All 12 entries tagged History
November 14, 2006
Here are some interesting links on the Internet dealing with films not covered in this term’s program.
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
Forthcoming New Books on German cinema from Berghan Press
Out more than 1,000 feature films produced during the Nazi period relatively few were directly propagandistic. As both Petley and Taylor have noted Goebbels was concerned with developing covert rather than overt ideological content: ‘At the moment propaganda is recognised as such, it becomes ineffective’, said Goebbels. One of the most notable directly propagandist films includes Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935). It was a huge Nazi rally choreographed to fit in with the film, which can be seen as the nadir of Fascism. While this film is often classed as a ‘documentary’ this underplays the importance of the cinema in the creation of the event itself. It was a huge spectacle carefully designed to be filmed as a part of an emotive and overwhelming display of power. Reifenstahl discussed aspects of the spectacle and how it could best be filmed with Hitler himself. The film is now best considered as an historical document which is evidence of how Nazism consolidated its power both in the content and simultaneous control of the media it can also be directly linked to the principle of Fuhrerprinzip. The film’s importance in relation to the consolidation of Nazi power after 1933 means that a separate analysis will be given
Riefenstahl also produced films which glorified the idealised Aryan body in Olympia (1938). Olympia used 45 cameras some suspended from balloons shooting 400 hours of footage edited down to 4 hours.
As an actor Riefenstahl also contributed to the Mountain-film genre starring in many of Arnold Fanck’s films such as Storm Over Mont Blanc /Avalanche (1930) which was a part of the national mythology.
Recent analysis of the more generic film output has challenged earlier work by people such as Erwin Leiser who considered that most cinematic output of this type was ‘distractive entertainment’. Rather it is important to analyse how a culture of everyday fascism was ideologically developed through this cinematic output.
It is very important to consider the cinematic texts within the overall contextual situation of the politics and economic situation of the time. The film industry and its products need to be considered as a substantive part of a range of mutually interacting ideologically driven media strategies in which the viewing and exhibitionary conditions are an important part. The task for the analyst as Rentschler sees it is to comprehend the way in which films interacted with and resonated within larger social constellations.
The Nazi Star System within Genres
The commercial need for a star system to compete with Hollywood had already been established and under the Hugenberg ownership of Ufa this approach had been successful prior to the Nazi government. Cinema in Third Reich continued this trend. Any star system has the function of collapsing the boundaries between persona and character. The projection of audience desire and anxieties onto stars has an important ideological function of this style of cinema. Along with the more obvious hierarchical elements of star systems this was fundamental to Nazi cinema and the huge salaries and regal treatment afforded to the recognised stars ensured that they were not lured to Hollywood.
The salaries paid were unsustainable so the Nazi government effectively subsidised their opulent lifestyles. The discourses of stardom in the media and their lifestyle which was exotic and glamorous, provided an outlet for pent-up desires. As much as anything it is this aspect of Nazi cinema which can be compared with Horkheimer and Adorno in their analysis of the ‘Culture Industry’: “Pleasure always means not to think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown. Basically it is helplessness. It is flight; not, as is asserted, flight from a wretched reality, but from the last remaining thought of resistance.” (Horkheimer & Adorno: The Culture Industry, p 144).
Under American Liberalism the culture industry served the needs of monopoly capitalism whilst in authoritarian regimes it served the interests of the state and its controlling elites more directly. Whichever way it is considered, ‘It’s only entertainment’, as a statement functions as an ideological chimera.
There was a fundamental paradox in Nazi cinema that many of the female stars acted more as an exoticised and eroticised pole of attraction based upon non-Aryan models of womanhood. Indeed many were foreign. This analysis of the Nazi star system drawn from Sabine Hake appears to be directly contradictory to that of Jill Branston who has drawn heavily on the work of Erica Carter. Branston suggests that the propaganda demands of the Nazis laid an emphasis upon ‘the biological-racial essence of character, which ‘should’ correspond to external appearance via cinematic realism.’
Above the Swedish actress Zarah Leander in a costume drama. A genre often considered as inherently conservative. Below another Swedish actress Kristina Soederbaum in one of the most blatantly propagandistic and overtly anti-semitic films of the Nazi era directed by Veit Harlan. Here the ‘historical’ costume drama is undoubtedly linked to a Nazi agenda.
The development of genres was important as a way of wooing and keeping popular audiences ‘ One of the main psychological functions of genre in general is to produce specific emotions (joy, fear, sadness) and process them through predetermined forms that offer imaginary solutions to social problems’ . During the Third Reich the genre range was intentionally limited. Crime, thrillers and courtroom dramas were seen as drawing attention to taboo subjects and therefore no investment was forthcoming in these genres.
Directors who were committed Nazis became associated mainly with the historical and biographical film. Comedy is also an interesting area of cinema to consider with about half the feature length films produced in Germany after 1933 being comedy hybrids such as rustic comedies and musical comedies. Of these hybrids the white collar comedies managed to retain some of their social awareness.
The Comedy Genre
It has been argued that far from being harmless entertainment ‘comedy functioned to make German film audiences emotionally pliable for a propagandistic consensus constructed across all media discourses.’ This can be seen as a double aesthetic strategy. On the one hand the strategy functioned to separate the unacceptable characters to the regime from ‘legitimate’ society. At the same time the way the comedy operated institutionalised the norms of Nazi ideology in ways which easily translated into the everyday life of much of the population.
It has been noted that the visual aspects of the comedy was subordinated to the verbal which allowed for more control of the text giving a stronger preferred reading. This has been compared to the more visually based comedic output of US cinema. For example, Horak notes the career of Heinz Ruhman which traversed Weimar, Nazi and the Bonn periods. Ruhman’s character was always seemingly subverting order in order to grab a piece of power for himself and thus integrate himself into the status quo. Ruhman’s roles are frequently infantilist after 1933 but without the subversive potential which Horak assigns to US infantilist comedians such as Stan Laurel.
Below two images of Ruhman.
By comparison with the Hollywood infantilists Ruhman’s infantilism is a repression of sexuality in favour of lavatorial humour. Horak suggests that German comedians from Ruhman to Hans Moser to Heinz Erhardt are de-erotisised or emasculated. Horak further argues that this may be because Nazi culture extolling the woman’s role as mother has removed sexual discourse from the cinema. This fits in with Horak’s hypothesis that sexual desire is entirely repressed in Nazi cinema which functions to ensure the culture of sacrifice for the Fatherland.
Please follow link for article on Musical Comedies under Nazism
Other genres that continued to be popular were the Bergfilm (mountain film) and the Heimat genre. Nether of the genres originated with the Third Reich but both were comfortably adaptable to Nazi ideologies. Fanck’s Bergfilm comedies of the Weimar period often featured Leni Riefenstahl. Both the White Ecstasy (1931) and The Big Leap (1927), concentrate on the physicality of the ski race thus repressing sexuality. The comedy lacks the anti-authoritarianism of Hollywood slapstick.
Audience and Distribution
From the above review we can see that there are currently differences of analysis of Nazi cinema. There is a need to pay more attention to the concerns of audience and the patterns of distribution of various types of film. For example in Hollywood cinema it is well known that ‘B’ movie Westerns were mainly targeted at male rural and small town audiences. Discovering which films were distributed to which parts of Germany would help deepen the analysis of how the Nazi media strove to create a Nazi imaginary in both major industrial cities which had sophisticated audiences and isolated rural areas. As a sub-genre of rural comedies has been identified a useful research development would be to find out if they were screened in large cities and whether they were considered popular.
The evidence proffered by Taylor in his analysis of ‘Triumph of the Will’ (which is largely regurgitated in the notes on the recently released DVD), suggests that it did very well in the Ufa first run cinemas in the major cities of Nazi Germany, yet it was relatively unsuccessful in the more rural parts of the country. This is anomalous because we know that the Nazis failed to win the political control of any major industrial city while there were proper elections. We also know that the mass consistent political base of Nazism came from the rural and small town areas of Germany. What explains the apparent success of this overtly propagandistic film in the large cities? Given the Nazis effectiveness at organising ‘Mass Ornament’ and the fundamental importance of the content in consolidating Nazi control the machinery was simply not going to allow it to be a failure. Were the mass of Nazi supporters bussed into the big city cinemas? There is room here for further research.
