I’m not sure what movie Jeffrey Herf saw, or whether former Der Spiegel editor Stefan Aust changed his tune when speaking to an American audience. But Herf’s review of The Baader-Meinhoff Complex has me wondering, well, WTF? He writes “an honest reckoning with the past is exactly what the movie attempts. And, in providing a frank and unsentimental depiction of the brutal excesses associated with 1960s radicalism, it sets an example that Hollywood would do well to follow.”
Last 11 November, I attended a double bill at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London, featuring a conversation with Aust and a screening of The Baader-Meinhof Complex. Aust was clear about from where sympathies for the Red Army Faction’s ideology might spring. This was clearly a movie, not a reenactment or documentary. It managed to portray generations of RAF members as bored, anarchic youth intoxicated with their own bullshit hysterics beliefs; but it also set a clearly sympathetic context for their emergence.
An honest reckoning? I’m not so sure. No more “honest” a reckoning – if that means establishing some sort of putative truths about the Baader-Meinhoff gang’s role in post-war German history – than historical accounts can ever be. Frank and unsentimental? About their violence, yes. About the rest? Not even close, and neither it nor Aust pretented to be. The lessons to be learned come from the making of the movie, and from its reception, and what they tell us about our willingness to romanticize an imagined terrorist past in the relativizing light of anti-Nazi nostalgia.