When Adolf Hitler rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the nation was not entirely on his side, but one method of uniting them and convincing them the Nazis had their best interests at heart - with caveats - was to use the mass medium of film. In the nineteen-twenties, their cinema had in many cases been the envy of the world, second only to Hollywood in the United States and at some points surpassing them, encouraging the talents discovered there to make the trip across the Atlantic for a big paycheque and global success. This left Germany creating their own, homegrown studio Ufa to provide the escapism for their citizens, portraying an idealised excuse for mass murder...
Director Rüdiger Suchsland had already made a documentary about German film, this period devoted to the Weimar days before the Nazis took over, and that had been very well received but not particularly controversial as it was generally accepted by film critics and buffs alike that it was a highly productive and artistically satisfying era. But what about what came next? The period from 1933 to 1945, in essence the Nazi era from its inception to its downfall, where the film industry was run by Josef Goebbels as a propaganda machine was far less examined and therefore shunned as utterly worthless, spewing hatred and fuelling the damned activities of the Third Reich.
What Suchsland provocatively countered was that while the ideologies they were intended to promote were rancid, there was worth in examining these efforts after all since they could tell you a lot about the effectiveness and manipulation in propaganda as produced by a totalitarian state, both in peace and in war. There are some who would tell you to let sleeping dogs lie, and if anyone did wish to seek these films out they were probably not to be encouraged, as if critical thinking went out of the window the second a Nazi film started to play; that was true if you regarded the anti and much as the pro as unexamined acceptance of a generally accepted set of tenets.
If you were pro-Nazi, you may be gathering ideas of what put on your must-watch list, though in most cases these were very difficult to find, and in any case you would not appreciate the director continually pointing out the shortcomings and outright delusions the Nazis were labouring under. If you were anti-Nazi, assuming you did not see the very mention of these works as something to be avoided utterly lest a devastating genie be let out of a very toxic bottle, then you would appreciate what Suchsland was trying here. He may be keen to highlight when the propaganda was well enough presented to offer valuable insight or merely be crafted to a high sheen, but there was always a reminder of what we were watching was infected with a poisonous way of thinking that had caused the deaths of millions.
As Udo Kier, a very different German star to what had gone before in the days shown here, purred his way through the narration, you could often find yourself lost in the imagery somewhat trancelike, yet every so often there would be a jolt as you were brought to the realisation of the implications. Yes, around half of the hundreds of the Nazi Ufa productions were jolly musicals intended to be nothing more than escapism, but there was more to it than that as the comedies would include an appeal to national unity by underlining the presence of outsiders to be terminated from that society, not funny at all. In selected examples, we saw the Nazi version of Titanic (1943) which pinned the blame for the tragedy on the Jews and the British with their obsession with money over human life, then we are told the director was murdered by the authorities before the shoot was complete for not toeing the party line enough. And Jud Suss (1940), possibly the most notorious of these, was placed under the microscope as an incitement to genocide, that looming enormity in the background of each and every clip of an illuminating but troubling documentary.
[Eureka's Blu-ray has a choice of English or German narration, and Suchsland's previous, feature length documentary as an extra.]