Overall it seems clear that a useful area of further research would analyse more closely the patterns of distribution of the particular types of films and their target audiences. There is plenty of evidence that the Nazis were good at targeting different audiences in their political campaigning to gain power, which gives the analyst good cause to believe that they recognised that audience was never going to be totally homogenised but more heterogeneous. The problem here becomes developing a range of films with a consistent Nazi-approved content that appeals to a wide range of audiences.
To solve this problem it seems likely that, as in other countries, the multi-generic or genre-hybrid film which is likely to have the most highly paid stars will be constructed in such a way as to appeal to a broader spectrum of people in relation to their class and intellectual background and Hake specifically use the term ‘cosmopolitan atmosphere’ required for commercial success across the domestic and international markets. The use of the term ‘cosmopolitan’ has a certain irony as on Peter Wollen’s analysis ‘cosmopolitan’ as a term tends to refer to mobility of Jewishness. It leaves me with the question of whether the numbers of films with exoticised and eroticised stars was more of an urban than a rural phenomenon?
There is some evidence that use of the cinema to promote certain ideological priorities as the Nazis consolidated and developed their grip on Germany can be discerned in certain key films. Riefenstahl’s documentary style Triumph of the Will can be seen as directly corresponding to the myth of Nazism that they had directly seized power. This rather contradicts the reality that Hitler was placed into the position of Chancellor by sleight of hand and collusion by von Papen and others. This was done at a time when the support for the Nazis was beginning to wane and the organisation was facing bankruptcy after two election campaigns in 1932. At the time they thought they could muzzle the Nazis and use them for their own ends.
This was followed by Riefenstahl’s Olympia, again a documentary style paean to the idealised Nazi body which can be directly linked to the main ideological campaign of ‘Gleichschaltung’ the so-called ‘co-ordination’ of all political, economic and cultural activities. The Berlin Olympics was the perfect vehicle to celebrate ideologies of youth, purity and fitness, which can ultimately be linked to the Nazi eugenics programme which had been rapidly installed to deal with ‘unhealthy Aryans’ soon after the Nazis came to power. This also corresponds to the obsession with health and hygiene.
Cinema and Euthanasia
The issue of eugenics and resistance to some of the most outrageous aspects of this came to the fore in 1941. In August Bishop Galen the Bishop of Munster delivered a sermon detailing how innocent sick people were being murdered with their families being given false death notices. Copies of the sermon were delivered throughout the Reich, the RAF dropped copies of the sermon over German cities and Burleigh cites responses from an officer in northern Lapland reporting that his soldiers had received copies of the sermon. Galen was too popular for the Nazis to simply take him out and as a result a major ideological response came from the cinema with the release of Ich Klage an (I Accuse) (1941, dir Liebeneiner, which presented a case for ‘mercy killing’ or involuntary euthanasia.
The subsequent trial becomes a showcase for the Nazi position utilising some of the best known stars of the cinema at the time. According to Welch (2002) the audience reception was generally positive. Reports of the SD (Security police) indicate that members of the poorer classes were sympathetic on financial grounds as the sick would have been a ‘burden’.
The Catholic clergy in the south were particularly resistant to the film and encouraged their congregations to avoid it. They interpreted the film as a direct response to Galen’s sermon. Apparently some younger doctors viewed the film favourably. The film attracted 18 million viewers which for Welsh ‘Reveals an alarming flight from reality, a willingness on the part of German audiences to delegate responsibility, and a reluctance to face the moral consequences of their actions.’ Welsh, 2002: p 91).
Whilst the general output of the Nazified film industry largely ignored the Jewish in a form of structured absence, a number of key anti-Semitic films were released towards the end of the 1930s and into the wartime period. These coincided with the increasingly militant campaign against the Jews being conducted by the Nazis. Kristallnacht in early November 1938 has become infamous and marked the beginning of a new phase of anti-Semitism which became constructed as the ‘Jewish Question’. Welsh argues that film was co-ordinated with other parts of the mass media to conduct an ideological / propaganda campaign of anti-Semitism. The first of these were Robert and Bertram (1939) and Leinen aus Irland (1939). Both work within the comedy genre to caricature Jews as subhuman. In the same year Goebbels banned the term ‘anti-Semitic’ replacing it with the expression ‘defence against the Jews’.
In Bismark (1940), dir Liebeneiner the hybrid genre form of Biopic and celebration of German heritage sees an assassination attempt by a Jew on Bismark. Below images from Bismark (1940).
1940 also saw the release of three of the most infamous anti-Semitic films produced by the Nazis: Die Rothchilds, Jud Suss, Der ewige Jude (The Wandering Jew). Arguably these films were produced to help justify and rationalise the process of deporting Jews from Austria and Czechoslovakia to Poland.
These films were marketed under the guise of being ‘factual’. Jud Suss is the story of a Jew conducting a political machination in Wurttemburg. The story ends with the hanging of Suss and the banning of Jews from Stuttgart in 1738. Bringing together Nazi themes under the guise of popular entertainment the SD reports on favourable audience responses and Goebbels considered the film a success from the popularity of it. We don’t know who stayed away from these screenings. In Heimkehr (1941) Jews are represented as encouraging the Poles to commit atrocities against German minorities.
The cinema of the Third Reich saw the development of a monopolistic system in which the interests of the main industrial players and the NSDAP became merged. The period saw the rationalisation of the industry turning it into a highly profitable enterprise with a core strategy of developing an industry able to compete with Hollywood. The industry willingly complied immediately with Nazi norms of anti-Trade unionism and anti-Semitism. Many of the more authoritarian ideas of the Nazis in both content and management of the industry are likely to be discovered in a study of Ufa after its take-over by the extreme nationalist Hugenberg during the late Weimar period.
The ideological leanings of its products were strongly different to Hollywood and the output of other democracies. Holding a position of covert rather than overt ideology to win hearts and minds many genres were repressed, replaced and reinvented. Genre was used as an ideological tool even in the realm of comedy which is often associated with subversion and transgression. Within the genres themselves sexuality was repressed and replaced with the aestheticised body, which could serve the Fatherland as either soldier or idealised mother. It seemingly displayed a Fascist utopianism in which social problems were removed by magic by not being discussed at all.
In Nazi Germany the conditions of exhibition further supported the ideological nature of the content with their strongly ‘preferred readings’ based upon Nazi ideologies. Jews had been banned from cinemas and people were unable to come late to the shows which always had propaganda and newsreels on first. The weight of contemporary criticism now sees Nazi cinema holistically as an ideological machine, covering all aspects of the institution of cinema from production, regulation, audience, content, criticism, aesthetics and finance. This is in contradiction to earlier work which saw the generic output such as comedies as simple distractions.
Textually-based readings which argue that individual films can be seen to contain ‘ruptures and contradictions’ fail to contextualise and consider the mutually performative nature of all the key parameters of Nazi cinema as an institution in which all aspects of the media institutions worked within a totalising policy environment devoted to fostering a Nazi ideologically based concept of the everyday. There are those who take a different perspective including Antje Ashied.
Textually based readings across a wide range of texts should be able to discern a distinctively fascist aesthetic which aestheticised politics and the body in what might be termed as ‘hyper-naturalistic’ in other words a representation of ‘natural’ which is far more than natural. Nazi cinema eschewed cinematic techniques such as montage. Where possible it privileged the verbal over the visual with the exception of highly choreographed distinctly propagandist products.
Much of the research work has been focused upon Nazi feature films yet the role of newsreels and documentaries also needs to be analysed more rigorously. The figures used by Rentschler providing an overview of Nazi cinema also show up some interesting features which could be usefully investigated further. It is not until 1936, three years into the Nazi regime long after the unemployment rate had been radically reduced that the German cinema has recovered so that both ticket sales and gross income exceed the figures of 1929. This seems to indicate that at this time there wasn’t an enormous amount of enthusiasm for Nazi style cinema in the early years of the regime.
