All entries for November 2006
November 30, 2006
Podcasting: Useful informational sources mainly from the BBC
Podcasting is becoming an increasingly important New Media Technology. Below are some useful links relating to new media including podcasting. There is another page which provides practical links to equipment and blogs about how to do it yourself. Some links are also in the sidebat to this blog in the New Media Technologies Section.
Useful Starter Links
Here is the BBC press office release announcing their recent podcasting trial.
Another foray into the world of new media from the BBC is the BBC Radio Player which allows a live online feed and older programmes to be accessed from a personal computer.
Really Simple Syndication or RSS Feeds.
BBC Pods & Blogs also introduces the concept of Citizen Media
BBC Click Online Videos. This page links to a large number of downloadable videos
What is High Definition TV (HDTV)?
Video on Demand. European opportunities & threats.
In 1926 UFA suffered severe financial losses. The superproductions Metropolis and Faust weren’t finished on time and had run up huge bills. Deutsche Bank was prepared to force the company into bankruptcy unless a new source of capital was found.
The extreme nationalist Alfred Hugenberg quickly made the most of the his opportunity and acquired the majority of the share capital. Hugenberg installed his protege Ludwig Klitzsch at the helm of UFA. Klitzsch swiftly moved to restructure the company along Hollywood models of best practice. He also started to diversify into other media communications areas specifically sheet music and gramophone records.
The Central Producer System
Klitzsch’s first move was to install the central producer system. Under the old management Erich Pommer had given his leading directors the right to use the Director unit to help creatre more artistic films, with the directors having a relatively free hand over what they did and what they spent. The central producer system ensured a tight control over all aspects of the film from budget to shooting schedule. Klitzsch’s restructuring enabled UFA to start breaking even and helped them to raise the money to invest in sound
They achieved managed to ahcieve the move to full sound production in just over a year. In order to make this hasty transistion Klitsch engineered a deal with UFA competitior Tobis-Klangfilm licensing their technology rather than going down the expensive route of re-inventing their own.
There is no doubt that the financial restructuring and ensuing business model put UFA firmly back into business. As Germany slid deeper into depression with unemployment reaching arounf 8 million in late 1932 by 1930-31 UFA was in the black. Not only had it it done well in the domestic market but it had agressively and successfully marketed its foreign language versions in France and the UK as well as continuing to develop on the music side as another income stream.
New directors new kinds of film
This financial recovery was achieved in spite of (or because of) the loss of the top directors under previous management. Murnau had gone to America, Lang had started his own production company after Metropolis, Pabst had started working for Nero Films and E. A. Dupont had gone to the UK.
With the coming of sound musicals and comedies became the staple of UFA production with the development of international stars. The Blue Angel 1929 / 30 starring Emil Jannings and making Marlene Dietrich an international star is perhaps the most famous of these films.
Other films of this ilk included The Congress Dance (1931) dir Eric Charell with Lilian Harvey, Lil Dagover and Conrad Veidt.
Above new favourite of the audience Lilian Harvey in The Congress Dance while below Lil Dagover and Conrad Veidt provide an in depth quality cast.
There were also oddball comedies such as Viktor and Victoria
which was made on the cusp on the Nazi takeover of power. According to the hyperlinked articled it became the box office number one hit in 1933. Sabine Hake has it recorded as a top seller for 1934.
Throughout the depression UFA was able to provide circuses but no bread, that role fell to the Nazis.
Klitzsch also started to institute changes in SPIO and try and follow the Hollywood model of an industry self regulatory regime which would serve to help control supply and reduce concerns about overproduction and consequent falling incomes for all.
Elsaesser considers that overall the restructring of UFA was a necessary step although he was thankful for the earlier model followed by Pommer because some of the great films of the Weimar period still admired today would never have been made. In terms of politcs and ideology Elsaesser is of the opinion that despite criticisms from the left it was a business imperative rather than an ideological one that drove UFA after Hugenberg took over and until the Nazi regime became firmly established.
Eric Rentschler’s Ministry of Illusions is one of an increasing number of academic studies re-viewing the structures, productions and effects of Nazi Cinema. Some of these studies are perhaps over-embedded in textual analysis to the point of excluding the contextual. It is clear that analysis of Nazi cinema as ‘bad object’ needs careful analysis in order to better understand how the mechanisms of this abominable regime were able to contribute to the maintenance of a hegemonic position in one of Europe’s most advanced countries.
Not least amongst Rentschler’s concerns is the easy availability of much of the output of the Nazi period, at least that which was classed as entertainment and therefore nothing more than a distraction. This is something we will return to in a piece summarising Rentschler’s concerns about the redemptive processes goping on within 1990s German cinema which has potentially dangerous redemptive characteristics.
The 5 Premises
Nazi cinema needs to be seen in the light of the state’s concerted effort to create a culture industry in the service of mass deception (Rentschler p 16)
Entertainment played a crucial role in Nazi culture. Film ...was to move the hearts and minds of masses while seeming to have little in common with politics or party agendas (ibid p 19).
Goebbels saw media culture as a kind of orchestra which moves forward in a planned way using different instruments palying different notes. The whole being co-ordinated into a symphony: The political itself is instituted and constituted (and regualrly re-grounds itself) in and as works of art (Phillippe Lacone-Labatte on Heidegger and Aesthetics, cited Rentschler p 21).
Mass culture was fundamental to the Nazi project creating a specific social ontology anchoring people in a reconstructed everyday: ...the popular clearly played a prominent and ubiquitous role in everyday life. Rentschler notes that the popular entertainment model had homologies with American ones.
Neither dumping ground of propaganda nor a moronic cult of distraction and surely not a locus of resistance, _Nazi feature production warrants more careful scrutiny. Interestingly Rentschler notes here that the popular media could not have been a locus of resistance despite more revisionist attempts to play with concepts of ‘reading texts against the grain as an act of resistance’. (Well if even that was the case it wasn’t very effective resistance one is tempted to add).
