3 posts categorized "Propaganda"

September 19, 2011

TRIUMPH OF THE WILL - Classic Film Pick

Triumph_des_Willens The most famous and infamous propaganda film of all time is revealing for its stern depiction of the way Hitler's Germany sought to present itself to its own countrymen and to the outside world. The film chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg as attended by more than 700,000 soldiers and citizens.

The mesmerizing effect of watching hundreds of thousands of neatly lined-up party organization members and German military soldiers marching in unison, is extraordinary by any standard. Filled with astronomically populated scenes of pomp and circumstance, the film plays like a clockwork parade of outlandish scale that seems to last for weeks. Intercut with scenes of political oratory by the likes of Rudolph Hess, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, the film predictably settles on long speeches by Adolph Hitler whose trademark fey salute takes on an unintended comic quality. Knowing that Hitler was democratically elected on an anti-communist platform informs scenes of obsequious adulation poured on him by vast crowds of his obsessive supporters. There’s little wonder why Germany believed it was invincible based on its massive foundation of brain-washed populace.

Hitler's choice of female-director Leni Riefenstahl to mint his place in cinematic history lends an ironic side to a leader obsessed with male national identity. Riefenstahl's bold camera moves in fluid lines and high angles to provide an aerial context to iconic Nazi symbols and perceived methodology. Her long focus lens works in perfect harmony with the planned movements of her carefully choreographed subjects. Riefenstahl's self-assured camera-work is breathtaking, and is the crucial element that elevates the film to its artistic status.

Triumph of the will

To watch “Triumph of the Will” (1935) is to experience a methodical approach to an ideological promotion film of populist political ideas that are kept purposefully vague. The film makes you realize what a walking cliché Hitler was as a politician. He was an unattractive little man with a knack for large scale public theater. Adolf Hitler’s immense power lay in the unconditional support bestowed upon him by a public who fell for his cult of personality like lemmings tumbling to the sea. There isn’t a grain of humor in this straight-faced brand of propaganda that has since been far surpassed by American advertising campaigns that make “Triumph of the Will’ seem amateurish by comparison. Nonetheless, “Triumph of the Will” is a film that frightens many would-be audiences by its mere presence. As with all irrational anxiety, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.

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May 24, 2011


Went the Day Well"Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill.
Freedom, we died for you.

John Maxwell Edmonds's elegant World War I epitaph sets the tone for the film that would allow Brazilian director Alberto Cavalcantis to graduate from making documentaries to features in 1942. Loosely adapted from Graham Greene's short story "The Lieutenant Died Last," the plot centers around a peaceful English village infiltrated by a platoon of Nazi paratroopers disguised as British soldiers. As an effective work of surreptitious World War II propaganda, "Went the Day Well?" is instructive on many levels.


Produced at Britain's Ealing Studios in 1942, this determinedly unsentimental war film was made with a strong sense of social realism in spite of its fictitious elements and stock British characters. None are immune to death. In the complacent village of Bramley End women gossip, a man poaches rabbits, and a wedding approaches. The story takes place over the period of a springtime weekend. Four male members of the town's Home Guard go on a training exercise in the countryside just as the Germans arrive incognito under the complicity of the town's "fifth columnist" mayor, Oliver Wilsford (Leslie Banks). As much a German patriot as an English traitor, Wilsford helps the position the German troops in strategic strongholds with handshakes and cups of tea. 

The town's women are the first to take notice of irregularities in the visiting troops' behavior that point to something fishy. A grandmother takes umbrage at the way a German soldier abuses a boy and quickly reprimands the soldier before complaining to his commanding officer. A piece of scrap paper used by Germans to keep score for a card game reveals sevens written in the "continental" style. A chocolate bar from Austria is another giveaway. Indeed, the townswomen support the film's theme of communal resistance as much, if not more, than the male characters. 

Originally titled "They Came in Khaki," "Went the Day Well?" was designed to remind British citizens of the ongoing need to be ever vigilant against foreign invasion. The idea that the very authorities employed to protect its citizens could be malicious occupiers brings up relevant questions about military-imposed oppression as it exists around the world. Retaliation is vital, the film seems to say. But how can you tell the enemy when they are dressed as patriots?


Not Rated. 92 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

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May 01, 2006


Cole smithey"United 93" is an odd film by any standard. Filmmaker Paul Greengrass (notable for his terrific 2002 docudrama "Bloody Sunday" about the 1972 British Army massacre of 27 civilians in Northern Ireland) wrote and directed what is a disturbingly prosaic piece of dramatic conjecture about one of the most puzzling events of 9/11.

As a fictionalized docudrama, "United 93" punctures all suspension-of-disbelief because of the intrinsic absurdness that the mightiest military power on earth couldn’t scramble a dozen squads of F-16 fighter planes to perform aerial escorts for the "11 commercial airliners" believed to be hijacked on 9/11.

Greengrass disguises art as journalism by matter-of-factly declaring that United 93 crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at the "heroic" hands of its passengers in spite of a litany of mysteries surrounding the fate of United 93. Never mind that a military order went out to "bring the plane down" because the FBI isn't releasing any information as yet. One thing is for certain, "United 93" is an obvious piece of Government-fed propaganda that doesn't make for an entertaining movie experience. This film isn't even as good as "The House On 92nd Street," another notorious work of U.S. Government backed Hollywood propaganda. 

Cole smithey

For more information on the many mysteries surrounding United 93, read Unanswered Questions: The Mystery of Flight 93 from the Independent.

Rated R, 111 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)

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