Eisenstein’s short article addresses the issue of subject matter in the movie Alexander Nevsky. As the title suggests, Eisenstein vehemently argues that throughout the entire production of the movie, the slogan “patriotism” was “constantly before me and before our entire group, during the shots, during the sound recordings and during the cutting” (398). He also asserts that Communism, or the Communist Party is the guardian of national identity, national independence and true patriotism throughout the world. He links the Teutonic and Livonian knights that invaded Russia in the 13th century to contemporary fascists in the Germany and draws metaphors between the specific historic epoch depicted in Alexander Nevsky and the perils of Hitler’s rising aggression in the late 1930s, only to triumphantly affirm that Communism will prevail against all enemies, since the struggle for the ideal of fairness, freedom and national rights derives its moral from the Soviet Union.
Evaluation & Analysis:
From an artistic perspective, this article is totally irrelevant because it doesn’t elaborate on any cinematic theories nor does it scrutinize film’s form or content, and even if it does interpret its content in some fashion, it is obvious from the beginning that we are dealing with the communist propaganda of Socialist Realism, which automatically renders any artistic reading of this article invalid. Nor does the document offer any details on the collaboration activities between Eisenstein and Prokofiev. However, this article is a showcase of the Communist Party’s absolute control over the realm of art and from a historical perspective, it is serves as a practical demonstration how the Party extolled the doctrine of Socialist Realism as the prescribed art form for Soviet writers, artists and film-makers, starting in the early 1930s. Despite the fact that Eisenstein used his first sound film to illustrate his theories on the use of sound and the cooperation with Prokofiev led to production of a magnificent score, by publishing a political propaganda article of this kind, Eisenstein himself undermines the aesthetic value of his own film. Since the Socialist Realism was the only accepted form of art in the Soviet Union, this article also rises an important question – does Prokofiev’s and (especially) Eisenstein’s political subservience to Stalin deny these artists their positions as one of the great artists of the 20th century? And how does the doctrinaire nature of Alexander Nevsky affect the artistic values of the film and its musical score?
Citation: Assorted Nazi political films, 1932-1943 [videorecording]. Videocassette. International Historic Films, 1985.
This film recording provides an opportunity to further understand the effect of the Nazi regime on Germany and its people. The video begins by showing audiences the speech that Hitler gives to the people of Germany after winning the election in 1932. Hitler speaks of the way in which the country needs to unite and rid itself of the 30 plus political parties that now exists in the country and instead join as one front. He goes on to makes statements about the leaders who have been in charge for the past thirteen years, holding them accountable for any financial, cultural, or societal dilemmas that had arisen to weaken Germany. Finally, he challenges the people to rise up with him in the hopes of creating a stronger, more powerful Germany. He explains that the strength of the nation starts with the people and that no progress can be made without their support. The next recording is a speech of Hitler’s in Vienna in 1938 on the Anniversary of Munich Putsch. The crowds roar and soldiers raise their arms towards their leader as Hitler speaks once again of a country united in a fight for power and strength. Finally, the video displays a speech given by Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, in 1943. Within his speech, he challenges the German people to remain loyal to their motherland. He explains that this is the time in which people must be willing to make heavy sacrifice for the greater good of their others and their country. He ensures society not to lose hope and reminds them of the potential German had to exude dominance and power in the world.
After watching this film, I could not help but relate it back to the idea of Nazi propaganda and reflect on the way in which Nazi power had such a great influence over German society. In every clip of this recording, there is an abundance of German citizens cheering and saluting, each in favor of the Nazis quest for power. Even in 1943, when the tides of the war were beginning to turn, Nazis still were able to influence the people and instill in them a sense of duty and loyalty to the Nazi hierarchy and Germany in general. These video recording demonstrate that, during the Nazi regime, Nazi leaders held the power to persuade the German people and evoke emotion within them. This insight into the societal structure in German society proves to explain how film production could affect the sentiments of society. The German people was so heavily shaped by the Nazi regime that it is not hard to believe that Nazi films, such as Wunschkonzert, were indeed capable of evoking in audiences a particular emotion and leaving a last impact on their outlook on cultural, war, and many other aspects of German life.
Tifft, Stephen. "Drôle De Guerre: Renoir, Farce, and the Fall of France." Representations.38 (1992): 131-65.
