From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Bahnhofskino is a German term (/bawn-hofs-kee-no/) that can mean either a movie theater located in or at a train station, or the type of cinema shown in such theaters, thus being an equivalent to the term "grindhouse". The heyday of both were the late 70s and early 80s. It's essentially a uniquely West German phenomenon.
Cinema Perverso is a documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of Bahnhofskino in West Germany.
But don't just take it from the GCDb. On the occasion of #Deucember we reached out to the Bahnhofskino Podcast and interviewed its hosts, Patrick Lohmeier and Daniel Gramsch. They have been raising the banner for Bahnhofskino for years and so we virtually sat down and had a chat in our projection booth, somewhere between old VHS tape of the Schoogirl Report, our poster collection and we had some Umiliani tunes playing in the background. The original German version of this interview was published on Nischenkino
How would you explain to someone what "Bahnhofskino" is?
Patrick: Ultimately, what we describe today as a Bahnhofskino (train station cinema) or a typical Bahnhofskino film has little to do with what this type of cinema was in its heyday in the 1950s. Namely an opportunity for travelers to pass the time while waiting for the connecting train with a newsreel and amusing short films. At least in many major West German cities. “Bahnhofskino” was used more colloquially however. The cinema operators themselves preferred names such as Bahnhofslichtspiele (BaLi) or Aktualitätenkino (AKI), with reference to the news from all over the world shown there. Ultimately, the growing popularity of television was responsible for the fact that since the 1960s more and more lurid films with snappy titles have been shown in the station cinemas, which were meant entice visitors to go to the cinema. The news was now being watched on television and most people probably wanted to watch the latest hit movie for more than 20 minutes before getting on the next train. The decision to show tough westerns and kinky leather clothes to the inclined audience was above all an economic necessity.
Daniel: By the 80s at the latest, many train station cinemas were more and more transformed into pure sex cinemas - at least at the Zoo train station in Berlin, where some of this type continued to vegetate until the early 2000s. In the sense of our podcast, the term stands for genre entertainment, preferably beyond large studio productions, which justifies a cinematic analysis at least as much as the canonical titles of film history.
Patrick: Exactly. We actually understand "Bahnhofskino" in a broader and somewhat abstract way as an umbrella term for a form of entertainment film that we want to pay tribute to, and which the critics and audiences ridiculed. We do this with a certain seriousness and an academic background, but that does not mean that we are standard bearers for bad (?) cinema. When a lovelessly staged thriller shows its ugly face, we growl back appropriately.
Where do you see differences and similarities to terms like grindhouse, exploitation, drive-in?
Patrick: As a term for a certain type of film - usually quickly produced, often interchangeable films with a healthy amount of action, sex and violence - Bahnhofskino is now almost interchangeable with what we understand as grindhouse or exploitation cinema. Strictly speaking, a Grindhouse Theater is the closest thing to a Bahnhofskino. And the availability of lurid entertainment in the 80s on cable and private television and of course video stores put an end to both of them.
Daniel: The first video stores were mainly fed by titles in the areas of karate / kung fu, spaghetti westerns, sex & crime - in other words, pretty much the same genres as in the train station cinema, which you could then subdivide in grindhouse, exploitation, Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, etc.. Accordingly, these, as well as B-movies from the 50s and 60s that populated the drive-ins, are also welcome representatives in our podcast format.
In what way is Bahnhofskino a place, and in what way is it a genre?
Daniel: Personally, I think “Bahnhofskino” as a genre is just as wrong as “Grindhouse” - a crime thriller is a genre, a western, sex stuff. For me, “Bahnhofskino” would be my profession, film the medium. What they all have in common is the fast and very special thrills, the salt in the soup, so to speak. And the place, at least when it still existed, determined the narrative form.
Patrick: "Bahnhofskino" only became a more or less common generic term for a certain form of cinema entertainment when the Bahnhofskinos ceased to exist, that is, in the 80s and up. Unfortunately, there is now a tendency to quickly pigeonhole the cinema of our parents' generation as outdated or “trashy” - I hate that word - in the drawer of the train station or dirty cinema. That is fundamentally wrong. Today, for example, the sex films of that time or Bud Spencer / Terence Hill comedies are benevolently amused in many places and ultimately viewed with disdain. But in the 1970s they attracted countless viewers to the cinemas. The first school girl report (1970) over seven million. Nowadays, no Til Schweiger comedy or superhero film can do that. And at the time of their premiere, such blockbusters weren't even shown in train station cinemas.
It went so far that films were produced especially for train station cinemas. What are examples?
Patrick: Much of what is wrongly put in the Bahnhofskino drawer today was actually professionally and in some cases lavishly produced genre films from other European countries, which, due to their violent and sexually charged content, did not find their way into the big cinemas in the inner cities. A stigma that brilliant filmmakers like Lucio Fulci or Sergio Corbucci in this country outside of amateur circles still cannot get rid of. Of course, there were also a lot of dirty goods that were produced quickly and cheaply in the station cinema. For Django Nudo and the lustful girls from Porno Hill (1968/1970), sex scenes were inserted into the rather bland B-Western Brand of Shame and then they slapped a ludicrous dub on top of it. The unbelievable popularity of so-called educational films of the late 60s and early 70s such as the Oswalt Kolle films and reports paved the way for fast and inexpensive wacky soft sex strips à la Hausfrauen- and St. Pauli-Report. For every Mondo masterpiece by Prospero & Jacopetti or Deodato, there were Faces of Death (1978) or Notti Porno Del Mondo (1977). Which is not to say that comparatively crude examples of exploitation cinema such as Doomed To Die (1980) by Umberto Lenzi or Devil Hunter (1980) by multi-filmmaker Jess Franco are unattractive. The trend of making profit from a popular sub-genre with inexpensive ripoffs can of course also be observed in the area of mercenary films, horror films or westerns of the time and is by no means unique for this time.