Sabine Hake (2002) places Asphalt firmly in the genre of the ‘street film’. Typically these films addressed urban issues such as poverty and unemployment. In films such as Tragedy of a Prostitute (1927) starring Asta Nielsen, liberated sexuality is linked to criminality. Hake goes on to suggest that Asphalt combined aspects of the sentimental melodramatic strain of street film with the more surface cynical attitude to modern sexuality represented in other aspects of the genre. Hake also comments that it was: …a final demonstration of the genre’s visual possibilities before the introduction of sound. (Hake 2002, p 41).
The current marketing of the recently released Eureka DVD and many of the weaker commentaries which litter the web emphasise the ‘expressionist’ nature of the film. There are clearly some elements of the shooting which echo what has come to be known as ‘German expressionist film’ however these are merely hints used where there is clearly a troubled soul torn between love and desire and duty casting a literal shadow over the character. Perhaps the most obvious one is the shot of the policeman returning home after the fight as he climbs the stairs.
Redolent of Nosferatu climbing the stairs this shot isn’t overdone in a horror style. Lotte Eisner makes reference to the geometric patterns in the shooting style of the workmen laying the asphalt and elsewhere the use of deep shadow makes use of common expressionist techniques but this doesn’t add up to an ‘expressionist film’.
The Conditions of Production
It is important to note that the film is one of the first made under the new UFA regime after it was bought up by Hugenberg and Kliztsch installed as its chief executive. Kliztsch had restructured UFA. Although Pommer had returned to the fold it was in the role of central producer following the contemporary Hollywood business model. No longer was there a director led model of filmmaking. Budgets and deadlines and scripting were coming under strict control.
Asphalt wasn’t to be made as an art based film based upon the old UFA split between artistic productions and genre popular based films. This film was given a well known director, a lead actor, Gustav Frolich, who had been a lead in Metropolis opposite Betty Amman an American actress who Pommer hoped would provide some international attraction for audiences. With the art director Kettlehut who had been one of the art directors on Metropolis and the cinematographer Gunther Rittau who had also worked on Metropolis the film had a gifted and talented team. It was important for UFA to maintain its, by now, well recognised brand look of quality for its flagship films whilst maintaining a firm grip on the budget.
The film was to be a well made multi-genre film which had the Hollywood standards of quality in terms of production values with popular appeal. It embraced the street film and involved various heists, but it was a straight forward romance with various narrative hurdles to be crossed before the lovers could be united. The narrative closure ends on a note of hope for the future as well as underpinning a message of redemption through true love which involves sacrifice. It is ultimately a moral tale for the urban sophisticate in which lust and sex turns into true love and the baddy is eliminated. The femme fatale is to be punished but this is not the exacting over-done retribution of the full blown American thriller (film-noir).
The film needs to appeal to a female audience and offers a path through the urban maze for the naïve provincial woman who might get caught up in the Berlin demi-monde. Frequently the stereotypes of the dutiful parents might be read by the audience in a tongue in cheek way which was entirely appropriate for the audience this film seems to have been aimed at. The seduction of the policeman had to have been played for laughs.
With a careful balance of cheap sets such as the parental home and an extravagant street set along with shots from a plane this film was carefully budgeted and very modern able to appeal to a more intellectual urban sophisticate as well as those more interested in popular culture. As such Asphalt is probably best seen as part of UFA emerging mass entertainments strategy for financial recovery.
A precursor of ‘film noir’?
Generically there are aspects of Asphalt which foreshadow those films dubbed as ‘film noir’ which themselves contained a strong Weimar visual imaginary. It is an urban thriller which explores the underside of the modern city. This is a film which is redemptive through and through and true love pushes aside the frills and fripperies which are the rewards of being on the margins of the underworld. Spirit triumphs over worldly possessions. This is all mediated by the mechanisms of justice and as such can be seen to underpin a state which is firm but fair.
Betty Amman bears witness to the outcome of the fight in a redemptive and self-sacrificing act to save her policeman lover. As an audience we know she hasn’t done anything very bad. She has shown she has moral courage when the chips are down and is unlikely to spend much time in jail.
Audience and reception
I have no current information on its full ratings at the box office, however it benefited from the full UFA treatment having a top team making it and premiering at UFAs top venue the Palast-am-Zoo in Berlin and would have received all the efforts of the formidable UFA publicity machine which was every bit the equal of the Hollywood one.
Some commentators try to see in the film some sort of foreshadowing of economic disaster to come after the Wall Street crash of 1929. This is more of a pathetic attempt to link the film into some expressionistic discourse rather than a comment based upon historical facts. No cinematic evidence of this is offered because there is none. If anything is foreshadowed it is Riefenstahl’s shots of Hitler arriving on a plane to Nuremburg however Aspahlt got it in first as another criminal arrives in Germany.
Until the Wall Street Crash in October of 1929 many months after the film was released there was a severe case of ‘irrational exuberance’ (Greenspan) amongst many in Germany as well as America. The German metropolis ‘had never had it so good’ (Harold Macmillan).
The war years were now a receding memory as were the bitter political polarisations which had followed. The film acts as both a celebration of developing consumer culture as car ownership, up-market fashion, jewellery and air travel are all celebrated. Both buyers and sellers beware there are always opportunists who wish to establish themselves by pickpocketing, deception or elaborate heists. The rule of law must stand firm within this bonanza is the message but there is no hint of the impoverished in this film. There are routes to success but they must be legitimate ones is a core preferred reading of the film.
November 27, 2006
Metropolis is an awkward film to write about. It is contradictory, eclectic, it has a visual imaginary which is both in awe of modernity and seemingly petrified by it.
