All 38 entries tagged Weimar And Nazi Cinema

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March 30, 2007

Summer Term 2007: Weimar & Nazi Cinema Programme

University of Warwick Open Studies

Weimar & Nazi Cinema Summer Term Programme 2007

Tuesday April 24th: Der Golem, 1920: Dir. Paul Wegener

Reading for the following week Cathy Gelbin on the Golem

Tuesday May 1st: Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, 1922: Dir Fritz Lang

Tuesday May 8th: Faust, 1926 : Dir. F. W. Murnau

Tuesday May 15th:The Holy Mountain, 1926: Dir. Arnold Fank

Tuesday May 22nd: The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,1993: Dir. Ray Muller

Tuesday May 29th: Spione, 1928: Dir. Fritz Lang

Tuesday June 5th: Diary of a Lost Girl, 1929   : G.W. Pabst

Tuesday June 12th: The Blue Angel, 1930: Dir. Josef von Sternberg

Tuesday June 19th: The Threepenny Opera, 1931: Dir. G. W. Pabst

Tuesday June 26th: Munchhausen,1943: Dir. Josef von Baky

January 29, 2007

Lotte Eisner on Murnau's Nosferatu 1922

Writing about web page /michaelwalford/entry/the_weimar_cinema_1_2/

Lotte Eisner on Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)

Here I have summarised some of the key points that Eisner makes about Murnau's Nosferatu 1922. The complete title of the film is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror). Eisner describes Murnau as the greatest of the German filmmakers through his creation of poignant and overwhelming images which go beyond mere decorative stylisation. Murnau was trained as an art historian and in many of his shots he plays with the memory of great paintings, whilst Lang by comparison tries to make faithful reproductions of great paintings when he has recourse to them. In Faust the shooting of a prostrate man stricken with plague there is a ‘transposed reflection of Mantegna’s Christ’. (Eisner, 1969:98)

Eisner notes that Murnau was gay and suggests that his films ‘bear the impress of of his inner complexity’ noting that born in 1888 he lived under the shadow of Paragraph 175 of the pre 1918 German penal code outlawing homosexuality. Fear of blackmail was thus always present. She suggests that Murnau’s origins in Westphalia a rural farming area influenced his work which came through in a sense of  nostalgia for the countryside.

Nosferatu was filmed on location which was unusual at the time. Using Gothic Baltic towns he filmed on the dunes of the Baltic ‘ He makes us feel the freshness of a meadow in which horses gallop around with a marvellous lightness’. (Eisner:1969, 99). The use of the architecture of these Baltic towns obviated the need to use artificial chiaroscuro. Murnau uses nature combined with editing to make waves foretell the arrival of the vampire. Murnau’s direction is tight with each shot having a precise function using momentary close-up of billowing sails to contribute to the narrative drive.

‘ It is reasonable to argue that the German cinema is a development of German Romanticism, and that modern technique merely lends visible form to Romantic fantasies’. (Eisner, 1969: 11).

On this last comment the short documentary by the art historian Christopher Frayling on the British Film insitute DVD usefully explores this notion in relation to Nosferatu

January 05, 2007

European Film Glossary: From Ed–Mo

Film Glossary Continued

Editing. See also Film Editing. Editing is essential to the creation of a wide range of media products. It can mean the process of choice of articles and changing articles in print journalism. It means putting together a particular choice of shots in film and TV as well as the way in which sound is used. It is an essential part of the whole process in creating preferred readings of a media product as well as ensuring that it as coherent as possible. Susan Hayward (1996) identifies four categories of editing:
  • Chronological editing
  • Cross-cutting or parallel editing
    Deep Focus.
  • Montage. The first principle of montage editing is a rapid alteration betwen sets of shots. They become significant when they collide. Fast edting and unusual camera angles denaturalise Classic narrative cinema. Image becomes privileged over narrative and characterisation. Originally used mainly in avante-garde and art cinema mainstream cinema has incorporated the technique and the principle appears to have become the fundamental aspect of Film and TV advertising. See also Kuleshov.

Emergent genres. In Britain it is possible to discern an emergent genre of British-Asian films. The most recent addition is Bend it Like Beckham (2002) by a British-Asian woman director. At the time of writing it was the top selling British film for 2 weeks. This is the latest in a line stretching back to My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Sammie & Rosie Get Laid (1987), Bhaji on the Beach (1993), Wild West (1992), East is East(1998),Anita & Me (2002) . Only the last of these became known within mainstream cinema. These tend to be marketed as being comic or comedy. The comic side works through a wide range of issues including inter-ethnic relations, inter-generational relations, cross-cultural relationships and sexual identity issues. This genre can be usefully seen as intertextual as it relates to successful TV comedies such as Goodness Gracious and more recently The Kumars.

Establishing shot. This shot uses a distant framing and enables the spectator to understand and map the spatial relationships between the characters and the set.

