Definition of Propoganda
The spreading of ideas, information, or rumour for the purpose of helping or
injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
Ideas, facts or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage
an opposing cause;
• 1933 Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nationalist Socialist party (Germany) and
Franklin D. Roosevelt (US) win elections and come to power
• Ramsay MacDonald is Prime Minister in the UK
• There is a global economic crisis looming and Winston Churchill
warns about German rearmament
• In the UK Oswald Mosley organises Fascist rallies across the UK
Governments in the UK, Germany and the US, set up documentary film units to
lead on creating propaganda and news reels to unite and influence their citizens.
• John Grierson is appointed in the UK
• Pare Lorentz in the US
• Leni Riefenstahl in Germany
The new objectivity
• In 1933 Germany is still suffering financially and psychologically from the
impact of WWI
• There are growing feelings of resentment and anti-semitsm
• The films of the time reflect the despair of the German people. The style of
films is called ‘The New Objectivity’ and they feature social and political
• Many patriotic films were also developed celebrating German culture
• Sound in film is developed from around 1932
• Many famous German film directors (Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz lang) emigrate to
the US to escape persecution.
• In 1933 the Reichsfilmkammer (Reich chamber of film) was founded and
took over all film production
• Jews and foreigners are excluded from employment in the German film
• No films can be made that were not in accord with the views of the ruling
• The import of foreign films is restricted
• “The most beautiful thing I have ever
seen in film was Riefenstahl’s dance on
the sea in The Holy Mountain.”
• “Once we come to power, you must
make my films.”
o Adolf Hitler as quoted
in A Memoir.
“Tanz an das Meer”
from Der Heilige Berg.
“I can simply say that I feel
spontaneously attracted by everything
that is beautiful…beauty,
harmony…Whatever is purely
me… I am fascinated by what is
beautiful, strong, healthy, what is
Leni Riefenstahl 1902-
• Born in Berlin in 1902
• Dancer and actress in German Nature films (starred in The Blue Light),
Film director and photographer
• Most famous for making Triumph of the Will for Adolf Hitler as a propaganda
In her memoirs, Leni recalls meeting
Adolf Hitler as a “fateful” encounter.
• Berlin Sports Palace, February 1932 –
“I heard his voice…that very same instant I had an
almost apocalyptic vision…I felt quite paralyzed…I
was fascinated, and I sensed that the audience were
in bondage to this man…I was deeply affected.”
• Leni wrote to Hitler in May 1932 –
“I must confess that I was so impressed by you…I
would like to meet you personally.”
• Shows the German people as a mass, very few shots of individuals appear
• The scale and number of people present images of power and of a resurgent
• Depicts the German people unified under National Socialism
• The film is actually cleverly staged rather than a depiction of real events
• It acts more like a religious messianic ritual or a rock concert creating a
feeling of mass emotion and absorption
• The individual appears lost in the mass
• Everyday life is not particularly featured.
How does the film depict the German people and the Nazi party?
What cinematic techniques are used?
The narrative of Propaganda differs from traditional narrative fiction and
The subject of Propaganda has no story arc or development
Triumph of the Will is repetative in its assertion of the success and power of the
Nazi party and the weakness of their enemies
‘The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of
their enemies. However, the followers must be convinced that they can
overwhelm the enemies. Thus by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the
enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are
condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of
objectively evaluating the force of the enemy’. Umberto Eco
• Hitler was so happy with Triumph of the Will, he commissioned Riefenstahl to
make another propaganda film about the Olympic Games which were held in
Berlin in 1936
• The impact of the documentary is more subtle than Triumph of the Will
• It Has been noted for its technical and esthetic achievements as it features
tracking shots that follow the athletes movements, montage and Slow motion
• The film had an influence on the development of modern sports documentary
Both films pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing
Both are highly controversial as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their
propagandizing of Nazi ideals
• After the war she was detained by Allied Forces
• Later cleared of complicity in Nazi crimes
• Became a photographer & later learnt to dive filming underwater
• Her career never recovered
• Died at 101
The Fate of Riefentahl
‘What am I guilty of? I can and do regret making the film of the 1934 Party
Congress,‘Triumph of the Will.’…I can’t regret that I was alive in that period,
but no words of anti-Semitism ever passed my lips, nor did I write any. I was
never anti-Semitic and I never joined the Nazi party. So what am I guilty of?...I
didn’t drop any atom bombs. I didn’t denounce anyone. So where does my
“With indescribable joy, deep emotion, and filled with profound gratitude, we share with you, my
Fuhrer, your and Germany’s greatest victory, the entry of Germany troops into Paris. Surpassing all
other powers of the human imagination, you are accomplishing deeds without equal in the history of
mankind. How shall we be able to thank you? Offering my congratulations does far too little to
convey to you the emotions that I am feeling.”
