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Changing Representations of Nazis in Film

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  • I am doing my dissertation on the portrayal of Nazis in films and was wondering if i could ask you a few questions about this slide.
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  • 1. Presentation ScriptRun Audio: Mozart piano from Schindler’s List, evacuation of Krakow Ghettoscene.Projector: BCU image of a Nazi Stormtrooper in Schindler’s ListPresenter: Since the end of WWII and the subsequent fall from power of theNazi Third Reich, there have been countless documentaries, cartoons andfeature films that tell the story of the most infamous evil in western culture –the Nazi’s. The way that they have been represented varies hugely, but all holdone fact in reserve – the Nazi’s are a definition of evil.Video Clip: Scene featuring Nazi Zombies attacking the survivors in Dead Snow{0’30”}Presenter: This research project looks at the development of the historicalrepresentation of Nazi’s across a number of films, focusing on theirrepresentation by Director Steven Spielberg. Two films central to thisexamination will be Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) andSchindler’s List (1993)Presenter: In this presentation I will cover: Nazi Representation in Indiana Jones Music Cinematography Mise-en-scene Nazi representation in Schindler’s List The Nazi’s and Schindler The real Oskar Schindler Nazi Representation in Dead Snow Nazi’s in societyPresenter: Distributes handouts containing these pointsVideo Clip: Scene featuring interrogation of Marian Ravenwood by Major Tohtfrom Indiana Jones {1’36”}Presenter: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is very twodimensional in it’s representation of Nazi’s. They exist in the film only as anenemy to Doctor Jones, and evil force to oppose him. Binary opposition is keyto the audience’s understanding of the film, owing largely to its mainstreamAmerican target audience. As such, the Nazi’s are represented as pure evil froman American perspective, whilst Indiana Jones represents good from anAmerican POV. He is an ex-american war hero who upholds ideals of justice,freedom and liberty – US audiences will recognise this and these qualities addeven more to his appeal. For example, the non-digetic music in the scene youhave just watched changes from fairly light and hopeful, to dark and ominousas Major Toht bars Marianne’s escape. This music is influenced by Nazianthems from the Nuremburg trials, according to Richard Evans; “the Nazi anthems were key to the great rallies…foreboding tracks that promoted military might”
  • 2. This idea that the music actually used by the real life Nazi’s has influenced thesoundtrack of raiders adds a sense of realism to the villains, and the dangerthat Marianne currently finds herself in; alone with the Nazi’s, and without theprotection of the very American Doctor Jones. In contrast to this, when DoctorJones himself is on screen, the music is orchestral and heroic, with IMDB ratingit as the 4th best soundtrack of all time. This causes both soundtracks to reflectthe characteristics of their respective sides. Another binary opposition here isthe fact that Indiana Jones is known as ‘Doctor Jones’. Doctors save lives,whereas the Nazi’s take them away. The word Doctor also connotes Americanstrength and intelligence prevailing over the brute force of the Nazi’s.John Williams is renowned for his music, and is credited by many with theresurrection of a ‘soundtrack’ as essential to the success of a Hollywoodblockbuster. This music style holds many connotations for the audience; Nazi,imperial and powerful, as this type of music is used in many films as a theme toevil organisations. However, Williams also wrote the score for the main themeof NBC’s nightly news programme, which he names; the mission. This score isalmost identical to one of his Hollywood soundtracks, and connotes to theaudience that this music is related to real events and facts; the representationof Nazi’s in Indiana Jones is as reliable as the News itself, and the musicbecomes associated with the War stories in real life.Projector: Freeze frame of Major Toht with menacing looking rodPresenter: As the scene develops we see Major Toht take out a black metalrod, that looks somewhat like a nunchuck. He flexes it menacingly, playing onthe audience’s existing knowledge of Nazi interrogation methods. However,when he folds it into a coat hanger, the illusion is broken, and Spielberg makesa tongue in cheek reference to convention in order to make the Nazi’s appearvain as well as evil, that he must carry around a coat hanger so as not to creasehis jacket. In fact Spielberg may hit on a small truth, as in the Nuremberg trials,many of the accused Nazi’s gave the smart uniform as an original reason forjoining the party. As one young German is quoted in ‘The Third Reich inPower’; “The uniform was very smart…I joined to get money and ladies”Projector: Freeze frame of Dr Jones fist fighting with a Nazi guard.Presenter: Here we see Dr Jones pitted against a Nazi guard. Thecinematography presents Jones as stronger and superior to the Nazi, connotingthat good prevails over evil, and essentially that American culture prevails overNazi culture. However, we can still see many other Nazi guards in the back ofthe shot, adding to the representation of Nazi’s as powerful and dangerous,whilst also reinforcing Dr Jones as the underdog.Projector: Freeze Frame of Nazi’s looking into a pit, in which Dr Jones istrapped.Presenter: In this shot however, the Nazi’s are again represented as powerfuland numerous. As they walk away and leave Dr Jones to die, the ‘Sinicism’ that
