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Old July 18th, 2007, 03:36 PM   #1
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oddball German cinema question-

I've been getting interested in European filmmakers recently, and am getting very interested in German cinema. I'm familiar with Fritz Lang, Werner Herzog, and I'm ordering Fassbinder off my Netflix queue as fast as I can.

One question that occurs to me: what happened to German cinema during 1933-1945, the Hitler years? I assume the films were heavily controlled and censored by the goverment, and during the last years of the war there wouldn't have been much film production.

Is everything from that period just embarassing Nazi propoganda? Was everything just apolitical entertainment? Or did a few manage to beat the system, and do interesting work?

Sort of an oddball question, and I think I know the answer but I was curious if anybody knew.
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Old July 18th, 2007, 04:35 PM   #2
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Artists whose sentiments were aligned with the government flourished, while others fled or floundered.

Take a look at Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl.
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Old July 18th, 2007, 06:46 PM   #3
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I think there's a new book on Riefenstahl, and the author (whose name I forget) mentioned that like Hitler, she had no feeling for individual people, but when it came to creating big, grand visual panorama she was amazing. I guess I can see why got along well with Hitler.

I've seen bits of Olympiad, and the visual look is stunning. She certainly had an eye, whatever else you can say.
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Old July 18th, 2007, 07:10 PM   #4
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It goes without saying that what I said applied to all artists, not just film-makers. So my answer is that yes, there were German artists who had not lost their sanity, but they had to practice their art elsewhere.
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Old July 18th, 2007, 09:16 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis Stevens View Post
what happened to German cinema during 1933-1945, the Hitler years?
Many German directors, like Lang, Murnau, Preminger and Wilder moved to the United States and worked in Hollywood during the Nazi years.

Here's a nice article that talks about some of that history:
http://www.german-way.com/cinema.html
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Old July 19th, 2007, 09:24 AM   #6
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she had no feeling for individual people...
Of course she had plenty of feeling for individual people (this is clearly borne out on film in Olympia and other works, and in writing in her memoirs). And she did not get along well with Hitler. Her talent was recognized by the government, which swept her up and put her to work. At the time it probably seemed like the ultimate career move. I would not say that she "lost her sanity," rather, she put her eggs in the wrong basket. I don't think it's proper to say that all those who did not get out out of Germany at that time had their sentiments aligned with the government. She wanted to work, and the system put her to work. When it all started to go south, it was too late to get out. The most controversial incident associated with Riefenstahl occurred during the war for the making of Tiefland (1940), in which many of the so-called "extras" used in some scenes were gypsy laborers who later wound up at Auschwitz.

From an artistic and a technical perspective, Olympia (1938) is a beautiful, incredible film. I think it's important to separate the politics from the craft when evaluating a film; otherwise the propagandists win. Anyway she made Olympia for the I.O.C., not the Nazis, so there aren't too many swastikas in it. In its celebration of the human form, it highlights all races from all nations, so Olympia is really an anti-Nazi film.

Regarding German cinema during the war, yes the state had completely taken over all major filmmaking for propaganda purposes, so what happened was that German cinema ceased to exist, having been replaced by Nazi cinema. It's interesting how you can find just about anything on the web these days: perhaps this is an accurate source. There's a famous example late in the war of front-line troops ordered out of combat to go make the big-budget spectacle Kolberg (1945). But by then there weren't many theaters left in which to show it. War is hell.
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Old July 19th, 2007, 08:39 PM   #7
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Speaking of Billy Wilder, a German who fled from the Nazi regime to make movies in Amercia:

Recently saw a long interview with him and he was discussing Stalag 17 which, of course, concerns American POWs in a Nazi prison camp. The studio wanted to release the movie in Germany (this was in the early 60s I think) but asked Wilder if he could change the identity of the "bad guys" from German to Polish .... so as not to offend any potential German audiences.

Wilder promptly left that studio. Just makes you shake your head.
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Old July 19th, 2007, 09:37 PM   #8
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On a semi-related note, for the American television series "Hogan's Heroes" which had its roots in the movies Stalag 17 and The Great Escape, actor Werner Klemperer said of his role as the hapless camp commandant Colonel Klink that it gave him a certain satisfaction to portray a German officer as a hopelessly inept buffoon. Having himself witnessed Nazi persecution first hand (and later serving the U.S. military during the war), his part as the bumbling Colonel Klink was his own private revenge against Hitler's regime.
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Old July 23rd, 2007, 08:04 AM   #9
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Her talent was recognized by the government, which swept her up and put her to work. At the time it probably seemed like the ultimate career move. I would not say that she "lost her sanity," rather, she put her eggs in the wrong basket. I don't think it's proper to say that all those who did not get out out of Germany at that time had their sentiments aligned with the government. She wanted to work, and the system put her to work. When it all started to go south, it was too late to get out.
Thanks for your insightful post. I've seen excerpts of Olympiad and been blown away by them. It's obviously easy to criticize Riefenstahl, but in the context of the time, it must have been pretty tempting to have such a source of funding, publicity.

I'm also reminded of Soviet era directors like Eisenstein, who managed to direct some great films while working under political pressure.
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Old July 23rd, 2007, 09:44 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Chris Hurd View Post
On a semi-related note, for the American television series "Hogan's Heroes" which had its roots in the movies Stalag 17 and The Great Escape, actor Werner Klemperer said of his role as the hapless camp commandant Colonel Klink that it gave him a certain satisfaction to portray a German officer as a hopelessly inept buffoon. Having himself witnessed Nazi persecution first hand (and later serving the U.S. military during the war), his part as the bumbling Colonel Klink was his own private revenge against Hitler's regime.
Also, Robert Clary, who played LeBeau in "Hogan's Heroes," was incarcerated in a German concentration camp during the war. Amazing he could laugh about it in a T.V. sitcom.
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Old July 30th, 2007, 07:29 PM   #11
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From an artistic and a technical perspective, Olympia (1938) is a beautiful, incredible film. I think it's important to separate the politics from the craft when evaluating a film; otherwise the propagandists win. Anyway she made Olympia for the I.O.C., not the Nazis, so there aren't too many swastikas in it. In its celebration of the human form, it highlights all races from all nations, so Olympia is really an anti-Nazi film.
I have to say I didn't find Olympia an example of feeling for individual people. It certainly is a beautiful film. But it wasn't a humanistic approach to humanity, it was an objectification of the body. It was a cold remote sort of beauty.
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Old July 30th, 2007, 10:31 PM   #12
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Well, check out some of her still photography and see what you think about it... I'm wondering if you'll have the same reaction.

http://www.leni-riefenstahl.de/eng/dienuba/1.html
http://www.leni-riefenstahl.de/eng/dienuba/6.html
http://www.leni-riefenstahl.de/eng/dienuba/10.html
http://www.leni-riefenstahl.de/eng/dienubav/4.html
http://www.leni-riefenstahl.de/eng/dienubav/11.html

I wouldn't say that Riefenstahl is one of my favorite German filmmakers, but I also don't believe that history has given her a very fair trial. I guess if there's one thing that truly impresses me about her, it's got to be her endurance. She survived the war (and a helicopter crash at age 97) and lived to be 101 years old before passing away in her sleep (the best way to go) in 2003. She certainly was a beautiful and talented actress and dancer before the war. A talented visual artist all the way around, I think.

I agree that the Soviet system turned out some great filmmakers and some wonderful works -- among my personal favorites is Dovshenko's Earth -- despite being products of the state.
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