Ultimately the film seems to accept a society led by a .technocratic elite which recognises that the rather ignorant and stupid workers don’t deserve to be treated totally like slaves. The leader should nevertheless be benign and remain connected to the people. But it is an unconvincing ending.
Metropolis has been written about from many different perspectives with another book on the film produced this year (2006).This piece remains focused on trying to understand Metropolis within the context of its times. It also probes some issues which are raised by the failure of this flagship blockbuster film amongst the audiences it was meant to have been targeting. There is a huge mythology which tends to focus on the character of the director Fritz Lang which detracts from this from this fundamental question.
Another key issue is the numerous different versions which were deliberately made to target different audiences. This history is summarised in a separate blog entry. What remains an issue is the fact that the original version screened in Berlin for about 16 weeks has been lost and is unlikely to be ever reconstructed. This is important because, given its Expressionist impulse with an emphasis upon form as a method of making meaning rather than plot and script, then any viewing and analysis is strictly limited. The fact that this apparently best version wasn’t successful with audiences makes some provisional analysis of its failure with audiences even more important.
Metropolis represented a society without a spiritual vision which like the ancient Greeks was dependent upon workers who appeared to be slaves – not even wage slaves. Certainly, there were no consumer outlets for workers to spend an income although the elites clearly had their pleasure palaces.
Politically the film could be read as populist in the sense that it was a recognition that the plebs did have needs beyond pure slavery. Slavery is clearly signified in both the Greek athletics stadium and the reference to the Egyptian Moloch. The film could thus be read as supportive of the centre-right coalition which had taken power in the Weimar after the Dawes plan of 1923 but it is more complicated than that. However there is much in this film that could be read as supportive of NSDAP principles.
Germany & Modernity
Going back to basics means briefly analysing what was happening on the economic front in the Weimar at the time Metropolis was released in 1927. By doing this I will argue that there has been an overemphasis on what Kaes has described as the cultural resistance to modernity:
The war had been fought, according to the ideologues, to defend traditional German Kultur against the onslaught of Zivilisation, i.e. the mechanisation of life, democracy and modern mass culture. (Kaes p 59).
Whilst this attitude described the position of many landowning aristocrats, provincial landowners and peasants, this was hardly the concern of the great industrialists, and empire makers. Nor was it the concern of the largest social democratic party in the world prior to the First World War. Their historical compromise with capitalism (to paraphrase Lenin) was to sacrifice their internationalism on the sword of nationalist empire building. This was sold to them as a pre-emptive defence against a greedy Russian empire keen to eat away at Germany. Without the support of the German working class the war could not have been fought effectively.
By 1914 Germany was an industrial powerhouse second only to the USA. Certainly Britain had been outstripped in terms of industrial production by the turn of the previous century. Wilhelmine Germany had a core leadership with great imperial ambitions. It was a modernising country which under Bismark had introduced the first welfare state to discourage rebellion and revolution.
Like other countries Germany had its tensions. These were more pronounced partly because the pace of change was faster than in Britain which as the first industrial nation grew slightly more organically. Uneven development meant that there was a greater cultural shock of the kind which Marx wrote about: all that is solid melts into air. The sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies had written about the process in his well known identification of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, in which the more organic face to face relationship of small communities was being replaced by much larger and more impersonal structures. The famous sociologist Max Weber wrote about the process as one of increasing bureaucratisation which he dubbed an iron cage.
Visually Lang’s film represents these strands of thought. Control, surveillance, the replacement of natural rhythms by clock time and lack of meaningful human interaction were all described visually by Lang. These were represented in what Kracauer has described as ‘mass ornament’ where the workers are choreographed in geometric patterns. This also relates to an expressionist love of visual form and this is an important aspect of the construction of menaing within the film.
Political and Economic Modernity
In terms of political modernity Germany failed to make the transition effectively to a more democratic society. Although the SDP were a large party they had very little power in the German constitutional structure which remained a very top down affair with real power residing with the Kaiser through leaders such as Bismarck in the past.
Britain had gone through its major recent constitutional crisis in 1910 when the House of Lords had to give up its right to veto absolutely the power of the elected government through the House of Lords. Of course there were still British aristocrats who resented the incursion of democracy and like lord Londonderry they looked upon Mussolini and Hitler as their saviours against potential Bolshevism.
In Germany democracy was hastily awarded so that the Prussian elites could escape the blame for the First World War. The Social Democrats took power and had to negotiate the Armistice. Known as the November criminals purveyors of the stab in the back to the German nation these unjustified slogans reverberated around the political right. Certainly their grab for power landed them with responsibility for the war and its aftermath.
The situation was made far worse because large numbers of the armed forces didn’t understand that Germany had been defeated. This was not the time of rapid modern communications and the troops on the Eastern front had successfully forced a peace deal with the new Bolshevik regime having previously trounced the Czarist troops so badly that the Bolsheviks were well positioned to win their revolution. Hindenburg and Ludendorff, the main architects of the German High Command managed to escape criticism from the centre and the right.
The first few years of the ‘peace’ were marked by severe internal strife with attempts to seize power such as Hitler’s ‘Beer Hall Putsch of 1923’ always on the agenda. This was made against an economic background of inflation leading to hyperinflation as the Government attempted to stand up to the French takeover of the industrial Rhineland because they could afford to pay the war reparations. The Weimar republic of 1923 was a hollow democracy redolent of today’s Iraq.
The Dawes stabilisation plan worked wonders. However it left Weimar Germany with something closer to a three speed economy. Consumer electronics and chemicals industries became the biggest in the world providing the hungry American market. The workers and the cities they lived in such as Berlin and Munich were highly successful. Berlin became the cultural capital of Europe, in the mid to late twenties. There were no doubts about modernity here, it was a cause and means of celebration amongst large sectors of the population.
