Tag Archives: Third Reich

How Hitler helped make Hollywood

GlobalPost, February 14, 2013
BERLIN, Germany — Two months after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor in 1933, Jews working in Germany’s groundbreaking film industry were warned there would be no place for them under the new Nazi regime.

“We will not even remotely tolerate that those ideas, which Germany has eradicated at the root, are able to make their way either openly or surreptitiously back into film,” Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announced that March. The powerful UFA studio canceled contracts for most Jews working there the following day.

Thus began the greatest rupture in German film history, marking the end of the golden age for Weimar cinema. Soon not only Jews, but left-wingers began fleeing the country, followed by others who saw no place for themselves in what would become the Third Reich’s propaganda machine.

Their departure would help transform another film industry: Hollywood. Of the some 2,000 movie professionals who left Germany in the 1930s, most ended up in California, where the techniques they pioneered back home would have a lasting impact on American film.

This week, the Berlin International Film Festival is honoring them in a retrospective called “The Weimar Touch.” More than 30 films dating from 1933 to 1959 are being shown in a program co-curated by the Deutsche Kinemathek film archive and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The selection explores not only films made by those immigrants after they left Germany, but also their influence on international cinema in general, from their experimental sets and lighting techniques to the way they viewed the world.

“Weimar cinema paid attention not only to the surface but the deep currents beneath,” retrospective director Rainer Rother said in an interview. “It was a cinema more of doubt than of self-assuredness, very open to nuances and ambiguities.”

Film was one of many arts that flourished under Weimar Germany, a period of nascent democracy and great instability between the end of the World War I and the Nazi rise to power. The political and economic uncertainty somehow translated into a great burst of creative energy that’s rarely been matched.

Although experimental works such as “Dr Caligari,” “Nosferatu” and “Metropolis” may be the first to spring to mind on mention of Weimar, Germany also boasted a vibrant commercial film industry that turned out comedies, musicals and other popular entertainment for the home market and international distribution.

But German cinema’s most creative and productive period ended with the exodus that began in 1933. Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Peter Lorre, Douglas Sirk, Max Ophüls, Robert Siodmak and Max Reinhardt were just some of the actors, directors and others to leave. Continue reading

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Germany’s Latest Nazi Drama: New ‘Jud Süss’ Flops as Faustian Tragedy

“Jud Süss — Rise and Fall” tells the story of one man’s Faustian pact with the Hitler regime. The film shows Ferdinand Marian as a tragic figure who gained and then lost everything after starring in Goebbels’ pet project. But his biographer has berated the filmmakers for deviating from history and many critics have been scathing.

“Finally an anti-Semitic film of the kind we could only wish for,” wrote Josef Goebbels in his diary on Aug. 18, 1940. He had just seen the first screening of his pet project “Jud Süss” with Ferdinand Marian playing the lead role in the now infamous Nazi propaganda film. The Austrian actor’s Faustian pact with the Hitler regime is the focus of a new star-studded German film “Jud Süss — Rise and Fall” which had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival on Thursday night.

The eagerly anticipiated film, which makes more than a nod or two to Istvan Szabo’s 1981 film “Mephisto,” is the latest German-produced film to deal with the Third Reich. Following in the footsteps of films such as “Downfall” and “A Woman in Berlin,” the filmmakers will be hoping to emulate those films’ international success. However, its reception at the press screening on Thursday was marked more by boos than clapping and many reviews so far have been scathing. Even before the premiere it had already created something of a controversy, with Marian’s biographer berating the filmmakers for taking liberties with the true story. Continue reading

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Harnessing Anarchy for Hitler: The Nazis’ Bid to Control Carnival

Germany’s Carnival is an expression of anarchic fun and mockery of those in power. Yet the Nazis sought to harness the potential of the festivities for their own ends. Anti-Semitic floats and speeches attacking Germany’s enemies were commonplace, and defiance was rare.

It was Rose Monday in the German city of Cologne and the festivities for the 1934 Carnival were well underway. Of the many floats taking part in the traditional parade, one featured a group of men dressed up as orthodox Jews. The banner above them read “The Last Ones Are Leaving.” This was, after all, Carnival under the Third Reich.

The float was one of the many expressions of anti-Semitism marking the German Carnival season during the years leading up to World War II. Another float from 1935 seems a terrible harbinger of the Holocaust to come. In Nuremberg, where the infamous anti-Semitic race laws would be introduced later that year, a papier-mâché figure of a Jew hung from a bar on a model mill as if on a gallows.

Yet until recently, it has been almost taboo to speak about Germany’s Carnival and the Nazis in the same breath. Carnival, the pre-Lent festival celebrated in the predominantly Catholic west and south of Germany, displays the cheerful, humorous, raucous side of Germany. Nothing could seem further removed from the horrors perpetrated by Hitler’s regime. Continue reading

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