Exhibitionary Context. This term sums up the conditions of viewing of a film which can be highly variable. This is not just physical conditions. In Nazi Germany Jews were not allowed into cinemas and people were not allowed to enter a film late to ensure they saw the more propagandistic newsreels and documentaries.

Eye-line match. Another Hollywood editing convention designed to encourage identification with the protagonists. Here the audience sees the action from the characters eye-line or viewpoint.

Female revenge film. Thelma and Louise is often interpreted (incorrectly) as a ‘female revenge film’. This genre construction could be seen as misogynistic. These films feature female characters in which the potential of women for violence is contained within plot scenarios that either demonise them or destroy them in some way (Fatal Attraction (1987) , Body Heat (198), Black Widow (1987). They are films in which femme fatales wreak havoc on the lives of innocent men. The films above are often considered by some critics as neo-noir.

Flashback. (See also intra-diegetic)

Genre as a vehicle for a star. Genre can be a vehicle for the development of a star. John Wayne was developed as a star by director John Ford who used him in many very famous westerns such as Stagecoach. Clint Eastwood came from a relatively minor role in the TV western series Bonanza to become famous through his role in ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, directed by the Italian director Sergio Leone.

Genre Cycle. Genres emerge ( see Emergent Genres) and evolve. The first film or films which are thematically connected are not a genre. Once certain themes become common in certain settings then a genre can be seen to emerge. The Western is a classic example. Once the most popular type of film in the US very few westerns are now produced. Genre stars such as Clint Eastwood make the occasional western. A film such as The Unforgiven in its deconstruction of the natural manly virtues of the gunfighter by depicting paralysing fear and in its criticism of the legal system and the treatment of women it is responding to very different social concerns from the heroic establishing of the values of the US on ‘savage’ or ‘Indians’ i.e. displaced and exploited Native Americans , which was commonplace in the early part of the genre cycle.

Genre Hybridity. A film where the codes and conventions from a range of established genres are used. Singing cowboys making a western musical or a musical western for example. The higher the production values of a film the more likely it is to be a hybrid genre film in order to attract the widest possible audience. Titanic is both a disaster-movie, quasi-historical movie, and a romance. It may be that one of the genres is predominant but this requires a close reading to establish.

Genre Text. A term developed by Stephen Neale to try and differentiate between individual films (the genre text) and the generic norms of the genre as a whole.

Hegemony. In relation to ideology it is a more sophisticated idea than the ‘hypodermic’ model of ideology. Hegemony, or ideology, is the process by which certain paradigms or ways of thinking become so self-evident as to relegate alternatives to the spaces of the nonsensical and the unthinkable. The term originally taken from the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci argues that hegemony is not repressive in the way that armies or the police can be used to repress opposition . Instead, hegemony means that control is maintained through a consensus maintained through the dominance of its “forms” of how society is conceptualised. This renders other forms and other imaginaries, unreadable, inaudible and incomprehensible. For example, films which explore a corrupt government official in the United States don’t see this as a fault of the system but as a fault within the individual. These films, usually through the medium of a self-sacrificing hero , ensure that the system is restored ‘to normal’. The possibility that corruption is the ‘normal state of affairs’ is not considered. See The Insider and Erin Brockovich for examples of this. This position can tend to ignore certain state cultural policies such as censorship laws as having a strong effect on what is shown and when. British cinema between the two World Wars was not allowed to show or make films which were critical of the British Empire for example.

Iconography. Buscombe came closest to arguing the position that a genre’s visual conventions can be thought of as one of the defining features of a genre such as guns, cars, clothes in the gangster film . It is hard to argue this with any great consistency because the possible connections between the items or icons is unclear. More importantly it is actually very difficult to list the defining characteristics of more than a handful of genres, for the simple reason that many genres – among them the social problem film, the biopic, the romantic drama and the psychological horror film – lack a specific iconography. The genres of the western and gangsters discussed by critics McArthur and Buscombe happen to fit the concept of generic iconography very well. Others that fit well are the gothic horror film, and the biblical epic. Neale argues that the failure to apply the concept productively to other genres suggests that the defining features of Hollywood’s genres may be heterogeneous.

Ideology. In media terms this thinking argues that there is a form of ‘false consciousness’ which hides a deeper underlying social reality. This has given rise to the model that people can simply be injected (Hypodermic syringe model) with a certain view of the world particularly via media output. Critics of this model in the media field argue that this hypodermic syringe model is very patronising as it doesn’t give people the credit for being able to develop alternative ideas. Rather they see ideology as a hegemonic process. There is a commonly held belief that Adorno and Horkheimer were behind the so-called ‘hypodermic syringe’ model of ideology. This is a serious misrepresentation of their position which will be dealt with in a separate article in due course. In the meantime students should ask lecturers who put forward this view exactly where Adorno and Horkheimer have supported this reductionist model. The model rather better describes the idea espoused by the Stalinist Communist parties.