However, the heavy industries based upon coal, iron and steel in the Ruhr regions were stagnant, there was overproduction on the global market but they were coping. The strong communist party unions ensured that the NSDAP gained no serious foothold in these cities.
The third strand of the economy was the agricultural economy. They had been hit hard by hyperinflation with their savings eroded rather than spending them. Foolishly many borrowed when inflation was under control after 1923 to invest in better agricultural machinery, just as world agricultural overproduction knocked the bottom out of the food commodities market. The period of 1923 to 1929 was one of extreme hardship for over one third of the population. It was amongst these people that Nazism was finally to flower for nobody else was dealing with their plight. It was for them that anti-modernity was a fundamental enemy:
for a broad spectrum of anti-modernist and volkish Germans Berlin and all that it stood for as the devil incarnate, Berlin had become the crystallisation point of resentment against industrialisation, capitalism and democracy and the cultural influence of the West… Anti-modernists penned the term ‘asphalt culture’ to refer to the lack of genuine culture and social values promoted by urban life. (Natter 1994: 214-215 cited McArthur).
Why did Metropolis flop?
A core question to be asked of Metropolis is why did it flop with audiences? Arguably in terms of both form and content is entirely failed to resonate with those who were its target audience, in short it was not a zeitgeist film. In the light of the above it becomes much easier to offer explanations.
In terms of the Berlin based sophisticated and cosmopolitan audiences, this film must have been distinctly out of kilter with their expectations, lifestyle and ambitions. The Gothic and Prehistoric architectural spaces of cathedral and catacombs would have had little resonance with their experience. The elitist sports athletics stadium was an irrelevance at a time of rapidly growing health and sports activities. [Click on ‘Exhibition Tour’ and then Room 11]. Good health was an important part of international interwar modernism. The elitist night club space in the film seemed to be a grumpy critique of what large numbers of workers enjoyed every weekend and was a major source of wealth and status.
Culture was putting Berlin on the map. It was the city of Hitchcock, Pressburger and Isherwood to name but a few. Exotic cosmopolitanism with shows from people like Josephine Baker were enormously popular. The ethnography of People on a Sunday would have had far more resonance. Young professionals were being housed in Batchelor developments built by contemporary architects and loving it.
Modernist intellectuals were hardly likely to approve. The interesting and enjoyable spaces of the city such as parks and cafes shopping arcades and even cinema itself went entirely unrepresented. The representation of the ‘bad Maria’ would have seemed like a critique of young women who were enjoying their freedom in terms of earning money and sexuality. This was the ‘free air of the city’ as the old Hanseatic slogan had it made real in modernity. For the first time in history these freedoms were available to the working classes who would have been farm or domestic labourers in previous times. Neither church nor state was controlling them.
If workers in Berlin were going to be unimpressed by the naïve, desexualised and feeble storyline of Metropolis the communist dominated workforce of the heavy industry areas would also find the film entirely unappealing. It was scornful of the power of organised labour and represented the working classes as entirely stupid. So much so that they were easily led to disaster by an agent provocateur the ‘bad Maria’.
The intellectual and professional classes who might have been more attracted to the expressionist sentiment exploring the underside of modernity might well have been put off by the simplicity of the plot leave alone the anti-Semitic sentiments coming through around the Rotwang character.
There were no big name German stars and this was an audience used to the best Hollywood had to offer in terms of stars, technology and genres. As Taylor (1998 r.e.) notes; in 1926, the year before Metropolis was released, American feature films had 44.3% of the market compared to Germany’s 38.2%. In short films American dominance was absolute with an astonishing 94.9 % of the market compared to Germany’s 1.2% of the market. Even these statistics don’t tell the whole story for the Parafumet agreement which gave the American producers access to all the first run UFA cinemas situated in all the large and therefore modernistically inclined city populations signifies that Metropolis was a film which rather than being futuristic was decidedly behind the social and cultural zeitgeist of contemporary German cultural life.
There is little doubt that the visual effects are stunning, they are good to an audience now and in 1927 they were undoubtedly fantastic but good SFX doesn’t make a good film. Unlike a modern day blockbuster there is no clear audience. There wasn’t a genre of science fiction well established at that time, the romantic plot was feeble with an unconvincing hero in Freder who was a stand in actor anyway. Previously Lang had been able to create stars but that was when German cinema was in a highly protected environment. Metropolis was a serious but deeply flawed attempt by Pommer and Lang to establish a blockbuster formula to break into the American market.
Why would the rural anti-modernity and anti-modernist audiences in the rural areas flock to see the film? Something marketed strongly as science-fiction to a poverty stricken hinterland more used to ‘B’ movie standard comedy and dramas as their form of escapism were unlikely to buy into it. It would of course be fascinating to know just what the box-office breakdown of Metropolis was. Of course they would not have seen the original Berlin version in any case.
Perhaps it is to the American film executives reaction to the original print we can turn to, to provide us with an explanation for why Metropolis flopped. Horrified by its length, its lack of clear plot, lack of stars and with no clear generic market it was clearly a nightmare for them. Studying the reviews and the failure of the film to ignite Berlin audiences would have confirmed their well-honed business instincts. The Berliners liked Hollywood and they didn’t like Metropolis. Clearly this message got through to the UFA board and it was why the general release cut for Germany was very close to the American one. Despite global release in the main cinema markets of the world the film made a huge loss and almost bankrupted UFA.
Elsaesser argues that perhaps the coming of sound later in 1927 cut short Metropolis. This seems unlikely. There was only one significant sound film The Jazz Singer and like any technology sound needed time to bed in and be installed in cinemas across the world. It took time to make the sound films to go with the cinemas. While this was a relatively quick it is questionable whether this was a primary reason for the failure of Metropolis to attract significant audiences..
