The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (film)
The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, or: How violence develops and where it can lead (German original title: Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann) is a 1975 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Heinrich Böll, written for the screen by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta. Schlöndorff and von Trotta wrote the script with an emphasis on the vindictive and harsh treatment of an innocent woman by the public, the police and the media.
|The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum|
|Directed by||Volker Schlöndorff|
Margarethe von Trotta
|Produced by||Willi Benninger|
|Screenplay by||Volker Schlöndorff|
Margarethe von Trotta
|Based on||The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll|
|Music by||Hans Werner Henze|
|Edited by||Peter Przygodda|
|Distributed by||Cinema International Corporation (1975) (West Germany)|
New World Pictures (1975) (USA)
Katharina Blum is an innocent woman who works as a housekeeper for a famous corporate lawyer, Hubert Blorna, and his wife Trude. Her life is ruined by an invasive tabloid reporter, Werner Tötges, who works for a tabloid simply known as The Paper. Katharina lands in the papers when the police begin to investigate her in connection with Ludwig Götten, a man she has just met and quickly fallen in with love, and who is accused of being an anarchist, a bank robber, and an alleged terrorist. Police suspect Katharina of aiding and abetting Götten.
Throughout the film, Katharina's limits are tested, and her dignity, as well as her sanity, is on the line as she tries her best to make her voice heard and the truth known. After Tötges visits Katharina's mother, who is recovering from surgery in the hospital, her mother dies. Ludwig is captured; Katharina had allowed him to hide out at the country house of Alois Sträubleder, a political leader who was pursuing her romantically and had given her the key to his country villa. It turns out that Ludwig was not a bank robber but instead a deserter from the Bundeswehr who stole two regiments' pay.
Unable to find justice for herself or make the negative press coverage stop, Katharina murders Tötges and his photographer. Katharina and Ludwig see each other once more, passionately clinging to each other as they pass one another in the basement of the prison where they are initially held.
In an epilogue, at Tötges's funeral, his editor delivers a hypocritical speech about how his murder was an attack on democracy and the freedom of the press. The film's final image is a block of text that appears over Tötges's funeral wreath and casket, linking the film's depiction of The Paper's yellow journalism to the practices of actual German tabloid Bild-Zeitung. This text also appears at the beginning of Heinrich Böll's book. It reads:
The characters and action in this story are purely fictitious. Should the description of certain journalistic practices result in a resemblance to the practices of Bild-Zeitung, such resemblance is neither intentional, nor fortuitous, but unavoidable.
- Angela Winkler – Katharina Blum
- Mario Adorf – Kommissar Beizmenne (Inspector Beizmenne)
- Dieter Laser – Werner Tötges
- Jürgen Prochnow – Ludwig Götten
- Heinz Bennent – Dr. Hubert Blorna
- Hannelore Hoger – Trude Blorna
- Rolf Becker – Staatsanwalt Hach
- Harald Kuhlmann – Moeding
- Herbert Fux – Weninger
- Regine Lutz – Else Woltersheim
- Werner Eichhorn – Konrad Beiters
- Karl Heinz Vosgerau – Alois Sträubleder
- Angelika Hillbrecht – Frau Pletzer
- Horatius Häberle – Staatsanwalt Dr. Korten
- Henry van Lyck – 'Scheich' Karl
- Stephanie Thönnessen – Claudia Sterm
- Peter Franke – Dr. Heinen
Produced during a time of political controversy in West Germany, and a time where journalists would stop at nothing to get their name known in the field, the film digs deep into human rights violations in what should be a peaceful, democratic country, and shines a light on the vindictive nature of the tabloid press and the tendency they have to spread lies and distort the facts. The film also presents a clear condemnation of collusion between the police and the yellow press. Unlike the novel, the film ends with a scene at Tötges' funeral, with his publisher delivering a hypocritical condemnation of the murder as an infringement on the freedom of the press.
The film establishes its concern with the media in its opening scene, which follows a man (Götten) who is being filmed and followed. Though she only spends one night with him, the police raid on Katharina's home, as well as her involvement with Götten, immediately becomes a media spectacle. When Katharina is released because the police can’t find the evidence to hold her, she walks into an abundance of journalists pointing cameras at her and yelling questions at her. She tries to look away, but the police officer escorting her out grabs a fistful of her hair and makes her look into the flashing lights and curious faces. He claims they’re just doing their jobs and that she needs to respect that.
The film represents the media as vindictive and scandal-obsessed. The Paper only publishes conspiracies and disregards the truth. The main reporter, Tötges, frequently makes up quotes and distorts facts to make Katharina's life fit a salacious narrative of a promiscuous woman who aids and abets anarchists and terrorists. It’s clear that the media doesn’t care if she is innocent or not. She is a story, and that is her only purpose to them.
In interviews for the 2003 Criterion Collection DVD release of the film, Schlöndorff and other crew members argue for the film's continued relevance today, drawing an analogy between the political climate of panic over terrorism in 1970s West Germany and the post-September 11, 2001 situation in the U.S. where unsubstantiated media hype was used to launch the invasion of Iraq.
Following the kidnapping and execution of a West German Corporate leader, Hanns Martin Schleyer and several other prison deaths, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum is a reflection of the conflicts in West Germany during the 1960s and '70s, a time where student movements and a political struggle were occurring. Militant terrorists such as the Red Army Faction (the Baader-Meinhof Group) had holds in the government and it didn’t take long for their violent tendencies to make citizens questionable toward their governments as reforms began to turn into repressions. Some of these repressions resulted in brutal and destructive consequences, which the film blatantly opposes. Terrorism was confused with radicalism and fear was present in almost all citizens because of the political reforms and repressions the country had undergone.
This was a time period in which media coverage was expanding and journalism was becoming one of the biggest careers to have. Journalists were ruthless in their digging to come up with a story, as reflected in the film. Police were not afraid to become violent, whether it is emotional or physical. Witnesses and suspects seldom had a voice. Some of the topics the film explores are the vindictive nature of the media and police, as well as the abuse of power, discrimination, and emotional abuse.
- Roger Ebert (1976). "The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum". Rogerebert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (Film, 1975)
- Davis, Belinda (2012). Changing the world, changing oneself: Political protest and collective identities in West Germany and the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. New York: Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-0-85745-804-9.
- Böll, Heinrich (1975). The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. Translated by Vennewitz, Leila. ISBN 1-85290-017-2.
- Kilborn, R. W. (1984). Whose lost honour?: A study of the film adaptation of Böll's 'The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum'. Glasgow: Scottish Papers in Germanic Studies. ISBN 0-907409-03-2.
- Gerhardt, Christina. "Surveillance Mechanisms in Literature and Film: Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum by Böll and Schlöndorff / Von Trotta". Gegenwartsliteratur 7 (2008): 69-83.