IDHEC. Instituit des hautes etudes cinematographique. The leading French film school which was first started in the Second World War and renamed after the war.

Indexical sign. From CS Pierce the American founder of semiotics. This sign is associated with what it is a sign of, such as smoke with fire or spots with measles.

Intertextual. Intertextuality is a relation between two or more texts which influences the making of and/ or the reading of the text (film) being consumed. By using references to other texts the critic or director can be seen to be constructing the knowledge about the film based on other films.
  • Intertextual Relay. Neale uses the term ‘inter-textual relay’ to refer to the discourses of publicity, promotion and reception that surround Hollywood’s films, and includes both trade and press reviews. It is argued that this role of relay is a crucial one. ( Neale , 2000: 3 ). The cinema industry’s marketing campaigns were first described as ‘inter-textual relay’ by Lukow and Ricci in 1984. Neale considers that cinemas, cinema programming and cinema specialisation can all be considered as components in the relay especially when broader conceptions of genre such as newsreel and shorts are taken into account.

Institutional mode of representation. A term used to describe mainstream cinema and its system of representation. There is strong identification with a character and the world is usually seen through this characters experiences. The origins of this were in the 19th century novel which focused on the psychology of one or two characters.

Jump cut. This cut demonstrates a jump in time and disrupts the ‘normal’ continuity editing. It was used as a device by several internationally famous directors during the 1920s and then dropped out of fashion. The development of sound played a major contribution in overwhelming a more diverse range of styles. Malle, Truffaut and most famously Godard used this editing style. Godard’s first feature film Breathless is best known for this. The jump cut ‘calls attention to the constructed reality of the filmic text, to the spectator’s ongoing labour of generating a fictional world out of often contradictory stylistic cues, and to Godard’s own expressive, auteur presence’. (Neupert, 2002 p 216).

Kuleshov effect. The Soviet filmmaker Kuleshov showed that through good editing that it was possible to create alternative readings of the same facial expression. Through this Kuleshov was attempting to show that the meaning or preferred reading of shots could be changed by altering the juxtaposition of the shots.

Lighting. In the early years of Hollywood lighting wasn’t meant to draw attention to itself. In some countries such as Germany lighting was used very early on to create dramatic effects. Low angle , low key lighting was used in German Expressionist cinema . There are three main aspects to lighting:
  • key lighting – hard light, used to highlight focused on a particular subject
  • fill lighting – used to illuminate the framed space overall
  • backlighting – this can distort and brings out silhouettes ( horror / film noir / expressionism).

The Hollywood cinema system had strict rules about lighting not wishing to allow the lighting to supersede the actual narrative. This could make audiences uneasy. See also mise-en-scene.

Meaning. It is now recognised that meaning is made from the active process of reading a cinematic text. Audiences bring a range of individual experiences to the cinema and these are intermingled with wider socio-cultural responses as well. Sometimes filmmakers could use allegories to allow audiences to derive alternative meanings other than the officially preferred reading of a text. This happened in Eastern European cinema during the Soviet times for example. See also audience work.

Mise en scene. Please see under separate entry.

Modernist device. This is a way of using editing or other cinematic convention in a way which draws attention to the film as a construction. The opening credits of Godard’s Mepris and the very content of the narrative itself ensure that the spectator is always considering the process of making a film.

December 15, 2006

Open Studies in European Cinema. The Cultural Hurdles Controlling UFA's Potential


Throughout the Weimar period the company that eventually became UFA was under continuous pressure from a range of different political sources. The criticisms which UFA faced came from both Leftwing and Liberal sources as well as from those such as religious quarters which saw the cinema as a potential basis for moral debasement.

Why the Criticism?

Many critics whose political persuasion was either socialist / communist or just plain Liberal saw UFA as a tool of the Nationalist right. The arts pages of the liberal left newspapers (the Weimar equivalent of the Guardian in Britain today) tended to denounce artistic films as ‘kitsch’ (in other words not genuine Art with a capital ‘A’. The genre films – of which there were many – became denounced as ‘Shund’ (trash). See Elsaesser (2000, p 127).

Part of the cause of this liberal critique was generated by the fact that the original organisation of UFA was strongly associated with the military leadership of 1917 didn’t help. These elites had been persuaded that the Reich needed a more organised propaganda outlet, however Germany had been defeated by the time UFA had started up. Elsaesser argues that there was a certain commercial logic which:

...belonged to the political culture of Wilhelmine society, making UFA an expression not so much of the war as a new way of thinking, on the one hand about corporate capitalism, and on the other about public opinion and the (technological) media. (Elsaesser, 2000 p 113).