In his article, Stephen Tifft argues the direct relationship between the political events of Europe in the 1930s and the events and themes present in Renoir's Rules of the Game. He remarks on Renoir's use of farce to provide a harsh criticism of upper-class French society and the risks that accompany this choice. Tifft lists the dangers that accompany Renoir's choice of employing comedy in his political arguments; one such danger helps explain the negative reception of the film among the French community as Renoir's audience took immediate offense to his harsh critiques. By imbedding his political beliefs in comedy, Renoir could have given the wrong impression to the public: that he was fed up with French culture and wished merely to insult the offenders. At such a fragile time in French society, such a blatant stab at culture proved disastrous and Tifft goes into great detail about the horrendous initial reception of Renoir's film. Tifft also makes the argument that Renoir's film is concerned, directly, with the conflict in Munich at the time of the script's writing. Tifft lists several examples for this rationale including the relation between the 'Four-Power Pact' of real-life Europe and the conflicts existing between the film's characters. He also analyzes the famous hunt scene, primarily for its critique of reckless aristocratic behavior that leaves helpless members of society at the mercy of the powerful. Tifft also praises Renoir's combination of history and farce in a manner that would both draw from and influence the society it is a part of.
In this article, Tifft gives a very convincing argument to directly correlate the social and political events in 1930s Europe with Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game. Tifft provides alot of evidence, tied to specific scenes in the film, to show that a character's actions were meant to mirror an element of popular culture. With such an abundance of information, readers do not have to wholeheartedly agree with each of Tifft's points, but rather have plenty of evidence to pick and choose for themselves which aspects from Rules of the Game, if any, were directly influenced by real life events. Tifft also analyzes the film as a farce, making it easier to separate important stylistic elements of the film from mere moments of comedy.
The chapter entitled “Fighting Words” discusses Charlie Chaplin’s intentions for his film “The Great Dictator”. The film was Chaplin’s first sound film. Not wanting to alter his classic silent ‘tramp’ character, Charlie found the opportunity in this entry into sound to preserve his beloved character and talk to his audience for the first time. “As Hitler I could harangue the crowds in jargon and talk all I wanted to,” wrote Charlie in his autobiography. “A Hitler story was an opportunity for burlesque and pantomime.” Charlie exposed Hynkel (representing Hitler) in exactly this fashion. For most of the film, Hynkel’s words amount to nothing more than gibberish. When the dictator speaks intelligibly, the audience still senses malevolent babble.
The chapter supports the thesis as it illustrates Chaplin’s intentions to mock Hitler his film. It also demonstrates the striking contrast between the dictator and the barber. The dictator appears foolish as a result of Chaplin’s work while the barber remains relatively silent and pure (until the end). After developing these distinct characters for two hours, Charlie utilizes his first sound film to let out his own voice in the final speech, bashing hate and calling the soldiers to unite in the name of democracy and peace.
Mast, Gerald. The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973.
In the Chapter “Chaplin: Sound Films”, Gerald Mast analyses a few of the comedic moments in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and how this comedy effectively criticizes the Nazi regime. Mast compares Hynkel’s globe scene (see tag on World War II and the American Film) to the scene immediately following of the barber shaving a customer. Mast discusses the ridiculous slapstick nature of the globe scene and the fast yet precise nature of the shaving scene and illustrates the contrast between the dictators fixation on world domination to the barbers human work. Mast also refers to Hynkel’s ludicrous speeches in which the dictator flails his arms about wildly and barks so vehemently the microphone cracks and seems to melt in his hands. During these speeches, Hynkel pauses intermittently to pour water down his blazing throat and down his pants.
This chapter directly supports the thesis as it demonstrates how Chaplin utilizes slapstick comedy to attack the Nazi regime. The succession of the globe scene to the shaving scene demonstrates how the barber succeeds where the dictator fails. Additionally, the contrast is made more stiking as the barber succeeds in the shave using a sharp blade, while the dictator's dellusion of grandeur comes to a crashing halt as the globe of the world explodes in his face. Mast also conjectures the Hynkel’s “wet” speech scene reveals how Hynkel’s private parts are burning as much as his throat suggesting that the Nazi propaganda has more to do with sexual energy and gibberish than with meaningful ideas.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 A8574 2006
This chapter directly supports the thesis as it demonstrates how Chaplin effectively uses humor to criticize the Nazi regime. The reshaped statues are an exceptional example of Chaplin’s skill in demonstrating the pollution of the Third Reich on all aspects of German life. Chaplin masterfully deforms the Nazi swastika into a double cross. This use of a switched object indicates Hitler’s betrayal of Germany.
