slowly changing a bit since the late 90s and movies clearly addressing an international audience like "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" and "Cloud Atlas" are for the most part funded by German institutions and made by German personnel. Although the dialogues are in English and most actors are foreigners, it feels like a step in the right direction.
German car movies - A descent into the Abyss of Awfulness
So, Germany: Land of Porsche, AMG, M-Division, Schumacher, Röhrl and the Autobahn – to list just a few buzzwords. Surely, there have to be plenty of movies paying homage to the German car culture you have to watch immediately after reading this article.
Let's see. Here is the americanised plot of the - in my opinion - best German car movie ever made:
Billy "Bro Truck" Bob and his simple-minded friends regularly race Jamal and his Donk-Dudes. One day Billy Bob has an encounter with John Snobrich III and his RS7. Billy Bob is cocksure to beat this rich asshole in a race. They arrange a date and Billy Bob bets all the cash he has on his victory. Needless to say, Billy Bob still lives with his parents and his whisky tango girlfriend isn't convinced at all about his chances of winning the upcoming race. So she is afraid he might lose the money they saved for the flat they want to rent together. While they are fighting over the race and his love for his Bro Truck she is flirting with Evan Wealthier-Douchè who owns a Ferrari and wants her to participate in a beauty competition.
Would you watch this movie fully aware of the fact that it is a comparatively low budget production and some of the actors are more or less amateurs?
It is ironic how Germany has all the right cars and locations to make a "Vanishing Point" rival or a good German version of the "Cannonball Run", and yet they decided to make a movie about the car with the worst image of them all and their White trash owners: The Opel Manta!
"Manta, Manta" is a terrible movie. But, as we all know, there is a fine distinction in terribleness between the downright awful and the crabtastic. Manta, Manta is the latter.
The characters are as stereotypical as the dialogues are shoddy and the action is weak.
(Second full disclosure: Everything from here on to the next disclosure isn't important for the topic, it's merely me trying to entertain you. So if you're only interested in the shorter version of my text, which is understandable, skip the next paragraphs until you find the third disclosure)
The "emotional turmoil" the protagonist goes through results in one of the best lines in German cinema history when the jealous Billy Bob (called Bertie (bert-ee) in the movie) moans: "Man, Uschi (Oo-she)! I drive for your built-in kitchen and you give me all this shit!"
If this isn't epic, I don't know what is?
So you obviously have to love trashy movies to enjoy this crabfest.
I want to leave you with three things I regret because I can't put them in the article:
- If only there was a search tool on the internet where I'd be able to search "Manta, Manta" and maybe something like "Filmauto", "car", "cars" and/or "Bertie" so I'd be able to show you the blue/yellow/purple car owned by our hero Bertie…
- I'd really like to show you a video that shows you some actual footage of the movie with a Techno track laid over it. By the way, did I mention I like the track "Macho Madness" by Envotion?
- Did you know that "Kolbenfresser" is German for piston seizure? There is a race between Bertie's Manta and an "E36". How nice it would be to find this clip on an important video hosting site…
Maybe some of you are better than me with this internet-thingy and care to provide "hints" where to find more information for your fellow Opponauts down in the comments…
The race between the E36 and Bertie's Manta provides for more classic lines about two minutes into the scene.
The worried Gerd is doubting whether the Manta would be able to win the big race when he is already struggling with a 3-series full of FC Bayern Munich fans.
"Don't worry", the overconfident Bertie says behind the wheel,"We still have one [gear] left!"
Gerd, watching his friend revving the engine, warns Bertie to not blow it up since he knows it isn't running properly.
With all his pride and full of love for his car Bertie replys with another epic one-liner: "Gerd, this is a Manta engine!"
While giving the Bavarians the bird he yells: "This one is for you - and goodbye!"
Of course he blows the engine and doesn't fully realise what he has done to his car.
"Kolbenfresser, aus! (Piston seizure, [the engine is] finished)" Gerd answers wearily.
(Third disclosure: You made it!)
But don't despair because there is another car movie I want to distinguish.
Ah, now we're talking you think! This is going to be about M3s destroying the Autobahn or racecar drivers battling for 24 hours on the Nordschleife!
Here is the plot of the second best car movie Germany has to offer:
On his 18th birthday our protagonist Manfred finds out that his father brought all the money he saved to buy a Golf GTI to the bank so it would earn some interest for a few years. Manfred always dreamed of owning a GTI like all his friends and being able to drive around in it with the beautiful Tina sitting in the passenger seat. To add insult to injury he wins a Manta during a celebration of a jubilee in an Opel dealership. Because the Manta has the worst imaginable reputation and the Opel fans are the archenemies of his GTI friends, they and his girl turn on him. Will he learn to love his car and win back Tina?
The movie is called "Manta - Der Film".
(Skip this part if you like)
In the emotional climax our hero suspects that Tina may have a thing going on with one of the GTI guys. Deeply hurt he scratches "Frisösen-Ficker" on the hood of the GTI. Tina catches him off guard and our hero drives off into the night. Matthias Reim's song "Verdammt ich lieb dich" (damn it I love you) plays in the background and gives us an insight in the feelings of the protagonist.