The Moralist Critiique of UFA

Whilst the Liberal critics saw murky links with the military elites of Wilhelmine Germany the professional classes from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds tended to see the cinema as a potential space for moral debasement. As a result they campaigned strongly for the creation of ‘cultural films’. They had in mind educational and documentary films, which was an outlet that UFA catered for.

The Left-wing attitude to cinema

Those in the more organised and radical left such as the KPD (German Communist Party) tended to be uniformly hostile towards cinema in general. UFA was frequntly attacked for poisoning the minds of the masses with reactionary celebrations of Prussia’s glory (Elsaesser p 128). After 1925 Willi Munzenberg successfully persuaded the KPD to try and counter bourgeois cinema by establishing thier own distribution company. This was done and the comnpany was called Prometheus Films. It was Prometheus who were to sponsor Kuhle Wampe (1930) for instance.

Pommer’s Response

As the producer of UFA in overall control of the cinematic output Erich Pommer ignored these criticisms and the demands for ‘realism’ from the various quarters of the critical establishment which accompanied these demands.

A turn to realism was entirely contrary to Pommer’s ambitions to establish strong export led growth. From the outset Pommer had understood that Hollywood was the main source of competition that German cinema was having to compete with.

Realist output in the years immedaiately following the war would have been disastrous for the export market . A fact that Pommer was keenly aware of. This stemmed from the fact that Germany was very closely associated with causing the First World War. The promotion of contemporary German settings would have spelt the kiss of death to cinema.

As a result UFA output was split into films for the domestic market and export oriented films. The former largely consisted of comedies and social dramas which used realist settings. By comparison, the sort of films available to the English market today were the films which Pommer had wanted to be available in the 1920s. Films from the Neue Sachlichkeit period, for example, by directors such as Pabst and Joe May were strongly associated with what became known as the “UFA look”. This look meant high production values. The emphasis was on strong sets and the best craftsworkers that UFA had avalibale in terms of camerawork, lighting, sets, and costumes to create an excellent mise en scene.

UFA’s Problems with America

Right from the outset UFA had problems breaking into the American market place. The developing Hollywood system manage to gain control over distribution and exhibition which helped to exclude potential competition from Europe.

But at the end of the day UFA wasn’t producing the sort of films that appealed to American audiences. By comparison the Americans – especially after 1924 – were winning significant market share of the German audience. One key element in this failure was the lack of internationally renowned stars. Most actors who started to become famous in the Weimar republic were quickly wooed by the razzle dazzle and serious cash offered by Hollywood. The establishing of the star system was a central feature of Hollywood success then as it is now.

As a response Pommer tried hiring American actresses such as Louise Brooks, Anna May Wong and Betty Amman. Louise Brooks worked with Pabst and Betty Amman worked with May. None of the actors who worked with Fritz Lang ever gained international stardom.

It was only after the coming of sound and the strategy of hiring American directors such as von Sternberg as well did UFA manage to develop some significant stars with genuinely international successes. Marlene Dietrich and Lilian Harvey modelled upon contemporary Hollywood stars to name but two.


Although UFA became a very successful film company being the only European film company to offer serious competition at all to Hollywood there were many hurdles which were culturally based which it faced. These hurdles reduced its chances of success both at home and abroad. It was only after its restructuring under the control of Klitsch that UFA began to make consistent profits in a fully competitive environment. To do this it had to develop a Hollywood business model.

December 12, 2006

Using the Sidebar

Introduction to using the sidebar

As the sidebar is now very busy it might be helpful for you to have an idea of the lay out until you are familiar with it. also many of you may only have an interest in certain parts.

Section 1

  • Calendar – Self expalanatory
  • Radio 3 Link – This will get you into BBC Radio Player. I like catching up with things like Mixing it and Late Junction
  • Search this blog – self explantory
  • TagsVERY IMPORTANT: Just click on one and it will aggregate all tagged articles with this tag. The tags are the best way to navigate around the articles and call up ones written early on. Please drop a comment in the relevant box if you think a tag needs adding anywhere.
  • Latest Comments – this allows myslf and others to monitor comments and discussions quickly
  • Most Recent Entries – Self explanatory

Section 2: European Cinema

The next section from the BFI film Glossary goes through a range of:
  • Image galleries which are always being developed
  • Podcasts
  • Feeds
  • Useful links
  • There are also 2 links to good film message boards

There are various levels of knowledge required for different entries however it is the intention to aim for a broader readership encouraging those of a more theoretical bent to follow up with various films books and websites. Many of the links are to sophisticated articles that are available on line. If you find them hard don’t worry we all did once. Stick with what you are comfortable with. There is something for everybody here from A level to postgrad.

The entries on British cinema shouold be helpful for OCR A Level Students doing British cinema post 1990. It is also likely to help AS Film Studies students. The work on German Cinema and French and Italian cinema as it gets transferred onto the blog will help A2 Film Studies students doing FS 5.

