This 1968 German documentary on the use of film as a propaganda tool during the period of the Third Reich has been given an English voice-over and subtitles courtesy of IHF and provides an interesting, albeit tantalisingly brief introduction to the topic.
The limitations of the medium, in this case 86 minutes to cover 13 years and 26 sample films mean that it should be seen as more a springboard for further exploration rather than an in-depth investigation in its own right. My first viewing left me somewhat disappointed because I was expecting more critical analysis, and while to some extent it does exist, it is more the case that the movie segments are allowed to speak for themselves, with excerpts designed to support the various chapter themes such as "Dying for Germany", "Brown or Red", "Back to the Fatherland" etc. This makes sense, and has allowed Erwin Leiser to hone in on some classic scenes and dialogue to support his thesis that "the misuse of mass media by a totalitarian system proves the necessity of a free, democratic social order."
Take for example the scene from "Morgenrot", supposedly the first feature film seen by Adolf Hitler upon becoming Chancellor. The crew of a stricken WWI U-Boat faces an impossible dilemma: they are unable to surface and there are not enough escape suits to go around. The captain orders his men to don the available suits and escape, leaving him and his executive officer to their fate. Ah, but there is no way they will accept this. It is everyone or no-one says the crew. Touched by this loyalty, the captain is then led to eulogise: "We Germans may not know much about living, but dying? That we certainly can do!" Thus, the "main theme of National Socialist propaganda dying for Germany" is perfectly illustrated.
That there were a staggering 1150 feature films produced in the period is testament to both the resilience (and compliance) of the German film industry and the vision of the Propaganda Ministry. While only a relatively small percentage of these movies were designed as simple propaganda tools, Leiser implies that everything which was produced in the period should still be seen as supporting the cause, from the benign comedy, through to musicals and melodramas.
There are important scenes from the famous (Hitlerjunge Quex, Ich Klage An, Kolberg) through to the more obscure (Frisians in Peril, Hans Westmar). And there are of course omissions such as SA Mann Brand and the classic anti-Communist diatribe, GPU, but it would be impossible to include everyone's complete list of personal favourites.
Ultimately then, this documentary should be seen as providing an ideal companion to such reference sources as Hilmar Hoffmann's "The Triumph of Propaganda, Film and National Socialism 1933-1945" (Berghahn, 1996), Aristotle Kallis's "Nazi Propaganda and the Second World War" (Palgrave, 2008) and Antje Ascheid's "Hitler's Heroines, Stardom and Womanhood in Nazi Cinema" (Temple UP, 2003). William Gillespie and Joel Nelson's "Film Posters of the Third Reich" is a good visual reference as well.
(As a footnote, it is also worthwhile considering the stresses in German and indeed European - society at around the time of the program's release. This was a period of protest and social upheaval where a new generation began to openly question their parents' responsibility for the rise of National Socialism. According to Leiser, the call of "Germany Awake" was in fact deliberately designed to send those parents to sleep; to follow the new order unquestioningly.)
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