  • 3. they embody is reinforced. This contradicting distribution of power in the filmconnote the shifts in power that were experienced between the American’s andthe Nazi’s in WWII; there was no real side that was ‘more powerful’ in anyoutright manner than the other. This also shows that even when Dr Jones isnot beaten and locked up by Nazi’s, the best he can do is fist fight against ahopeless number of them, which connotes the Nazi’s superiority regardingtechnology in the war, and in turn makes Jones’ victory even more rewardingto the audience.Run Audio: Theme tune from Indiana JonesPresenter: This idea of American culture being strong and good is exploredthrough Indiana Jones, but is made most effective through the use of the Nazi’sas juxtaposition to American culture. Essentially, the Nazi’s are represented asnothing more than movie villains, or something for Doctor Jones to battleagainst in order to drive the narrative forward. The monsters of cinema areafter all, depictions of monsters, or representations of monsters, not the actualthings themselves. This is not to say that they are necessarily fictionalmonsters however; the Nazi’s are non-fictional, along with many of the deedsthey are represented doing in cinema. These are still just actors attempting torecreate through representation the Nazi regime, and therefore the Nazi’s stillexist only as movie villains, and are not an attempt to document the events ofthe Third Reich. So if the Nazi’s within Indiana Jones attempt only to scare theaudience and create a rival for Doctor Jones, why is the film not scary? AsStanley Cavell puts it; "terror is of violence, of the violence I might do or that might be done me. I can be terrified of thunder, but not horrified by it."This states clearly that whilst the Nazi’s as an idea may scare us, it is likely thatwithin film, they actually make the least terrifying villains cinema has everseen. This is down to the fact that we as a society, know that the Nazi’s werepowerful, evil and terrible; we also, however, know subconsciously that theywere defeated by the Allies, and exist no longer. This therefore provides theaudience with a ‘subconscious resilience’ to the Nazi’s in film, which explainswhy any films featuring the Nazi’s tend to fall into sub-genre of horror, becausethey do not make effective narrative devices that allow the filmmaker to scarehis audience in the way that is expected in horror.Schindler’s List represents Nazi’s in an entirely different way. Inspired bySpielberg’s first ever visit to Krakow, the film documents the life of OskarSchindler, as he saves more than 1,000 Jews from death at the hands of theNazi’s. However, the Nazi’s in Schindler’s List ostensibly appear to be a muchmore accurate representation of the real life Nazi’s, and has been accepted bymany younger generations as the most widely used source regarding what theNazi’s were actually like. Again supporting the theory of ‘Simulacra andSimulation’, this suggests that the representation of Nazi’s is more importantnow than the actual reality of the Nazi regime; it is almost irrelevant if these
  • 4. particular Nazi’s did or did not morally approve of the regime they were takingpart in, because they are not represented this way through the media. In thisway, there is a distinguishable difference between what is real, what wepretend is real, and the simulation that we accept is real. As Emíle Littré1 says; “"Whoever fakes an illness can simply stay in bed and make everyone believe he is ill. Whoever simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms"This example can be applied to Schindler’s List, as the Nazi guards may be inreality good, honest people, trying to earn a living. However, the simulationthat society has created shows them as evil, heartless and cruel beyondmeasure; this has therefore become what they are. “Each film... must be analyzed not only in terms of who ... is being represented, {but also} for what purpose, at which historical moment, for which location, using which strategies, and in what tone of address.”2Projector: Clip of wife being shot by Nazi guard during the evacuation ofKrakow {0’32”}One example of this within the film is within this clip. It is irrelevant whetherthe real life Nazi’s would have actually committed this clearly unnecessarymurder or not, because Spielberg has represented it this way, and it is thusaccepted by the audience as a realistic interpretation of the Nazi’s. However,many revisionist Historians now question whether the Nazi SS would haveactually done things like this. It is now believed that Himmler, who was theleader of the SS, was so incredibly strict when it came to the etiquette of theNazi guard, that he would not have allowed the killing of people in