Gilman, Sander. "Is Life Beautiful? Can the Shoah Be Funny? Some Thoughts on Recent and Older Films". Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26 No. 2. (Winter, 2000): 279-30.
There has been a good deal of debate regarding how filmmakers and other artists should represent the Shoah (Holocaust). In this article, Sander Gilman discusses how the Shoah has been represented in the arts, focusing on comedy and film. Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” uses comedy to attack the Third Reich and to represent the beginnings of the Shoah. Gilman asks whether the terror during of the Shoah and the Nazi regime can be understood through such comedy. “The Great Dictator” was one of the first comic films to deal with the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews. While the film touches on the initial stages of the Shoah, it was made before the real horror and genocide began; the satire’s main target is the Nazi Regime. Gilman asserts that laughter is appropriate in films like “The Great Dictator” that deal with the Nazi regime as the enemy, leaving out the horrors of the Holocaust. In effect, this targeted treatment of the regime assures the viewer that they are stronger than the Nazis.
This article agrees with the thesis as it argues that the use of comedy in “The Great Dictator” effectively undermines the Nazi regime. More than that, Gilman addresses one of the principal criticisms of the film, namely the incompatibility of laughter and the events of the Holocaust. Critics often claim that the use of comedy in the film lessens the horrors that took place. Viewing “The Great Dictator” today may give us this impression. However, as Gilman discusses, Chaplin was ignorant of the extent of Nazi terror simply because the film was produced pre-Shoah. Indeed, post World War II, Chaplin asserted that “had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator; I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis.” In the historical context of the film’s production, the film accurately and effectively utilizes laughter to challenge the Third Reich.
Silver’s article agrees with the thesis as it demonstrates how Chaplin effectively utilizes his classic comedy to seize the attention of his audience. Critics often attack Chaplin for the speech scene. Lewis Jacobs (see tag for World War II and the American Film) shows how these commentator believe that the scene spoils the continuity of the film. Silver discredits this notion of chaotic filmmaking and demonstrates how Chaplin precisely utilizes such pauses to communicate his antifascist message.
Mann’s article counters the thesis as it criticizes the effectiveness of Chaplin’s comedy to communicate its ultimate anti-Nazi message. The characterization of the film as unstructured and lacking continuity is his main blow to the “The Great Dictator”. As previously argued in this project, these abrupt shifts from comedy to seriousness do not lessen but rather significantly enhance the value of the film. By providing his audience with engaging comedic amusement, Chaplin is able to capitalize on a wholly attentive audience by quickly infusing his anti-fascist message. Further, Mann’s criticism of Chaplin’s failure to exhibit the extent of Hitler’s evil is correct when the film is viewed from a postwar point of view. However, it is important to note that during the film’s production in the 1930’s, the most appalling crimes have yet to take place, accounting for Chaplin’s perhaps too lenient depiction of the dictator.
Bates, Robin. "Audiences on the Verge of a Fascist Breakdown: Male Anxieties and Late 1930s French Film." Cinema Journal 36.3 (1997): 25-55.
This article by Bates brings into question the general trends of French film in the late 1930s. By offering a comparison of 3 films—Marcel Carné’s Quai des brumes (1938), Maurice Tourneur’s Katia (1938) and Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (1939)—Bates delves into the role that film played for “viewers on the verge of cataclysmic change,” i.e. those at the brink of World War II (25). She uses various sources, such as reviews, letters, and even censorship rulings, in order to prove that film audiences respond more favorably to works that ease their concerns and angrily to those that exacerbate and confront these anxieties. Bates also analyzes the “crisis of masculinity,” a term coined by Ginette Vincendeau. She argues that in the atmosphere of pre-World War II Europe, as deeply powerful males like Hitler, Franco and Mussolini grew in influence, the French people began to grow disheartened and lose confidence in their male leaders. Thus, these three films reflect this idea of weak masculine characters.
Bates’ argument is relevant to my thesis because it proposes a different infusion of politics into the film. Bates mentions Theweleit’s description of archetypes, categorizing the character of Christine into the type of “pure white countess” (27). One could even argue that these archetypes are taken to the fullest extent in the film to be used for a scathing critique of the haute bourgeoisie. Her argument that the portrayal of males and male-female relations in film drastically changed in the late 1930s as a result of the pre-War political situation supports my argument. Bates’ article also provides in-depth analyses of the three films and includes key reactions to the films at the time of their premieres, again showing the effects of the films on not just French, but also European society.
