The problem with history is that those in charge often write it. The focus is unfairly swayed toward major conflicts, wars, and…yep…those in charge. See the pattern? That’s what makes a history book like Howard Zinn’s People’s History Of The United States so good. It looks at history from a different perspective.
And that’s what you get in the early moments of Kraftwerk And The Digital Revolution.
Post World War II Youth Culture in Germany
History covers wars but rarely covers the post-war reconstruction, or the temperament of citizens in a post-war nation.
The Electronic Revolution may begin in 1960s Germany, but the film looks back to discuss the youth counter-culture and how their vision of government and their parents and grandparents was one of cautious skepticism seeded in the fall out from World War II.
These were, after all, the people who had casually stood by, if not actively supported, German Nazism during the 30s and 40s. In many ways, the youth movement mirrored the free love of the sixties in the US, though the reasons were obviously different.
Here’s the opening to the film, which covers the era from that perspective:
I must digress from the topic at hand for a moment to discuss the title of this film. It is good in one respect and poor in another.
It is good as noting Kraftwerk’s name evokes one to pick up the film for a further glance. It is poor in that the entire first half of the film truly surrounds The Electronic Revolution. And at a full three hours, that’s enough to be a documentary in itself. However, you cannot fully understand Kraftwerk without understanding the core basis of what was happening in music in 1960s and 70s Germany.
Back to the film.
Transitioning into Electronic Experimentation
From the clash between the mentality of elders and the energized youth came a unique musical movement that, both initially and surprisingly, began with jazz and classical. (For you readers not fond of jazz, I would make the argument that you simply have not exposed yourself to enough styles of jazz to find one worthy of self-notoriety.)
Of course, it wasn’t any style of jazz; it was the more avant garde German free jazz.
And from this style of free jazz birthed the electronica that spawned Kraftwerk. And added to it were elemental forms of visual arts, classical music, and various other “scenes” that erupted throughout Germany at the time. The film goes into all of this in great detail; in fact, there is so much detail that the documentary (as noted previously) is a whopping three hours long.
The second half of the film focuses primarily on Kraftwerk and the music they went on to inspire. Like the first half, the documentary goes into great detail surrounding the group’s albums, from the widely hailed Autobahn to the gripping Trans-Europe Express. The latter finds abundant praise from several noted critics, despite the album being initially poorly received upon original release.
From the brisk near hour-long overview of Kraftwerk’s career comes a brief conclusion of the music they inspired, from masters like Bowie and Eno to the soon-to-come New Wave and techno.
Beyond Content: Why This Film Matters
Contrary to other such films, Kraftwerk And The Electronic Revolution never seems to bore. For such a long work, it is not surprisingly in-depth, but it is quite entertaining. Especially to one who enjoys electronic music and can appreciate a film on its birth.
I recognized several artists in the first half: Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kluster, Neu, etc. And, of course, there’s Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk’s legacy is truly one of a kind. And you cannot fully appreciate it without a fairly thorough (and this film certainly provides that) understanding of how Germany went from committing one of the worst atrocities in human history to pioneering one of the greatest musical eras in history.
I strongly recommend you check out the opening clip above. Then, dig into the film in its entirety when you have an afternoon to spare.
Check out Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution on Amazon.