An interesting pair of figures that emerges is the enormous increase in both cinemas and box -office numbers between the years 1938 and 1939. The rise in box-office figures can be explained by interest in the newsreels during the early and successful part of the war. Presumably families of soldiers would wish to keep up to date about events. Also of interest is the huge rise in the number of cinemas of approximately 1,500 in the space of a year. This is unlikely to have been driven by purely commercial factors and provides an indicator about just how important a role the Nazi cultural policy makers thought cinema could play. Given that there is evidence from elsewhere that Hitler was expecting to fight a major European war in the very early 1940s it is not unreasonable to speculate that this massive growth of cinema building which ran parallel to the growing Nazification of the content of the films once they had consolidated their power was part of a coherent strategy which understood Nazi cinema functioning simultaneously as an ideological battering ram and a growing global cultural industry.
Overall there is still much work which needs to be done to tease out the full extent of how cinema was developed for Nazi ends during the time of the regime. It is a cinema which was in many ways more invidious than the purely propaganda models recognise and it was built into the structure of the industry as well as the content itself. The content across all cinematic genres was being designed consciously or unconsciously to promote everyday Nazism in ways which no other regime has ever done.
October 12, 2006
As is well known, World War 1 allowed the United States to dominate the film markets of the World outside of Europe with European countries being ousted from regions such as Latin America and Australasia. Previously these areas had provided significant sources of revenue for European cinema.
After the war the biggest competition in the film industry to emerge for the USA came from Germany. This was because Germany had developed its film industry largely in isolation between 1916– 1921. In 1916 Germany banned all foreign imports except from Denmark. Alongside this cinema in Germany attracted large capital investment. Ufa was formed through both big capital and Government intervention which resulted in a developing vertically integrated industry combining production, distribution and exhibition. In 1917 the German film industry made sure that it consolidated its position in neutral countries as much as possible and continued to do this after the end of the war.
The ban on film imports was continued probably more as a response to the severe post-war trade restrictions which were imposed upon Germany at the Treaty of Versailles and the general conditions of peace. Films had been left out of the equation. They were not deemed as significant at that point compared with iron and steel and the chemical industries for example.
The Social Democrat led coalition governments of the immediate post-war period were determined to ensure that unemployment didn’t rise and contribute to the already extremely unstable internal political situation. As a result there was an increasing rise in inflation. This situation was seriously exacerbated when French troops occupied the Ruhr industrial region. The German government funded the passive resistance of the German workers who refused to run industry for the benefits of the French. The corresponding fall in tax revenues combined with massively increased outgoings led to Government borrowing at ever increasing rates of interest which eventually led to the hyperinflation crisis in the summer of 1923.
The high levels of inflation were extremely beneficial to the German film industry as production money borrowed could be paid back in inflated currency and any foreign currency earnings were especially beneficial. At the same time it meant an effective import barrier because other European countries couldn’t compete with the German market. Only America could effectively enter the film market at all because of its far more efficient industrial base.
It wasn’t until 1924 when far more cooperation between nationally based European film industries was attempted. This was largely predicated upon the increasing recognition that no single country stood a chance against the US film industry.
The Power of the Post War US Film Industry
Despite the various barriers against foreign imports in Germany, Hollywood did well in Germany throughout the 1920s. Even in 1923 it had about 25% of the market when the German film industry was in its most advantageous position. In 1924 after the institution of the Dawes plan and the stabilisation of the Mark the US increased its market share to about one third. This share continued to grow very strongly with 42% of the market in 1925 and beginning to slow in its expansion rate to 46% by 1926. By comparison German films had 36% of the box office in 1926. In three years America had nearly doubled its presence and outgrown the German industry.
The power of the US film industry was based upon the fact that size matters. By the end of the war it was the largest film industry in the world. In the early 1920s there were approximately 18,000 cinemas in the US compared with: 4,000 in Britain; 3,700 in Germany; a lowly 2,500 in France. Added to this the American cinemas were more efficient money machines: they were significantly larger, they had more screenings per week and more people went more regularly to the cinema. American workers were more affluent as Europe was still recovering from the war.
This was a case of success breeding success. Hollywood companies could invest more in each film. They had almost guaranteed returns on the domestic market and fairly predictable returns from overseas. By factoring in the rising overseas returns into their calculations even as early as 1917 Hollywood was able to invest in better production values to counter possible post-war competition thus successfully trumping European cinema at an early stage. By comparison in Germany the post Dawes plan financial adjustments hit the German film industry hard. The industrial cities had not yet staged their recovery and there were a plethora of German films with low production values which were no competition for Hollywood. There was a crisis of overproduction in German cinema.
The Growth of the European Idea
Even as early as 1924 there were moves afoot to try and consolidate the European film industry as a response to the growing menace of US total domination. This can be seen as part of general growing trend amongst politicians, intellectuals and leading industrialists. The reconciliation between France and Germany which begun after Stresemann took power in Germany continued with the election of Edouard Herriot in France in May 1924. In October Herriot spoke publicly about the need to develop a ‘United States of Europe’. This was a clear response to the runaway success of American capitalism which prior to the War was already the most productive on the planet. By the mid 1920s its GDP could be measured against the output of several European countries added together, rather than a direct comparison with say Britain.
As far as the European film industry was concerned the first mutual distribution agreement was established in the summer of 1924. No longer protected by hyperinflation, the German film industry had initiated new tactics to protect its position. The agreement was established between Ufa and Etablissements Aubert in France. This agreement differed in that there were mutual distribution rights established rather than the usual one way deal imposed by the more powerful partner.
The way the deal was presented was also extremely important. The deal was headed up by Erich Pommer then head of Ufa. Pommer was crystal clear about the industrial necessity of the situation which was ‘to amortise costs rapidly’. It was also clear that to achieve this, the notion of ‘national’ films needed to be subordinated to that of ‘continental films’ if that goal were to be achieved. Films such as Murnau’s Tartuffe were arguably a result of this deal. This was exactly the sort of film which should have an appeal in France whilst utilising leading German cast, director, crew and production facilities. Perhaps Tartuffe can be viewed as the first Euro-pudding Thompson notes that similar opinions “…were expressed repeatedly in the trade and popular press of Europe for the rest of the silent period” (Thompson in Higson and Maltby 1999, p 60).
The deal brokered by Pommer quickly led to more attempts at consolidation. Only a few weeks later the émigré Russian Wengeroff in conjunction with the industrial conglomeration Stinnes in Germany formed a joint production and distribution company called Westi. By early spring in 1925 they had formed what turned out to be a short-lived partnership with Pathe in France. The Stinnes conglomerate went into receivership only a few months later and Westi was broken up with other German film companies such as Ufa and Deulig picking up some cheap assets.
It was in 1925 that Ufa famously ran into serious financial difficulties. Pommer was determined to crack the US market and Metropolis was to be the leading spectacular which was to achieve this. Despite being the most expensive German film up until that time the film flopped in the US which had much to do with the very defensive American distribution system which continuously stifled foreign competition at birth. The failure of Pommer’s strategy led to the famous Parafumet deal in which Paramount and MGM bailed out Ufa by lending it $4 million over a 10 year period. In return they gained a firm grip on the German market by being allowed to distribute 20 films a year each through the Ufa chain of cinemas which were the most profitable in Germany situated in all the largest cities. This deal lasted into the early 1930s.
Not only does this deal help to explain the massive market share gained by America by 1926 it also helps to explain why there was such an appetite for American modernism in the cities. Rural and small town Germany had rather less exposure to the international influence of Hollywood as well as probably being a more conservative audience anyway. An important economic factor was that by now Germany was a twin speed economy with the rural and small town areas being severely depressed whilst the industrial cities were doing very well. In short there may have been the appetite for expensive American films in rural areas but there was no cash to fund it.
Thomas Saunders (1999) points to the setting up of the Deutches Lichtbild Syndikat (German Film Syndicate or DLS) in 1926. This was a defensive measure against Hollywood imports and was started by an association of exhibitors to unite independent cinema owners around a production and distribution company free of Hollywood. By 1928 Saunders estimates it had about 20% of cinemas supporting it including some of the larger ones in the main cities and provinces which were not part of the major chains. However Saunders only comments that it was 20% or one fifth of all cinemas, this does not equate to 20% of the box office takings. As such it cannot be seen as a great threat to Hollywood and its major partners although Saunders comments “Its early films proved popular, the first of them spectacularly so, indicating that pooling of capital through exhibition could succeed on a national level”. (Higson & Maltby 1999, p168). This seems to be a little out of proportion and no figures are given, nor is any example of relevant films cited.