Telegram to Hitler after conquering Paris, June 14, 1940.
• ‘I look on cinema as a pulpit, and use it as a propagandist’
(John Grierson 1898-1972)
• Grierson was Scottish, the son of a schoolteacher who studied English and
• His postgraduate studies were in propaganda
• 1928 founded film unit at Empire Marketing Board
• He made his first film in 1929 Drifters
• 1936 Film unit moved to General Post Office
• Believed film could provide a general education to all about the important
issues of the time.
• What kind of person is the film narrated by?
• Do you see any problems in the way in which the film
presents its subjects?
• Housing problems was one of the first documentaries to
• Funded by the British Commercial Gas Association who
would make a large profit out of the rebuilding work the
documentary was calling for
• A tribute to postal workers
• Features music By Benjamin Britten
• Poetry by WH Auden
• Again celebrating the ordinary working man.
• Why do you think the German and British propaganda
films were so different?
Listen to Britain 1942
• Made by celebrated documentary maker Humphrey Jennings
• Produced during WW2 by the Crown Film Unit part of the
British governments Ministry of Information
• Has a non linear structure and elaborate use of sound
‘All sorts of audiences felt it to be a distillation and also a magnification of
their own experiences on the home front. This was especially true of
factory audiences. I remember one show in a factory in the Midlands
where about 800 workers clapped and stamped approval’.
Listen to Britain
Listen to Britain may be considered as artistic or poetic but the film is based on
ambiguity and doubt.
Mass Observation, co-founded by Jennings in 1937, found in the war’s early years
that the public considered it “un-British to shove propaganda down your throat”,
so Jennings realised that he would take a different approach to succeed.
How is Listen to Britain different from the other films?
How can the film be seen to be ambiguous? What do you feel as you watch it?
Which approach do you think was the most successful the German or British?
Socialism vs Fascism
In Mein Kampf, Hitler talks of the success of British propaganda in World War
I, believing people's ignorance meant simple repetition and an appeal to
feelings over reason would suffice.
In contrast, Jennings' "calm voice of reason appeals to the mind rather than
In Triumph of the Will, for example, Leni Riefenstahl works with the myth and
ignores the reality, while Jennings acknowledges their differences.
A.J.P. Taylor believes Britain's war socialism represented genuine unity,
allowing Jennings to admit these tensions given the public's distaste for overt
propaganda. Thus for Jennings the poetry and propaganda "enrich and
unsettle each other”. This subtle reflection upon the myth “genuinely was
propaganda as art, an extraordinary feat which Triumph of the Will doesn’t come
TASK: DEFINING DOCUMENTARY
• Watch all of Listen to Britain online and write a couple of
paragraphs comparing the British and German
approach to Documentary
• Start to research and think about an era or area of
Documentary that you are interested in
• After next weeks seminar we will look at your first
assignment for Documentary
• Works on Leni Riefenstahl
• Doc: The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)
dir. Ray Muller
• Leni Riefensthal, A memoir (German, 1987; English,
• Steven Bach, Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl
• Rainer Rother, Leni Riefenstahl, The Seduction of Genius