1933: Transforming Weimar Cinema into Nazi Cinema

Saturday 30 March, 2013
5pm, $0

New York University, Deutsches Haus
42 Washington Mews

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On March 13, 1933, Joseph Goebbels was appointed head of the so-called Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which had been specifically created for him. His subsequent speeches revealed the path German culture would soon be taking. At the Hotel Kaiserhof on March 28, 1933, with the leading representatives of the German film industry present, Goebbels offered a combination of threats and seduction: In no uncertain terms, he demanded that all  Jewish artists and filmmakers be excluded from the industry, while at the same time hinting that future film production would enjoy some freedom: "We don’t wish to suppress the creation of minor amusements, of the daily dosage against boredom and misery ... One shouldn’t be engaged with ideology from morning to night. After all, we are very artistically and lightly inclined ourselves. Art is free and should remain free. However, it should get used to adapting to certain norms … From the point where censorship started, up to the film that will emerge as an example from the entire artistic creation, there is such large leeway that any artistic creativity can shape itself freely. Below that point, no deviation will be pardoned, because that is where dangerous experiments begin, all too often the excesses of sick minds."

Within a few months, rules that would change German film production in fundamental ways were rapidly implemented. The new conditions for film production during National Socialism—as opposed to the conditions during the Weimar Republic—created a completely changed situation, which can be summarized as follows: Homogenization, concentration, and control reigned and replaced the diversity that had provided Weimar cinema with its international reputation.

However, this wasn’t about a total reshaping of German cinema. It was rather a gradual transformation of one popular film industry into another one, with the newly created one even turning out to be extremely successful and popular throughout the era of National Socialism. 

1933 was the first year of this transformation: a year in which movies still produced under the former conditions were shown in theaters, in which films succeeded whose producers had already gone into exile, and in which the first films in compliance with the new conditions were created—films that were, in fact, possible only under these conditions.

This panel discussion, 1933: Transforming Weimar Cinema into Nazi Cinema, will explore this transformative year, during which the National Socialist cinema started emerging, and during which what would be excluded from it in the future was still alive.

Noah Isenberg (moderator):
Noah Isenberg is Director of Screen Studies and Associate Professor of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College-The New School for Liberal Arts, where he teaches film, literature, and intellectual history; he holds a joint appointment in the Committee on Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research. The author, most recently, of Detour(British Film Institute, 2008) and the editor of Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era(Columbia, 2009), named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title, his critical biography, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, is due out in early 2014 from the University of California Press. In support of his work, he has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Commission, the International Research Center for Cultural Studies in Vienna, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, among others. His writing has appeared in such diverse venues as the Los Angeles Review of BooksFilm Quarterly, Bookforum, Vertigo,The Criterion CollectionFilm CommentCinema JournalNew German CritiqueRaritanPartisan Review, Salmagundi,Threepenny Review, Lingua FrancaThe Nation, the TLS, the Wall Street Journal, New Republic and the New York Times. He is the book review editor of Film Quarterly.

Eric Rentschler:

Eric Rentschler is the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the Chair of the Film and Visual Studies Program at Harvard University. His publications concentrate on film history, theory, and criticism, with particular emphasis on German cinema during the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the postwar and postwall eras.

Rainer Rother:
Rainer Rother studied German literature and history and completed his doctorate in 1988. From 1989 to 1991 he was a lecturer at the University of Hanover. From 1991–2006, he was director of the cinematheque of the German Historical Museum in Berlin where he was also exhibition curator (including the exhibitions The German Empire of Images. Ufa 1917–1945The Final Days of Humanity. Images of the First World War; Paths of the Germans 1949 until 1999. Unity and Law and FreedomEvent and Memory. The World War 1914–1918). In 2006, Rother was appointed artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum for Film and Television. He is a member of the selection committee of the competition of the Berlin International Film Festival and head of the festival’s Retrospective. He has primarily written on film history, and has published many articles in books, magazines and newspapers such as FAZSueddeutsche Zeitung, and Die Welt. His books include: Die Gegenwart der Geschichte. Ein Versuch über Film und zeitgenössische Literatur [The Presence of History. An Attempt about  Film and Contemporary Literature] (1990), Leni Riefenstahl: The Seduction of Genius (2003), Nina Hoss— Ich muss mir jeden Satz glauben: Ein Porträt [Nina Hoss—I Have to Believe in Every Sentence I Say: A Portrait] (2009). 
His works as publisher include: Bilder schreiben Geschichte: Der Historiker im Kino [Images Tell History. The Historian in the Cinema] (1991), Sachlexikon Film [Film Dictionary] (1997), Mythen der Nationen, Völker im Film [Myths of Nations, Peoples in Film] (1998), as well as various exhibition catalogues.

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