Interview with HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD Director

In the new documentary HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD the idea of media manipulation is brought to a head as we explore Joseph Goebbels’ career as the head of producing and distributing Nazi propaganda films during World War II.

The documentary, coming to the AFS Cinema on July 15th, offers an objective view on the films’ strategic focus on escapism by keeping the population occupied by “lighthearted entertainment” so that they were distracted from the real horrors occurring outside the cinema.

Writer and director Rüdiger Suchsland discusses the complexity of both appreciating these films for their artistry and understanding their use for manipulation below.

How did you first come up with the idea of Hitler’s Hollywood?

When I was a child in the 1970s and early 1980s, I often visited my grandmother during school holidays. My grandmother was a great fan of old cinema classics and together, we watched all sorts of films.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that most of these films were made during the Nazi era and, in one form or another – sometimes aggressively, sometimes subtly – were conveying the Nazi ideology. I think the memory of these afternoons spent with my grandmother watching TV set the initial spark. How was it possible that one could love these films and loathe the political ideas they stood for?

How did you prepare for it?

I viewed a lot of films and tried not to be restricted by predetermined questions and presumptions.

I have always been irritated by the judgement of some friends and colleagues, who argue that these films, for instance the ones directed by Leni Riefenstahl, were “simply bad films.” I don’t think this is true. They’re politically abject, but artistically, they are good, and in some ways very good – and this is the problem. If they were all bad, we would not have to deal with them any more.

Your last documentary film FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER explored the cinema of the Weimar Republic from 1918 to 1933. Hitler’s Hollywood addresses German cinema in the era of propaganda, 1933 to 1945. What fascinates you about the cinema of this time?

What particularly fascinates me in National Socialist cinema? The iridescence, the ambivalence of most Nazi films. Many of these films seduce their public into immorality or at least into holding double standards. It was a cinema that was openly insincere, and which integrated lies and imposture.

In your opinion, which film featured in HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD was the most fascinating or dangerous, and why?

In terms of technique, WUNSCHKONZERT by Eduard von Borsody, is very interesting because he is openly, almost shamelessly, propagandistic, but he still wants to be nice and cute and tries to cozy up to the viewer in a populist way. There are many dangerous films, but I think the most dangerous ones are the ones that are precisely not openly propagandistic.

Do you think films are influencing us today?

Of course. Cinema can and should irritate, enlighten, and teach us something. But it can also lie to us and seduce us. And anyway, it is not easy to separate the two; they bleed into each other and intermix. This is precisely the machinery of illusion.

What can the audience expect?

A rollercoaster ride of emotions, of taste and a journey into the unknown. I think this trip should be surprising but also fun for the audience. There are no prerequisites, not even to a particular openness. The film takes care of that.

Watch the trailer for HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD here:

HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD opens at the AFS Cinema July 15th. Click here for tickets and more info.

  • This piece contributed by Claire Hardwick

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