The Second World War was fought both over and inside every cinema in Europe. In 1941 Joseph Goebbels declared that one of his key goals was 'to establish German film as the dominant cultural world power'. He came very close to succeeding. Within a few weeks of the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, his newly created propaganda ministry set to work. During his first year in office, he founded the Reich Film Chamber, which systematically barred Jews and left-wingers from Germany's film industry, pushing thousands into exile; in 1938, in a decree announced the day after Kristallnacht, Jewish viewers were banned from Germany's cinemas. In the intervening years the Nazis had banned leftist Weimar-era films; stopped the publication of unfavourable movie reviews; reorganised the film rating system to reward 'patriotic' films; orchestrated local boycotts and protests to force Jewish cinema-owners to sell up; secretly bought these cinemas and eventually amalgamated them with Germany's film studios to create a government-controlled monopoly; boosted cinema attendance; discounted tickets for uniformed soldiers and veterans, creating a visible military presence at many screenings; attracted German children, by the hundreds of thousands, to nationwide Hitler Youth Film Hours (frequently showcasing militarist films, and often scheduled to pre-empt church attendance); encouraged the display of Nazi memorabilia and busts of Hitler in cinema lobbies; and mandated the adoption of a new programme format that gave more prominence to the newsreel, even when (as was often the case) the feature that followed it was ostensibly apolitical 'entertainment'.
LRB 12 March 2009 | PDF Download