Ian Garden: The Amazing Nazi Movie Machine, EIBF 2012, Review

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Ian Garden with Sheena McDonald (Chair)
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Sheena McDonald introduced this session about The Third Reich's Celluloid War by Ian Garden who confessed to being a banker! However, he said that he had spent three years in Frankfurt where the whole idea of the Nazi propaganda effort attracted him greatly, and in particular the propaganda films that Joseph Goebbels had made during his time as Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda within the Third Reich.  

Garden said that as hardly any of the people he met in Germany had been alive during the last war, he found everyone most co-operative and helpful in his research. He was eventually able to see copies of some of the films and found them fascinating.

There were in fact some 1,200 propaganda films made over this period and the aim was not only to motivate the German people, but to show the films in the countries which the Nazis conquered.    This was not always a great success as sometimes the people saw themselves as those being oppressed by Germany. Three films had been made about Ireland, but these did not do well in Poland and Czechoslovakia as the Germans were immediately identified as the oppressors - the films were withdrawn.

But, Garden said, Goebbels recognised that the German people needed some other kinds of films and not just slogans and propaganda. Once the people were drawn to the cinema they could also be subjected to Nazi propaganda films. Foreign films were also brought in for as long as possible because Hitler liked to watch them! So, Goebbels did not ban foreign films although they were subject to strict censorship

Garden wanted to explode the myth that the Nazis were film makers 'par excellence'. In fact, they were far from this; many films were late, some were even dropped before they were actually screened as they had been overtaken by events. He also noted that not all the films produced were completely political as we saw in a clip from Leni Reifenstal's film about the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. There are shots of the women's 4x400 m which show the German team dropping the baton, while the Fuhrer is seen to be extremely upset.

But both sides were using the film industry to spread propaganda; the Americans and the British were producing titles like Casablanca, In What We Share, Mrs Miniver and One of our Aircraft is Missing.  

But the Nazis tried to make as much capital out of film as possible, so they took events from British history then adapted and manipulated these so that  Britain would be shown in a very poor light.   The Irish films have been mentioned, but Britain's wars in South Africa were twisted and made to look appalling. The film was called "Uncle Krug" and it was so successful with the viewing public that they were totally silent on leaving!

A clip of the Titanic disaster showed how "Sir" Bruce Ismay was completely to blame for the disaster and the deaths of so many, because  he wanted the White Star Line ship to make a fast crossing of the Atlantic. Incidentally, all the people who are in authority  are given titles just to expose how the upper class put upon everyone else.

Garden did have an explanation of why Hitler did not shake Jesse Owen's hand: apparently Hitler was told the day before that he should stop shaking hands with all the winning athletes, as this was not done by heads of state. So Hitler may have had an excuse!   

This was a fascinating hour with some excellent film clips to illustrate the subject. It all demonstrated a very high level of research and was well done.

Event: 23 August, 2012, 8:30pm.