Nationalism on Film: A Seminar Appraisal
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 7, Number 2, May 1977
- pp. 29-31
- Additional Information
all. When I'm mentioned, it's usually in very derogative terms, of my being a rather hysterical freak. The only exception does seem to be Punishment Park in France. For reasons I don't quite understand, my films are shown more and discussed more in France than in any other country. In the last year or so I've been able to sort of corner a slight market in Scandinavian television, but that's not going to continue, and I don't want that to continue. Probably what I shall try and do is to come to this country and do something 1 regard as important. I have a collection of about a thousand original American Civil War slides. I would like to go to public places, colleges, for example, and spend three or four days dealing with the American Civil War, dealing in terms ofthat mythology, and relating it to the present. Dealing with the hostility that will inevitably come, and trying to handle that. That's where I am now. NATIONALISM ON FILM: A SEMINAR APPRAISAL By George F. Botjer George F Botjer is Associate Professor ofHistory at the University of Tampa. His many papers and articles include a number of works on the theme ofnationalism. With a vast inventory of "war movies" and a far from negligible miscellany of films ranging from patriotic camp to malignant chauvinism, it seemed that there would be no problems in putting together a roster of films for my new "problems" course on the theme of Nationalism. Unfortunately, when it came to selecting the handful of samplings to which I was necessarily restricted, such wonderful items as Back to Bataan and The Green Berets appeared somehow inadequate to the demands of our expansive subject, which in any case was not to be limited to the United States. Part of the problem was that these warhorses belonged to a genre that is already overly familiar to any schoolboy. Another stumbling block was the simple flag-waving quality of such works. They were, in sum, not only hackneyed—they were simplistic and redundant stereotypes which would have little instructional value for the needs of this course. Looking to the non-militaristic miscellany, it appeared that many of these were difficult to pin down as primarily involved with arousing a proud or bellicose nationalism. Triumph of the Will and other Nazi aberrations were always there to fall back on—but this was not a course devoted to the Third Reich. Maybe one Nazi film could be shown—and then what? The rest would be catch-as-catch-can, an ill assorted grab-bag more apt to confuse than to enlighten. One avenue ofexploration did finally pay off. It involved historical films exclusively. But there were problems. For instance, pictures centered around heroes like Sam Houston, Napoleon Bonaparte, et al., generally turned out to be much more interested in their illustrious subjects than in national glorification, per se. Quite a few of the films surveyed were simply romances with a historical setting (e.g., the Gary Cooper movie, Distant Drums). In truth, the ones selected were as often as not "nationalistic" (or "chauvinistic") because critics said so. rather than because any average theatergoer would quickly recognize them as such. 29 Thus, for instance. Fritz Lang's Nibelung Saga was chosen. A seemingly innocent German historical extravaganza, it had been fingered by the noted critic Siegfried Kracauer in his accusatory book, From Caligari to Hitler. The writer singled out for blame what to most audiences must have been the principal highlights of Siegfried's Death and Kriemhild's Revenge (the two parts of the Nibelung Saga)—the mob scenes. Choreographed into "human architecture," they impressed the Weimar critic as a préfiguration of the Nuremberg rallies of the Nazi Party. A no less startling analogy was Kracauer's depiction of Hagen. the "evil genius" whose role as Brunhild's advisor had set off the train of tragic events that culminated in the mass destruction of the Burgundians. Hagen, according to Kracauer, was to be understood as a nihilist-a proto-Nazi nihilist at that! Now. whatever the virtues of the Nibelung Saga as an exercise in...