Mystifying, but enlightening political history (and pants)
I've just seen the film in a special showing at Tate Modern (London's modern-art gallery). The print was evidently made for educational purposes, in the 1950s one guesses, with explanatory intertitles written by a film academic in English. (These are actually quite amusing with their po-faced analysis, with some very silly diagrams, but do interrupt the action clumsily. However, the print has no English subtitles, so the crackly soundtrack with thick Berlin accents is tough to follow for non-German natives.) What struck this viewer was, briefly:
1. Utter bewilderment at its propaganda value; the Communists seem to modern eyes to have far the best deal, with beer, food and sex high on their agenda, yet the young Heini - and presumably the 12-year-olds in the audience - are won over totally by the promise of shiny shoes, cups of tea, boy scout uniforms, cold morning dips and strident community singing. Beats me. 2. No comedy or light relief in any way: no town drunk, sly spiv, amusing slapstick with planks, etc. Was 1930s Berlin really that humourless? 3. What a rabble the Nazi youth seemed - gawky and indisciplined, far from the ruthlessly efficient robots of our imagination. 4. The only two decent actors in the whole thing are the two Commie blokes. Heini's dad turns in a convincing performance as the drunken old bully who personifies the Red Menace. 5. Getting short trousers to fit evidently beyond scope of even the well-organised Hitlerjugend. Every pair two sizes too small. 6. Chilling role played by gas. As a film "it's pants", as modern 12-year-olds might say (possibly echoing point 5). But as a grim piece of political history it is indeed quiet fascinating - and mystifying, as well as enlightening.
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