Popular Cinema of the Third Reich
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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.
character may have inspired a subtle reflection on sexual and racial dis-36 Popular Cinema of the Third Reich 02-T1832 9/10/2001 4:17 PM Page 37 crimination, but rumors about Dolly Haas’s own background also prompted emphatic assurances that “she comes from a pure Aryan family.” 23 The character of Fritz failed to elicit any remarks on racial status, whereas the actor Max Hansen was denounced as too “Jewish” at the premiere. In the same way, the comical figure of the director was described in
which the group asserts its mastery: in The Ugly Girl through her lack of femininity, and in Victor and Victoria through his lack of masculinity. As Sander Gilman has shown, gender functions as a privileged trope in fantasies about the Jewish body, beginning with the stereotype of the effeminate Jewish man; hence the frequent equation of the male Jewish body with (mental) illness, homosexuality, and neurasthenia and, in a kind of circular reasoning, with the diagnosis of racial degeneracy.29 In
seen for a nominal fee, an occasion for low-income groups to partake in the cinema’s fictions of community both on and in front of the screen. Mobile film units brought feature films to remote rural areas, a practice that would continue in the work of the so-called PK (propaganda) companies, which, after 1939, organized regular screenings at the front. Yet the changes in exhibition practices after 1933 cannot be explained through the objectives of mass manipulation alone. Relevant data suggest
equally important roles in the building of a national audience positioned between the false promises of film as apolitical entertainment and the tightly controlled conditions under which the rituals of moviegoing de facto became political acts. It is in awareness of these complexities, I hope, that future and more detailed studies on audiences in the Third Reich will continue with such inquiries. 86 Popular Cinema of the Third Reich 05-T1832 9/10/2001 4:18 PM Page 87 5STARSHEINZ RÜHM ANN
ideology vs. aesthetics) that end up either reproducing the false alternatives of “Nazi” and “non-Nazi” or eliminating such distinctions altogether? Returning to the initial problem of authorship and the meaning of style, I would argue that the relevance of Sierck /Sirk cannot be reduced to the alternatives of resistance or co-optation but must be conceptualized through the changing function of stylization in different cultural contexts and ideological systems. Most references to a distinct