November 23, 2006
Nazi Period Facts and Figures
Year< > Number of Cinemas< >Number of admissions (millions)
Table derived from Rentchsler, 1996 p 13. Originally sourced from Prinzler, Chronik des deutschen Films 1895-1994. Stuttgart, 1995.
On these figures it can be seen that during the first two years of Nazi rule the number of screens was reduced in the first year at the rate of nearly one per day and during the second year by approximately one every three days. At the same time that there were closures the numbers of cinema-goers rose steadily every year peaking in 1943. In 1943 the peak of audiences was accompanied by the first contraction in the number of cinemas since 1936 and falling to fewer cinemas than in 1939. This trend can clearly be put down to wartime conditions changing dramatically with RAF air raids beginning to make a real impact on cities from early in 1943.
Table 2: German box-office statistics, 1929-1939
Year< >Number of Tickets sold < >Gross Income (million RM)
Table derived from Rentschler, 1996 p105. Originally sourced from Traub ed. Die Ufa. Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des deutschen ilmschaffens. Berlin: Ufa-Buchverlag, p 156.
Numbers with a * against them denote a discrepancy with table 1. This amounts to a difference of 12 million tickets sold in 1938.
Table 3: Foreign feature films exhibited in the Third Reich
Year/All features/German features/% of all features /Total US/ Total foreign
-- -- -- -—-0….......14
-- -- -- -—-0….......30
-- -- -- -—-0….......23
-- -- -- -—-0….......13
Derived from Rentschler, 1996, p106. Sourced from Boguslaw, Drewniak, deutsche Film 1938-1945. Ein Gesamptuberblick. Dusseldorf: Droste, 1987, p 814.
Analysis of the Statistics
In 1933 the numbers of tickets sold were higher than in 1932 by 7 million yet the gross income fell by 59 million Reichmarks. The reason is that possibly prices of cinema tickets are being lowered to keep audience share furthermore more people were being employed by the state on infrastructure projects thus beginning to stimulate the economy.
1934 shows that there were 82 fewer cinemas with 14 million more tickets being sold. This was the first full year the Nazis were in power. During this year more German made features were exhibited than during any other year of the Nazi regime.
The figures for 1934 show a contraction in production of the number of German films with US imports at their highest level during the Nazi period. It would appear that there was a focus upon making better quality productions and fewer films.
It was only in 1936 that box office sales finally increased over the 1929 figures despite the end of 1929 seeing the beginning of the economic depression. Furthermore the box office taking were 280 million RM compared with the 1929 273 million RM. The number of tickets sold were 362 million and 328 million respectively. On theses figures this means that 32 million more tickets were sold in 1936 which netted only another 7 million RM. This clearly indicates that tickets were cheaper in the first few years of the Nazi regime.
The discrepancy between cinema going numbers and income shows that the Nazi regime was not running cinema as a pure business venture as suggested by some commentators. Given that there were many popular entertainment films produced there seems to be a strong element of ‘bread & circuses’ involved.
We can also see that there was a considerable expansion in the number of cinemas with nearly two hundred more than in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. When we combine the audience figures with the expansion of cinema numbers with the fact that the Nazis paid quite a number of overseas ‘stars’ inflated rates of pay to keep them on board then it is clear that ideological concerns were the main priority for the film industry and entertainment was linked to this.
1939, the year the war started, there were over 1,500 more cinemas than in 1938. The number of admissions went up considerably there is a discrepancy between the figures by 178 million on the lowest estimate however there were only 11 more feature films made than in 1938.
These figures raise a number of questions: Who developed these cinemas? Where were they? Were they in areas that had previously had no local cinema? Does this provide us with an indicator of Nazi preparations for war? Does the start of the war mean that many people flocked to the cinemas to see the newsreels rather than the feature films in order to get news of the opening months of the war? If that is the case how might this information be utilised regarding theories of propaganda?
Throughout the period of the war the average percentage of German feature films being screened was well above 70%.
During the war the statistics show that the number of feature films being made in Germany dropped considerably. At the same time there were more foreign features being shown in Germany. We don’t know from the statistics where these were made. Some were certainly from Continental films the German controlled film production company based in Paris. Quite possibly some were from Vichy France.
The story of the different versions of Metropolis which originally existed is a little tortuous. The version being shown on the course is the version which is currently closest to the version originally shown in Berlin on January 10th 1927. Nevertheless it is approximately 1,000 metres of film or 20% shorter than this original version.
There is some evidence which suggests that Fritz Lang shot three complete negatives whilst making the film. This was so that a version could be sent to America for release according to the Paramount / UFA ‘Parafument’ deal. A version was kept for the domestic market and a version for the rest of the world outside the USA where UFA had sole distribution rights. This article reviews this in the light of the versions available today.
The Original Version and the German Re-Release Versions
The World premiere of Metropolis took place on January 10th 1927 at the UFA Palast am Zoo. There were 1,200 important spectators present including Ministers and deputies of the Reichstag, foreign ambassadors and even royalty. Some were invited guests who were presented with a pigskin bound volume of the original novel by Thea von Harbou, Lang’s wife and writer of the film’s screenplay. The running time of the film was three hours with a short break in the middle. Whilst there were standing ovations for cast and crew the reviews were mixed.
The film was immediately shifted to the UFA-Pavilion where it played for 16 weeks however box-office takings were disappointing and the film was pulled in April going on general release in a much revised forming August. This re-release was cut by nearly 20% and was cut in ways very similar to the version that was eventually released in America although this was even shorter.
A problem for trying to reconstruct the film in its original release form is that the general release version was cut from the original negative and failed to preserve these 1,000 metres of film which notes Elsaesser contained several of the scenes most admired on the opening night.
