FRANKFURT, WEST GERMANY -- After enjoying great success in the 1960s and '70s, West Germany's film industry has hit troubled times.
Critics talk about an artistic crisis compounded by the growing trend toward mammoth, international coproductions aimed primarily at making money. Cinema attendance also is down, and last year only seven West German movies drew more than a half million viewers.
To many, 42-year-old director Wim Wenders, whose latest work is the prize-winning "Der Himmel Ueber Berlin," remains Germany's main hope, since the death in 1982 of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who created such masterworks as "The Marriage of Maria Braun" (1978) and "Berlin Alexanderplatz" (1980).
Other filmmakers of note include Edgar Reitz, whose 1984 family TV-epic, "Heimat," achieved great success here and in the United States, and Volker Schlo ndorff. After his Academy Award-winning "The Tin Drum" (1979), Schlo ndorff has found an American audience. But Werner Herzog, known for such films as "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972), wasn't able to finish his "Cobra Verde" in time for the important Hof Film Festival in the fall.
Germany's film industry has a long and illustrious history.
In the '20s and '30s, such moviemakers as Fritz Lang ("Metropolis," 1926), F.W. Murnau ("The Last Laugh," 1924) and G.W. Pabst ("The Threepenny Opera," 1931) made Germany a leader in the embryonic industry. Then Adolf Hitler's Third Reich snuffed out artistic creativity. In the '50s a long string of sentimental movies based on simple boy-meets-girl plots entertained a nation still digging out of the war.
The new German film began its rise in the mid-1960s, suddenly rocketing Fassbinder and Schlo ndorff to fame, along with Herzog, Wenders and Alexander Kluge ("Abschied von Gestern," 1966). Prestigious film schools were established in West Berlin and Munich to groom new talent for the government-subsidized film industry.
"German film keeps bouncing back," says Heinz Badewitz, head of the 21-year-old Hof Film Festival. "Just when you think it's all over, then they come fighting back and the critics fall into a frenzy. German movies find much of their success abroad. That's a fact."
Some of the best-known recent German films have been international coproductions, such as "The Neverending Story" (1984) and "The Name of the Rose" (1985). Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 submarine war adventure, "Das Boot" ("The Boat"), was also strongly aimed at an international market.
"International film spells the end of national cinema," says Hans-Joachim Neumann, the author of a 1986 book, "Der Deutsche Film Heute" ("German Film Today").
Neumann said that while Wenders' 1984 film, "Paris, Texas," won great critical acclaim, it was more an American film for the German public than a German one.
"The heroic, experimental age of the movies is over," he said. "The genial dilettantes of the 'other' type of cinema of the 1960s have made way for the gold diggers of the new film boom.
"Things are going badly for German movies, and it didn't just start yesterday."
By last November, only two West German movies were on Stern magazine's list of most-watched motion pictures. One was "Der Joker" ("The Joker"), a crime thriller featuring German rock star Peter Maffay and starring Tahnee Welch and Elliott Gould. The other was "Zaertliche Chaoten" ("Tender Anarchists"), a romantic comedy starring TV superstar Thomas Gottschalk.
Last year's most successful West German movie was a slapstick farce featuring popular TV entertainer Otto, beloved for his hangdog look and baggy clothes. More than 6 million people saw "Otto" from the middle of July to the beginning of September.
Still, many in the industry say the future is still bright for West German movies, even though overall movie theater attendance plunged from 141.3 million in 1981 to about 105.2 million last year.
"I don't look at things pessimistically at all," says Percy Adlon, a Munich film director and producer. "You have to remember that virtually all motion pictures, with the exception of porno movies, receive some kind of tax subsidy from the government. Without that, there wouldn't be any German film industry."
Adlon's latest film, "Out of Rosenheim," is about a stuffy Bavarian tourist who suddenly finds herself loosening up during a stay at a rundown cafe'-motel in the Mojave Desert. The film was a top attraction at the Hof festival.
Another bright spot was Doris Do rrie, whose "Maenner" ("Men ... ") drew nearly 5 million viewers to German movie theaters in 1986. The movie also was well received in the United States.
Still, the nation's leading director is Wenders, whose "Der Himmel Ueber Berlin" won this year's best director award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Frankfurt Allgemeine newspaper called the film "a ray of hope in the darkness."