Section 3: New Media Technologies

This subject is endlessly fascinating and there is little doubt as Web 2 progresses with developments such as the Second Life phenomenon will start to deeply change our social ontology or beingness in the world partially constructed through media.

This selection of feeds and stories even includes the news organisation Reuters who conduct virtual interviews with important people in Second Life. making ‘Virtually Real News!’ This is an important resource area for all OCR AS Media Studies students doing the ‘Audiences and Institutions’ New Media option.

Section 4: News Feeds and Podcasts

This is both a service to visitors providing up to date news as it breaks while you are onsite. It is of particular use to OCR A2 students doing the News option as it affords easy chances to compare the news strategies of different news organisations and functions as a practical case study of how news is being distributed in a Web 2 era.

Section 5:

this features what I consider as good quality blogs linked to the categories above. There is a folder of New Media based blogs and also one for European Cinema or Blogs which have a very high content of European cinema.

Methods for choosing links

There are many many websites and blogs etc on the above subjects. A key objective of this site is to try and filter out weakly researched and written sites. There is a premium on quality and there is a life beyond IMDB. Life is too short to keep filtering out spam. If you find that any sites you have visited from embedded links on this site please leave a comment. The site in question will be reviewed.

December 07, 2006

Nazi Cinema: The SA ‘Movement’ films of 1933


This article argues that the rapidly changing fortunes of the Nazi party through its runaway successes and methods of following up its election victory led to problems with its intended propaganda output. The popular SA films overemphasised the role of the SA and promoted their confidence and ambitions which were at complete odds with the new priorites of the Nazi leadership. This provides a partial explanation of Goebbels’ attempts to distance the Nazi leadership from the heroic martyr SA films of 1933.

Political Background

Hitler takes full power in the middle of March 1933. Approximately 8 million were unemployed. Many firms bankrupted. Schacht is soon appointed to run the economy. Mass employment through infrastructure projects started.

Process of Gleichschaltung or ‘co-ordination’ starts. This fairly mild sounding word is a euphemism for a wave of physical attacks combined with changing laws which ousted potential enemies from work and led to the establishment of concentration camps. All political parties banned and unions taken over which is achieved by August.

The aptly named Storm-troopers of the SA were commanded by Erich Roehm. The SA was the essential front-line weapon for taking on the KPD in particular and also the SPD. They were extensively used for intimidation of elected deputies in the immediate aftermath of the March 1933 election. For several years they had been physically combating the KPD and the SPD on the ground. All three of these mass parties had armed wings. Many people in all of these parties had been injured and some killed in street fighting brawls attacks on political meetings. This had been developing since 1930 as the depression deepened and social polarisations became deeper.

Hans Westmar

One of the main tasks Hitler needed to achieve in 1933 was to physically eliminate any danger from the political left. The Nazis had gained power because the left was divided. Should they finally agree to unite against the NSDAP rule then Hitler would probably not have remained in power for long. The country would have been ungovernable. The SA were thus used immediately to totally repress what was seen as the most dangerous opposition first.

The Nazis were very pragmatic, apart from an organised boycott of Jewish shops at the beginning of April the anti-Semitism came second to neutralising the threat of the KPD and SPD. It did proceed at a legislative level as Jews were gradually forced out of work. This happened most quickly in the cultural sphere. (See Evans, 2003 for a good synopsis of this). As spring wore into summer the Nazis had made significant gains against their enemies in the process of Gleichschaltung.

The SA Films

Hitler Youth Quex

Given that the SA were playing such an important role at this time it was to be expected that they would require some representation within the cinema. The films produced helped to justify the current SA actions and to publicly develop an institutional mythology around them. Out of the three films which fall into this category Hans Westmar is based upon a real character – Horst Wessel. He was then mythologized into the Nazi canon with the ‘Horst Wessel song’ becoming a symbolic message through being turned into an anthem. Hitler Youth Quex is also based upon a true story.

SA Mann Brand

SA-Mann Brand: dir Franz Seitz (SA Hero, genre from a book by Goebbels)
Hitler Youth Quex : Hans Steinhoff (SA Hero, from a novel based upon a real life member of the Hitler Youth)
Hans Westmar : Franz Wenzler (SA Hero, from a novel based upon Horst Wessel. Goebbels intervened to change it).

SA-Mann Brand

The premiere was at the Gloria-Palast in Munich. It was disrupted because an SA chief demanded that all SA and SS members leave as the cinema was showing film posters painted by a Polish painter.

For the plot and mise en scene see Faletti (2000)

Hitler Youth Quex
Hitler Youth Quex was made by Ufa. It was based upon the real life story of a Hitler Youth member called Herbert Norkus who was killed by the Communists. Welch suggests that Ufa were keen to make the film if only to outdo their competition in Munich. It was screened for Hitler and many Nazi dignitaries at the Ufa_Palast in Munich on September 11th 1933. The production values were higher with several leading actors and the director was also well known. However it cost only 320,000 marks which was slightly above average for the time. It was reviewed favourably having a successful run at the main Ufa screen in Berlin the Ufa-Palast-am-Zoo. By the end of January 1934 it had gained over 1 million viewers.