The US Version
In December the American print had been taken to America. The Paramount executives were distinctly under-whelmed. The film had no stars which was a key selling point for Hollywood, neither was the storyline comprehensible to their audiences. For Hollywood the narrative needed to be constructed in a way which American audiences would be familiar with. Even in terms of genres Metropolis didn’t quite fit. Furthermore the screening time of 2.5 hours was well outside the standard screening schedule. As a result the film was cut from 2.5 hours to 1.75 hours which was nearly a quarter of the footage.
Paramount employed a playwright called Channing Pollock to re-write the continuity and the intertitles. From this version another slightly different version was cut for Britain and the British Empire. Channing Pollock changed the meaning considerably. Aspects of the story such as Freder having minders and helpers undermining themes of surveillance and solidarity almost totally removed. The focus on visual meaning which Lang had created was subordinated to the more linear narrative structure. Pollock defended his approach:
As it stood when I began my job of structural re-editing Metropolis had no restraint or logic. It was symbolism run such riot that people who saw it couldn’t tell what the picture was all about. I have given it my meaning. (My emphasis).
This shows that there were different cultural approaches to the making of meaning and that the notion of an ‘original’ version runs into difficulties. Only relatively few people have ever seen the version favoured by Lang. This happened during those first few weeks of its opening run in Berlin. There is more exploration of this in Different Ways of Making Meaning: The Case of Metropolis.
November 21, 2006
What is Podcasting?
Podcasting is yet another digital technology which has erupted on the scene and which is so hard for adults to keep up with in the ‘digital deluge’. Podcasting is only a couple of years old at the time of writing but it is rapidly developing into an important part of ‘new media’.
In essence the Podcast is the equivalent of being able to take a radio programme around on a tape and listen to it on your personal stereo (Walkman). It is in a computer file format which can be played on many different devices.
How to listen
Increasingly you will be able to play them on your car sound system, your sound system at home including portable digital radios as well as on iPod or MP3 players and also mobile phones which can store the MP3 file format. You can also play them on your laptop computer. With a set of headphones it is possible to lsiten and work on the train for example.
The iPod or MP3 player are the normal way of listening to these. These devices are becoming cheaper and more sophisticated all the time with many mobile phones having the facility to download and play MP3 sound files. The latest of these devices are able to store the content of dozens of CDs with hard drive memories larger than the average household computer of a few years ago.
The file format thus allows for what are sometimes described in media terms as place-shifting and time-shifting. Or ‘when you want it, how you want it, where you want it’ in plain English.
How do you get Podcasts?
Its all very well talking about them – and I’m writing this pretty much as I learn- but its another thing getting all the technology sorted out and wondering if it will all work together and then will it really be worth it when you’ve done all this when reading a good book in the garden might be more pleauarable.
I think the answer is yes or this article wouldn’t be here. The first thing is that you will neeed the correct software loaded onto your computer. The best software to use is “iTunes” from the Apple website. This also comes with the latest version of “Quicktime” which you will be able to download at the same time. The process is quite painless and you will end up with a couple of nice little extra icons on your desktop.
For cinema a good place to go to start the process is the Moviemail podcasts page
The site gives some explanation of podcasts and also gives you some options. You can listen to a choice of podcasts without actually keeping them or else you can follow the link which says ‘subscribe via iTunes’. This will take you to the Apple site. (It is a busy site and sometimes seems to get stuck as it did with me when writing this. Just go back later if this happens). once you are into the site followthe instructions for getting iTunes / Quicktime. You can then ‘subscribe’ to the Moviemail podcast lists. You will see a list of what is available and you can choose which ones to download. there is a button to click saying get this (or something like that I can’t check at the moment). The software gives you one of those annoying lists saying “customers who subscribed to this also ….” . Well actually it was quite useful as it took me to some useful podcasts from the Guardian and the Times / BFI London Film Festival.
Now the files are in your computer and can be downloded to other devices in the usual ways.
When I find more useful podcasts I will stick in links to the Podcastography (or whatever these lists are going to get called eventually).
Future usage on my courses
For the current Open Studies course on “Weimar and Nazi Cinema” I don’t expect us to be making our own podcasts but this is going to be increasingly possible as better recording equipment becomes cheaper.
If you are reading this as an A level media student I’m currently thinking
about converging podcast making into the coursework of making websites and radio. Rather than radio ‘broadcasts’ being made available for two weeks on a limited licence podcasts will be availbale on the network.
The great cultural critic Raymond Williams once described the Walkman as ‘mobile privatisation’, however this is a pessimistic view which doesn’t allow for the possibilities of being in communication in a different mental space form the physical space. This form of communication can be at any intellectual level. In reality people on tubes and trains can be remarkably private and locked into their own thoughts without any technology. one always needs to ask the question whther there is some sort of nostalgia present for a ‘golden age ’ of interpersonal communication based on ‘community’ which never quite existed in reality.
What is on the Way?
This weekend (Nov 18 / 06) The Financial Times ‘How to Spend it’ (Wish I had their problems :-) ) on the gadgets for Xmas page announced the world’s first digitally recording microphone mentioning that it will be good for podcasters. – It happens to be British – expect that some sort of device like this will be on all up-market mobile ‘phones’ (Multi communication devices might be a beter name) in about 18 months and in three years time they will be common. Anyway it’s called FlashMic
The point is that we will all reasonably soon be able to use a digital recording device in a commonly used file format and put it onto the web.
This means that there are good educational uses developing as well as the possibility of narrowscasting acoss the world.
A more reasonably priced but obviously bulkier item is the Marantz flash memory digital recorder. This means that you can record whatever on the same cards which you will be using for a digital camera. There is a customer review on there as well.
New Educational Paradigms?
From the perspective of education it is likely to be very useful in recording small group discussions in workshops and seminars. It will be useful in interviewing people and it will also be useful in recording research projects such as focus groups and semi-structured interviews.
