All entries for Thursday 30 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.