Monday, December 6, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front - Once Not so Quiet

From: Portside Moderator [mailto:moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG]
Monday, December 06, 2010 10:07 PM

 All Quiet on the Western Front - Once Not so Quiet


 Victor Grossman, Berlin Bulletin No. 15,


 On December 5th one or two hundred people left a movie

 theater in Berlin, mostly silent and deeply moved

 though the film they had seen was first released in

 1930. This American-made epic had lost none of its

 extremely emotional appeal . It was "All Quiet on the

 Western Front" and the date of its showing here was no

 coincidence. Exactly eighty years earlier, to the day,

 Joseph  Goebbels, later to become Hitler's notorious

 propaganda minister, had led 200 Nazis in violently

 preventing the showing of this same film.  At the

 shout of Goebbels, who was in the balcony, the Nazis,

 storm troopers without their brown uniforms and some

 of the many newly-elected deputies to the Reichstag,

 blew whistles, attacked the rest of the audience and

 then let hundreds of white mice out of cardboard boxes

 to scurry through the rows. The police tried to

 restore order, at least some of them did, but this

 proved impossible and the showing was stopped. Then

 five or ten thousand Nazis waiting outside joined

 Goebbels in a march and rally in the downtown area.

 The tumults continued for a whole week, after which

 the Censorship Office, made up of Nazi sympathizers or

 men fearing the growing Nazi pressure, bowed to the

 demands of several pro-Nazi states to have the film

 banned altogether in Germany. This was a first major

 success of the Nazis and was accompanied by an obscene

 barrage of propaganda against this "defamation of our

 boys in uniform" by the "Jews in Hollywood" and in

 Berlin's "elite" West Side.


 A half-year later, after protests by prominent

 writers, artists and anti-Nazi political figures,

 permission was reluctantly granted to show the film to

 small private audiences, but only in such a  radically

 cut version that much of the political punch was gone.

 This strange law, a compromise applying to a single

 film, was soon canceled, yet the attempted

 conciliation of the important German market for

 American films resulted in only cut film versions

 being distributed to all other countries as well. The

 film was totally forbidden in many countries,

 including France, Austria and Australia, and was

 eviscerated even in the USA, despite its two Oscars as

 best film and, for Lewis Milestone, best director. A

 final wish of Milestone was to have the film restored

 to its original length and principles. It took two

 decades after his death in 1980 before this was

 finally achieved.


 The film shown last Friday was the original, uncut

 version with German sub-titles. Before it began, two

 historians described what had happened in 1930, which

 had made this a major step in the Nazi take-over  of

 German culture and, two years later, of the whole

 country, resulting in the destruction of both. One

 historian told the tragic story of Hanns Brodnitz, the

 manager of the Mozart-Saal, which he had turned into a

 leading art film center, highlighting such film greats

 as the young Rene Clair ("Under the Roofs of Paris")

 and Charlie Chaplin's masterpieces. But after the Nazi

 attacks on his theater and the exploding level of

 anti-Semitism in Germany he lost his job and, before

 long, all jobs. His attempts to escape to the USA were

 in vain and in 1938 he went into hiding. Only after

 five years, when he dared to leave his last

 hiding-place, was he caught and sent to Auschwitz,

 where he was murdered in a gas chamber a few days

 later. His autobiographical book on film culture

 during Germany's Weimar Period (after 1919) was not

 released in 1933 because of the Nazi takeover and was

 soon destroyed, but a surprising find of the galley

 proofs a few years ago made a new edition possible.


 Two major thoughts certainly went through the minds of

 many in the audience last Friday. One was a swift

 understanding of why not only Nazis and not only

 German super-patriots hated the film and its

 terrifying portrayal of the horrors of war, with

 occasional questioning by the soldiers as to why and

 to whose benefit they are suffering, shooting and

 dying. One scene, where the hero, played by Lew Ayres,

 bitterly regrets killing a French soldier lying next

 to him, is unforgettable. The glories of "fighting and

 dying for one's country," so mercilessly  satirized

 and exposed by the film, went against all the efforts

 by nearly every government in those  years to honor

 the dead in such a way that the next generation would

 dutifully follow in their fatal footsteps.


 The other thought surely going through the heads of so

 many in the audience was not unrelated: They are at it

 again! Not only the heavy-booted pro-Nazi groups

 marching through one city after another in Germany,

 for they are still a small minority and face

 unrelenting resistance by anti-fascists. But even more

 menacingly, troops are again being sent to fight in

 Afghanistan and elsewhere, and when the metal coffins

 are flown home they are met with rites and speeches

 hardly differing from those in the years before and

 between the two world wars and attacked in the film.

 This month Germany's Minister of Defense, while ending

 the draft, is creating a tough professional army with

 the latest murderous equipment, ready to defend

 "Germany's trade routes and access to needed raw

 materials" anywhere in the world. His semi-prediction

 of future conflicts was accompanied by his usual

 slight and for some so frightening smile. Words like

 Iran, Palestine, Yemen and Korea inevitably crossed

 people's minds. Eighty years had passed, and what

 terrible years some of them were, yet so many have

 learned, or altered, so little. Aside from the

 greatness of the film, it was thoughts like these

 which this event so meaningful  and so disturbing.


 December 6 2010




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