Mike Gebert wrote:To me the real discovery of silent film stuff on the internet, going back to AMS, was that there was a parallel world of scholarship. In universities and in courses and to some extent in film societies and repertory theaters, there was the world of academic scholarship— which I don't reject categorically; one of these days I'll finish David Bordwell's fantastic book on 40s movie style and interview him, I hope— but which certainly had a tendency to write theory without seeing movies, and to get lost in certain weeds, from leftist polemics (all that Godard, still) to semiotics and my favorite interfaith baseball team, Christian Metz.
The parallel world was fans and collectors and old movie festivals producing vast works of genuine scholarship outside the academic community on silent comedy and the like. And it's hard not to love the guys and gals who did it for love and shared their love. And it's been a huge boon that that sort of thing has flourished, and largely won a populist victory, as new ways of communicating online outside the university publishing world have popped up.
Still, the Sight & Sound polls remind us that Alexander yet has worlds to conquer.
Do I reject academic scholarship categorically? I think that academic scholarship has played a role in keeping these old films alive. I think that, like science fiction in academia, the impulse towards academic scholarship arose and was nurtured by the sort of people who populate Nitrateville nowadays: William Everson at NYU, Kevin Brownlow at the BFI, our own deeply missed Chris Jacobs, Chris Stockslager, who's seeking advice for his curriculum on silent horror.
Yet any organization acquires its own politics -- take another look at Mr. Thomson's quote that you cited to kick off this thread and tell me it's not all about politics! -- and the politics of academia, like those of most people, is alien to me. Far too much of it is an appeal to authority, where the "right" answer is the one in the textbook. I'm not that sort of guy. I'm the guy who wants to know for himself. Tell me that L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth
is a Dianetics tract and I'll slog my way through all 800 pages and discover a poorly edited piece of outdated pulp SF. Have two people quote Adam's Smith's The Wealth of Nations
to entirely different conclusions and I'll take a month to read it and find it doesn't support either. Tell me that all of German cinema from 1918 through 1945 is proto-Fascist or Fascist and I'll club together with some like-minded friends, buy an assortment and discover, nah, they're not.
Some of you may recall how I slagged Hitler's Hollywood
, a documentary about German cinema from 1933-1945. I posted the review (edited at my leisure to make it more readable, not to change the content) to the Internet Movie Database. I checked the listing yesterday and discovered someone else had also written a supportive review. It reads:
In 105 minutes Ruediger Suchsland's 'Hitler's Hollywood' provides a startling retrospective of German cinema under the skillfull hand of Hitler's propaganda mage who was Josef Goebbels. As Reichminister for Propaganda and National Enlightenemnt, he had total control of cinema, radio, press and theatre. Evil genius that he was, he had a deep intuitive understanding of mass psychology, and in 'Hitler's Hollywood' we see a large swathe of Nazi controlled films from 1933-to 1945, when the first Oscar winner Emil Jannings was in the midst of staring in a film. With great intelligence, we also see how the Nazis through talented film makers out did Hollywood in romantic comedies, musicales and extolling the 'virtues' of the 'master race' in physical beauty. And yet, the dark eyed Swedish singer Zarah Leander appeared in musicales with military themes, or the German penchant for exotic Slavs or Gypsies. And yet, her career in post war Europe, there she was with a number one hit 'Wunderbar', sung in English. Her sultry, deep throat voice still even today has not lost its mystery and allure. [See, YouTune]. Hans Detlef Sierck's 'La Habanera' made her a star and a household name. Sierck remade himself after the war, and much lionised in Hollywood as Douglas Sirk. There he was the masterly eye behind luscious romantic films like 'Magnificent Obsession' and 'All Heaven Allows'. He honed his technique at the Ufa Studios and theatre, and the influence of Goebbels ideas found its way in Hollywood, perhaps. Popular singers like Hans Albers who sang of and longed for the South Seas, transitioned to a postwar career without a hiccup. Suchsland does make a seamless cloth of Nazi cinema from the 1930s to the change of fortunes of defeat in Russia and the collapse of the Third Reich. Films became more realistic, less romantic and cotton candy. One thing remained a red thread: anti-Semitism. 'Jud Suess' by Van Harlan, with his wife, Krista Soederbaum, is an infamous anti-Semitic film that pulls no punches as an odious film, yet one extolling Nazi pathological hatred of Jews. And, he, too, survived the war, and continued to make film until his death in West Germany. Goebbels understood 'soft power', and German films flooded European markets as they did in America's ethnic picture houses that spoke to 'benign' anti-Semitism that flourished in Europe and the US. Even Ingrid Bergman as an ingenue appeared in a German film before she left for Hollywood. Suchsland script alludes to her guilt, which maght have been, and he repurchasing her guilt by playing Isle in 'Casablanca'? A reviewer cannot do justice to 'Hitler's Hollywood' but strongly suggest you go see it, and visually and emotionally and intellectually absorb the dazzling cross section of 'Hitler's Hollywood'. And this documentary is a cautionary tale of techniques that used today. 'Caveat emptor!'
I apologize for it being a single paragraph, but that's how it appeared. I consider it not a review of the movie so much as a history of German cinema in and of itself, but let that go. If you read it, did you notice the clear factual error that I did? That Detlaff Sierck "remade himself after the War ... as Douglas Sirk"? The clear implication was that he spent the War in Germany. In fact, he left Germany in 1937 because his second wife was Jewish, made movies in France and Holland, came to the US in 1941, directed Hitler's Children
as Douglas Sirk, which was released in 1943, when, I am reliably informed, the War was still ongoing.
What are the sources of this reviewer's facts? Has he bothered to check them? Or has he simply accepted an authority?
I will accept timely eyewitness testimony, but when an opinion, such as this review, conflicts with facts, my conclusion is that the opinion is nonsense. Far too much academic analysis is based on faulty data. A recent episode of Adam Ruins Everything
(Series 2, Episode 15 "Adam Ruins Science") discusses how a lot of results published in scientific journals these days cannot be reproduced, nor is much funding available for the unexciting task of running confirming experiments. When Kracauer wrote his book a dozen years after he left Berlin, based on what he remembered from before the War, I consider his memories suspect. When Rudiger Suchsland makes Hitler's Hollywood
and announces that he went through the movies looking for confirmation of Kracauer's ideas, my thought is "Confirmation bias!" When I read the above "review", my cynicism overwhelmed me and I wondered if the writer was a student in one of Herr Rudiger's classes. If so, were I Herr Professor, I would grade it a C. As I learned in my graduate days, the way to get an A in a humanities course was to agree 95% with my professor, but disagree on one minor point. This would show that I was a sound and independent thinker. It would have been a B- except for the chronological error.
Neither will I accept an opinion as to artistic validity as true. I've got my own taste. Let me take a look at it and I'll make up my own mind.
So do I reject academia categorically? Well, I'll look there for ideas. I'll look anywhere for ideas. However, your working space being in an ivory tower doesn't make your opinion more valid. Unless, of course, you're talking about the problems of getting people who keep your office clean. Do they use Crest or Colgate to scrub the floors, or is that something for the cleaning lady to worry about?