For the plot and mise en scene analysis see Rentschler (1996) and Faletti (2000).

Hans Westmar

Hans Westmar (Still)

The film Hans Westmar directed by Hans Wenzler had a slightly turbulent route to the screens. Originally entitled Horst Wessel Goebbels cancelled its premiere originally billed for the 9th October 1933. Goebbels did this on the grounds that ‘the film compromised the hero’s stature and menaced the interests of the state and the German people.’ (Faletti, 27). Goebbels wanted some revisions and also wanted the name of the hero changed and the name of the film. The premiere eventually took place on 13 December 1933.

For plot and mise en scene see Faletti (2000).

Were there deeper underlying reasons for Goebbels’ decision?

Faletti (2000) is concerned with drawing comparisons with stylistic attributes taken from Weimar cinema which is useful, however I argue here that she might possibly be missing a more valuable point here. Why should Goebbels have taken such a disliking to the original Hans Westmar previously entitled Horst Wessel? This is a question which the specialist scholars have omitted to take up and in some cases elided out of intellectual enquiry in an entirely speculative way. Sabine Hake (2001) for example comments: Hans Westmar about the first “martyr” of the movement, required significant changes because of its presumably unflattering portrayal of National Socialism.” (My emphasis: Hake, 2001 p 26) As I argue below there is a far more plausible explanation which responds to the rapidly shifting pattern of politics in Nazi ruled Germany. Making unsubstantiated presumptions isn’t a particularly useful or scholarly way of proceeding.

Faletti too, slips over the nature of the changes in attitude from Goebbels yet this has to be a particularly interesting question. It is notable that on the 9th of September when the Horst Wessel version of the film was to be premiered Goebbels came out with his well known opinions about the nature of ‘propaganda’ films:

We National Socialists do not place any particular value on our SA marching across stage or screen. Their domain is in the street … the National Socialist government has never asked that SA films should be made. On the contrary – it sees danger in a surplus of them. (Goebbels cited Taylor 1998 p 148)

It seems abundantly clear that Goebbels considers that there is a lot at stake here. This seems a lot of trouble to go to on the surface, lets face it that great piece of “Art” with a capital A (for Riefenstahl and her apologists at least), is little more than a huge bunch of Nazis marching about and standing to attention. We can either take Riefenstahl at face value (probably unwise) claiming that Goebbels and she didn’t see eye to eye and that Hitler somehow overrode things or we can try and look deeper into the political situation amongst the Nazis themselves as it was unfurling.

The Horst Wessel song written by the martyred Nazi became a battle hymn and as such was hugely symbolically significant: That such an open celebration of brutal physical force could become the battle-hymn of the Nazi Party speaks volumes for the central role that violence played in its quest for power. (Evans, 2003: p 268)

If we take into account the fact that By the summer of 1933 the creation of a one party was virtually complete (Evans, 2003 p374) and that as Goebbels put it the Nazis were on The road to the total state. Our revolution has an uncanny dynamic (Goebbels cited Evans, 2003, 174) then we can see that over a very short time an initial set of problems was becoming superseded by another.

The Nazis had successfully brought on board many of the middle-classes as members as well as gaining the approval of many of the elites. But many of these people were being alienated by not only the brutality of the SA but also by the fact that many of the SA leadership around Roehm were interested in a further revolution where the leading capitalists were nationalised immediately, and at the same time the Roehm faction of the SA saw itself as the military vanguard of the new state. Neither of these developments was welcome amongst the leadership around Hitler and Goebbels.

The new allies of the Nazis needed to be won round. Of particular importance was the position of the army and by default the attitude of the Prussian elites. The army would certainly not accept any situation where their power was eroded in favour of the SA. As a fully professional and trained military force they were vital to Hitler’s key goal of Lebensraum or living space. This was the imperial dream writ new. Hitler wanted expansion into Eastern Europe and as can be seen after 1936 the whole state was pushed into investing in this ultimate goal. At this point Hitler wanted new friends and to win a position of trust until a fully hegemonic position could be gained. Even in the late summer of 1933 it was clear to those around Hitler that the excesses and ambitions of the SA would need to be reigned in.

It is this dramatically changing political position of street oppositionists to government and the possibilities of bringing dreams into fruition which spelt caution to the leadership. In terms of gaining a better understanding of the path to creating the Nazi state and how people were persuaded to accept it an intense appreciation of the political ground rather than abstract textual analysis is likely to bear more fruit.

