Ulrike Meinhof’s teenage riot TV movie

“If you obey, they are happy because you are ruined. Then they are cool because they have crushed you.”
Right before she embarked on a campaign of left-wing terror, Ulrike Meinhof produced her screenplay for Bambule, a TV movie about the miserable lot of girls in a juvenile reform institution. It was supposed to air in 1970, but the broadcast was canceled after Meinhof helped the Red Army Faction bust Andreas Baader out of prison.

The title means “prison riot,” though apparently the bambule originated as a form of nonviolent prison protest, making a “Jailhouse Rock”-style racket by drumming on anything available. “You lousy screws!”

During one scene, the girls beat a frenzied tattoo on their doors. But in Meinhof’s own definition of the term, from a 1969 radio report (quoted in Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F.), there is no mention of noise:

Bambule means rebellion, resistance, counter-violence – efforts toward liberation. Such things happen mostly in summer, when it is hot, and the food is even less appealing than usual, and anger festers in the corners with the heat. Such things are in the air then – it could be compared to the hot summers in the black ghettoes of the United States.


Meinhof based the screenplay on her conversations with girls at the Eichenhof Youth Custody Home, for which Bambule is not much of an advertisement. They had a prescription for teens like Monika, expelled from a convent for kissing another girl: discipline and work, with occasional breaks for obeying the rules. The only pleasures in Bambule are the small acts of disobedience available to teenagers. They smoke cigarettes, curse out a few fuckwords, write graffiti about LSD and hash, play the Bee Gees’ “Massachusetts.” All relationships with adults are characterized by violence, cruelty and exploitation; everyone over 20 is dead inside. It’s like watching an episode of Dragnet written by a militant leftist.

Solitary confinement, a condition with which Ulrike Meinhof would get even more up close and personal late in life, features prominently in the story. My favorite moment transforms Frank Sinatra’s recording of “Strangers in the Night” into a gesture of rebellion. When it appears, the Chairman of the Board might as well be singing “Anarchy in the U.K.” or “The Internationale.”

There are (slightly) sharper uploads of Bambule out there, but not with English subtitles.

Posted by Oliver Hall
08:56 am



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