the streetunless he himself had ordered the brutality. Historians believe he felt this gavehim greater control over the regime, and allowed him to more effectively set upa mass genocide on the scale of the Holocaust. As Simon Woodward put it; “Himmler saw the SS as his own personal branch of the party; he would spare no expense to ensure that his word was seen as law – if he said it, you did it. Cooperation was forced through violence.”How can Schindler’s List be seen as a sympathetic view towards the Nazi’sthen, if it exaggerates the casual violence committed by the standard Naziofficers? This suggests that the Nazi’s in cinema almost have a set ofconventions that must be followed if the representation is to be accepted into1 French Philosopher2 The Struggle over Representation: Casting, Coalitions, and the Politics of Identification,
  • 5. the ‘Simulacrum’ held by society. They must be Evil, almost unbelievably crueland violent, dressed smartly and with a bizarre German/English accent. This isbecause this is the reflection of the reality that society has now taken as it’sreality. It is therefore unimportant to the film if the Nazi’s were actually likethis, because the audience already believe that they were.Projector: Splitscreen image of Nazi Zombie from CoD: Black Ops and NaziZombie from Dead SnowPresenter:. When we hear the word ‘Nazi’, most of us think of A bloodthirstykiller with no aim other than to kill, dehumanised to the point that theaudience retains no empathy whatsoever for the people involved in theseatrocities. Increasingly, ‘Nazi’ has begun to take on its own meaning in society.‘Nazi’ means ‘Evil’ without condition, unrealistically evil even, as is seen withthe insanely popular ‘Nazi Zombies’ branch of Call of Duty, as well as in DeadSnow.Projector: Clip of Nazi Zombie being killed in Dead SnowPresenter: More alike with Indiana Jones than Schindler’s List, Dead Snow inno way attempts to show what the Nazi’s were actually like, in fact taking itmuch further than Indiana Jones, degrading the Nazi’s to be subhuman,unintelligent monsters that will do anything to kill. This new archetype ofNazi’s has become prevalent and the dominant representation of Nazi’s insociety. The pre-conception society now holds is the idea of Nazi’s as moviemonsters in the same sense that Dracula or Frankenstein are movie monsters –they originally began as the embodiments of cultural fears and paranoia’s buthave since out lived those fears, concluding in the de-sensitization of theaudience towards Nazi’s in the sense of anything ‘scary’. Nazi’s (in Dead Snow)are a symbol of ‘evil’ not genocide and are slowly becoming less associatedwith real life events and more associated with generic symbols of evil. Onetheory that supports this point is French Philosopher John Baudrillard ‘s theoryof Simulacra and Simulation. This states that reality in modern society is lostamongst a series of ‘signs and symbols’ referred to by Baudrillard as ‘theprocession of simulacra’. Rather than see Nazi’s in cinema as a fictionalrepresentation of a very real danger and terror, the audience conceives them asthe actual Nazi’s, and takes this reflection of reality as more relevant andimportant than the reality itself.Run Audio: Animal Alpha – Fire! Fire! Fire! From Dead Snow soundtrackProjector: Quote from Tommy Wirkola; " What is more evil than a zombie’? A Nazi-zombie! And you know Nazis have always been the ultimate villains in movies. I like to think of them as Nazi zombies. Nazis first, then zombies."
  • 6. Presenter: Using a variety of techniques, including the music you can hearplaying, Wirkola created the perfect movie villain – disgusting beyondmeasure, evil for evil’s sake, and totally impossible to sympathize with, due to alack of humanity. It could also be argued however, that it shows greatdisrespect to the victims of the Nazi’s to represent them as unintelligent andcrude. Critics claim that Dead Snow is nothing more than a homage to a historytoo cruel to make fun of – but Wikola does it anyway.Personally however, I believe that the Nazi Zombies add to the film in a waythat no other villain could, a sense of ridiculous fiction, whilst still remaininganchored in history and reality.Handout: Containing information on the Einsatzgruppen (Death Squads)responsible for the murder of Jews in Norway and Poland.Presenter: The film is based on the Einsatzgruppen talked about in yourhandouts, responsible for the mobile extermination of the ‘underclass’according to the Nazi’s. Though relatively little known, they were responsiblefor the killing of almost 1,000,000 within two years, and it was these ‘DeathSquads’ that first had the idea of using poisonous gas as a method of massmurder. Would it really be fair to ask any director or film maker to have torepresent something this emotional to so many people? Perhaps it is betterthat we do not attempt to replicate the animosity and discrimination of theNazi party in Film.Projector: Triple freeze frame – Major Toht of Indiana Jones, Oskar Schindlerand the Einsatzgruppen from Dead Snow.Presenter: The position of Nazi’s in our society is ever changing, but never farbelow the surface, with the next Valkyrie or Inglorious Basterds just around thecorner.