Holger Meins was a member of the German urban guerrilla group the Red Army Faction, and before that a film-maker, who died on hunger strike in prison in November 1974. Although he may be less universally known than those core members of the group who inhabited Stammheim prison, and who went on trial in the period 1975-1977, his is nonetheless an interesting and revealing story, and this is explored in some depth in the 2001/2002 documentary "Starbuck Holger Meins", directed by Gerd Conradt.
The title refers to the code-name, taken from a character in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick", allocated to Meins as part of the communications system devised by the members of the group whilst they were incarcerated. The documentary is made up primarily of recollections and reflections from friends, acquaintances, colleagues and relatives of the subject. Part of the narrative is told in the "first person", courtesy of extracts from Meins' writings. There is lots of rare footage and material, much of which I had not seen before.
I was interested to note his early Christian leanings, in common with some other prominent German activists and militants of the time. It would have been good if this aspect of his life could have been developed more in the film, in the context of his political beliefs.
Due attention is paid in this film to Holger Meins' film-making and other artistic activities, and how these became more and more entwined with his political commitment, as the social atmosphere in Germany and elsewhere grew increasingly fractious and polarized. Some of the rhetoric both contained in the art, and expressed in writing and sound-bites, now seems somewhat dated , such as the worship of Mao Zedong.
Although the documentary contains some elementary examination of, and insight into, Meins' personality, and the contradictions therein, I would have liked some greater stress on the ideals which persuaded him to become embroiled in the armed struggle. What effect, for example, did some of the pivotal incidents of the student protest movement have on him personally, or was it a gradual and inexorable process which stemmed largely from within?
The selection of contributors and "talking heads" is well-judged, constituting a good cross-section of the people with whom Meins had contact. Some of the names are well-known, but they do not overshadow or marginalize the thoughts and observations of those people who Meins associated with before his rise to "notoriety".
The hunger-strike is given surprisingly little coverage, only being fully scrutinized in tandem with Meins' death itself, although the scenes in this section of the film are quite powerful and well-judged. There are what I see as gaps in the story, but the producers were seemingly not striving for chronological rigour, but for overall impact and symbolism, and in this they generally succeed.
This documentary is a good piece of work, quite imaginatively and stylishly put together, but if anything it further hardened and soured my view of groups such as the RAF. Whilst being in sympathy with many of the grievances which they expounded, I feel that the methods and solutions which they offered were misguided, confused and often counter-productive.