The ambivalent situation in which even a company like Ufa was in, was shown at the 1928 European film congress held in Berlin. Ludwig Klitsch, was Hugenberg’s right-hand man and head of Ufa. The extreme Nationalist Hugenberg had recently taken over Ufa. Klitsch, was also head of SPIO (Spitzenorganisation der Deutschen Filmwirtshaft) the umbrella organisation of the German film industry. From this position he made a very ambivalent speech. Klitsch welcomed the moves towards European consolidation but was harsh on those expressing anti-American sentiments and he went out of his way to praise Will Hays who was his American counterpart. (Thomas Saunders p 159). This was a speech of ‘realpolitik’. Hugenberg’s nationalistic sentiments needed to be subordinated to the realities of the wider political economy, at least for the time being.
Ever since the establishing of the Dawes plan in 1923 German industry had made a strong recovery with its major industries such as electrical goods and chemicals become major players on the global market. They were primarily export led and the main importer of these products was the USA. Furthermore these companies had consolidated and redeveloped on the back of American money much of which was held in short-term loans. In brief the German economy was very exposed to American whim as the extraction of short-term cash at the onset of the 1929 depression was prove. Klitsch had little option but to move cautiously especially because Ufa itself was very exposed to US influence through the Parafumet deal. It was of course a deal which made Ufa very wealthy. The Hollywood films were continuous successes at the box office. The complaints of the minor players were sour grapes. They were being squeezed.
The position of Deulig, Hugenberg’s original film vehicle and a part of his media empire had had a very different publicly stated position in 1926. The Reichsfilmblatt magazine which was the public outlet for the National Association of German Exhibitors argued that Hollywood movies were alienating filmgoers and ruining cinemas. They hid behind a European idea and quoted Melamerson who in 1926 as head of Deulig had argued for a distinct European filmic identity which cinema needed to foster. In fact, as quoted by Thomas Saunders (1999), Melamerson talked about the conditions of oversupply in the industry from 1924. This of course coincides with the German film industry having to be rather more careful in what it produced. With hyperinflation even feeble films could make their money back quickly. Melamerson’s appeals for European unity constituted the talk of consolidation and changing business conditions current in European films circles at the time.
It is clear that a significant response of the German film industry in the mid 1920s was a dramatic change of tactics in response to massive changes in prevailing business conditions which had previously been extremely beneficial. In a doubly protected domestic market European competition was thin and even Hollywood had only made limited inroads compared with other European countries.
Initially the most farsighted, such as Eric Pommer, had pursued a twin strategy of trying to break into the American market by producing films with much higher production values. Whilst encouraging the possibilities of a consolidated European marketplace able to achieve this. In reality neither Germany nor Europe had the ability to produce films on a continuous basis at this level and with most industry agreements being partial and with an eye on local competition as well Europe for the US was still a continent of fragments. The ability to guarantee supply of continuous box office hits was where Hollywood had a huge advantage. The exhibition and distribution network across most European countries was doing very nicely out of Hollywood thank you! Furthermore the American distribution and exhibition system in the USA itself was hard to crack. Vertical integration whereby there was control of the means of production, distribution and exhibition meant that the Hollywood production chain was well protected; only crumbs were left for the Europeans. It came to the point that Pommer had to rent out a New York cinema himself in order to give Metropolis a press release!
The financial evidence presented above provides more indicators explaining the huge cultural divide within Germany in the 1920s which increasingly translated into a political divide. In 1926 the Nazis were nowhere but even before 1929 and the onset of the Depression they had made huge gains in rural areas which had never made an economic recovery. This was because global agricultural prices had fallen since 1923 while at the same time many farmers had borrowed to invest in new equipment. Repayment of the loans in a stabilised currency meant the inflation didn’t erode the value of the loans and the farming and provincial towns were hard hit as a result. There was little money left for entertainments and consequently the local rural cinemas would only have been able to afford cheaply made local produced films.
There is seemingly much research to be done on audiences and the conditions of exhibition in rural Germany at this time to better establish the roots of the tension between the obvious liking for American modernism represented in the big industrial cities and small town nationalistic culture which was seemingly represented in the provinces.
October 05, 2006
Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the Nuremberg Nazi Congress of 1934 has frequently been hailed as a significant artistic documentary film. Reifenstahl died very recently and up until that time she consistently denied any association with the Nazis defending the film as a ‘work of art’. However the fact that she made another film about the Nazi Nuremburg congress in 1933 tends to undermine that argument. Dealing with the film and with Reifenstahl is awkward. As the article below by Marcus points out Reappraising Triumph of the Will it is possibly the most discussed film and director in the history of cinema to date only possibly exceeded by Welles & Hitchcock. However as a quick trawl through the internet will show you there is a lot of not very good discussion and much of it has little or no historical contextual background. Below I focus particularly on the representation of the Army in the film and the underlying issues surrounding this as it appears to have been little covered elsewhere.
The film itself came out at a highly significant time for the Nazis as it celebrated Hitlers process of consolidation of power which took place during the period from the end of January 1933 through the infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives on June 30th 1934 followed by Hitler becoming Fuhrer after the death of Hindenberg. The film had a lot of work to do to spread the message of consolidation. Below the film is examined with a lot of attention being paid to to the composition of the target audience it was meant to reach. Whatever else the brutality against the Left, Jews and even liberals within the administrative posts in Germany meant that few could be unaware of the course of events. Riefenstahl’s denial rings very hollow.
This extract from the film is at the George Washington University and shows the reception that Hitler got when he landed at Nuremberg. It is the moment which Reifenstahl has been building up to. Reappraising Triumph of the Will
This is a particularly useful recent article. It contains a critical report on an interview conducted by Marcus himself with Reifenstahl. Marcus notes many of the diecrepancies and contradictions with previous interviews that she had given.
This a very useful article because it places Triumph of the Will squarely in the context of the other films which Reifenstahl made for Hitler. She had filmed the Nuremberg rally in 1933 gaining very valuable experience of the place and space of the rallies themselves. She also made a film of the rally the following year. This film was to strongly feature the Werhmacht as the Werhmacht had complained that there was very little about their manoeuvres in Triumph of the Will.
Marcus spends a brief time on the issue of the army and what he says is perceptive and useful. The role of the army is something which most commentators either fail to consider or skim over. Coming at this film within the context of seeing the film as an important part of the whole of the period of the Nazi consolidation of power rather than a decontextualised psuedo documentary allows us as critics to get a much better handle on the film. Below a representation from Visconti signifying the free reign of terror which the SA had between March 1933 for over a year. However much of what they were doing was alienting the middle and upper class base of support for the Nazis.
The role of the army in Hitler’s plans after taking power were crucial. In the first instance the army needed to stand by in a ‘neutral’ fashion whilst Hitler carried out his institutional purges during 1933 & 1934. It was the role of the Army in the future of Nazi Germany which was one of the fundamental points of difference between Roehm head of the SA and Hitler along with his unquestioning supporters such as Himmler and Goebbels the SS.
An excellent cinematic representation of this difference is shown within Visconti’s much under-rated film The Damned. Roehm wanted the SA to replace the army and be the spearhead for a more fundamental revolution at home and to lead the struggle for Lebensraum the Nazis imperialist plans for eastwards expansion. The Werhmacht were fundamentally opposed to the SA. whilst consolidating his position Hitler had no choice but to buy off the army – he obviously didn’t need a civil war with a fully professional armed fighting force. furthermore the Prussian backbone of the army had much in common with the genral aims of resoring Germany’s place in the World which would ensure a massive expansion of the armed forces. The kind of debauchery which Roehm was engaged in at the time of the massacre was helpful to Hitler in calming disturbed elements of the SA. visconti’s representation of this is largely based upon the reports of William Shirer an American journalist in Germany at the time.
The Wehrmacht colluded in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. It was ensured that they were confined to barracks whilst those identified as the greatest threats amongst the SA were purged. Furthermore it is reported that the Wehrmacht aslo provided logistical support for the SS to carry out the massacre. Shortly afterwards the officers of the army swore their personal allegiance to Hitler as Fuhrer. The seriousness of swearing an oath of allegiance within the Prussian officer code cannot be overestimated. Over the coming years this would prove to be a fundamental pillar of strength for Hitler. Below is an image of von Blomberg who appears on the podium with Hitler watching the manoeuvres. This would be seen by many of the film’s eventual audiences as highly significant.
