I came across an interesting expression recently when I was scanning the programme of an independent cinema in Berlin – „Vorbehaltsfilme“, films shown with a caveat, which puzzled me somewhat. It became clear very quickly, however, that these were films directed under the Nazi regime, some blatantly anti-Semitic like “Jud Süß”, some historically inaccurate and full of German heroes like “Kolberg”. Incidentally, both these films were directed by Veit Harlan who was later accused of having contributed to persecution with his work. They can only be shown if there is an introduction as well as a discussion afterwards, even almost 70 years after the end of WWII and the terror regime of the Nazis, some of these films are deemed dangerous, even poisonous.
I have since read a very interesting article in a German newspaper – after the capitulation of Germany the Allies confiscated all films made after 1933, around 1240, which were than divided into categories A (can be shown), B (have to be edited and cut), and C (not to be shown at all). Apparently visible symbols of glorification of the military, Nazi ideology or the Wehrmacht were most important in the view of the Allies when categorising the films, sometimes even a suspicious title was enough. 219 films ended up in category C, now the number is more like 38 according to the German Murnau Foundation. The continuing ban on these films also creates a certain mysticism which is possibly more dangerous than showing them. The interest in these films are great – the Zeughaus cinema, part of the Berlin Historic Museum has had to turn many people away whenever such films have been shown.
Are we really not able to distinguish between a propaganda film and a documentary? Do we still have to be protected from the films, writings and even art of the Third Reich? It seems to me that the more something is forbidden, the more fascinating it becomes and the more power it gains – so when will we have a proper debate without being treated as if we can’t be trusted to make up our own minds? I realise this is a contentious issue and debates on how far films – or even video games – influence behaviour crop up again and again but I think it is high time to have more rational arguments. Otherwise – where do we stop? Should “Birth of a Nation” by D.W. Griffiths also be on some kind of blacklist? Personally, I expect most of these films from the 1930s and 1940s will be pretty boring, turgid and very obvious in their intentions and showing them will make them less interesting. What do you think?