The actual recordings can be used in a variety of different ways and for different target audiences. Already some university lecturers are making their lectures available as podcasts (Check this link). This means that peole can listen or re-listen to the lecture at their convenience. It may even mean that lectures become more infrequent to be replaced by other formes of delivery and learning techniques.
Supervisors and tutors will be able to listen to the focus group dicusssions and evaluate them, or else listen to small group discussions and give appropriate feedback. Furthermore all the small group discussions could be collected and a greater range of ideas made available to all course participants.
Furthermore all participants will be able to access and download these discussions. This will encourage a far better system of peer group assessment combined with tutor input. If the podcast recordings of say five discussion groups are uploaded to webspace the following day, a typical student formative student task would be to generate feedback upon other discussions. These could be discussed at the next workshop and also uploaded to a forum either in text or as a podcast as well.
The job of a tutor will be to give the criteria expected in an evaluative podcast for example. The criteria could include evidence of listening to all the other podcasts, synthesising and summarising the arguments and making an evaluative judgemnt about these arguments. This could be done in the more traditional text format or else delivered as a podcast. Thus there is no reason why much of the student work and tutor assessment cannot become aural.
From an educational perspective this is developing a range of skills which are much used in quality radio for example but little recognised. Much of the debate within media and cultural studies focuses upon the visual versus the written text. The rise of the podcast could have quite far reaching implications. One big advantage underlying the potential of the podcast is its flexibility. The contents are easily listened to while travelling for example at times when reading and notetaking may awkward.
Other Useful Links on Podcasting
This is a link to Warwick Podcasts where a number of interviews with academics discuss a broad range of issues. These show what can be done.
This is a link to BBC Podcasts
November 18, 2006
Kolberg: Veit Harlan 1943-1945
In this course the argument is being posed that each significant piece of propaganda is analysed according to its target audience bearing in mind the preferred reading which went behind the investment. Propaganda targets will inevitably change with circumstances. Kolberg was demanded when the tide of war had turned and Goebbels recognised that a blockbuster of highly significant proportions would be central in rallying the German people at a time when suddenly they were really starting to realise that wars could go both ways.
Kolberg was in the genre of the historical heroic uplifting where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat through blood sacrifice. It was June 1943 when Goebbels first ordered Veit Harlan to make Kolberg. By this time the tide of war had taken a significant turn. Only a few months after the defeat at Stalingrad the German Afrika Korps and their Italian allies had surrendered in Tunis. Nearly a quarter of a million troops were lost, half of whom were German. In addition, in May 40 U-Boats had been lost and the Battle of the Atlantic had been effectively lost. Also during these months RAF bombing raids were beginning to break through in greater numbers and cities in the Ruhr region were suffering badly.
The Allies had also demanded unconditional surrender from Germany. There was to be no repeat of the options given at the Treaty of Versailles. In the winter of 1942 at the height of the Stalingrad crisis Hitler had demanded ‘Total War’. In reality the Nazi economy was still not functioning along these lines unlike Britain who as early as 1939 had begun to achieve better production figures than Nazi Germany.
The position of women within the Nazi Germany was at stake. The Kinde, Kuche, Kirche ideology would have to go. Hitler was forced to concede that women would have to be drafted into the war economy. Up until that point out of 8.5 million women working fewer than one million had been working within the armaments industry. (Kershaw, 2000 p 568)
For Goebbels the stakes could not be higher for Kolberg …fits exactly the military and political landscape that we shall probably have to record by the time this film is shown. It was a recognition that the war was not going to be won easily which had been the expectation up until December 1942. (Goebbels, cited Taylor 1998 p 196).
There was effectively no budget limitation, it would take what it would take. Overall it cost 8.5 million Marks which Harlan noted was about eight times the cost of a good film at the time. (Taylor citing Harlan, 1998 p 196). The logistical effort was almost unimaginable, and even more shocking when the dramatically worsening crisis at the front is taken into account. Harlan employed 6,000 horses and 187,000 soldiers at a time when the Red Army had already crossed the border into East Prussia. Harlan’s speculations on the underlying reasons for this prodigality are instructive:
Hitler as well as Goebbels must have been convinced that the distribution of a film like this would be more useful than a military victory. They must have been hoping for a miracle. And what better to perform a miracle than this ‘dream factory’ that is the cinema? (Harlan cited Taylor 1998 p 197)
One is tempted to thoughts that people can become victims of their own propaganda although it seems unlikely that the Nazi High Command could foresee the swiftness of the collapse until well into 1944.
The film itself is set during 1806-1807 at the time when Napoleon was riding roughshod over the German principalities. This was to end in the humiliating Treaty of Tilsit. Historically Kolberg resisted through its formation of a citizens militia. It did eventually succumb and surrender. The film ignored this and also the fact that the British had sent aid to the citizens of this old Hanseatic port town now in Poland. There is no mention in the film of the Treaty of Tilsit and deliberate historical absences rather than a direct falsification of facts was the position taken. The military leader who finally organise the heroic defence was Gneisenau who had had a pocket battleship named after him in the Nazi navy. Gneisenau brings into play the core principle of Hitler’s notion of the Fuhrerprinzip in relation to Frederick stating that it is the leader’s job to lead.
Paul Wegener plays the defeatist leader of the Military defence who is replaced by Gneisenau at the request of the Mayor representing the heart of the people.
The heroism of the people was the essence of what Goebbels was after and is summarised in the patriotic poem of Korner quoted in the film: The people arise, the storm breaks out. This inspired the name of the citizens militia formed in the last weeks of the Nazi Reich. Children, old men and invalids were armed and called the Volksturm. The film it seems was a precursor of the reality which probably wasn’t quite what the Nazi High-command had expected.
In the film Maria played by Harlan’s wife Kristina Soederbaum provided a romantic interest demanded by Goebbels to attract the generic mass audience. The necessity of sacrifice and stoicism in the face of adversity was emphasised throughout as both her family and love interest are steadily lost through the film. That was to be the woman’s role.