Whilst the army might have wished to have been better represented the key target audience of the film needed to be the SA and all its supporters who had so recently had their leadership brutally removed. The mass popularity of Hitler and the unifying of Germany as a Nation with even the Saarland – at that time still under occupation – being included. There currently appears to be no evidence concerning the amount and type of footage of the army however it would be extraordinarily if Hitler wasn’t very aware of and had some level of input at the policy level of exactly what was in the film whatever Reifenstahl says. In another section I have placed a brief article on the re-armament policies of the Nazis and the development of these over the course of the early years of the regime. This historical detail will hopefully help to shed light on aspects of Triumph of the Will. I will also be placing a review of the process of the Nazi consolidation of power which I take to be from the end of January 1933 to the release of Triumph of the Will. This film needs to be seen as a spectacular represesentation of a spectacular event with a range of target audiences in mind. As a piece of performative filmmaking which come close to Wagner’s ideal of the gesamtkunstwerk then it is hard to beat. This link will take you to some realplayer downloads. I find it takes them a time to start up. The prelude to the Meistersinger was Reifenstahl’s ‘choice’. The fact that Wagner was Hitler’s favourite naturally had nothing to do with it. But then its a pain having to out up with that anti-Semite as well :-). Wagner was entirely appropriate for Riefenstahl’s score to the film, but then that was art – nothing to do with anti-Semitism at all!
A Prefatory Note
This section requires some prefatory comments as the number of works concerned with the Nazi period now numbers tens of thousands. I have drawn upon Kershaw’s (1993) useful overview of the methodological field until that time. A key concern of this section is the confused and contradictory nature of Nazi Germany and its relation to modernity. Here I take a largely neo-Gramscian approach which argues that Nazism functioned as an hegemonising agent mediating between a variety of political bases to provide a vision of the future which could appeal to a wide range of fractions of German society of the time crosscutting many class and elite differences. Crucial in its success was support from right-wing industrialists and entrepreneurs but there was enough within Nazism to temporarily unite petit-bourgeois, rural concerns and some elements of *theorganised working class along with many of those on the margins of society those whom Marx would describe as the lumpen-proletariat. Once in power there was a massive shift in the power-base internal to the NSDAP as its populist Brown-shirt elements who often relied upon anti-capitalist rhetoric were de-capitated as a political force within Nazism with the infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in which the Black shirted SS loyal only to Hitler massacred the Brown-shirt leadership. This was done with the collusion of the official forces of the state standing by. This will be covered in a separate section which deals with Visconti’s representation of the Nazi ‘consolidation of power’.
Scholars and analysts are still arguing furiously over the nature of the Nazi regime. Recent popular historical works such as Burleigh (2000) are premised on reviving the theory of ‘totalitarianism’, which has been for some considerable time been discredited amongst the discourses of historians.
Some scholars such as Mason from a left-wing perspective and Schweitzer (See Kershaw 41-42) from a more Liberal one have identified shifts in Nazism as it became more established and thus more autonomous from those class fractions and elites which had originally helped it to gain power. Thus industrial and capitalist needs became subordinated to ideological ones. Many ensuing historical debates have focused on whether there was a primacy of politics or one of economics. For Kershaw (p 48) the reality is that there was a complex overlap and interaction between the two spheres. Industrialists such as Hugenberg had always had imperialist fantasies and whilst Nazi policies could be seen to be increasing profitability then there was no serious breakdown in hegemony. This analysis is close to that of Sohn-Rethal which Kershaw describes as one in which the Nazis acted in an objective way to maximise capital accumulation at a time when there was an extreme crisis of capitalism.
It is important to take into account the relative power of any particular industries such as cinema which had an important ideological function would be relatively closely controlled and monitored by the state. Industries which had much to gain from the rearmament and subsequent war were likely to have been very close to the heart of the Nazi government. Until the war started going badly and Germany itself became increasingly threatened there was every reason to pursue war aims linked to super-profits. ‘The faster the regime careered madly out of control and towards the abyss, the greater was the scope for political-ideological initiatives out of sequence with and in the end directly negating the potential of the socio-economic system to reproduce itself.’ (Kershaw , 1993: p49). Kershaw subscribes to the argument that ‘in the last instance’ economics do not have primacy over politics, evidenced by reading the Nazi regime as one engaged in a process in which a form of radical nihilism became dominant. This nihilism is interestingly represented in the recent film of Hitler’s bunker called Downfall mentioned elsewhere in this Blog
This section suggests that a totalising link between narrative fiction film, non-fiction film, cultural policy and film policy including a cinema building programme and direct Nazi ideology and the policy aims of Nazism can be made. Cinema during the Nazi period initially worked alongside capitalist and industrial interests, and despite restrictions remained open to American and other foreign imports until 1939. There was still a very active co-production schedule with countries such as France until the outbreak of war. All of these institutional factors provided a number of variables which developed in the realms of content, distribution and exhibition, censorship and financing as both the external and internal political circumstances changed.
The Nazi government operated a twin-track policy trying to make cinema both commercially viable and strong enough to compete with Hollywood as well as being a considered as a valuable vehicle of Nazi ideology. The Nazi regime was unable to operate cinema as a strictly commercial venture throughout its period of government with the industry veering between huge losses and good profits. Until the war tide of war began to turn in 1942 Nazi film policy had successfully laid the base for a cinema which would be able to dominate the territories it occupied.
section notes that the weight of scholarship in recent years has established the importance of the ideological functioning of the genres that were prioritised by the Nazis. It was also the case that the verbal content was prioritised over the visual content in order to try and keep better control over the whole text. This goes against earlier scholarship which considered popular generic entertainment as merely “diversionary”, it also argues that readings of Nazi cinema based on texts alone overemphasise the possibility of ‘reading against the grain’ to give alternative and subversive readings for the population in general as a form of resistance.
It is argued that all the institutional arrangements for cinema worked together towards specific ideological ends as a matter of policy. In this sense Nazi Cinema can be considered as different to Hollywood and other European cinemas from states which functioned as developing liberal democracies. In so far as term ‘propaganda’ is useful we can consider a definition of propaganda which includes ‘promoting the policies of the state’ as being useful. Taylor writing on Nazi and Soviet cinema suggests that ‘Propaganda is the attempt to influence the public opinion of an audience through the transmission of ideas and values.’ When dealing with the Nazis it is important to differentiate between the period of the Nazis before coming to power and the period after coming to power. Before coming to power the Nazis had little direct influence of cinema. Mainly their interventions in the area were limited to protesting at screenings of the pacifist film All Quiet on the Western Front.
Right from the outset of power the Nazis had a clear cultural and media policy of taking over the cinema in terms of using it as a tool of ideological communication for their own ends. During their period in power the state effectively gained more and more control through the backdoor as without state investment the industry was unable to stand alone commercially. This was partially caused by the international reaction to the Nazi regime in which trade and consumer boycotts dramatically reduced the export market.
The Installation of Third Reich Cinema
On March 13th 1933 a new ministry the Reichsministerium fur Volksaufklarung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda) [RMVP] was launched. Goebbels became minister in charge of print media, film radio and later TV when it emerged as a technology. Race laws and anti Trade Union laws went into operation as soon as practically possible.
There was a forced integration of the film industry during 1933 and 1934 which completed the processes of consolidation which had been going on during the Weimar period. After that 80% of output came from four major studios. Many of the integration and consolidation measures were ones which had been planned by the Spitzen-organisation der Deutschen Filmindustrie (SPIO). Klitsch who had been appointed managing director of UFA in 1927 was appointed president of SPIO in the same year.
In 1932 which was a highly problematic year for the industry with falling audiences more imports and rising costs SPIO had come up with a strategy for the industry which would cut overproduction and cut production costs. They also planned a special film-bank for the industry which would safeguard investors and would have to approve the production schedule. Distribution would have to be guaranteed before a film could be started and the distributor would have to be a member of SPIO.
