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The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife Paperback – October 31, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0674576407 ISBN-10: 0674576403

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Over 1000 films were produced during Germany's 12-year Third Reich. While some were blatant anti-Semitic propaganda, like the notorious epic Jud Suss, a variety of films were made in line with the "orchestra" principle of Goebbels, which stated, "We do not expect everyone to play the same instrument, we only expect that people play according to a plan." Rentschler (film, Univ. of Califronia, Irvine) examines the Nazi media culture "plan," which created a world of illusion, alternating between "heavy hands and light touches" with the aim of negating "alternative experience and independent thought." His book covers much the same ground as Klaus Kreimeier's The Ufa Story (LJ 6/1/96), but this book is more readable, gives greater detail on important films, and contains extensive chronologies, filmographies, and source lists for obtaining these films. This scholarly book will be useful in large film collections.?Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

This massively documented study of Nazi cinema...notably succeeds in analysing how Nazi films created a dreamworld that seemed neither realistic nor fantastic, but agreeable and persuasive--indeed closer to Hollywood than to Stalinist cinema. Above all, [Rentschler] stresses how films belong to a German cultural continuum, reaching into the present. Fifty years after Siegfried Kracauer's landmark book From Caligari to Hitler, this is the study that's long been needed of the movies' most disturbing triumph. (Sight and Sound)

Fifty years after Kracauer's monumental From Caligari to Hitler comes the next installment of the story. Rentschler shows how German films were central to an administered popular culture. Goebbels' chilling, still-seductive cinema exemplifies the complex social role played by the mass media at the end of our century. Rentschler-one of America's finest scholars of German cinema-has given us a lucid, passionate book. (David Bordwell, University of Wisconsin, author of The Cinema of Eisenstein)

[A] quite exceptional new book...[Nazi cinema] is an issue which is, in fact, far more urgent, and more topical, than it may at first appear. The cinema of Hitler, far from perishing with the passing of the Third Reich, continues to thrive...One is grateful to Rentschler both for producing such a well-researched, thorough and thoughtful book, and for doing to with such constructive energy, fine style and subtle wit. Any serious student either of film or of the Third Reich will learn a great deal from this splendid new account. (Graham McCann Times Higher Education Supplement)

[This is] an invaluable book of film history...Rentschler has actually watched the several hundred films made in Germany under the Third Reich, and he's the first to be able to talk authoritatively about their content and ideology. (Gerald Peary Boston Phoenix)

The scope of Rentschler's argument and the thoroughness of his research--not to mention the elegance of his prose--will significantly change how we look at the cinema of the Third Reich...[This is] a passionate, nuanced, and highly readable book that contributes significantly to existing studies on Nazi cinema while remaining accessible to a general public interested in German history, cinema, and the study of mass media in general. (Gerd Gemünden German Quarterly)

The regime of Adolf Hitler was the world's 'first full-blown media dictatorship,' writes Eric Rentschler...[An] accomplished and engaging writer...Mr. Rentschler pays great...attention to the historical context of each film 'text.' (J. Hoberman Forward)

The book is well researched and documented. If one wants...to learn more about the sociopolitical realities in Nazi cinema...then this is the work with which to settle down. (Washington Times)

Rentschler's readable, superbly researched, and meticulously documented study does not attempt to engage all of the nearly 1,100 films made during the Third Reich. Rather, the author provides measured, elegantly written assessments of several key films--such as the 'movement film' Hitler Youth Quex, the breezy, American-style Lucky Kids, Sirk's La Habanera,the notorious Jew Süss, and the fantastic, still much beloved Münchhausen--to explore recent claims of their alleged resistance to the Nazi regime and to examine reasons for their enduring popularity, at least in Germany. Rentschler avoids both pitfalls often associated with discussions of these films--reductive ideological critique and evasive 'aesthetic' appreciation. He enhances readers' awareness of the ways Nazi filmmakers used the 'Jewish' Hollywood conventions Goebbels simultaneously feared and admired and their complex relationship with Weimar film culture. An immensely useful chronology of key events, the most extensive general bibliography of the subject ever compiled in English, and helpful filmographies of and bibliographies about the leading Nazi cineastes make this an essential acquisition. (Choice)

The Ministry of Illusion provides a long-awaited and meticulously researched examination of films in the Third Reich that will be of tremendous value to both scholars and educators. Eric Rentschler, whose encyclopedic knowledge of German film has earned him a reputation as one of the foremost film historians in the United States, provides both a historical account of Nazi ideology and a number of readings of exemplary Nazi propaganda films, such as Hitler Youth Quex and the notorious Jew Süss...[It is] essential reading for anyone interested in the popular appeal of the Third Reich or the ideological working of film in general. (Marcia Klotz Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television)

Eric Rentschler, America's leading scholar of National Socialist cinema, has produced a compact compendium of everything you wanted to know about Nazi filmdom but were afraid to ask...well written and extensively researched; nearly half the manuscript is footnotes that yield fascinating anecdotal information...For those with an itchy curiosity about Third Reich culture, The Ministry of Illusion warrants reading. It provides delightful browsing in bits and pieces--the perfect gift for a cinephile-compulsive literate who has a magazine rack in the loo. (Stewart Brinton Pacific Cinematheque)

