Popular Cinema of the Third Reich

Popular Cinema of the Third Reich

SABINE HAKE
Copyright Date: 2001
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/734579
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    Popular Cinema of the Third Reich
    Book Description:

    Too often dismissed as escapist entertainment or vilified as mass manipulation, popular cinema in the Third Reich was in fact sustained by well-established generic conventions, cultural traditions, aesthetic sensibilities, social practices, and a highly developed star system-not unlike its Hollywood counterpart in the 1930s. This pathfinding study contributes to the ongoing reassessment of Third Reich cinema by examining it as a social, cultural, economic, and political practice that often conflicted with, contradicted, and compromised the intentions of the Propaganda Ministry. Nevertheless, by providing the illusion of a public sphere presumably free of politics, popular cinema helped to sustain the Nazi regime, especially during the war years.

    Rather than examining Third Reich cinema through overdetermined categories such as propaganda, ideology, or fascist aesthetics, Sabine Hake concentrates on the constituent elements shared by most popular cinemas: famous stars, directors, and studios; movie audiences and exhibition practices; popular genres and new trends in set design; the reception of foreign films; the role of film criticism; and the representation of women. She pays special attention to the forced coordination of the industry in 1933, the changing demands on cinema during the war years, and the various ways of coming to terms with these filmic legacies after the war. Throughout, Hake's findings underscore the continuities among Weimar, Third Reich, and post-1945 West German cinema. They also emphasize the codevelopment of German and other national cinemas, especially the dominant Hollywood model.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79830-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. 1 POPULAR CINEMA, NATIONAL CINEMA, NAZI CINEMA: A DEFINITION OF TERMS
    (pp. 1-22)

    Until recently, the cinema of the Third Reich has been treated as the ultimate Other of world cinema. Excluded from standard film historical and theoretical analyses, the more than one thousand feature films produced during the period have remained closely identified with the critical paradigms of propaganda studies and ideology critique. Both have generated the kind of summary treatments, captured in terms like “Nazi cinema” or “Nazi film,” that often include sweeping conclusions about mass manipulation, popular entertainment, and fascist aesthetics but divulge little about the constituent elements of popular cinema: the leading stars and directors, the popular genres and...

  5. 2 MADE IN 1933: GERMAN-JEWISH FILMMAKERS AND THE FORCED COORDINATION OF THE INDUSTRY
    (pp. 23-45)

    The year 1933 brought the release of two white-collar comedies that must be considered transitional in terms of film history and genre cinema.¹ Their directors, who were Jewish, came from screenwriting and had a talent for witty dialogues and spirited repartee. Suddenly marked as Other by the new racial laws and subjected to personal attacks, the two men saw their lives and careers forever changed by the Nazi takeover and the rise of anti-Semitism. Though at different points and under different circumstances, both eventually left for the United States. With them, and many other directors, actors, composers, and screenwriters, a...

  6. 3 CINEMA, SET DESIGN, AND THE DOMESTICATION OF MODERNISM
    (pp. 46-67)

    As a visual medium, film has always relied on architectural styles and ideas in the construction of narrative space, whether through the material elements of set design or the filmic techniques of mise-en-scène.¹ Silent film in particular has functioned as a laboratory for new art and design movements and provided a training ground for modern tastes and sensibilities. Given the strong influence of painting, architecture, and set design on early filmmakers, it is not surprising that mise-en-scène played a major role in the emergence of Weimar art cinema and continues to be regarded as a distinguishing mark of the German...

  7. 4 AT THE MOVIES: FILM AUDIENCES AND THE PROBLEM OF SPECTATORSHIP
    (pp. 68-86)

    Going to the movies is both a private ritual and a public act. The cinema provides groups and individuals with a real and imaginary space for making sense of their lives. But it also allows them to withdraw from the pressures of the everyday and seek other experiences in the safe and comfortable environment of the motion-picture theater. Precisely this vacillation between a continuous engagement with social reality and a temporary surrender to the world of fantasies made the German cinema after 1933 such an immensely popular, if not strategically populist, cinema. Through the modes of identification associated with classical...

  8. 5 STARS: HEINZ RÜHMANN AND THE PERFORMANCE OF THE ORDINARY
    (pp. 87-106)

    As the countless star memoirs and biographies indicate, German film actors have played, and continue to play, an important role in the popular imagination, and this despite the Hollywood star machinery. With the exception of the East German cinema, which rejected the star system as a manifestation of bourgeois individualism, and the New German Cinema, which dismissed the cult of celebrity as an obstacle to individual self-expression, domestic productions have always been designed around a changing cast of famous stars, respected character actors, and skilled ensemble actors. Concurrent with the revival of genre cinema since the early 1990s, especially in...