Overall this meant that SPIO would have overall control of the production and distribution process. Because the cutting of ticket prices was eating into distributor and producer profits (see the graphs taken from Rentschler) SPIO wanted only exhibitors who agreed to programming and tickets policies to gain access to distribution thus giving SPIO control in the exhibition sector as well. In June 1933 the SPIO-Kommission brought together industry representatives with the new government to discuss industry reorganisation. In July 1933 the Chamber of Film was set up on a provisional basis and fully established in September.
Output during the Nazi period averaged about 100 feature films per year alongside numerous shorts, newsreels and documentaries. This compares with about 130 feature films per annum in France during the 1930s. France produced 220 features overall during the Occupation 20 of which were made by the German controlled Continental films. Hake suggests the film industry was a considerable economic force however measured by numbers alone it was in fact similar to France. Given the levels of state intervention in Nazi Germany in the 1930s indicators of the comparative health of these two industries by profit is not really a meaningful one.
After 1933 film practitioners of a range of crafts were organised through the Reich Culture Chamber. Only Germans defined by citizenship and racial origin were eligible to be members. This was part of a purge to rewrite and erase aspects of film history. In 1935 the threat of revoking screening licences for all films made before 1933 meant that the names of Jewish directors were removed from the credits. At the same time political rallies were organised against films that featured Jewish actors. Any Jews left in the industry by 1933 quickly left the country.
More fundamental restructuring followed. The Reich Film Law of 1934 established the censorship criterion. Anything that could be considered anti-Nazi aesthetically, morally and politically could be banned and confiscated. Importantly a pre-censorship regime was instituted based upon scripts that were submitted prior to any production work being undertaken. This had the effect of reducing risk for studios, ensuring that tight ministerial control was maintained and meant that the number of films actually censored in the post-production stage before release was tiny. Most direct censorship happened during the war years when individuals had become persona non-grata or images were considered bad for morale because of the fortunes of war.
Financing systems which included incentives were also an effective form of political control by refusing to finance films which the government didn’t approve of. Through the ‘Predicate’ system a range of awards and distinctions were given to feature films. The film credit bank that was established in 1933 and which had become incorporated into the Chamber of Film provided financing for nearly 70% of the films produced through a loan system with loans often not repaid suggests Hake. Petley argues that although the bank was state owned, the banks which lent the money included the Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner Bank and the Commerzbank thus it functioned to safeguard investments.
The Predicate Award System
The censorship system had made additions to the one already in force in the Weimar Republic, perhaps of more significance was the development of the ’Predicate’ system which again had its origins in the Weimar. Predicates were special honours which gave special tax relief to films considered especially worthy. As well as tax relief the award was a strong marketing bonus as well. Four films were awarded the ‘film of the nation’ which went to big budget films which were clearly propagandistic. Hake argues that state-commissioned films were effectively a separate genre as it wasn’t just the content and style of the film but the whole process of making the launches great public spectacles as well as any parallel between on-screen content and developments in the external world.
Special Conditions for Filmmakers
Far from being viewed as an especially repressive environment most of those who had stayed in Germany within the senior levels of the industry were treated very well by the state and there was intense collusion. The cultural legitimacy of the Nazi state was deemed so important that Goebbels granted special exemptions to a few specific individuals deemed too important to lose. For example Erich Kastner who had been banned wrote the screenplay for Munchausen ( 1943 ) under a pseudonym.
Foreign Film Imports and Exports
A new contingency system had limited foreign imports, however, American films still prospered and over 600 hundred foreign feature films were viewed in Germany 1933-1939. The Nazis paid a lot of attention to the conditions of exhibition and mandatory requirements for exhibition were introduced which included a mixture of a feature film and cultural films and newsreels. To try and ensure maximum audience exposure cinema owners were strongly advised not to allow entry after the programme had started to avoid the practice of skipping the compulsory bit.
The accession of the Nazis led to an immediate contraction of exports which declined by nearly 80%, however, nearly one third of foreign films exhibited in the USA in 1939 were of German or Austrian origin although they played to small audiences in cities with strong German connections. The general purge of Jews and dissidents meant that almost no creative talent came to the country. Hake suggests that co-production remained limited to Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Japan, Italy. This evaluation has not taken into consideration the considerable numbers of French people who worked in Germany in the film industry throughout the 1930s. Nor does it take into account the German production company Continental Films established in Paris during the 1930s and which operated during the war.
Growing State Control
Independent film companies were gradually squeezed out and the increasing costs of production combined which had more than doubled between 1933-1937 combined with a loss of export markets meant that even the larger studios had to accept secret government loans. Some of these costs can be attributed to the creation of a localised star system with an actor like Hans Albers earning 562,000 Reich Marks in a year. This was unsustainable on a commercial basis, for only Hollywood could pay star salaries based upon projections of huge total global earnings.
Despite the steadily increasing film attendance with almost 440 million tickets sold in 1938 many studios were operating at a loss. In 1937 even Ufa had lost nearly 15 million Reichmarks and the government effectively took over buying up 70% of the stock through a holding company called Cautio headed by a Dr. Max Winkler. Originally Cautio had been established with vast funds at its disposal to buy vast numbers of newspapers discreetly.
Similar financial deals were conducted with Terra, Tobis and Bavaria studios which kept their names but were effectively government owned. Petley cites Becker who estimated that the whole programme cost nearly 65 million marks. This is a strong indicator of how important the Nazis considered cinema to be. Winkler’s aim was to stabilise the market, make it more profitable and ultimately to reduce state aid. Winkler was largely successful in these aims.
Growing Politicisation of the Cinema
At this point much more cinematic output became directly politicised. After the invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938 ‘expensive prestige productions [were] now openly promoting nationalistic attitudes and fuelling anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic sentiments.’ The conquest of neighbouring countries significantly helped to expand the market for cinema which eventually became Germany’s fourth largest industry.
In 1941 the Deutsche Filmtheatre GmbH was established which facilitated buying up existing cinemas and building new ones in order to maximise the flow of finance back into the industry. In 1942 the Deutsche Filmvertriebs GmbH was established and the film industry became fully nationalised under a Reich film administrator responsible for co-ordinating all aspects of the film industry with the rest of the Nazi public policy field.
Eventually a double strategy was developed of producing a few big budget propagandistic or strongly ideological films supplemented by a large number of popular genre films. Cinema had become increasingly popular with 1.117 billion tickets sold in 1943. For approximately 2 years the restructured industry made healthy profits and had become independent of state aid. In its own terms Petley notes that Nazi film policy was highly successful.
- Nazi film Genres*
For the types of films which were produced by and for the Nazi regime please go to the article called Nazi Film Genres.
October 03, 2006
So why did I pick this film? Well like most of the others it appears in the list of Germany’s most significant films. It is part of the BFI’s ‘History of The Avant-Garde’ series of DVDs.
The film came out in 1929 and was shot before the great depression had started. As such it could be seen as representing a false optimism of people living out their lives in a micro way assuming that macro factors were taking care of themselves.
Most of these directors went onto to make major contributions to the American ‘genre’ of ’ noir’ thrillers. Whilst some uninspired commentaries on the web fail to see the connection the film noir sensibility of dark forces bubbling under the surface of society arguably reflects both Neue Sachlichkeit and expressionist elements born of pre-Nazi and Nazi society.
The direction of the film is credited to Siodmak and Ulmer however it seems as though both Wilder and Zinnemann did some directing. The film was a collaborative effort.
It was one of a number of films which became highly influential amongst documentary and documentary style film-makers. Philip Kemp’s notes to the BFI DVD version cite Renoir’s thirties films Italian Neo-realism and the British ‘Free Cinema’ movement of the 1950s. It owes its origins more to developments within Neue Sachlichkeit than Vertov’s truly radical in film-making and political terms 1929 film ‘Man With a Movie Camera’. Here some in depth comparative research would be useful.
One important person that Kemp has missed out was Humphrey Jennings. Jennings’ surrealistically inspired input into the Griersonion British documentary movement and then his wartime output has very close links with this style of ethnographic ‘quasi-documentary’ film making. Jennings was a very strongly accredited influence with the Free Cinema Movement. Like the makers of People on Sunday they were concerned with the leisure activities of ordinary people. That Jennings was a founding member of the British Mass-Observation Movement with its development of the qualitative research technique of observation is also an indicator that this film was seen by Jennings.
