Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife / Edition 1

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Overview

German cinema of the Third Reich, even a half-century after Hitler's demise, still provokes extreme reactions. "Never before and in no other country," observes director Wim Wenders, "have images and language been abused so unscrupulously as here, never before and nowhere else have they been debased so deeply as vehicles to transmit lies." More than a thousand German feature films that premiered during the reign of National Socialism survive as mementoes of what many regard as film history's darkest hour.

As Eric Rentschler argues, however, cinema in the Third Reich emanated from a Ministry of Illusion and not from a Ministry of Fear. Party vehicles such as Hitler Youth Quex and anti-Semitic hate films such as Jew Süss may warrant the epithet "Nazi propaganda," but they amount to a mere fraction of the productions from this era. The vast majority of the epoch's films seemed to be "unpolitical"--melodramas, biopix, and frothy entertainments set in cozy urbane surroundings, places where one rarely sees a swastika or hears a "Sieg Heil."

Minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, Rentschler shows, endeavored to maximize film's seductive potential, to cloak party priorities in alluring cinematic shapes. Hitler and Goebbels were master showmen enamored of their media images, the Third Reich was a grand production, the Second World War a continuing movie of the week. The Nazis were movie mad, and the Third Reich was movie made. Rentschler's analysis of the sophisticated media culture of this period demonstrates in an unprecedented way the potent and destructive powers of fascination and fantasy. Nazi feature films--both as entities that unreeled in moviehouses during the regime and as productions that continue to enjoy wide attention today--show that entertainment is often much more than innocent pleasure.

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Editorial Reviews

Sight and Sound
This massively documented study of Nazi cinema...notably succeeds in analysing how Nazi films created a dreamworld that seemed neither realistic nor fantastic, but agreeable and persuasive--indeed closer to Hollywood than to Stalinist cinema. Above all, [Rentschler] stresses how films belong to a German cultural continuum, reaching into the present. Fifty years after Siegfried Kracauer's landmark book From Caligari to Hitler, this is the study that's long been needed of the movies' most disturbing triumph.
Times Higher Education Supplement

[A] quite exceptional new book...[Nazi cinema] is an issue which is, in fact, far more urgent, and more topical, than it may at first appear. The cinema of Hitler, far from perishing with the passing of the Third Reich, continues to thrive...One is grateful to Rentschler both for producing such a well-researched, thorough and thoughtful book, and for doing to with such constructive energy, fine style and subtle wit. Any serious student either of film or of the Third Reich will learn a great deal from this splendid new account.
— Graham McCann

Boston Phoenix

[This is] an invaluable book of film history...Rentschler has actually watched the several hundred films made in Germany under the Third Reich, and he's the first to be able to talk authoritatively about their content and ideology.
— Gerald Peary

German Quarterly

The scope of Rentschler's argument and the thoroughness of his research—not to mention the elegance of his prose—will significantly change how we look at the cinema of the Third Reich...[This is] a passionate, nuanced, and highly readable book that contributes significantly to existing studies on Nazi cinema while remaining accessible to a general public interested in German history, cinema, and the study of mass media in general.
— Gerd Gemünden

Forward

The regime of Adolf Hitler was the world's 'first full-blown media dictatorship,' writes Eric Rentschler...[An] accomplished and engaging writer...Mr. Rentschler pays great...attention to the historical context of each film 'text.'
— J. Hoberman

Washington Times
The book is well researched and documented. If one wants...to learn more about the sociopolitical realities in Nazi cinema...then this is the work with which to settle down.
Choice
Rentschler's readable, superbly researched, and meticulously documented study does not attempt to engage all of the nearly 1,100 films made during the Third Reich. Rather, the author provides measured, elegantly written assessments of several key films--such as the 'movement film' Hitler Youth Quex, the breezy, American-style Lucky Kids, Sirk's La Habanera,the notorious Jew Süss, and the fantastic, still much beloved Münchhausen--to explore recent claims of their alleged resistance to the Nazi regime and to examine reasons for their enduring popularity, at least in Germany. Rentschler avoids both pitfalls often associated with discussions of these films--reductive ideological critique and evasive 'aesthetic' appreciation. He enhances readers' awareness of the ways Nazi filmmakers used the 'Jewish' Hollywood conventions Goebbels simultaneously feared and admired and their complex relationship with Weimar film culture. An immensely useful chronology of key events, the most extensive general bibliography of the subject ever compiled in English, and helpful filmographies of and bibliographies about the leading Nazi cineastes make this an essential acquisition.
Historical Journal of Film
The Ministry of Illusion provides a long-awaited and meticulously researched examination of films in the Third Reich that will be of tremendous value to both scholars and educators. Eric Rentschler, whose encyclopedic knowledge of German film has earned him a reputation as one of the foremost film historians in the United States, provides both a historical account of Nazi ideology and a number of readings of exemplary Nazi propaganda films, such as Hitler Youth Quex and the notorious Jew Süss...[It is] essential reading for anyone interested in the popular appeal of the Third Reich or the ideological working of film in general.
— Marcia Klotz
Pacific Cinematheque

