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The Baader Meinhof Complex

Managed to see The Baader-Meinhof Complex last night, a recent German film about the famous radical left-wing terrorist group. It continues in the recent vein of novels and films which a kind of critical but romantic view of the radical left-wing terrorist groups of the late sixties and early seventies (the Weather Underground in the US, etc). Typically, the film is light on political context. It does make some attempt to present the logic of the group, but there really isn’t much debate presented (and certainly not from those on the left but from the broader movement who I’m sure (as in the US) would have been arguing against the use of terror), and at other times the film presents the group (particularly Andreus Baader) as crazed madmen. I know a lot less about the Baader-Meinhof group than I do the Weather Underground, so I can’t comment so much on the details, but I’m not sure you’ll get a particularly deep understanding from the film. In addition, it’s pretty long, and V, who I went with, squirmed her way through the last hour of the two and a half hours. I hadn’t eaten beforehand, so was becoming increasingly cranky as the last half-hour concentrated on the various attempts to rescue them from jail. The film is particularly monotonal – lacking in emotional dynamism – preferring to concentrate on the violence and the almost thriller-like aspects rather than presenting us with more human and personal moments (Baader and his partner don’t have a single moment onscreen alone together that I can remember, for example). I couldn’t find the trailer in English, but here it is in German.

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Rjurik Davidson is a writer, editor and speaker. Rjurik’s novel, The Stars Askew was released in 2016. Rjurik is a former associate editor of Overland magazine. He can be found at rjurik.com and tweets as @rjurikdavidson.

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  1. I’ve just been reading the book on which the film’s been based. It’s striking how apolitical the RAF seemed, especially Baader. It almost seems as if he goes straight from student demos to crazy armed struggle, with no thought whatsoever. Meinhof, on the other hand, seems a much more tragic figure.

  2. Yeah, I think most of those groups had pretty unsophisticated politics. The Weather Underground are a similar example, though they seem to have been less crazy than the Baader Meinhoff group. It’s also important to remember just how young many of these people were: certainly the Weather Underground leaders were all in their early twenties when they went underground. (Meinhoff though was much older). There’s something a little astounding about people in their early twenties being so certain of their position, especially when the position involves such extreme actions. You might have thought they’d all have paused a little for thought, reading, discussion.

  3. Looks plenty violent. Couple of not bad doco’s that have aired in recent years are the one on the Weather Underground and one on Paty Hearst (can’t remember the title). Just finished the very fine novel, My Revolutions, by Hari Kunzru – which I thought gave a pretty good fictional account of the slip into more extreme and violent politics. Great on the nature of belief in general.

  4. Yeah, My Revolutions is a fantastic novel. On this topic, it might be noted that Mark Rudd from the Weather Underground has just written a memoir. Here’s a pretty relevant passage:
    “Much of what the Weathermen did had the opposite effect of what we intended,” he writes. “We de-organized SDS while we claimed we were
    making it stronger; we isolated ourselves from our friends and allies as we helped split the larger antiwar movement around the issue of violence. In general, we played into the hands of the FBI. . . . We
    might as well have been on their payroll.”

    http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-ca-mark-rudd29-2009mar29,0,3918461.story

  5. What Rudd says is undoubtedly true. It’s important to remember that there were a great number of their opponents arguing against them in the movement, but they split SDS anyway, and went ahead with their activities anyway. I think the Weather Underground documentary, which is otherwise excellent, gives a glimpse of this, but doesn’t really show the size or strength of the movement they were leaving. One of the problems of that documentary (and the Patty Hearst one even moreso) was their inability to show the diversity and strength of activism at the time, and at the same time the weaknesses of that movement. You can’t really understand these groups without this – so that a study of their internal logic (like both docs and in its own way the Baader Meinhoff Complex) is necessarily incomplete.

  6. I found things like ‘Berkley in the 60s’ helped me to understand these doco’s as well as a few books I had read on the 60s – Chris Harman’s The Fire Last Time, Mike Marqusee’s excellent books on Dylan and Ali, Jonathan Neale’s Book on Vietnam called ‘The American War’ and Georgakis and Surkin’s ‘Detroit: I Do Mind Dying’. Strangely it was the one on Dylan that really made me ‘get it’ on the 60s and better understand the links between the old left, civil rights movement, the new left and counter culture, and importantly the role of celebrity and media in determining both leadership and political actions in the period.

  7. I think Todd Gitlin’s book ‘The Sixties: Years of Hope Days of Rage’ is the best I’ve read, though if you liked the Dylan book, you might also like Morris Dickstein’s ‘Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties’ (which has a chapter on Dylan.

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