An important element of People on Sunday was that the actors were ordinary people not trained actors. The nearest to being an actor was Annie Shreyer who sometimes became a film extra.
An interesting interview with the other main woman in the film Brigitte Borchert is included in the BFI sleevneotes. Borchert comments that although the film was successful with the critics the ordinary people she worked with were unimpressed: ‘They said they saw things like that every day and would rather have seen a kitsch movie; they were right: they go to the movies to forget about their hard lives”. Unwittingly Borchert had summarised the main contents of Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘_The Culture Industry’ several years before it was written!
For a good range of photographs Deutsch film portal. (Please note at time of writing the photo entitled Borchert is mis-titled).
October 02, 2006
I chose to cover The Threepenny Opera for a number of reasons. The direction was by G. W. Pabst
who directed Pandora’s Box which comes earlier in the course. This helps to build up the knowledge profile of a particular director.
The film was made at a politically interesting time in 1931 when the economic depression was still deepening nearly two years after it had started. Political polarisations were deepening along with the depression. The cinematography was done by Fritz Otto Wagner. There is a brief profile of him below. Wagner was the cinematographer on two of the classic films of the period that are covered in the course. His abilities clearly show that this was no coincidence.
The musical score was written by Kurt Weill and the adaptation was from a play by Brecht. Brecht felt that the handlng of the film destroyed the political and aesthetic modes of his play and took out a law suit against the producers.
Cabaret singer Lotte Lenya appears in what seems to be her only screen role.
Those should be reasons enough :-).
Fritz Arno Wagner
One of the best and most experienced cinematographers in the Weimar period. He stayed within the industry during the Nazi period. Wagner had worked with Pabst before as director of photography on Westfront 1918. Wagner worked on many important films of the Weimar period including Murnau’s Nosferatu, Fritz Lang’s M, Spione (1927 / 28) and the earlier der mude Tod (1921) and even on Lubitsch’s 1919 classic Madam Dubarry (1919). For a full list of credits go to Deutsch Film Portal
Useful link at the Senses of Cinema Site
Another link to Threepenny Opera
Recently film critics and historians such as Thomas Elsaesser , Pam Cook and Sabine Hake have laid down a strong challenge to the way in which cinema of the Weimar years has been represented as one of the ‘golden-ages’ of world cinema. Canonical films of the period are usually cited as:The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919), The Golem (Paul Wegener, 1920), Destiny , (Fritz Lang, 1921), Nosferatu (F. W. Murnau, 1921), Dr. Mabuse, (Fritz Lang, 1922 ), The Last Laugh, (F. W. Murnau, 1924), Metropolis _( Fritz Lang, 1925 ) _Pandora’s Box (G. W. Pabst, 1928). They have an importance which is within the canon of cinematic achievements but there is a cult mythology attached which has grown up around these films in which they are parodied, subjected to pastiche and recycled in post-modern video clip style as Elsaesser points out.
As a counter to the spectacular, psychologically inflected and highly subjective expressionistic film the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) film developed. It was an outreach of the New Objectivity artistic current running through Weimar cultural output at this time. This period is mainly associated with what are sometimes erroneously described as the ‘Golden Years’ of the Weimar Republic. This period lasted from 1924 after the Dawes Plan was instituted and lasted until 1929 and the dramatic economic collapse triggered by the Great Depression’ in the autumn of that year.
The late Weimar period coincided with the coming of sound and the concentration upon Hollywood style genre cinema. More or less concurrently with the coming of sound was the massive economic depression which hit Germany following the collapse of the US stock market.
This depression deepened until late 1932. Ironically although the first signs of an economic upturn could be discerned, Hitler became Chancellor at the end of January 1933. This depression period saw the production of socialistic films such as Kuhle Wampe and The Threepenny Opera. The former was scripted by Brecht and the latter came from his reworking of John Gay’s highlty satirical ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ and both involved elements of epic theatre. The production of the latter disappointed Brecht and he started a law suit against Nero-Film who were the producers. For Brecht the intended political message had been de-politicised.
Many of the canonical films form the core of cinematic output which is described as a film movement called ‘ Expressionism’. The term Expressionism with a capital ‘E’ comes originally from painting and theatre. It is extremely stylised in terms of its mise-en-scene; in other words the settings, camera angles and lighting. The lighting is strongly chiaroscuro (sharply contrasting areas of light and shade), and the settings strongly distorted version of reality as usually experienced.
The acting is highly stylised and the subject matter is macabre and or concerning ‘lowlife’ issues. Frequently analyses of these films have concentrated upon the idea the films of a nation reflect its ‘mentality’. This type of criticism or commentary often ignores the conditions of industrial production and slips towards notions of the auteur. As Cook points out Siegfried Kracauer, whose work ‘From Caligari to Hitler’ was to provide a benchmark of criticism for these films did start out from commenting on the industrial situation.
“… the German film industry was of course anxious to experiment in the field of artistic achievements “ Since in those early days the conviction prevailed that foreign markets could only be conquered by aesthetically qualified entertainment. Art ensured export, and export meant Salvation.”
Sabine Hake notes the gradual historical revision which has been taking place within academic writings about German cinema of this period. This writing has risen to challenge Kracauer’s analysis arguing that it is a psychologically teleological construction of German society. Teleology states the Penguin Dictionary of Sociology is “The attempt to explain social processes of social change by reference to an end-state to which they are alleged to be working, or to an ultimate function which they are said to serve”. (Penguin Dictionary of Sociology 4th Edition).
It is argued that Kracauer implies a situation of direct cause and effect between film and society and that the state of German society can be ‘read off from the films’. One critical task for course members will be to evaluate Kracauer’s work in the light of these arguments measured against their own readings of the films.
The other seminal contemporary critical work of this period comes from Lotte Eisner who identifies expressionist films as strongly romanticist and therefore deeply anti-modernist as well as being very ‘German’ foregrounding problems of identity as well as metaphysical aspects of space. Below Bocklin’s Tomb by Ferdinand Keller.
This is an argument which leads into concerns about the ideology of the sublime. There is a danger in Eisner’s approach that there is an underlying essentialism related to ‘national characteristics’ which divorces these characteristics from culural, social and economic circumstances. One possible task for the course team will be to explore the links with anti-modernism and romanticism more closely. The Old National Gallery in the Berlin State Museum is a useful site to visit where I obtained an image of. Bocklin’s Ilse of the Dead
As the introduction to the recent edition of Kracauer’s book makes clear, he was working under limited conditions and at the time had to focus upon a narrower range of films than perhaps he would have liked. It is also the case that he was being funded to search for explanations of Nazism.
Not all the films mentioned above were made in the Expressionist mould. Hake describes Murnau’s output as ‘poetic realist’ a movement usually associated with French directors like Renoir, during the mid to late 1930s. It has been suggested that the films of F.W. Murnau acted as a form of bridge between the Expressionist movement and Neue Sachlichkeit suggest Martin Brady and Helen Hughes . These seemingly diametrically opposed cultural influences are clearly present within Metropolis as Andreas Huyssen has noted.
A recent book Expressionist Film New Perspectives
The origins of Neue Sachlichkeit emerged in 1924. It erupted out of the left-opposition within the Expressionist-utopian Novembergruppe. This group was called the Red Group associated with what is frequently known as ‘Verism’. Painters associated with the ‘verists’ were Otto Dix and George Grosz & Max Beckmann. They were highly critical and used satire to attack the evils of post-war Weimar German society exposing the devastating effects of World War I and the consequent economic climate upon individuals.
A second term, ‘Magic Realists’, has been applied to diverse artists associated with Neue Sachlichkeit, including Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Alexander Kanoldt, Christian Schad, and Georg Schrimpf.
These works are usually taken as opposing the aggressive subjectivity of German Expressionist art but avoiding political criticism. Some of the work by Schad was close to being pornographic. Unlike many of the artists from the Neue Sachlichkeit movement, who had their works displayed in the infamous degenerate art exhibition, Shad’s works were apparently celebrated by the Nazis.
The movement thus incorporated a range of political commitments and techniques whilst marking a shift in representational values. Art historion Paul Wood points out that Otto Dix, although critically aligned with the left, moved away from the subjects of war and marginalisation in an expressionist mode to a ‘meticulous even obsessive painting technique …...he applied successive layers and then erased all marks of manufacture. In doing this he was directly refusing the discredited subjectivity of Expressionism.’