It is political expediency in the light of changing circumstances that can be understood to be a marker of Goebbels’ attitude to the Horst Wessel / Hans Westmar film in September. It would be fascinating to know exactly what changes were instituted and more work clearly needs to be done on this in order to substantiate this argument fully. Currently it remains more circumstantial based on the clear shifts in attitude taking place.

Part of Hitler’s and Goebbels’ problem is the speed of their success. Had the SA needed to have been still engaged in pitched fighting with communists and other oppositionists as they were in the first few weeks of power then there is little doubt that this heavy handed ‘propaganda’ would have been required for morale purposes. But suddenly the street enemies had largely collapsed and the political and economic aims were now rather different. Eventually these intra-Nazi tensions would be resolved by the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ but until then steps were taken to control cinematic output more carefully. The extreme SA was becoming more dangerous for the overall ambitions of Hitler than the communists.

The new cinema law instituted in February of 1934. Under this law completed films were still to be submitted to the Reichsfilmprufstelle as well as having the scripts subjected to preproduction censorship. At he same time the censorship office in Munich was closed down and decision making centralised in Berlin. Each censorship committee was to have a casting vote by a member of the Propaganda Ministry. In 1935 even more measures were taken to ensure the tightest possible controls. At this point the shutting down of the Munich censorship office was important. It was from Munich that two of the three SA Movement films were made. Whether there was a conscious decision to reduce SA influence in the decision making about films is a question which is raised here.

A complicating factor is the fact that only two days after Goebbels’ speech Hitler Youth Quex is premiered. Goebbels was very flattering about it (Rntschler 1996). Was it a decision that two premieres of two similar films would damage each other, Goebbels clearly preferred Hitler Youth Quex aesthetically. Being made by Ufa in Berlin it is likely that Goebbels knew exactly what was in this film and how it was being represented. By comparison Hans Westmar represented a fear of loss of control.

Bibliography: see main bibliography using the resources tag.

December 05, 2006

Open Studies in European Cinema: Webliography


This ‘Webliography’ is being continually updated. If users have any suggestions please post a comment with the relevant URL. Thank you. Please note some links may already be available in the site already.

When the list is long enough they will be placed in categories such as film journals.
Useful web links

16-9 Danish Film Journal for more scholarly market. Mainly in Danish but each issue has an article in English

The following link to site of American academic Randall L. Bytwerk is very useful for work on Nazi propaganda.

This is a link to a useful BFI Bibliography on Contemporary European Cinema which is a downloadable Pdf.

Scope is an online cinema journal from the University of Nottingham

For articles primarily on Eastern Europe comes Kinoeye (no relation to the blog but with similar critical antecedants perhaps).

Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture Film

Genre Theory course. Much material available on line.

Link to University of Zaragoza academics group currently working on genre issues:
Cinema, Culture and Society Portal – Home

December 03, 2006

Open Studies in European Cinema. German Cinema: The History & Culture of Weimar & Nazi Cinema


This page is an entry portal in the Warwick Open Studies course for Weimar and Nazi Cinema.

This course starts on tuesday 9th of January 2007 @ 7.00 pm

Contact University of Warwick Open Studies to register. It is possible to register online. Please follow the link above.

The course is continuing during the summer term featuring another range of films from the period.

Open Studies in European Cinema. Summary of key findings of Rentschler's Ministry of Illusions


First published in 1996 Eric Rentschler’s book The Ministry of Illusion was an important step forward in the historiography of Nazi cinema seeking to go beyond the over-simplistic binary models of propaganda / distractive entertainment which had been prevalent until then.

Under Goebbels cinema became centralised and consolidated. By 1942 there were 4 state owned studios: Bavaria, Ufa, Terra, and Tobis which between them dominated the industry.

Rentschler has identified a number of core features of Nazi feature films over the period:

  • Very little footage was shot out of doors or on location
  • Directors were functional as facilitators not auteurs
  • Film was to be artful and accessible not intellectual or esoteric
  • Films were made under a state apparatus that determined every aspect of production from script development to the final shape of the film
  • The conditions of exhibition including release and distribution were also closely administered
  • Nazi cinema denigrated the film of the fantastic as well as filmic realism
  • Nazi cinema assumed a ‘middle ground’ of historical period pieces, costume drams, musical revues, light comedies, melodramas and petty bourgeois fantasies

Paul Wegener Kolberg 1943_1945

  • Modernism persisted not within full length features but in short films and non-fiction films. (Examples given: Riefenstahl, Zieckle & Ruttman)
  • Nazi film narratives generally privilege space over time, composition over editing, design over movement and sets over human shapes
  • Compared to Hollywood output the films appear slow and static. There was more use of panoramas and tableaux than close-ups
  • There was little nudity and few stunts or action scenes
  • The music worked with visuals to make spectators lose touch with conceptual logic
  • The ideal film would spirit people away from the real world to a ‘pleasant, compelling, and convincing alternative space

