Soviet and Nazi Cinema

Soviet and Nazi Cinema

The ethnic nationality and socio-economic class ascribed to villains in Soviet films have in general coincided with those of real enemies under attack by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In addition, screen villains have usually been depicted as motivated by social goals in the realm of political power.

Soviet film heroes, on the other hand, as a rule shared the ethnic nationality and socio-economic class of Communist Party members and their allies. They were portrayed as strong, active and capable of resistance to the villains. As Communist control over Soviet film content stiffened with the passage of time, the Party periodically required changes in the characterizations of film heroes and villains to keep pace with new developments in the domestic and foreign policies of the Bolshevik regime. Quantitative content analysis of Soviet films provides evidence that these demands have guided film-makers in the U.S.S.R. for many years.

Among the combatant nations of World War ll, only the Soviets had a cinema which was dedicated completely to the war effort, with all its production geared “to help in the moral, political and military defeat of Fascism”. Such unembarrassed propaganda was possible in the Soviet Union, where the media openly operated as instruments of the state.

Areas of motivation used in this analysis are: “politics,” including motives pertaining to power, diplomacy, nationalism, war, communism, and so on; “economics,” motives concerned with commerce, production, construction, technology, profiteering, graft, piracy, and so forth; “culture,” those connected with education, science, the arts, communication, and recreation; “romantic love,” those involved in flirtation, love, courtship, and sexual relations; and “family,” motives pertaining to married life, children and domestic activity.

The residual category “other areas” includes motives of religion, social prestige, health, and so on. Audiences recognized the appropriateness of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky – which depicted the peoples of 13th century Russia repelling the invading Teutonic Knights – being withdrawn after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, and reissued after the German invasion of 1941.

The Nazis confined most of their wartime propaganda to Die Deutsche Wochenschau, an extended weekly newsreel. During the early war years newsreels emphasized the speed and power of Blitzkrieg to demoralize potential opponents, as well as boosting morale at home. Some wartime tiction films contained overt propaganda messages and, !ike other belligerents, the Nazis put history to propaganda service.

Postwar investigation suggested that only 20 percent of Nazi feature films were directly propagandist, and took this as confirmation of Goebbels’ proclaimed strategy of filling cinemas with entertainment features, and carrying propaganda in the newsreels that accompanied them. Subsequent analysis, however, has been less prepared to make such a clear distinction between propaganda and entertainment – even light-hearted items can be seen as reinforcing the political status quo.

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