The Ufa Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company, 1918-1945

Overview

Universum-Film AG—best known by its signature logo, Ufa—was once the largest film company in Europe. Founded by the German High Command as a propaganda medium during World War I and always central to Germany's nationalistic big-business interests, Ufa was also home to the most innovative talents of the Weimar Republic. Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings, and Ernst Lubitsch were Ufa stars; Metropolis, The Blue Angel, and Dr. Mabuse were only a few of its finest works. From its dazzling theaters to its ...

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Overview

Universum-Film AG—best known by its signature logo, Ufa—was once the largest film company in Europe. Founded by the German High Command as a propaganda medium during World War I and always central to Germany's nationalistic big-business interests, Ufa was also home to the most innovative talents of the Weimar Republic. Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings, and Ernst Lubitsch were Ufa stars; Metropolis, The Blue Angel, and Dr. Mabuse were only a few of its finest works. From its dazzling theaters to its state-of-the-art studios and processing labs, from its comprehensive multimedia publicity campaigns to its avant-garde art films, Ufa challenged Hollywood for cultural dominance and market share in Jazz Age Europe. But the story grows darker after the simultaneous advent of sound films and National Socialism. The story of Ufa under Hitler, when technically suberb films continued to be made, is the story of the corruption and destruction of this vital company by the state that brought it into existence.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Universum-Film AG (Ufa) was founded in 1918 at the direction of the German Army Supreme Command for propagandistic purposes, but it went on to become "Germany's very German response to Hollywood." Freelance journalist Kreimeier, former cultural editor for Der Spiegel, traces the growth of the company from its founding through its demise at the end of the Nazi era, during which time it had become, once again, an instrument of the state. Ufa developed such stars as Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich, who turned out to be "several sizes too large" for the company and moved on to Hollywood. Kreimeier attributes Ufa's success during the interwar years to its "instinct for business and art... and a feel for what the public wants." In his opinion, the film that best represents the company's aesthetic is Fritz Lang's Metropolis. A plus for his account is that he sets it within the context of the larger German culture. While it is packed with detail and interesting historical references, it is too prolix and discursive for general readers. (June)
Library Journal
Under the auspices of the Universum-Film AG (Ufa) film company, German cinema of the Twenties and early Thirties reached a high level of technical excellence and creativity. Hitler and propaganda minister Goebbels later used Ufa to advance their nationalistic and anti-Semitic aims, most notably in the notorious Jud Suss. Although Ufa continued to turn out films, it crumbled along with the Third Reich. The author, a former cultural editor at Der Spiegel, has written a dense, sometimes dry account of the company from its Weimar years to the controversial period of state ownership under the Nazis. Figures appear like directors Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch (who fled Germany for Hollywood) and actor Emil Jannings (who stayed), but they don't come to life on these pages. A much fuller treatment of individual Ufa films is also needed. Since the author's main focus is on political forces at work both within and outside Ufa, the book's appeal is limited to serious students of German history. Not a necessary addition for most film collections.Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., Pa.
Ted Leventhal
"Ufa" is a case study in how corporate and state patronage can create and ruin a cultural institution. The film company, with substantial financial support from the German government, rose to become one of the world's most prominent film studios, launching the careers of film giants Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Emil Jannings, and Marlene Dietrich under the Weimar interwar government. Ufa staved off competition from the U.S., France, and Italy, putting the German film industry on the map. Under the Nazis, Ufa produced Leni Reifenstahl's propaganda masterpieces "Olympia" and "Triumph of the Will". Despite its international reputation, the company ultimately was little more than a propaganda organ for the state, which proved to be its undoing. World War II ruined the studio. It was dismantled after the war, and Germany's film industry has never fully recovered its prewar grandeur. (Kinski's "Uncut", p.1794, reflects a singular view of current German cinema.) Running on for more than 500 pages, Kreimeier often crawls through miles of details. But readers will find this wealth of material well organized, accessible, and enlightening.
Kirkus Reviews
Kreimeier, former cultural editor of the German magazine Der Spiegel, traces the history of the film company that is synonymous with the golden era of German film.

Ufa, the Universum Film-Aktiongesellschaft (Universal Film Corporation), was the heart of German cinema from the early 1920s through the fall of the Third Reich, "Germany's imperial purveyor of magical images." As Kreimeier explains in this exhaustively complete history of the company, Ufa's roots were in the ultranationalist German right wing, and from the very beginning, the corporation's vision was linked to the political agenda of the Wilhelmine old guard. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, the company was the brainchild of General Ludendorff and his underlings, who felt that the film industry had't done enough to propagandize on behalf of German armed forces during the recently concluded world war. With the Deutsche Bank playing a principal role throughout its history, Ufa would continue to be linked to Pan-German ideologues with ties to heavy industry; in 1927, the company was taken over by Alfred Hugenberg, chairman of the Krupp armaments empire and head of one of the ultra-right political parties. And when the Nazis came to power, Ufa, which had already swallowed many of its competitors, was the perfect vehicle for Goebbels's vision of a state-controlled film industry serving the needs of the Nazi Party. In spite of its political roots, Ufa managed to produce many memorable films and a host of great talents, including directors like Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch, stars like Emil Jannings and, perhaps most important of all, producer Erich Pommer. Kreimeier is more concerned with the political and economic machinations of the company and the cultural history that produced it than with the films themselves, but the book that results is a model of unflinching corporate history.

An essential piece of film history and riveting reading. Only star-gazing film buffs will be disappointed.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809094837
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 7/28/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 451
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Klaus Kreimeier was cultural editor for Der Spiegel and has taught at the German Film and Television Academy. A freelance journalist, he lives in Berlin.

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