Otto Dix describes his attitude to Neue Sachlichkeit: ‘For me the object is primary and determines the form. I have therefore felt it vital to get as close as possible to the thing I see. ‘What’ matters more to me than ‘How’. Indeed ‘how’ arises from ‘What’. Above the more non-political aspect of Neue Sachlichkeit whilst below there is a political edge. These differing approaches to ‘realism’ open up a vast and important area of aesthetics which cross-cut the left intelligentsia within Germany, with Brecht, Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch and Lukacs engaged in intense debate. These concerns are beyond the scope of this review.
How far New Objectivity was an acceptance of the status quo derived from a ‘detached enchantment’ is open to challenge. Here it is useful to note the comments of the painter and artist George Grosz who strongly defended himself against what he described as the ‘Hurrah Bolshevism’ which wanted to see the proletariat presented as ‘always neatly brushed and combed in the old hero’s dress ’. Seeking to represent the conditions of the working classes as accurately as possible, Grosz derided the ‘false idealisation of the propaganda,’ which was emanating from the German Communist Party (KPD) of the time. This was the time socialist realism was becoming the dominant aesthetic form in Soviet Russia.
Paul Wood argues that paradoxically, that the more ‘realistic’ the art the more its social criticism appeared to be blunted. Rather than a social strategy ‘it represented an attitude of alienation from the actual lived reality’. It is in this sense that_ Neue Sachlichkeit_ can be seen as representing the truth underlying the superficial aspects of reality. The alienation represented within it can be seen as a critique of the contentment and new consumerist values of the stabilised German society through the hyper-realism which generated a sense of ‘unreality’ Wood emphasises. Wood also notes that Neue Sachlichkeit became strongly associated with photography. In the field of left wing aesthetics we find that for Brecht and Benjamin the pretence of documentary photography to represent reality needed to be undone through montage such as the work of John Heartfield compared with the photography of August Sander below.
The film director most associated with New Objectivity or Neue Sachlichkeit and its celebration of technological progress is Georg Wilhelm Pabst. Hake suggests that New Objectivity also accepted the status quo in society. [This is an issue which can be researched in more depth on the course.] Pabst’s works deal with a range of social problems such as; prostitution, labour disputes, inflation and marital problems, as well as revolutionary politics argues Hake: ‘Significantly the same principle of detached enchantment guides the visual representation of women, interiors, and the objects of everyday life. Yet the realism that distinguishes Pabst’s approach to camerawork and mise-en-scene also accommodates more voyeuristic and fetishistic scenarios.’ Bearing the last part of this comment in mind it may be useful to compare Pabst’s voyeurism with the work of people like Schad. Below images from Pabst’s Joyless Streets & Pandora’s Box.
Hake sums up the contribution of Pabst as one who was committed to the progressive spirit of the stabilisation period. But through striving for technical perfectionism Pabst favoured the beauty of appearances through the creation of surface effects: ’Pabst during the Weimar period contributed to the new style of objectivity and factuality that was both provocatively materialist and profoundly consumerist in orientation.’
Hake’s emphasis ssems very different to Bergfelder and Carter who note Pabst’s independent productions in the last years of the Weimar republic including Westfront 1918 (Western Front, 1930), Kameradschaft (Comradeship, 1930), _Dreigroschenoper _(The Threepenny Opera, 1931).
Certainly at this stage Pabst seemed to be clearly antiwar. Given Brecht’s disappointment with The Threepenyy Opera this is a film which is worthy of a special case study and will be another possible task for the course team.
Pabst’s Die Freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street, 1925), whilst depicting the bad conditions of the working class had been criticised for a depoliticised individualism from the left. For the left it was deemed as a ‘pessimistic’ film. Whilst Hake notes an eroticism of the filmic image in Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929), Bergfelder notes the presence of the Jack the Ripper character in both Pandora’s Box and as ‘Mack the Knife’ in The Threepenny Opera seeing the Ripper as representing male insecurities ‘ that seems to suggest a German masculinity torn apart by the social and psychological legacies of world War 1’.
Bergfelder also notes the representations of misogynist aggression in the paintings of Dix and Grosz and in that sense the concern with crime can be seen as a representation of the chaos under the surface of contemporary Germany. Perhaps re-reading the films of Pabst through the ironic lens of the hyper-real, reveals Pabst to be more critically concerned with the mechanisms of capitalism than Hake allows. Yet Pabst chose to remain behind to work under the Nazi cinematic regime perhaps it was Hitler’s populism which seduced him perhaps it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. The reason is still an enigma today. It is a tension which will be explored during the course and through this space.
September 29, 2006
Weimar and Nazi Cinema Resource Evaluation
Any academically based site needs to have ats its heart a reliable and well mantained route into resources. Some of these sources will be signposts to highly specialised resources which may be in public or private institutions.
There are other simple resource pages consisting of a bibliography. a filmography and a webliography which are being continually updated and developed, part of your work will be to contribute to these. They are to be left as basic lists. It is in this space that comparison and evaluation will take place.
I am particularly keen to be evaluating available web resources. For somebody coming fresh to this area of study a Google search would turn up at times millions of hits on somebody like Fritz Lang. Many of these hits especially those on the first couple of web pages of a search are commercial ones.
It is important objective to turn this whole blog into a ‘virtual’ space where people from all over the globe interested in Weimar and Nazi cinema can visit. Whatever their current level of knowledge and viewing experience from ‘A’ level to postgraduate student, or non students interested in cinema, Germany, Europe their visit should be a good experience.
One of the task for all the members of the course team is to work on developing this resource. There will be a graded annotation system from 1 – 5 stars. Before any stars are formally awarded there must be a minimum of 5 argued contributions for each entry and consensus must be reached. Prior to consensus there will be a provisional grade awarded. The key points of the argument will be set against the the entry. It will be possible to have comparative entries.
For example there can be a review of lets us say the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Fritz Lang and the Wikipedia entry on Lang. Where Wikipedia is deemed to be weaker the team may decided to edit the entry as a collaboration or else it can adress the issues by adding to work on Fritz Lang in the blog. If it is felt that the knowledge base is insuficient then a contribution via the Wiki discussion page may be entered.
This will be part of the formal tasks for the course. It will encourage independent research skills, increase the individual knowledge base, encourage collaborative learning and teamwork. Engage with Web 2 communication technologies, contribute to the global community of knowledge in a (virtual ) concrete way. It should also be fun and satisfying and give free reign to the pedant in all of us :-).
How to do this
1) If you have access to your own blog you can link into this one by linking in via the ‘blog this’ button. Alternatively you can add to the comments box which you will find below this entry. You will be able to add hyperlinks so that readers can directly access the resources that you have chosen to compare.
What can an Evaluation contain?
It would be useful if the level of assumed knowledge is identified. For example the Enclyclopedia Britannica article hyperlinked below assumes very little or no knowledge.
This book review is from an academic journal and assumes a much higher level of knowledge.
Some internet sources will also have embedded links. It would be useful if you can follow these links and make some assessment of whether they are useful and to whom they may be useful etc.
You should also comment on how well researched the resource is and you may wish to make some comments on weaknesses or strengths of the reaerch methods used.
September 27, 2006
Nosferatu is going to be the first ‘real’ film to be screened on the course. It really is a great film. It’s right at the cutting edge of technology and it tried to develop visual and cinematic conventions which just didn’t catch on. Instead of using slow motion as an important visual effect it actually speeds things up!
The narrative itself is interesting, often cutting between two parallel apsects of the action. Of course the acting and the performance by Max Schreck is excellent, setting the benchmark for Draculas to come.
What tends to get missed when analysing this film is the way it seems to function as an allegory for the state of Germany at the time of its making. It is a film which is reflecting and contributing to a sense of xenophobia and also anti-semitic feeling in an interactionist way. It locks into sentiments being expressed by the far right about the ‘stab in the back theory’ of betrayal by enemies amongst ‘us’. It can also be read as critique of the French occupation of the Rhineland and a reflection of the national resistance to that occupation. This is certainly one of the elements we will be discussing.