Do you know train station cinemas yourself or are you too young for that?
Daniel: I only know the mentioned sex cinemas around the Zoo in Berlin, in which ancient porn was shown. They probably only had limited dealings with train travelers.
Patrick: Same with me. I was born in the late 70s, just in time for the death of the train station cinema culture. And in Würzburg, where I spent my childhood, there never was one.
What excites you about it even in today’s times?
Patrick: About the station cinema as a special variant of the genre film? It is a treasure trove of film history, in which there are many worth seeing - albeit high quality in the non-classical sense - to discover pearls. Occasionally, however, you can also find real art in the station cinema, for example Bloody Friday (1972) by Rolf Olsen, She Killed in Ecstasy (1971) by the aforementioned Jess Franco, the Coffin Joe film À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma (1964), great parts of the work of Enzo G. Castellari, Joe D'Amato or Roberta Findlay. But I'm going to stop now, otherwise we'll still be sitting here tomorrow.
Daniel: Basically, I am of the opinion that every film deserves to be analyzed - and since as a comic artist and film scholar I am doubly burdened with the duty to constantly justify my interests, I do not think much of the distinction that is still cherished between high culture and trash in this country. I find genre cinema particularly fascinating because abstractions of stories are often told cheaply, which have socio-cultural relevance, but which are often overlooked due to the way they are made.
How did your podcast come about?
Patrick: Before our podcast together, I was quite busy in film forums and started my own blog in 2005, which was dedicated to second-tier cinema. But I've never been particularly productive doing that. Not even after I renamed “Lohmi's Grindhouse” - no jokes please! - into "Bahnhofskino" a few years later. Around the same time I started listening to English-language film podcasts like The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema or The Projection Booth, which treated that type of B-cinema with exactly the sort of appreciation that I loved to see in German-speaking countries. There was no such film podcast, which is why I wanted to start one myself. Daniel and I were with the same employer at the time and shared a great passion and academic interest in film. But not much more. And we had no idea about the technical challenges of the medium. At least when we recorded the first podcast episode on Bullet in the Head (1990) and Last Man Standing (1996) in 2012. Over the years our friendship grew and - hopefully! - the quality of the conversations. In any case, we'll never run out of films.
What are good books to read on the subject?
Patrick: Christian Keßler has made a name for himself as an author on all things classics and curiosities in film history for decades, earlier as an author with Splatting Image and now with regular book publications of his own. Das Wilde Auge (1997) and his latest tome Gelb wie die Nacht (2020) about the Italian thriller are exemplary. There is also something worth reading by Martin Hentschel, including about the buddy movies (Kumpelfilme) that were very popular in the 70s. The standard work about the heyday of American grindhouse culture from the 1960s to the 1980s is probably Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square (2002), named after the magazine of the same name, by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford. If you are fluent in English, I recommend taking a look at Fab Press, my favorite psychotronic cinema publisher. And from Munich comes the wonderful fanzine [SigiGötz Entertainment], which regularly deals with the shining figures from the golden era of station cinema and their films.
What are your favorite films in the genre? What is the prototypical Bahnhofskino film that you watch from time to time to get you in the mood for a train station cinema?
Daniel: Because of the many films we watch for the podcast every week, it's difficult to do a lot of re-watching. But even without a recording, I like to watch old B-movies like The Day of the Triffids (1962) or It Came From Outer Space (1953), hammer horror or Vincent Price classics and my personal favorites Russ Meyer and John Waters.
Patrick: I'm always in the mood for Bahnhofskino. I've always found it difficult to list my favorite films. But my taste clearly points towards Italy when I long for sleazy entertainment. Corbucci, Fulci, Argento, Bava, Dallamano, DiLeo, Castellari ... although I consider all of these artists to have long since been rehabilitated - at least within my bubble. Other filmmakers like Umberto Lenzi or Schlock-King Bruno Mattei still have to fight for this respect. But so as not to waste your time with name-dropping, I'll say Hitch Hike (1977) of the underrated Pasquale Festa Campanile with a cast to die for - including Franco Nero, Corinne Cléry and David Hess.
Do you notice an increase in interest in the dirty film of bygone days?
Daniel: Because of the films by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, there was at times increasing interest in the films they referenced, classics of the Bahnhofskino, if you like. But above all the "with a six-pack of beer it gets funnier" crowd, who amuse themselves when things get really stupid, are gaining the upper hand in my opinion. Sure, commenting on a movie with friends can be fun, but if that's the only reason to see the movie, at least I'm not having fun anymore. And with something like Kung Fury (2015) or intentional trash à la Sharknado (2013), you can count me out.
Patrick: I also see the growing interest from that type of audience mentioned by Daniel with some skepticism. These people see that era of cinema entertainment, which is clearly out of date in the best sense of the word, strictly through SchleFaZ (worst movies of all times) glasses. The niche for out-of-the-way cinephilia is growing, but there is still a lack of broad-based appreciation. All in all, however, the positive trend for several years has been towards critical reassessment and rehabilitation. And earlier "dirty films" are more and more often given a belated honor in lovingly furnished home video publications. The navigation through the off-beat genre cinema on DVD and Blu-ray is now a real challenge due to the large number of titles and the sometimes dubious technical quality.
Interview conducted by Sebastian. Many thanks to Daniel and Patrick. It is based on the original German version of this text at Nischenkino.de