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Although The Battle of the Somme presented the British as victorious, it also suggested—perhaps unintentionally—that there would be no winners in this war. Though the deaths were staged, it was nonetheless the first time that a state-commissioned film showed men getting killed on the battlefield. As the camera follows several soldiers scrambling out of a trench, one of the soldiers slides back down its sloping wall, hit by an invisible bullet.
Other soldiers also fall to the ground. The intertitles create a coherent narrative in which the British are supposedly winning, despite the fact that individual scenes appear random and fragmentary, lacking identifiable characters or a linear story line. Here it finally was: a memorable film that changed the way the home front imagined the war.
The Battle of the Somme was widely shown in Great Britain, the Commonwealth, and most of the neutral countries as well, where it had only weak competition from German films. And through editing and the use of intertitles, calculated messages were infused into the film. The Battle 30 The War at Home of the Somme was not shown publicly in Germany, but the German military command studied its effectiveness as propaganda and tried to copy it.
It was not until that the German government and military even acknowledged the importance of film propaganda abroad. All countries not directly involved in the war were inundated with films from France and Britain asserting their cultural as well as military superiority over Germany. They also presented films that staged atrocities allegedly committed by German soldiers against unarmed Belgian civilians. As early as , the American Life Photo Film Company began producing bogus war documentaries in New Jersey, showing actors in German uniforms brutalizing and killing innocent women and children.
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The popular success of British film propaganda in seemed to have jolted the German High Command into action. It abandoned the arrogant stance that the movies were unfit to serve the national cause. Of course, it was paradoxical to first denigrate the movies as the odious epitome of Western modernity and then to use them as a weapon in the fight against that very same modernity.
Established by the War Ministry in January , its purpose was to coordinate the various film initiatives and to use the new medium to mobilize the masses.
The film broke new ground in that it contained realistic shots of battle. Reviews of the German film emphasized the immediacy 31 with which civilians could now for the first time envision the front. How simple it sounds in a military report: we detonated a mine in the Saint-Pierre-Vaast forest and sprang from a trench. You should see this film. Steel helmets on their heads, cameras in hand, they faced direct enemy fire alongside the long transports of storm troops. They attacked the first trenches, experienced the gas attacks, and in spite of fierce enemy fire, poured over the tops of the trenches with the storm troops.
They moved from crater to crater, over forest and field, through barbed wire, ditches and wild forest streams, with the minelayers, between the sharp blows of heavy shells and bursting mortars until, aided by the wall of fire from our barrage, they tossed hand grenades at the fleeing enemy. Judging from camera positions and the undamaged countryside, film historian Rainer Rother has determined that these shots were most likely filmed in a training area behind the front lines. With Our Heroes at the Somme is an obvious propaganda film made both for audiences abroad and on the home front.
While these images are designed to exhibit the generous side of Germans, other segments blame the destruction of towns on ruthless shelling by the French and British. The German film, only about a half hour long, was more a critical than a popular success. The few reviews that were critical of the German Somme film pointed out the basic contradiction inherent in any war film: the impossibility of filming brutal and senseless violence without making it into an aesthetic object.
A perceptive reviewer complained: Overall, the film prettifies! Man, who patiently suffers in war, is so small and insignificant in modern battle. The optical lens, an aesthete without feeling, takes distant bits of landscape, composes, and is the architect of wonderful landscapes, seen through a silver cloud. The borders between warfare and daily life were further blurred when cinematographic shooting ranges opened to the public.
The article assured its readers: That this invention represents not only a source of entertainment but that it has importance for the training of soldiers in firing weapons, is demonstrated by the lively interest of the military in this innovation. The simulated shooting of Serbian troops for fun also demonstrates how quickly the population had become militarized. War was no longer confined to the front.
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It had become mass entertainment. The New Empire One has to recognize the war underneath the peace. An avid proponent of propaganda, he had suggested from the beginning of the war that film be utilized to manipulate public opinion. Unfortunately, our enemies have so thoroughly exploited their advantage in this area that we have suffered serious harm as a result. To make up for past errors in underestimating the power of mass media, he strongly suggested embracing the very medium that the Right had maligned as a contemptible symptom of Western modernity.