Eric Rentschler, America's leading scholar of National Socialist cinema, has produced a compact compendium of everything you wanted to know about Nazi filmdom but were afraid to ask...well written and extensively researched; nearly half the manuscript is footnotes that yield fascinating anecdotal information...For those with an itchy curiosity about Third Reich culture, The Ministry of Illusion warrants reading. It provides delightful browsing in bits and pieces—the perfect gift for a cinephile-compulsive literate who has a magazine rack in the loo.
— Stewart Brinton

David Bordwell
Fifty years after Kracauer's monumental From Caligari to Hitler comes the next installment of the story. Rentschler shows how German films were central to an administered popular culture. Goebbels' chilling, still-seductive cinema exemplifies the complex social role played by the mass media at the end of our century. Rentschler-one of America's finest scholars of German cinema-has given us a lucid, passionate book.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Graham McCann
[A] quite exceptional new book...[Nazi cinema] is an issue which is, in fact, far more urgent, and more topical, than it may at first appear. The cinema of Hitler, far from perishing with the passing of the Third Reich, continues to thrive...One is grateful to Rentschler both for producing such a well-researched, thorough and thoughtful book, and for doing to with such constructive energy, fine style and subtle wit. Any serious student either of film or of the Third Reich will learn a great deal from this splendid new account.
Boston Phoenix - Gerald Peary
[This is] an invaluable book of film history...Rentschler has actually watched the several hundred films made in Germany under the Third Reich, and he's the first to be able to talk authoritatively about their content and ideology.
German Quarterly - Gerd Gemünden
The scope of Rentschler's argument and the thoroughness of his research--not to mention the elegance of his prose--will significantly change how we look at the cinema of the Third Reich...[This is] a passionate, nuanced, and highly readable book that contributes significantly to existing studies on Nazi cinema while remaining accessible to a general public interested in German history, cinema, and the study of mass media in general.
Forward - J. Hoberman
The regime of Adolf Hitler was the world's 'first full-blown media dictatorship,' writes Eric Rentschler...[An] accomplished and engaging writer...Mr. Rentschler pays great...attention to the historical context of each film 'text.'
Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television - Marcia Klotz
The Ministry of Illusion provides a long-awaited and meticulously researched examination of films in the Third Reich that will be of tremendous value to both scholars and educators. Eric Rentschler, whose encyclopedic knowledge of German film has earned him a reputation as one of the foremost film historians in the United States, provides both a historical account of Nazi ideology and a number of readings of exemplary Nazi propaganda films, such as Hitler Youth Quex and the notorious Jew Süss...[It is] essential reading for anyone interested in the popular appeal of the Third Reich or the ideological working of film in general.
Pacific Cinematheque - Stewart Brinton
Eric Rentschler, America's leading scholar of National Socialist cinema, has produced a compact compendium of everything you wanted to know about Nazi filmdom but were afraid to ask...well written and extensively researched; nearly half the manuscript is footnotes that yield fascinating anecdotal information...For those with an itchy curiosity about Third Reich culture, The Ministry of Illusion warrants reading. It provides delightful browsing in bits and pieces--the perfect gift for a cinephile-compulsive literate who has a magazine rack in the loo.
Gertrud Koch
Given the fact that even in Europe there still doesn't exist a comprehensive book on this sordid matter, The Ministry of Illusion will serve as a primary source for the historiographers of the Third Reich and its cultural institutions.
Library Journal
Over 1000 films were produced during Germany's 12-year Third Reich. While some were blatant anti-Semitic propaganda, like the notorious epic Jud Suss, a variety of films were made in line with the "orchestra" principle of Goebbels, which stated, "We do not expect everyone to play the same instrument, we only expect that people play according to a plan." Rentschler film, Univ. of Califronia, Irvine examines the Nazi media culture "plan," which created a world of illusion, alternating between "heavy hands and light touches" with the aim of negating "alternative experience and independent thought." His book covers much the same ground as Klaus Kreimeier's The Ufa Story LJ 6/1/96, but this book is more readable, gives greater detail on important films, and contains extensive chronologies, filmographies, and source lists for obtaining these films. This scholarly book will be useful in large film collections.Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., Pa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674576407
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 691,492
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.13 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Rentschler is Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Abbreviations and Special Terms

Introduction: The Power of Illusions

Part I. Fatal Attractions

1. A Legend for Modern Times: The Blue Light (1932)

2. Emotional Engineering: Hitler Youth Quex (1933)

Part II. Foreign Affairs

3. Home Sweet Heimat: The Prodigal Son (1934)

4. Hollywood Made in Germany: Lucky Kids (1936)

5. Astray in the New World: La Habanera (1937)

Part III. Specters and Shadows

6. The Elective Other: Jew Süss (1940)

7. The Führer's Phantom: Paracelsus (1943)

8. Self-Reflexive Self-Destruction: Münchhausen (1943)

Epilogue: The Testament of Dr. Goebbels

Appendix A. Films and Events, 1933-1945

Appendix B. Directorial Filmographies

Appendix C. American Film and Videotape Sources

Notes

Bibliography

Index

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    Considering how many movie buffs there are, I am surprised there

    Considering how many movie buffs there are, I am surprised there are not any ratings here. I just finished a course with the author in which this was used as a text. Well, one of about seven. It was easily the best of the books and while it is scholarly, it also reads smoothly. I would finish a chapter thinking only a few minutes had passed. If you are interested in reading about film in a way deeper then the typical review in the Newspaper, this book could be for you.

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