All entries for Wednesday 15 November 2006
November 15, 2006
In 2003 Antje Aschied published Hitler’s Heroines: Stardom and Womanhood in Nazi Cinema. The hyperlinked review of the book is quite scathing about the methods behind the book arguing, correctly in my view, that there was a lack of historical contextualisation and and over-reliance on textual analysis devoid of anything else to claim that aspects of the text could be read as ruptures and disjunctures in the approach of Nazism to wards femininity.
Textual analysis is an important research tool which itself can be informed by a range of methodologies. Nevertheless there is a tension between textual and contextual which is very hard to resolve. Here Erica Carter’s excellent review article of relatively recent textual analytical approaches to film history makes the point very clearly in her summing up. Despite the excellence and usefulness of the books she is reviewing which rely upon analysis of few texts in minute detail: What however, of those methodologies from the field of film studies – genre, star and auteur studies, for instance – in which the single text is decentered and made part of larger systems of signification? (Carter, 1999, p 583).
Well it isn’t rocket science to note that there were contradictory features within Nazism indeed David Kershaw argues that Hitler deliberately encouraged competition amongst his followers on a divide and rule basis.
Only picking three stars to study seems like a flawed method if one wishes to draw conclusions about the Nazi attitude to women. The three stars in question: Kristina Soederbaum, Zarah Leander and Lilian Harvey were not true Aryans in of German stock, two being Swedish and one English. Any study would only be firmly based if comparative work was done across all the leading actresses.
Furthermore the key element of audinece is missing from the equation. As reviewer Jana Bruns scathingly and rhetorically asks:“is it conceivable, for example, that stars like Leander, Soederbaum and Harvey damaged the regime by unraveling Nazi gender essentialism and allowing viewers to align with different identities?”
Whilst textual methods of research can be extremly useful it is usually better to triangulate research across several methods. Qualitative types of audience research should be obligatory when the issues are as high stake as close analysis of the ideological functioning of Nazism and its successes and failures.
It seems worthwhile to at least contextualise a little. The position of Soederbaum is intersting to say the least. She was a star alongside Veit Harlan in the infamous rabid anti-semitic piece of direct propaganda Jud Suss which was also directed by Harlan. (Soererabum was also Harlan’s wife). The audiences were clearly so disrupted by the transgressive nature of woman that they rushed out and rescued all the Jewish women in concentration camps.
As if that particular piece of propaganda context were not enough Soederbaum also stars in another Veit Harlan foray into direction into direction Kolberg. Please see introduction to the film on this blog for more details.
This was an enormous propaganda exercise which was being made in the teeth of total collapse of the regime on all military fronts. Nevertheless the propaganda value was considered so important that large number of front-line troops were used as extras and the budget was huge. From the perspective of -unraveling Nazi gender essentialism_ the issues were rather more serious for the average German with the Soviets knocking at the door of Berlin and British and American troops rapidly thrusting deep into German territory over the Rhine.
Out of the 35,000 books on the Nazi regime this one may not get to the top of the pile.
The history of the institutional aspects of cinema is interesting and the film studios in Babelsberg a suburb of Berlin which became so famous between the wars started in 1911 in a derelict factory surrounded by some wasteland by the nascent film company Bioscop who were to produce some famous films with Asta Nielsen the Danish Actress.
Babelsberg is still in use today after being taken over by DEFA after 1945.
The Goethe Institute is informative about today’s Babelsberg based German film industry.
Erich Pommer & Weimar Cinema
Erich Pommer was one of the most important people in Weimar cinema. Pommer first founded and was head of Decla responsible for the production. when Decla later merged with Ufa Pommer was head of production.
Pommer’s original start in film was with the
Once the war had started he became the co-founder of Decla-Filmgesellschaft, producing a range of serials in popular genres such as detectives and romances.
In 1920 Decla joins with Bioscop to form the second largest German film company after Ufa.
That Pommer was extremely important is evidenced by the description below found on the Deutsche film portal site:
With Die Spinnen and Das Cabinett des Dr. Caligari he made Decla the home for exceptionally gifted directors like Fritz Lang and Robert Wiene. To fulfil his aim of establishing a German film industry which could compete with Hollywood on an artistic, technical and commercial level, he continuously was on the look for new talent. His vision led to lasting creative relationships with maverick directors like Lang and Murnau, with whom Pommer shaped the face of Weimar Cinema as it is remembered and renowned today.
From 1919 he was familiar with Fritz Lang. Pommer produced Pest in Florenz Dir. Rippert, 1919 with a screenplay by Lang. Later that year he produced Harakiri and Halbblut both directed and with screenplay by Lang. He then produced the adventure series die Spinnen directed by Lang.
Pommer always had a twin-track approach to the films that were made. On the one hand UFA turned out the genre films of mass culture whilst on the other hand favoured directors were allowed to establish director led units making more artistic and experimental films for the more intellectual audiences of Weimar and for export. Directors with this favoured status included Fritz Lang and later F. W. Murnau.
Many classic films of the Weimar period followed including,
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919 / 20) directed by Wiene, Destiny, (1921) and the two parter Dr Mabuse directed by Lang (1921 / 22). He worked with Murnau firstly on Phantom (1922) and later on The Last Laugh (1924), . and then Tartuffe (1925). Tartuffe was seemingly an attempt to create a film with an appeal to the French market as this market opened up following rapprochement between the two countries as post-war enmities subsided. The film has not been considered as one of Murnau’s better works and the various attempts to create a successful unified market failed.
He worked with Lang on Metropolis (1925 / 26) which infamously overran its budget and was an attempt to create a blockbuster to bleak into the US Market. In the same year he worked again with Murnau on Faust.
In 1926 Pommer went to work in the USA. He returned to work for UFA which had by then been taken over by Hugenberg who had put Gustav Klitzsch in charge. UFA now worked on a central producer system with the producer keeping a very tight control on budgets and shooting schedules.
In 1928 and 1928 / 29 he worked with Joe May on Heimkehr and then Asphalt. All of these were still working for Ufa.
In 1929 / 30 Pommer produced von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, yet another film classic, still working for Ufa. In 1930 he produced Robert Siodmak’s Der Mann, der seinen Morder sucht.
Pommer continued to work for Ufa despite the ownership of Hugenberg up until 1932 when he produced his last film for them. Pommer left Germany, going firstly to France, then to Britain and then on to Hollywood. He didn’t produce another film in Germany until 1951.
In Britain Alexander Korda had attracted a number of European filmmakers including Erich Pommer. Pommer formed a production company with Charles Laughton, Mayflower Pictures.
Pommer was undoubtedly an entrepreneurial spirit who also liked good films. Historically he is the only figure who has had enough concentrated power, skill and entrepreneurial skills to challenge the rise of Hollywood in the post first world war period. Circumstances were always against him. His attempts to create ‘Cinema Europe’ to both resist and challenge Hollywood fell on infertile ground.
Films Associated with Erich Pommer
May Joe: Heimkehr (1928)
Murnau F. W. : Phantom (1922)
Murnau F. W. : Tartuffe (1925)
Murnau F. W. : The Last Laugh (1924)
Lang Fritz: Dr Mabuse both parts (1921 / 22)
Rippert (Screenpalay Fritz Lang): Pest in Florenz 1919
Siodmak Robert : Der Mann, der seinen Morder sucht. (1930)
Wiene: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919 / 20)
A Useful Link To "German Department Resource at Dartmouth ":http://www.dartmouth.edu/~germ43/resources/biographies/pommer-e.html