He proposed no less than a radical reversal in policy: consolidating the movie industry with Deutsche Bank funds, placing it secretly under state control, and concealing the deal as a business venture. It was designed to oversee both domestic and foreign film propaganda, and to coordinate the activities of the commercial film industry in relation to the war effort. Ufa bought Nordisk for twenty million marks, along with a number of other German film companies including PAGU, the company that made Toward the Light in — Even though the state had to sell its holdings in the company, the consolidation of the German film industry had produced an unprecedented pool of artistic talent in every department, spanning screenwriting, acting, set and costume design, as well as directing.
Born from the spirit of war, Ufa did everything possible to conceal its origins as a military propaganda tool. War was taboo with Ufa as with other film production companies after Nevertheless, traces of it can be found in even the most commercial movies of the period.
Confronted with the choice of joining the Spartacist revolutionaries or reuniting with his wife despite her infidelity, he chooses the latter course. My flesh should rot in the gutter so that your Idea can be victorious? Are you drunk?
At the movies the masses found safe entertainment, an alternative to the turmoil of the streets, that nevertheless frequently alluded to relevant moral dilemmas or high-risk scenarios. Domestic melodramas expressed the mood of the home front, while adventure serials echoed the treacherous experience of combat. What was expected of women now that the war was over? Or could women now maintain and pursue the independence that had been thrust upon them while the men were away? Many films during the Weimar Republic register and negotiate a crisis in gender relations brought about by a war and military defeat that left two million young men dead and countless more crippled or psychologically damaged.
The serials showed no compunction about making their heroines 36 The War at Home suffer—like soldiers in battle—through all manner of perils, thus restaging again and again in the confined environment of a movie theater the trauma of near-death experience in war. At the same time, the serials offered their female viewers a range of possible strategies for dealing with troubled patriarchal relations. It was not only in adventure and action films but also in melodramas of suffering men and women that the war lived on. Mental Breakdowns This war comes from the decadent conditions of the time.
It is the true realization of the status quo. The text, composed in profligate expressionist prose, shows how Ulrike, a young Prussian aristocrat and volunteer nurse at a military hospital, becomes drawn into the war by assimilating herself to the abject position of the crippled soldiers she is attending. Traumatized by her grotesquely disfigured patients, who taunt her sexually, she strips herself of all layers of civilization, mimicking the raw passions that she imagines soldiers experience in their struggle for mere survival.
Ulrike is presented as an avid moviegoer. God, as it were, remained visible. Not Christ but Jehovah, Mohammed or a fetish that ran things in a higher sense. There was retribution in murder, hunger in robbery, crime before verdict. Music made in the orchestra accompanied these events. Hardened by the fiery gusts of such adventures, Ulrike was able to perform her daily work more easily. The exotic adventure movies also serve as stand-ins for war movies—the conflicts remained the same: good versus evil, friend versus enemy, honor versus cowardice, violence versus peace.
On the screen a victim overcome by smoke could be rescued through a window, while in reality cries behind the wall of smoke indicated a bad ending. Cinema is portrayed not as a cause for her descent into insanity but rather as a risky refuge from an unbearable reality caused by war. Nerves encapsulates like no other film the anguish of the turbulent months that saw the end of military action and a subsequent civil war.
The film was shot in Munich in the summer of , in the aftermath of a proletarian revolution that failed to overthrow the old social order. Caligari opened. The Berlin premiere of Nerves on January 22, , predated Caligari by less than five weeks. Film editing makes the juxtaposition of home front and battlefront possible. The camera cuts between mother and son, even suggesting an uncanny telepathic relationship between them. The first shot captures a middle-aged woman suddenly leaning forward as if something has caught her attention.
The film then cuts to a highly stylized battlefield with bodies strewn around a dead tree stump, smoke rising in the background, a single large wheel from some vehicle looming disconnected in the background. A grenade must have just hit and killed several men. A young soldier, his head bandaged, is carried off, followed by a cut back to the mother peering offscreen. Cut back to the son who with wildly exaggerated bodily convulsions expires. You feel it a thousand miles from him at the same minute.
What is this? Preceded by his shadow, a dark-clad man enters the frame, furtively looking at something offscreen.
The man seems startled. He lunges at her and strangles her. To keep the murder abstract, we do not know the identity of the murderer or of the woman, nor can we imagine a motivation for the murder. End of the prologue. None of these characters will play a major role in the main story, thus making these opening scenes extremely enigmatic.