Friday, October 26, 2012

The 1972 Viennale Film Festival: Propaganda in the 1930s and 1940s

For eight days in March 1972, I spent several hours a day sitting in a movie theater underneath the Albertina Museum, less than a block away from the Vienna Staatsoper, watching propaganda films made from 1933 to 1945. In all, I saw over eighty of these films, some short, others full length, made in Germany, Great Britain, Austria, and the United States.
These propaganda films were part of the 1972 Viennale, the film festival of the Ősterrichische Filmmuseum. They attracted me because they offered a unique history lesson — the chance to see how different governments tried to influence the opinions of their citizens and the world in the 1930s and 1940s. Also, they offered the opportunity to gather further understanding of the inexplicable: why many of the people around me in Vienna supported a monstrous Nazi regime.

In watching the films, the political scientist in me paid attention to how the different governments manipulated symbols and myths to stir passions and inspire actions. In normal times, political leaders (in both dictatorships and democracies) know the words and gestures to use to reassure the mass public or the arouse its fears. They are skilled in using symbols linked to deeply held beliefs to evoke strong emotions that make people willing to sacrifice or take actions against their self interest.
In times of radical change and war, the manipulation of public and world opinion becomes even more important than in peacetime. Then, the state employs propaganda to strengthen the resolve of its own people and weaken the resolve of the enemies. During these times, propaganda is an important weapon of war.

From a less academic viewpoint, I was particularly interested in the Nazi propaganda, mainly because the ability of this repugnant group to seize power and its catastrophic use of power are beyond my understanding. I had never had the previous opportunity to see Nazi propaganda films, so I was curious about why it was, apparently, so successful.
As part of the retrospective, the Ősterreichisches Filmmuseum published a small book of essays titled, Propaganda and Counterpropaganda in Film, 1933-45. It included essays by Hans Barkhausen and Karl Friedrich Reimers (Erste Weihnachsfeier Der Reichsbahndirektion Berlim in Dritten Reich), Clive Coultass (British War Propaganda, US War Propaganda), Friedrich Geyrhofer (Die Demagogische Phantasie), Gerhard Jagschitz (Filmpropaganda im Dritten Reich), Reinhard Prießnitz (Die Endlösung Der Meinungsfreiheit), and Michael Siegert (Fritz Hippler -- Goebbels' Reichsfilmintendant, "Der Ewige Jude). 

The many hours spent watching these propaganda films were well invested. These films provided a great learning experience, and long offered food for thought. Twenty years after watching these films, when working on a Ph.D. in public policy, my memory of them stirred an interest in a "symbolic politics" model of understanding policy formation. Borrowing from Harold Lasswell (whose University of Chicago dissertation in the 1920s was about the use of propaganda in World War I) and Murray Edelman, I explored how symbols and myths are used in the political process of democratic policy making.  
The propaganda films shown at the 1972 Viennale Retrospective included these:
Aus der Tiefe Empor (GER); Die Erste Weihnachtsfeier der Reichsbahndirektion Berlin im Dritten Reich (GER)

Metall des Himmels (GER); Triumph des Willens (GER); Bueckeberg (GER); Das Erbe (GER)

Ewiger Wald (GER); Ewige Wache (GER); Das Buch des Deustchen (GER)

Mussolini in Deutschland (GER); Einberufung der 10 Jahriger zur HJ Durch von Schirich (GER)

Gestern u. Heute (GER); Wort und Tat (GER); Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer (GER); Gesunde Frau, Gesundes Volk (GER); Unsere Kinder, Unsere Zukunft (GER); Adolf Hitler Bauten (GER)

Bauten in Neuen Deutschlands (GER); Das Wort aus Stein (GER); Einsatz der Jugend (GER); Die Englishe Krankheit (GER)

The Rape of Czechoslovakia (GB); Dangerous Comment (GB); Now You Are Talking (GB); Hitler Listens (GB)

Feuertaufe (GER); Gentlemen (GER); Der Ewige Jude (GER)

The First Days (GB); Britain Can Take It (GB); Miss Grant Goes to the Door (GB); The Curse of the Swastika (GB)

Deutsche Panzer (GER); Sieg im Westen (GER); Soldaten von Morgen (GER); In Wald von Katyn (Swedish version)

America Speaker Her Mind (US)

Yellow Caesar (GB); Lambeth Walk (Germany Calling) (GB); The Battle of the Books (GB); Mr. Proudfoot Shows a Light (GB)
Rund um die Freiheitsstatute (GER); Neues Leben in Paris (GER); Dr. Todt --Berufung und Werke (GER)
Battle of Midway (US); Fellow Americans (US)
Listen to Britain (GB); Salute to the Red Army (GB); Killed or Be Killed (GB)
Das Sowjetparadies (GER); Herr Roosevelt Plaudert (GER); Die Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung Muenchen (GER)
Why We Fight #1: Prelude to War (US); Why We Fight #2: The Nazis Strike (US); Why We Fight #3: Divide and Conquer (US); Why We Fight #4: The Battle of Britain (US)

Warwork News Nr. 43 (GB); Invincible (GB); These are the Men (GB); The Silent Village (GB)
Rundfunk im Kriege (GER); Scharfschutenschule (GER); Der Fuhrer schenkt den Juden ein Stadt (GER)
Why We Fight #5: The Battle of Russia (US); San Pietro (US); Memphis Belle (US); With the Marines at Tarawa (US); The Town (US); Brought to Action (US); The Negro Soldier (US)
The True Story of Lili Marlene (GB); Cameramen at War (GB); A Soviet Village (GB); Nazi Atrocities in Poland (GB)
Window Cleaner (US); To the Shores of Iwo Jima (US); Why We Fight #7:  War Comes to America (US); Two Down and One to Go (US)
A Barrel Polka (GB)
GER = Germany, GB = Great Britain, US (United States)
A review that I wrote of the film festival shortly after it ended in March 1972, plus other materials related to it, can be found at this Scribd link:

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