Given the fact that even in Europe there still doesn't exist a comprehensive book on this sordid matter, The Ministry of Illusion will serve as a primary source for the historiographers of the Third Reich and its cultural institutions. (Gertrud Koch, coeditor, Frauen und Film, and Professor, Ruhr University, Bochum)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 31, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674576403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674576407
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on August 9, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When one thinks of the Third Reich and its movies, the first thing that comes to mind is "Triumph of the Will," or "Olympia," both by Leni Riefenstahl and usually the only cinematic examples from the Third Reich shown on television.
It might surprise many to note that the vast majority of the over 1,000 films produced in the Third Reich contained no overt propaganda whatsoever. It might also surprise many to read that the Third Reich also produced musicals and even screwball comedies.
This is just one of the little known facts presented in this extremely important and entertaining book. The Nazis never had to invent a cinema from the ground up; the Germany they inherited had perhaps the most sophisticated film industry this side of Hollywood. Add the fact that the Nazi hierarchy were film fanatics and it is somewhat easier to see why the cinema of the Third Reich developed as it did.
Eric Rentschler points out that instead of overt propaganda, Joseph Goebbles preferred as subliminal message instead. Too many preachy films would turn off the audience; instead, if films were enrobed in traditional German values, the message is all the easier not only to get across, but to gain acceptance. The most frightening aspect of "Jew Suss" (the most notorious Anti-Semitic film ever made)is how the message is presented so matter-of-factly. No over the top drama, but an effective use of melodramatic elements to get the point across.
An added bonus for film researchers is a listing of films released by year and a filmography of the more noted directors. Essential for those interested in film or the social hisotry of Nazi Germany.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Maynard on April 24, 2012
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For starters, I took Professor Rentschler's class a while back, so I have some context in how it is used as a teaching aid. At first, I was somewhat annoyed that the professor had assigned his own work for it suggests a desire to pump sales by forcing students into the purchase. However, his syllabus included a range of other works from Sontag, Kracaeur, and Ellul (among others) that really provided a framework explaining his analytic process used herein. Further, this book is extremely well sourced. We saw many of the films he discusses and I can honestly say that between the filmographic source material, his text, and the secondary texts assigned, it's very clear how Rentschler's analytic process derives the conclusions he reaches.

I know I'm supposed to be reviewing the book and not some class taught by the author. However, I have to admit that by the end of the class I kept the book (and every other book and text assigned). I also wound up buying additional books by Kracauer, which I am indebted to the professor for having introduced me to. This is an excellent overview of German Nazi cinema and the underlying value system that was promulgated by their propaganda machine. One gets a slice of the regime's steadfast adherence to not just implied propaganda values and implicit assumptions, but also their careful management of the aesthetics of the artistry of cinema in order to achieve that goal. It is one of many invaluable texts for understanding the confluence of artistic aesthetics and totalitarian ideology in authoritarian regimes. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr René Codoni on July 2, 2012
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by Eric Rentschler

>>>Eric Rentschler, Professor of Film Studies at the University of California, Irvine, (now Harvard) argues that the cinema in the Third Reich emanated from a Ministry of Illusion and not from a Ministry of Fear.
Party vehicles such as Hitler Youth Quex and anti-Semitic hate films such as Jew Süss may warrant the epithet "Nazi propaganda," but they amount to a mere fraction of the productions from this era. The vast majority of the epoch's films seemed to be "unpolitical"--melodramas, biopix, and frothy entertainments set in cozy urbane surroundings, places where one rarely sees a swastika or hears a "Sieg Heil."
Minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, Rentschler shows, endeavored to maximize film's seductive potential, to cloak party priorities in alluring cinematic shapes. Hitler and Goebbels were master showmen enamored of their media images, the Third Reich was a grand production, the Second World War a continuing movie of the week. The Nazis were movie mad, and the Third Reich was movie made. (Excerpt from Publisher's Note, 1996, third print 2002)

>>>Rentschler .. feels that to concentrate exclusively on themes, trends, and manifest content is to miss the significance of the films' semiotic complexity. He suggests, not entirely fairly, that little has been previously said about the aesthetics of the Nazi films, those features that he feels make them so resonant and well regarded. He sees, and here his point should receive emphasis, a reciprocal link, at least aesthetically, between Hollywood and Berlin, and realizes that not every film produced in this era was crude propaganda. He lays out his thesis based on five premises.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Diane Byrnes on March 31, 2012
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I probably would have liked and was expecting a more conventional book - there was not much
mention of Willy Fritsch, purportedly Hitler's favourite actor, only a footnote about Renate
Muller whose movies were constantly the highest grossing movies of the year or why an actress
like Paula Wessley whole heartedly embraced the Nazi ideology. But it was still excellently
done with each chapter devoted to one movie that seemed to encapsulate it's time.
Chapter One - "The Blue Light" (1932), of course directed by Leni Riefenstahl and by the last
re-editing in 1951 she had erased all the Jewish names who had a prominent role (Henrich
Sokal, Carl Mayer etc) in the initially released movie.
Chapter Two - "Hitler Youth Quex" (1933) - perhaps the most controversial film ever made.
In Hitler's newly formed government movies were initially seen as bringing the public
around to the Nazi ideology and what better way than to make a movie glorifying a young boy
who in 1930 had been killed while handing out pamphlets in the Communist part of the city.
The film was blatant propaganda but one of the stars, Heinrich George, had been a Communist
but was swayed around to the National Socialist way of thinking.
Chapter 3 - dealt with Luis Trenker's "The Prodigal Son"(1934) and showed how Trenker, through
charisma and vitality could have a foot in both camps. There was a lot of controversy, after
the war, whether he was an opportunist or a genuine artist. According to the book, the
question has yet to be answered.
Chapter 4 - examined "Lucky Kids" (1936), one of the first films to embrace and try to copy the American style of cinema.
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