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Film in the Third Reich: The Power of Images and Illusions

Adolf Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, were keenly aware of cinema’s ability to mobilize emotions and to immobilize minds. The Nazi leadership also knew well that profound and lasting political effects could not derive from political expressions alone. As the films in this series bear out, standardized mass culture would become the Nazis’ secret formula for successful mass manipulation. Mass culture also served as a crucial precondition for mass murder. The Third Reich’s production of death and devastation would not have been possible without Nazi dream machinery.

February 2 (Wednesday) 7 pm

The Architecture of Doom

Directed by Peter Cohen
US 1995, 35mm, b/w and color, 119 min.

This award-winning documentary explores the inner workings of the Third Reich and illuminates the Nazi aesthetics in the visual arts, architecture, and popular culture. Peter Cohen argues that the difficulty in defining Nazism in traditional political terms was due to an overlooked but tremendously powerful motivation beyond the scope of politics––the force of an extreme aesthetics of beauty. Building on this Nazi cult of the beautiful, The Architecture of Doom explores the eccentric cultural ambitions of Hitler’s Third Reich.

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February 7 (Monday) 9 pm

The Blue Light (Das Blaue Licht)

Directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1932, 35mm, b/w, 80 min.
With Leni Riefenstahl, Guiseppe Becce, Mathias Wieman
German with simultaneous translation

After appearing in several films of the "mountain" genre produced during the Weimar era by then popular director Arnold Fanck, Riefenstahl directed her first feature in a similar romantic and pictorialist manner. Shot on location in the Alps, the film emphasizes a Germanic mystical union with nature, a vision which so impressed Hitler that he offered Riefenstahl the opportunity to make films for the Nazi party.

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February 8 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens)

Directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1936, 35mm, b/w, 120 min.
German with English subtitles

Approved by Hitler as the official film record of the sixth Nazi-party Congress held in 1934 at Nuremberg, this infamous film provides a case study of cinema as a means of propaganda that, nonetheless, preserves its integrity as an art form. Defending her role in making this film, the director stated that she "faithfully photographed what existed in reality." Yet Riefenstahl’s camera uncovered the psychological truth of an autocratic society.

February 14 (Monday) 9 pm

Olympia Part 1

Directed By Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1938, 35mm, b/w, 118 min.

Commissioned by Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics remains nearly as controversial as her earlier Triumph of the Will. Some characterize the film as a tainted paean to Nazism and to Aryan perfection, citing proof in the form of the beaming Fuhrer’s many on-camera appearances. Others see Riefenstahl as subverting Hitler’s racist credo by means of her splendid footage of America’s black runner, Jesse Owens, and defend her obsessive aesthetic commitment to beauty as having no relation to Nazi views on race, creed, and religion. Despite these opposing opinions, there’s no argument that the most mesmerizing footage ever made of athletes in action abounds in Olympia.

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February 15 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Olympia Part 2

Directed By Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1938, 35mm, b/w, 107 min.

Part 2 of Olympia continues the focus on the international competition at the summer Olympic games of 1936, held in Berlin. It contains the celebrated diving sequence, in which Riefenstahl’s editing and slow-motion cinematography transform the men’s competition into an ode to flight.

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February 22 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (Die Macht der Bilder)

Directed by Ray Müller
Germany/US 1993, 35mm, b/w and color, 181 min.
With Leni Riefenstahl, her collaborators and friends
German and English with English subtitles

This award-winning documentary is a biographical account of the woman best known as Hitler’s official filmmaker and more recently as the controversial photographer of the Nuba tribe of East Africa. Confronted with Ray Müller’s questions about her career, Riefenstahl delivers an emotional defense of her relationship with Hitler and other Nazi leaders, splitting hairs over minute details. Analyzing many sequences from her films in a manner that is both passionate and sophisticated, she attempts to vindicate her infamous past.

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February 28 (Monday) 9:30 pm

Kuhle Wampe

Directed by Slatan Dudow
Germany 1932, 16mm, b/w, 90 min.
With Hertha Thiele, Ernst Busch, Adolf Fischer
German with English subtitles

Directed by a Bulgarian who had studied Eisenstein’s editing and typage, based on an original screenplay co-written by Bertolt Brecht, and scored with music by Hanns Eisler, Kuhle Wampe (shown in America as Whither Germany?) was the first—and last—German film of the period to express an openly Communist viewpoint.

Thousands of anti-Hitler leftist youth volunteered as extras for the crowd scenes. The story is of an unemployed Berlin family that, instead of turning to fascism, finds solace by uniting with other out-of-work citizens in a tent city on the outskirts of town and finds hope, in the last reel, by joining a sports festival sponsored by radical unions. Naturally, the film was banned instantly by the government for insulting the Reich and religion and for scenes of nudity. That Kuhle Wampe has become only a footnote to film history is unfortunate, for nowhere in the cinema has Brecht’s aesthetic and political theory been so well dramatized and illuminated.

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February 29 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Hitler Youth Quex (Hitlerjunge Quex)

Directed by Hans Steinhoff
Germany 1933, 16mm, b/w, 101 min.
With Jürgen Ohlsen, Heinrich George

When Joseph Goebbels became Hitler’s minister of propaganda, he initiated a program of Nazi films, beginning with this adaptation of a novel based on the real-life murder in 1932 of a twelve-year-old Hitler schoolboy by Communists in Berlin—an event already exploited by Goebbels. In the film, young Heini rejects the rowdiness of the Communist Youth for the discipline of the Hitler Youth, and is soon nicknamed Quex—quicksilver—for his tireless enthusiasm.

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