Background: The following essay was published in the Nazi monthly for propagandists. The author, Fritz Hippler, was an employee in the film section of the Propaganda Ministry. He later was responsible for the film “The Eternal Jew,” the most notorious of the Nazi anti-Semitic films.
The source: “Der Film als Waffe,” Unser Wille und Weg, 7 (1937), pp. 21-23.
Film as a Weapon
If one compares the directness and intensity of the effect that the various means of propaganda have on the great masses, film is without question the most powerful. The written and spoken word depend entirely on the content or on the emotional appeal of the speaker, but film uses pictures, pictures that for almost a decade have been accompanied by sound. We know that the impact of a message is greater if it is less abstract, more visual. That makes it clear why film, with its series of continually moving images, must have particular persuasive force.
Some circles recognized this effectiveness early. It also makes it plain why film’s relatively great costs “pay off”: film stock, equipment, studios, the large technical and artistic staffs, etc., all cost a lot of money, but the result, the finished film, may bring in tens of thousands whose admission fees not only cover the costs, but result in a good profit.
Government offices and educated circles looked upon film’s growth either with indifference or with distrust. Hardly anyone recognized the enormous possibilities. As a result, in the area of the weekly newsreel the German market was taken over by French films (beginning around 1909-1910). At the beginning of the World War, Germany was completely helpless in this area, while its enemies had a dangerous weapon in their smoothly functioning newsreel systems. Metzter, the great German film pioneer, published The Film as a Means of Political Advertising in 1916. He ended with the warning that it was time that “our responsible offices immediately begin thinking about how the masses can be reached with pictures.” However, the World War was ending and world opinion about Germany was as the opinion makers wanted it to be.
This brief account is sufficient to show how important film is in influencing opinion abroad. Whether in a newsreel or a German feature film, it is the mirror in which the broad masses of the world see Germany. It is also, like radio, the way that the poorer classes of the people can be presented with culture inexpensively. It is foolish and short-sighted for bourgeois aesthetes to shake their heads and say that film cannot be art, that it is a danger to the theater. The latter of these two contradictory opinions is refuted by the facts. The first is fundamentally false. It is entirely possible to make films that are great works of art. Doing so is a matter of costs and paybacks. A film of Stephan George’s literary creations is indeed possible, but would surely lose money. The film must be directed to mass sensibilities. It of course has an educational responsibility, and may not avoid all standards in order to meet the public’s tastes.
One may also note that ever since the Classical Era, there has been a certain relationship between theater, literature, and the public, without damage to cultural standards. Arnold Bennett once said that: “an artist who demands that the public submit absolutely and completely to his own demands is either a god or a complete and utter fool.” The same is true of film, which is forced for these as well as economic reasons to appeal to the masses not only through its pictures, but also through its content.
German citizens have been increasingly drawn to film in recent years. We surpassed England, the previous European leader, in film theaters last year. There is no doubt that a systematic increase in the number of film theaters is not only economically important, it is also necessary to increase the impact of film. The prospects for growth are clear if we look to other nations. In 1934, 413 English per 1000 went to the movies each week, 343 per 1000 of Americans, and 160 per 1000 French. In Germany, only 86 of 1000 went to the movies! Leaving aside the cultural and historic differences between Germany and these other nations, it is clear that increasing German film attendance is among the most important tasks of German film policy, and that doing so would increase the effectiveness of film in propaganda and popular enlightenment.
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