Silver, Charles. "Jean Renoir and Josef Von Sternberg: A Centennial Duo." MoMA.18 (1994): 24-7.
Silver compares and contrasts Jean Renoir and Josef Von Sternberg. As contemporaries in the film industry, the two filmmakers carry numerous similarities, and even some coincidences link the two. Both immigrated to the United States, residing in California, especially in response to Hitler’s growing power in Europe, and both also maintained similar close relationships with their actors. Silver even compares Renoir to Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, as they both chose actors they already knew as people; Renoir would cast his brother Pierre, or close friends like Jean Gabin. Even in terms of cinematic themes, Renoir and Sternberg both focused on the power and pervasiveness of water throughout their filmmaking careers. Yet, the two filmmakers also had a number of differences. Whereas Renoir maintained a more impromptu, almost sloppy style, Sternberg had a reputedly more perfectionist directing style, clearly dictating his cinematic vision to his actors.
Though Silver’s piece is more of a broad discussion of two filmmakers during the World War II era, he does mention artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s influence on his son Jean. Silver also discusses Jean Renoir’s “reverence for the past, both civilization’s and his own,” which incorporates not only the politics of the time, but also the literary and artistic movements, and technological advancements (i.e. sound film) that accompanied (26). Silver does not focus deeply on exactly what political events directly affected the making of La Règle du jeu, but does offer key insight to greater cultural influences on the filmmaker, which loosely supports the concept that the era’s politics and culture molded the film.
Tifft, Stephen. "Drôle De Guerre: Renoir, Farce, and the Fall of France." Representations.38 (1992): 131-65.
Tifft argues a relatively more direct relationship between events of the 1930s and the creation of Renoir’s La Règle du jeu. According to Tifft, current events did more than just influence Renoir; Renoir incorporated direct concepts and ideas from events of the era into specific scenes. For example, Renoir’s digust with the Munich appeasement agreements led to the Marquis de Chesnaye’s yielding to Jurieu, gladly appeasing him, and permitting him to run away with his wife in La Règle du jeu. This concept parallels the appeasement of Hitler by pressuring Czechoslovakia to yield the Sudetenland. Both situations would lead to disaster. Tifft also focuses his discussion on Renoir’s innovative use of farce in combination with history, especially noted in the hunt scene. Renoir’s film would, in turn, influence its viewers as much as the filmmaker’s observations of society had influenced the creation of it.
Tifft’s argument is, in fact, extremely supportive of my own thesis. By proving that current events played a much larger role than expected in Renoir’s creation of La Règle du jeu, Tifft reinforces my argument ten-fold. He raises unique points as he mentions direct corresponding ideas between history and scenes in the film. Though some of Tifft's concepts and parallels between the film and current events seem a bit farfetched, La Règle du jeu was clearly a means for Renoir to portray his left-wing political views, and offer commentary on his opinion of the state of affairs of the country immediately before it entered World War II.
Renoir, Jean. "La Regle du jeu--1939." My Life and My Films. Trans. Norman Denny. N.p.: Da Capo, 1991. Rpt. in Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game. N.p.: n.p., n.d.
In this excerpt from his book, Renoir describes the process in which he planned the creation of La Règle du jeu. Baroque music, especially the works of Coupenn, Rameau, Lulli and Grétry, served as the platform for Renoir’s focus on the haute bourgeoisie. A focus on Lestringuez’s “amorous intrigues” inspired the filmmaker to focus on the frivolity of love as a thematic motif in the film. Hearkening back to his early childhood, Renoir recounted images of Sologne—the fog, the countryside, and the hunting season—all clearly portrayed in the film. Renoir also describes the influence of Les Caprices de Marianne, which he had originally considered creating a modern remake of; a fragment of its themes would be seen in the tragic climax of La Règle du jeu.
This excerpt of Renoir’s book is particularly interesting and relevant to my thesis because of its description of the filmmaker’s philosophy and his own awareness of what influences him. He describes the role of Nora Grégor, who played Christine de La Chesnaye, and her husband, as the two faced increasing troubles with the rise of Hitler in their homeland of Austria. Renoir described his approach to film by saying, “One starts with the environment to arrive at the self.” Essentially, he takes from what is around him to come upon what he is to create; he wrote the part of Christine for Nora Grégor. This philosophy is the same of Renoir’s father. Jean Renoir claims La Règle du jeu is a war film, though there is not a blatant ounce of war in the film. Instead, the film was a result of the impending World War II. Renoir intended to offer a pleasant film for audiences to forget their worries; however, La Règle du jeu emphasized the dismantling of French society, testament to Renoir’s inability to isolate himself from the politics of the time, and further evidence in support of my argument.
