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November 23, 2006

Metropolis: The Different 1927 Release Versions

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 18, 2006

Kolberg: Veit Harlen. The last Chapter of Weimar and Nazi cinema

Kolberg: Veit Harlan 1943-1945

a Cast of 87,000 in the Prodigsl Propaganda Historical Drama Kolberg

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)

Kristina Soederbaum in Veit Harlan Kolberg

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 Kolberg 1943_1945

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.

Bibliography

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

Weblinks

Fascism: Modern Propaganda


The Rothschilds: Aktien auf Waterloo. Fritz Hippler

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.

From The Rothschilds (1940)

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).

Bibliography

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

Wikipedia (Germany) entry The Rothschilds
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November 15, 2006

Women Stars in Nazi Cinema

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.

Kristina Soederbaum in Jud Suss

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.

Kristina Soederbaum in Kolberg

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 Babelsberg Film Studios: Bioscop, Decla, Ufa, Defa, the Pianist

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.

History of Babelsberg.

Babelsberg is still in use today after being taken over by DEFA after 1945.

Set of The Pianist at Babelsberg Studios

The Goethe Institute is informative about today’s Babelsberg based German film industry.


Erich Pommer & Weimar Cinema

Erich Pommer & Weimar Cinema

Return to Weimar Cinema Hub Page

Introduction

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 Berlin office of Gaumont in 1907. He later joined the French Éclair company before the war.

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.


Lang, Pest in Florenz

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.


Murnau, Phantom 1922

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.


Robert Siodmak, 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.

Webliography  

Films Associated with Erich Pommer 


May Joe: Heimkehr (1928)

May Joe: Asphalt (1928 / 29)

Murnau F.W. : Faust (1926)

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)

Lang Fritz:  Metropolis (1925 / 26)

Rippert (Screenpalay Fritz Lang): Pest in Florenz 1919

Siodmak Robert : Der Mann, der seinen Morder sucht. (1930)

von Sternberg Josef: The Blue Angel (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


November 14, 2006

Open Studies in European Cinema. Weimar and Nazi Film Links

Here are some interesting links on the Internet dealing with films not covered in this term’s program.

Elsaesser on Fritz Lang

Academic Anton Kaes and a useful bibliography of a leading German film scholar

Article from leading German studies academic Miriam Hansen on modernism and vernacular cinema

The 100 most significant German films

Forthcoming New Books on German cinema from Berghan Press

Review Article by Erica Carter

Thomas Elsaesser on Problems of Modernity and Nazi cinema


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