Heinz Ruhman 1

  • Only a minority of features were ‘overt’ propaganda

The wife who was murdered by mercy killing in Ich Klage an

  • There were two waves of films with strong propaganda content. The first was comprised of the SA films of 1933. the second were the anti-Semitic, anti-British and anti-Russian films between 1939-1932
  • These propaganda films worked within the larder constellation of the whole of Nazi cinema apparatuses
  • The Third Reich was … a full-blown media dictatorship (p 217)
  • Both film executives and government film administrators avoided films which put National Socialism on display
  • The utopian spaces of cinema were sponsored by the Ministry of Propaganda: Nazi cinema not only created illusions but also often showed illusionists at work, occasionally self-reflected about the power of illusion (p 218)
  • Despite the post-war claims of filmmakers and revisionist critics, one finds very few examples of open resistance to the party and state in films of this era (p 218)
  • Rentschler recognises that not all meaning can be controlled and furthermore points out that allowing occasional spaces of transgression served the overall aims of the film industry admirably

Munchhausen on a Cannonball

  • Exceptions forming some sort of resistance for Rentschler appeared firstly after 1942 and include The Enchanted Day,Romance in a Minor Key, Akrobat Sho-o-o-o-n
  • There were more ‘leakages’ as the system gradually became more chaotic as the war drew into its final months

November 30, 2006

Open Studies in European Cinema. The Restructuring of UFA under Klitzsch

In 1926 UFA suffered severe financial losses. The superproductions Metropolis and Faust weren’t finished on time and had run up huge bills. Deutsche Bank was prepared to force the company into bankruptcy unless a new source of capital was found.

The extreme nationalist Alfred Hugenberg quickly made the most of the his opportunity and acquired the majority of the share capital. Hugenberg installed his protege Ludwig Klitzsch at the helm of UFA. Klitzsch swiftly moved to restructure the company along Hollywood models of best practice. He also started to diversify into other media communications areas specifically sheet music and gramophone records.

The Central Producer System

Klitzsch’s first move was to install the central producer system. Under the old management Erich Pommer had given his leading directors the right to use the Director unit to help creatre more artistic films, with the directors having a relatively free hand over what they did and what they spent. The central producer system ensured a tight control over all aspects of the film from budget to shooting schedule. Klitzsch’s restructuring enabled UFA to start breaking even and helped them to raise the money to invest in sound
They achieved managed to ahcieve the move to full sound production in just over a year. In order to make this hasty transistion Klitsch engineered a deal with UFA competitior Tobis-Klangfilm licensing their technology rather than going down the expensive route of re-inventing their own.

Financial Success

There is no doubt that the financial restructuring and ensuing business model put UFA firmly back into business. As Germany slid deeper into depression with unemployment reaching arounf 8 million in late 1932 by 1930-31 UFA was in the black. Not only had it it done well in the domestic market but it had agressively and successfully marketed its foreign language versions in France and the UK as well as continuing to develop on the music side as another income stream.

New directors new kinds of film

This financial recovery was achieved in spite of (or because of) the loss of the top directors under previous management. Murnau had gone to America, Lang had started his own production company after Metropolis, Pabst had started working for Nero Films and E. A. Dupont had gone to the UK.

UFA was increasingly peopled by directors who were efficient and effective makers of genre films such as Karl Hartl and Gustav Ucicky

With the coming of sound musicals and comedies became the staple of UFA production with the development of international stars. The Blue Angel 1929 / 30 starring Emil Jannings and making Marlene Dietrich an international star is perhaps the most famous of these films.

Dietrich in Blue Angel

Other films of this ilk included The Congress Dance (1931) dir Eric Charell with Lilian Harvey, Lil Dagover and Conrad Veidt.

Lillian Harvey in The Congress Dance 1931

Above new favourite of the audience Lilian Harvey in The Congress Dance while below Lil Dagover and Conrad Veidt provide an in depth quality cast.

Lil Dagover and conrad Veidt in The Congress Dance 1931

There were also oddball comedies such as Viktor and Victoria
which was made on the cusp on the Nazi takeover of power. According to the hyperlinked articled it became the box office number one hit in 1933. Sabine Hake has it recorded as a top seller for 1934.
Throughout the depression UFA was able to provide circuses but no bread, that role fell to the Nazis.

Klitzsch also started to institute changes in SPIO and try and follow the Hollywood model of an industry self regulatory regime which would serve to help control supply and reduce concerns about overproduction and consequent falling incomes for all.

Elsaesser considers that overall the restructring of UFA was a necessary step although he was thankful for the earlier model followed by Pommer because some of the great films of the Weimar period still admired today would never have been made. In terms of politcs and ideology Elsaesser is of the opinion that despite criticisms from the left it was a business imperative rather than an ideological one that drove UFA after Hugenberg took over and until the Nazi regime became firmly established.

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