The propagandist effects are pretty standard, building a tale of historical heroism into a lesson for the nation. The rise of the people and the removal of defeatist leaders, heroic resistance against overwhelming odds are standard fare for the genre.
The conditions of exhibition are interesting. The world premier took place in the besieged fortress of La Rochelle on January 30th 1945, with performances in Berlin on the same day. However the main Ufa-Palast am Zoo was already turned into rubble and the film was shown in two smaller cinemas. By the beginning of March the film attracted 200 people to its afternoon showing in a cinema seating over 1,000. The population was already beyond propaganda as the Russians poured over the Elbe. By the 19th of March the real Kolberg had been evacuated and Goebbels noted that this news was not to be released as it would obviously undermine the effects of the film. (Taylor, 1998, p 206). Goebbels was to commit suicide on May 1st along with his wife who had killed the children earlier. After the war Harlan was tried for war crimes based upon his involvement with Jud suss. He was eventually acquitted.
Taylor noted that Goebbels was well aware of the dangers of being overly propagandistic. Entertainment which could help the ideological war in more subtle ways was necessary nevertheless there was a place for directly propagandistic narratives and myths which needed to be produced on the heroic scale required for the heroic demands being required. In that sense Harlan was probably right, for we can argue that the form itself needed to be of a scale of the underlying tasks being asked of its audience.
Kershaw, Ian. 2000. Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis. Harmondsworth: Penguin
Taylor, Richard. 1998 2nd Revised Edition. Film Propaganda: Soviet Russsia and Nazi Germany. London: I. B. Tauris
This film is one of several anti-Semitic films which were made in 1939 – 1940 which include Linen from Ireland (1939) and Jud Suss (1940). The shift into overt anti-Semitic cinema follows hard on the heels of Kristallnacht in November 1938 and Hitler’s infamous and outrageous speech to the Reichstag in January 1939. A point which Alan Rosenthal’s review of Reeves’ 1999 the Power of Film Propaganda also makes. (Please scroll the other reviews first). The costume drama Jud Suss was followed by The Eternal Jew directed by Fritz Hippler claimed to be a “documentary” about the evils of Jewishness.
It is always important to note the target audiences of any film and to be considered the intended messages or preferred readings and actual audience readings. It seems clear that the anti-Semitism changed over the period for Linen from Ireland is read as a ‘light comedy’ which is mildly anti-Semitic. A useful piece of research would be to link this film to the relationship of leading Nazis with Lord Londonderry discussed below.
At a general level it can be seen that the ideological nature of these films is precisely targeted and is contextualised by the increasing confidence of Hitler’s personally driven genocidal policy against Jews which built up gradually from 1933 onwards.
Above image from The Rothschilds: Aktien auf Waterloo
The English language description on the Deutsche Film Portal on the Rothschilds reads:
Anti-Semitic and anti-British propaganda film about the rise of the Jewish bankers (the Rothschild family) at the beginning of the 19th century. The film portrays the family’s greatest coup as the fabricated report of a possible British defeat by Napoleon at Waterloo. Through the inexpensive acquisition of English stocks thereafter, the Rothschilds gain substantial capital. The closing scene depicts a burning Star of David superimposed on a British flag.
Early in 1940 Hitler was still harbouring thoughts about Britain making peace with Germany. This wasn’t as far fetched at the time as it might seem now. Hitler had his supporters amongst the British elites. David Kershaw’s recent book Making Friends with Hitler explores the relationships between Lord Londonderry and eminent members of the Nazi regime. Londonderry was visited at Mount Stewart by von Ribbentrop in 1936 for example. Londonderry also met Hitler several times as well as staying at Goring’s hunting lodge. Kershaw points out that “recapturing a lost mentality” is not easy and it is necessary to visit the mentality of a time: Many looked to Hitler with admiration and pressed for a policy of friendship with Nazi Germany (Kershaw: 2004 p xiv).
The overt political project of Hitler was the invasion of the East and the policy of Lebensraum. It was following up the notion of Germany’s place in an imperial sun; a position which both Britain and France still held. From the perspective of British aristocrats already concerned by the success of the Russian Revolution and working class disturbances in other European countries including republican Spain, Hitler looked as though he could make Germany a real buttress against any attempts at expansion from Soviet Russia.
Londonderry also had an ‘ingrained anti-Semitism’ which Kershaw notes that this “latent antipathy…was common enough on the Conservative Right.” (Kershaw: 2004 p 230). The Rothschilds were still influential in Britain and a friend Antony Rothschild took Londonderry to task when he stayed in denial of the awfulness of the growing anti-Semitism in the mid 1930s. For Londonderry flying in the face of logic the Bolshevik Revolution was a “Jewish plot”.
This film wasn’t ‘just’ a piece of unpleasant piece of anti-Semitic propaganda it was clearly targeted at those in the British establishment who had doubts about taking on the Nazi regime. The choice of the Battle of Waterloo was an historical reminder that Prussia had been Britain’s ally and that Wellington would certainly have lost the battle had it not been for Blucher and the Prussians army. The film is perhaps better read as a last attempt to persuade Britain to collude with Hitler’s core project rather than as a piece of anti-British propaganda. By 1941 the content of many films had become extremely anti-British by late 1940-1941 see Taylor (1998 r.e.) page 150).
Kershaw, Ian. 2004. Making Friends with Hitler. Harmondsworth:Penguin / Allen lane
Reeves Nicholas. 1999. The Power of Film Propaganda: Myth or Reality. London: Cassell. Reviewed by Alan Rosenthal
Film Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Winter, 2001-2002), pp. 67-69
Taylor, Richard.1998 Revised Edition. Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. London: I. B. Tauris