Kluge is the "godfather" of New German Cinema. As one of the originators (some say the driving force) of the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto, Kluge urged young filmmakers to rebel against the moribund German film establishment. Originally trained as a lawyer, he has written widely about aesthetic theory, film and economics, and as head of the Institut fur Filmgestaltung in Ulm, he shaped the talents and consciousness of Wim Wenders and Edgar Reitz, among others. His own films, marked by an acerbic wit, satirize political incongruities through avant-garde editing and narrative techniques.
Kluge's first feature, "Abschied von Gestern/Yesterday Girl" (1966), took eight prizes at the 1966 Venice Film Festival, alerting the world of the imminent revival of the German cinema. The film observes the forces that shape Anita G., a larcenous young lady who's unlucky in love. Many of Kluge's most amusing characters are women facing a repressive sexist society, as with "Gelegenheitsarbeit einer sklavin/Occasional Work of a Female Slave" (1974), in which a girl sells sausages wrapped in political manifestos to workers. Kluge's films often stress the continuum between Germany's past and its present, illustrating the pitfalls of its abiding twin obsessions: materialism and militarism.
Kluge's films are not easily understood by American audiences, even though they often deal with Germany's dependency on America, such as in "Willi Tobler and the Decline of the Sixth Fleet" (1970). His exceedingly specific political satire can parody Marxism as well as capitalism but mystifies most viewers.
In Kluge's view, institutions retreat into their own authority until they cease to serve the purposes for which they were created. His outrage extends even to those who tolerate mediocrity and reinforce it from the bastions of their own institutional allegiances, as in "The Patriot" (1979) and "The Candidate" (1980).
"Society does not serve human beings' needs," Kluge has stated, "but it is so nonaggressive that it does not stimulate a direct struggle." Thus, his villains are as ineffective as his heroes: for example, Ferdinand, the fascistic boob in "Strongman Ferdinand" (1976). Kluge believes that by observing absurdity, human consciousness will aspire to rise above it, and to that end, his films have become increasingly absurdist, in a way that is not, however, inconsistent with German history. He has said, "I create historical characters in an ahistorical society."