- The Face of Germany, 1918–1945: Ufa Personnel, Censorship, and Propaganda
Toward the end of World War I (WWI), with the Allied powers’ anti-German propaganda at its zenith, Generalquartiermeister Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff considered the German propaganda efforts to be too fragmented to be effective and felt the need to create a film production company that would be controlled directly by the German armed forces.1 Thus, at the end of 1916, Bild-und Filmamt (Bufa) was created as an umbrella organization for all government and military film, as well as press agencies, to promote the German war effort.2 Bufa mainly produced short educational, propaganda, and entertainment films for both the front line and the reserve forces.3 Still, General Ludendorff, wanting to move beyond the mechanism of Bufa, wrote a letter to the Imperial Ministry of War on July 4, 1917, that would lay the foundation for the consolidation of the German film industry and the formation of a larger film conglomerate, Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa):
The war has demonstrated the exceptional power of photography and film as a means of educating and influencing. Unfortunately, our enemies have thoroughly exploited their lead in this area, causing us severe damage. In the further course of the war, film will retain its momentous significance as a political and military means of influence. For this reason, it is essential for the positive outcome of the war that film exert the strongest influence in all places where German influence is still possible.
Thus, we must examine
1. how this influence can be achieved and
2. what means are to be used.
On 1. In film, the bolstering of German propaganda efforts must extend
a. to the influencing of the film supply in neutral third countries and
b. to the unification of the German film industry, setting broad, uniform targets for the systematic, energetic influencing of the masses in the interest of the state.4 [End Page 54]
Heeding General Ludendorffs call, the government officially formed Ufa on December 18, 1917.5 Through this deliberate process of consolidation and mergers, Ufa became Germany’s first vertically integrated film conglomerate—controlling production, distribution, and exhibition—as well as the largest German film studio and eventually the largest studio in Europe (second only to Hollywood). A “cultural production company of historically unprecedented magnitude,”6 Ufa produced a renowned canon—including films such as The Golem (1920), The Last Laugh (1924), Metropolis (1927), and Triumph of the Will (1935).
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Moreover, in spite of dramatic regime changes from 1918–1945, during three distinct German political periods—from the Kaiserreich (a monarchy), to the Weimar Republic (a parliamentary democratic republic), to the Third Reich (a totalitarian dictatorship)—Ufa maintained an extraordinary degree of continuity in its personnel, its censorship regulations, and, most notably, its propaganda efforts (from its escapist films to its overtly nationalistic material). Given the pervasiveness of film, the force of which Ludendorff had accurately assessed, Ufa was perhaps the most consistent cultural representation of Germany for 27 years.
Ufa was both a cultural institution and a modem industry, constantly surrounded by the “force field made up of capital, politics, film, and the public.”7 If its policies and products often reflected the uneasiness of these politically transitional eras occurring in just a quarter of a century, the studio nonetheless adapted quickly and energetically to the shifting political pressures (producing almost all of its filmic corpus during the Weimar and Nazi eras). Germany’s social and political landscapes fundamentally changed at the end of WWI. The nation had been unified for less than fifty years when the end of WWI brought about the abolishment of the Kaiserreich monarchy, due to the abdication and subsequent flight of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Germany’s defeat at the end of WWI shocked the German public because the nationalistic propaganda, from sources including Bufa films, had led the vast majority of the German public to believe that Germany was winning the war.8 In addition to the shock of defeat, the Treaty of Versailles caused widespread humiliation among Germans, which spurred a palpable...