Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Germanic Languages and Literature

First Advisor

Timothy Corrigan

Second Advisor

Catriona MacLeod





Bridget Swanson

Timothy Corrigan

Catriona MacLeod

Between 2005 and 2015, German film studios produced an unprecedented number of contemporary classical literary adaptations, including Leander Haußmann’s Kabale und Liebe (2005), Uwe Janson’s Werther (2008), Rolf Teigler’s Penthesilea-Moabit (2009), Philip Stölzl’s Goethe! (2011), and others. This dissertation explores the aesthetic practices and industrial pressures that resulted in these films’ emergence and argues that – regardless of style and generic conventions – they must be understood as key players in a more overarching genre: contemporary classical adaptations. This category proves essential for mapping contemporary adaptation practices as they interact with national and international concerns. Close film analysis paired with material adaptation studies demonstrates that the recent uptick in contemporary classical adaptations in Germany has emerged through German cinema’s intense dialogical engagement with 1) Hollywood blockbuster adaptations of the 1990s; 2) transnational production and distribution pressures in contemporary Europe; and 3) the vexed heritage of German national cinema. That nearly all of the films in this genre consistently position spectators within the filmic diegesis as self-reflexive viewers of canonical works indicates, however, the importance of a fourth influence that promotes and shapes these films: namely, the nationwide project of Filmbildung in Germany, which since 2003 has been heavily pushed by private and public institutions (such as the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, the Goethe-Institut, and Warner Bros. Germany). This educational mission offers financial incentives for filmmakers to produce literary adaptations and provides instructors and students with didactic materials for their integration into curricular units and thereby undergirds the creation of, alters the aesthetics of, and influences the reception of contemporary classical adaptations. Ultimately, this investigation reveals the educational apparatus as a historically unrecognized “seventh” branch in what Simone Murray has termed the “six branches of the material adaptation industry” and redirects the field of contemporary German film away from the formal experimentation of modern-day auteurs to foreground the transnational circulation and transmutation of popular content.

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