Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Tom’s been doing a little research into the cinema of the Third Reich. And he’s made a few shocking discoveries.
Deciding to screen a double bill of Nazi propaganda films, he’s chosen two from opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum. Triumph Of The Will at the beautiful end, with its delirious shots of the messianic Fűhrer arriving out of the sky to save Germankind. (What it doesn’t show, of course, is that the Fűhrer had to do a bit of shouting at the rest of the Nazi leadership when they didn’t show up at the Nuremberg Opera House in the evening. They were all getting pissed and shagging, and he found himself sitting almost alone with the full orchestra and Wagnerian chorus. Or was that another year? Anyway, it’s not good for a Friday night in Bavaria any time, is it?)
And at the other end, the most sordid and revolting film ever made, in Tom’s view – and which he would only be allowed to show to the students under special licence. The Eternal Jew. And to think that this film, which superimposed rats’ faces on shots of Jews’, was made by a man who for many years after the war gave us all those lovely lederhosen adverts while he was director of tourism for the state of Bavaria. He should have been the first one in the Nuremberg dock, believes Tom.
‘The German film must fulfil its duty to the State, nation and culture,’ Goebbels told filmmakers. ‘It must become a world leader.’
Funnily enough, German filmgoers liked American movies most, though the number they could see was restricted by a quota system. (Stalin had similar problems with the Russian film-going public when they displayed a reluctance to see The Battleship Potemkin. The Moscow cinema was forced to bill it as ‘the great success from Berlin’, where it had done well at the film festival. Even then the ice-cream sellers were dressed as sailor-girls and sold the ices from ship-shaped ice-boxes.)
Sensibly, Goebbels encouraged the making of light-weight comedies at first, avoiding too much overt propaganda – but everything was censored, of course, and the industry had to be purged of Jews. Bizarrely, some black and Jewish actors actually survived the Holocaust by playing terrible stereotypes of themselves in the movies. When Goebbels offered Fritz Lang the job of running the new Reich’s film industry, Lang took the next train out of Berlin and became an exile in Hollywood.
Tom will derive some pleasure from showing a photograph taken in 1934 by John Heartfield. It’s called Blut und Eisen and displays a swastika made from four axes dripping with blood. He can’t stop wondering which was the more dangerous of the two films he will show his students. He’s pretty sure it was the beautiful one, Triumph des Willens.