  9. 6 DETLEF SIERCK AND Schlußakkord (FINAL CHORD, 1936): A CASE STUDY OF FILM AUTHORSHIP
    (pp. 107-127)

    The writings on Douglas Sirk, who was known to German audiences of the 1930s as Detlef Sierck, tend to imitate aspects of the melodramatic form, including an affinity for excess in meaning. Critics and scholars often stage, to quote Peter Brooks’s definition, “a heightened and hyperbolic drama, making reference to pure and polar concepts of darkness and light, salvation and damnation.”¹ Propelled by such motifs and motivations, Sirk scholarship from the 1970s to the 1990s has followed the main trends from auteurism and structuralism to feminist and cultural studies approaches.² Whether evoked as a true auteur or a representative of...

  10. 7 THE FOREIGN AND THE FAMILIAR: ON GERMAN-AMERICAN FILM RELATIONS, 1933–1940
    (pp. 128-148)

    There is one important aspect that is usually neglected in the study of national cinemas: the popular and critical reception of foreign films and their fundamental impact on the national as a cultural, political, and economic category. The cinema of the Third Reich is no exception here. Just as we cannot assume an absolute primacy of politics over economics when studying foreign relations during these years, so we must acknowledge the growing relevance of film as a commodity in an increasingly global marketplace. Especially the period from 1933 to 1940 offers an opportunity for tracing the remarkable continuities in the...

  11. 8 THE ANNEXATION OF AN IMAGINARY CITY: THE TOPOS “VIENNA” AND THE WIEN-FILM AG
    (pp. 149-171)

    On 15 March 1938, Hitler stood on the balcony of the Hofburg in Vienna and triumphantly declared the return of his homeland into the Reich. Annexation not only ended Austrian state sovereignty, with far-reaching social, political, and economic consequences, but also had a profound impact on a film industry with well-established structures and traditions.¹ Preparations for this moment had been under way for some time, and the remaining official measures were carried out with great efficiency. Goebbels gave his customary speech about new directions before members of the film community and announced major changes in exhibition practices, admission policies, and,...

  12. 9 THE POWER OF THOUGHT: REDEFINING POPULAR CINEMA BETWEEN REALISM AND ILLUSIONISM
    (pp. 172-188)

    Just as cinema in the Third Reich never attained the kind of internal unity and coherence claimed by its representatives, the theoretical writings from these years amounted to much more than programmatic statements on its political or sociopsychological function. On the one hand, the countless essays and treatises tried to develop a conceptual model for the intended convergence of cinema and ideology that began with the forced coordination of the film industry. On the other hand, critics and scholars constantly had to adjust their categories to the actual practices that, from generic traditions to audience preferences, continued to dominate popular...

  13. 10 A QUESTION OF REPRESENTATION: WORKING WOMEN AND WARTIME CINEMA
    (pp. 189-209)

    Popular cinema in the Third Reich was characterized by a continuous, if not compulsive, concern with questions of sexual difference. Previous chapters have shown how melodramas and film operettas relied on the problem of femininity in the articulation of social and national identities. The romantic comedies with Rühmann thematized male anxieties over love and marriage in performative terms. Women functioned as an important reference point in sociological research on movie audiences and inspired highly charged metaphors in theories of spectatorship and visual pleasure. Even the revisions of modernism in set design were predicated on a gendered con-ception of mise-en-scène. In...

  14. 11 THE LEGACIES OF THE PAST IN THE CINEMA OF POSTWAR RECONSTRUCTION
    (pp. 210-230)

    What remains?—this question resonating throughout twentieth-century German history—can also be asked about the cinema of the Third Reich and its place in German film history. Just as the year 1933 continues to function as an imaginary divide that, among other things, helps to safeguard the formal innovation and social critique of Weimar cinema against the oppressive conventionality of most 1930s genre films, so the year 1945 has played a key role in the emergence of postwar cinema and its own fantasy of a so-called Zero Hour.

    Only recently have scholars begun to examine the rebuilding of the West...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 231-262)
  16. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 263-266)
  17. INDEX OF GERMAN TITLES AND NAMES
    (pp. 267-272)