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Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (2009)

Eight hundred German filmmakers (cast and crew) fled the Nazis in the 1930s. The film uses voice-overs, archival footage, and film clips to examine Berlin's vital filmmaking in the 1920s; ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
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Narrator (voice)
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Hans Salter (voice)
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Reporter / Bertolt Brecht (voice)
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Henry Koster (voice)
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Curt Siodmak (voice)
Josh Nathan ...
Frederick Hollander (voice)
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Salka Viertel (voice)
Lynne Maclean ...
Boszi Sakall (voice)
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Erich Pommer (voice)
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Ernst Lubitsch (voice)
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Kitty Koster (voice)
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Translator (voice)
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Miklos Rozsa (voice)
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Herself (archive footage)
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Herself (archive footage)
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Eight hundred German filmmakers (cast and crew) fled the Nazis in the 1930s. The film uses voice-overs, archival footage, and film clips to examine Berlin's vital filmmaking in the 1920s; then it follows a producer, directors, composers, editors, writers, and actors to Hollywood: some succeeded and many found no work. Among those profiled are Erich Pommer, Joseph May, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, and Peter Lorre. Once in Hollywood, these exiles helped each other, housed new arrivals, and raised money so others could escape. Some worked on anti-Nazi films, like Casablanca. The themes and lighting of German Expressionism gave rise in Hollywood to film noir. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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1 January 2009 (USA)  »

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Shown in two parts on PBS America in the United Kingdom. See more »

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Features Sunset Blvd. (1950) See more »

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Exemplary.

It's a fine historical documentary of the fate of Jewish musical and cinema artists before, during, and after the reign of Adolf Hitler.

In the 1920s Berlin was a major European cultural center for the arts and for science. German silent movies were among the most innovative being produced. Of course the economy was in terrible shape, with Germany having to pay reparations for World War I, a hyperinflation that made it cheaper to paper the walls with bills rather than try to buy something with them. They literally weren't worth the paper they were written on.

And yet the city pulled out of the depression, especially when Hitler put the citizenry to work building war materials. At the time, the Jews of Germany were highly assimilated and not very religious. However if you're going to mobilize the masses, demonizing a minority is a good place to start.

The imposition of strict laws regarding Jews, the confiscation of their goods, and later their imprisonment and what followed, led to an exodus of Germans, including but not limited to German Jews. It wasn't even necessary to be a practicing Jew. A taint in your ancestry could do it -- rather like having a black grandfather in America at the time.

Most fled to Los Angeles where the documentary candidly admits that not all of them made it. It's difficult at any age to invent a new identity in an unfamiliar environment, one where you don't know the language, but it was especially difficult for the Germans were were by this time middle aged. You can do a lot of things when you're twenty-one that you can't do at forty.

The losses of Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Austia were Hollywood's gains. The exiles brought with them the techniques they'd learned in the old country -- expressionism, spookiness, a cynical spirit, and film noir.

The exiles and their careers, some better known than others, included Fritz Lang ("Woman in the Window"), Billy Wilder ("Some Like it Hot"), Franz Waxman (composer for "Rear Window"), and Fred Zinnemann ("High Noon") among others. We see still photos, home movies, and some older interviews.

It's very well done. It's candid and perceptive and without bathos, and it's a must for any movie buff.


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