Jacobs, Lewis. “World War II and the American Film.” Cinema Journal 7 (Winter, 1967-1968): 1-21.
This essay agrees with the thesis as it demonstrates how Chaplin’s depiction of the dictator Hynkel demonstrates Hitler’s madness and vulnerability. The globe scene is perhaps the most memorable of such scenes ridiculing Hitler. The scene begins with Hynkel hanging in the air from window curtains like a paranoid squirrel in a tree. He then clears the room and a love scene ensues between the dictator and a globe of the world. Hynkel caresses the globe, laughing wildly, and roaring unintelligibly about ruling the world. The lunacy continues as Hynkel slow dances with the globe in hand delicately tossing it in the air. As the scene comes to a close, the air filled globe explodes in Hynkel’s face and the dictator breaks out into tears. This scene demonstrates Chaplin’s effective use of visual comedy to mock the Nazi leader and to exhibit his inevitable demise.
Krämer, Peter. “ The (Un)Timeliness of Satire: The Reception of the The Great Dictator in West Germany”. The British Film Institute online. 2006. <http://chaplin.bfi.org.uk/programme/conference/pdf/peter-kramer.pdf>
This article discusses the rerelease of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” to German audiences in 1958. Krämer talks about German attitudes in 1950’s postwar Germany. The widespread rerelease of the film across Germany was unpopular, selling poorly at the box office: “The Great Dictator was left far behind by many American films and much of the German competition.” Krämer illustrates why German audiences did not welcome Chaplin’s antifascist film. While anti-Semitism and fascism saw a gradual decline after the war, they were still widespread. In a poll asking about Hitler’s statesmanship, 41% of people responded positively in 1959. A 1958 poll revealed that 22% of respondents did not welcome Jews living in Germany. Krämer also suggests that the Nazi regime just a decade earlier was still too much of a horrific reality for cinema satire. One reviewer commented that Chaplin’s satirical comedy demonstrated how “apparently the Nazi terror has already been forgotten”.
Throughout the film, Chaplin switches between slapstick comedy and serious drama. Krämer’s article is relevant to the thesis as it sheds light on the question of whether satire was an appropriate medium for a grim topic like Nazi Germany. The lousy box office result in 1950’s Germany is an indication that “The Great Dictator” that the satire was inappropriate and ineffective in communicating its message. From a contemporary viewpoint, I would argue that this is correct. Knowing the extent of Hitler’s Holocaust today, Chaplin’s comedic medium appears to trivialize one of the most horrendous offenses against mankind. However, it is important to understand Chaplin’s general ignorance of the stark situation in Germany during the production of “The Great Dictator” in the 1930’s. I would argue that the satire was effective and appropriate upon its original release as previously demonstrated; however, its ignorance of the true extent of Nazi Germany would make this a highly controversial film if it were (originally) released today.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.P6 G53 1998
In the Chapter entitled "The Movies and World War II", Gianos discusses the strong isolationist sentiments in the United States during the late 1930’s. With the Great Depression and the horrific images World War I still in clear hindsight, the United States was not ready to enter a new war, especially one that was thousands of miles away. College students and American families vehemently formed committees to stay out of the latest world conflict. The film industry adopted similar antiwar sentiments. In particular, Hollywood feared that films depicting the conflicts abroad might offend German and Italian audiences. Joseph Breen, head of the production code, helped to dispel filmmakers’ interest in the European tensions. Charlie Chaplin was among the first to criticize the Nazis on film in The Great Dictator, in which Chaplin fervently attacks the fascist regime.
This chapter is relevant to the thesis as it depicts how the isolationist feelings affected the film industry in the prewar United States. The article illustrates Chaplin’s bold treatment of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany (through the veils of Adenoid Hynkel and Tomania). The final scene of the film in which the barber makes a speech to “fight for liberty” clearly demonstrates Chaplin’s call to end the United States isolationism to fight Hitler’s fascist regime. For the time, Chaplin is unconventionally courageous.