"Damn it, I love you – I don't love you" Mr. Reim sings in this exactly 2 minutes long scene ( I'm not sure why I gave you that info) laden with 90s kitsch which ends with Manfred pouring petrol over the hated Manta. Will he burn it?
Why "The Dark Knight" is better rated on Imdb.com than "Manta - Der Film" is a mystery to me.
Manta, Manta and Manta – Der Film were both released in 1991. There were plenty of car movies produced in Germany before those epics, yet they were either unbearable ballyhoo or clearly aimed at children which made them even worse.
To name just a few:
The "Dudu" franchise consisting of five movies made between 1971 and 1978. Think "Herbie" meets "R2D2". It's rumored that the special abilities of Dudu – a yellow VW Bug – inspired Glen A. Larson to create "Knight Rider". Who knows? The movies are embarrassingly cheesy. As far as I know, they haven't been able to achieve cult status yet. If only you could see a clip where Dudu shows off some anti-theft trickery…
There also were a few comedies made in the 80s like for example:
"Zwei Nasen tanken Super" (Two noses fill up [with] premium [fuel])
„Didi auf vollen Touren" (Didi at full throttle)
You could call those films "exploitation movies" if you like since they clearly exploit the popularity of the comedians and entertainers in the starring roles. The cars and plots are merely assembled around the awful slapstick scenes they perform.
There are also five animated movies based on a cartoon character named Werner I have to point out here. Motor bikes and cars play an important role in the "Werner-Universe". Yet everything that is good about those movies is diminished by the "humour" which annoys the viewer with the exaggerated use of feces, puke and cartoon penises as punch lines.
The already mentioned Manta movies are different in their approach to the other films I listed. At least the main cast consists of "genuine actors" and the intention of the makers is to create more than just various silly sketches combined into 90 minutes of oafishness. They want to tell a story while giving the audience an insight into the culture surrounding the cars of the time. They are far from perfect but not as cringeworthy as other car movies I've unfortunately seen - this includes some US productions too.
So it's remarkable how easy it was to make "the best" German car movie. Manta, Manta was a hit and catapulted the car scene into the mainstream. The films were also marking the zenith of the Opel Manta vs. VW GTI "war" and unintentionally indicated a peak in automotive enthusiasm over here since affordable RWD Coupes like the Manta and the Capri went out of production around that time and the Mk3 GTI wasn't as popular among enthusiast as its predecessors. Car culture and the movies based on it then drifted out of the mainstream again in the mid 90s.
That shit is depressing! Is there no hope at all?
Like I wrote earlier, German moviemakers are inspired by US-films. During the 90s some screenwriters and directors who grew up watching countless Hollywood movies had successes with German productions heavily influenced by for example Quentin Tarantino's style. Like their role model they know how to use pop-cultural - and cars are essantially pop-culture as you know - references for their purposes and understand that cars can be used as plot devices and to enhance a character by setting him up with a specific model. Peter Thorwarth's "Unna-Trilogy" – named after a city in the Ruhr – is a good example. The first movie of the trilogy "Bang Boom Bang" prominently features a green Ford Taunus with the license-plate "DO – PE 69" and a Mercedes SEC.
Another 80s coupe is shown in the stoner-comedy "Lammbock". This time a 6-series is driven by one of the two main characters to underline the fact that they are classy drug dealers.
Arguably the most successful actor and director in Germany is Til Schweiger. Some of you might know him from "Inglorious Basterds" and other Hollywood movies because he tried to establish himself in the US and had some parts in more or less successful films. His breakthrough role was Bertie in Manta, Manta by the way. With "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" he co-wrote, co-produced and starred in a roadmovie where a Mercedes 230 SL gets a lot of screentime. In his movie "Der Eisbär" (The Polar Bear) he uses a Mercedes W 128 and various other cars to create a specific atmosphere and to describe the different characters.
While those films might have cars in them, it doesn't mean they are "real" car movies. And I'm afraid there isn't one yet.
"Ein Freund von mir" (A friend of mine) released in 2006 is classified as a car movie at least by some people because the protagonist is working for a rental car firm and in a cathartic scene he and his friend drive two Porsches on the Autobahn through the rainy night – while being completely naked.
Remarkably the Autobahn, Porsches and high speed weren't used in an action-flick or fast-paced comedy but in a soothing drama. And while the movie isn't exactly spectacular it can definitely compete with average Hollywood productions with its decent story and respectable production value.
Gravenhurst provided some songs for the soundtrack and I think there was a music video for a song called "The Velvet Cell". Sometimes they use scenes from movies in music videos, did you know that?
It's remarkable that the cars I mentioned are all German. The filmmakers clearly recognise their (pop-)cultural value.
So, while cars were always present in German movies, it is the "new quality" of films like "Ein Freund Von Mir" and the bigger budgets of movies like "Cloud Atlas" that make me optimistic for the future of German car movies or cars in German movies in general.
Maybe I'll be able to recommend a decent car movie to you Jalops in a few years' time.