Cinema and Totalitarian Propaganda: ‘Information’ and ‘Leisure’ in NS Germany, 1939–45

  • Aristotle A. Kallis

Abstract

The cinema of the NS period continues to be a fiercely debated topic, occupying an ambiguous terrain between the conventional categories of ‘information’ and ‘entertainment’, between tendencies already activated during the Weimar period and NS intentions, between active propaganda and diversion, as well as between the requirements of a political-ideological and a financial enterprise. How useful all these distinctions are remains a moot point, as the ongoing debate on the artistic merits of Leni Riefenstahl’s films has shown. In all, the cinema of the NS period displayed a remarkable diversification of themes, approaches and techniques that helped it to avoid a definitive categorisation as either ‘art’ or ‘propaganda’, information or entertainment, ideology or culture. Its variety of genres and blurring (either deliberate or inadvertent) of the distinctions between ‘reality’, ideological projection, entertainment and didactic manipulation has puzzled analysts ever since the 1940s, starting with the first authoritative study of NS cinema by Siegfried Kracauer.1 For example, is a seemingly unpolitical comedy an innocent, value-free pursuit of pure entertainment? Does a newsreel simply depict reality or align facts to an ideologico-political project? Is the use of historical inference in film purely didactic or consciously manipulative?2 Is a self-styled ‘documentary’ more or less political/ideological when it claims to rest on factual (visual and textual) evidence? Invocation and integration of ‘facts’ does not necessarily amount to a depiction of ‘reality’, in the same way that the fictional does not automatically purport to be unreal; factual ‘evidence’ and depicted ‘reality’ can easily be aesthetically and emotionally entertaining, whilst spectacle can be viciously political, enforcing and sustaining long-term patterns of ‘cultural hegemony’.3

Keywords

Europe Propa Income Coherence Expense 

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Notes

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© Aristotle A. Kallis 2005

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