Carrying out the research

Within the historical context outlined above, the present study aims to answer three main questions. In the first place, which narrative forms and cinema-tographical means do the selected films use to represent the war experience? Secondly, how did the critics react to the war films? Thirdly, on the basis of the cinematic representations of the war and the reactions they received, what can be said about the process of coming to terms with the war?

These questions will be discussed specifically in each chapter. Two central topics for research emerge from them: the films themselves and the critical reviews (and more generally, the written texts about the films). It is my aim to discover what meanings the war has generated through these texts by describing and analysing the films and the reviews. It is true that studying the specifically cinematic production of meaning is my central concern, but in order to understand its function within a broader social context, this production of meaning cannot be considered independently from reactions in the press. On their part, films and criticism cannot be assumed to exist outside socio-cultural practices.

Another part of the analysis concerns the way the stories are told and the cinematic means that are used, although these cannot be seen apart from each other. This does not imply that my discussion involves a detailed analysis of things such as camera positions, editing and mise en scène. My cinemato-graphical analysis focuses on the historiographical means of representation; in other words, the attempts made in the films to get as close to the past as possible, especially where the battlefield scenes are concerned. With regard to the selection of films, I would like to make the following remark. While this study is concerned with German war films made in the Weimar period, most but not all films from the period will be discussed. The first objective was to make an analysis of the specific way German war films approach the past, not completeness. For war films that are not discussed in these chapters, I refer to the appendix that lists the credits.78 The omission of several German films is balanced by the inclusion of two Austrian films, Brandstifter Europas and Namenlose Helden. They offer an interesting view on German war history, and were both released and reviewed in Germany.

A second limitation has to do with the fact that some of the films discussed in this study have been lost. That is why some analyses have been confined to the narrative of the film as paraphrased in programmes and reviews.

One way of researching the special role played by war films in coming to terms with the war is comparing them with what was written about the war in novels of the time. This would cause the research to lean over to the literary field -more than two hundred war novels, memoirs and so on appeared between 1928 and 1932 - and create an overlap with existing research on the subject.79 Instead, I have only drawn on literature in a strictly intertextual sense, i.e. novels that served as the starting points for the relevant war films.

The literary context is only one of many referred to by the films. Studying the relationships between films and their social contexts is more problematic than one would suspect at first glance. Projecting socio-cultural developments, trends or events onto story contents or cinematographic features of individual films may all too often lead to highly speculative conclusions, as we have seen with Kracauer.80 It is much better to think of the films as being grouped around one particular theme and having been produced in roughly the same period. In this way, the films can be considered as representing a theme that was of topical interest at the time. This applies to the films that are central to this study, but it does not solve the problem of what they actually mean. We will get some idea of how the war past was perceived at a certain moment, or how the war past should be perceived, but this does not tell us what role the films played in coming to terms with the war, nor how they functioned in the broader social contexts. The contexts of the films are therefore approached as follows: on the one hand, my research draws on data about the realisation of the films; on the other hand, it involves written texts about the films, such as advertisements, critiques and other reviews. Information about the realisation of the films has been gleaned from specialist journals, advertisements and some of the critical reviews. The latter category of written texts in-

eludes a representative selection of articles from the daily press. The main consideration was using source material that was accessible to the general public. Such material would also give some idea of the sources that influenced the perceptions or opinions of the cinema-going public. Since there is hardly any source material about concrete audience reactions, we have to make do with the response of only a very select part of the audience, the representatives of the press. In addition, there are hardly any specific data on the numbers of people who came to see these films, nor do we know exactly how long these films ran in the cinemas. However, some indication of the popularity of the films exists, because lists of the most popular films of a given year were published in the specialist film journals.

I consider the critics that I base myself on to belong to the 'interpretative community', people who contribute to the formation of public opinion.81 Just as politicians, intellectuals, teachers and clergymen represent authority and influence our world views, critics mould and shape opinion within a cultural practice such as the cinema. They stimulate their readers to form an opinion by arguing for or against a particular film and ascribing a certain value to it, and they also help to establish a certain image about the medium of film in general. Just as importantly, the critical reviews also contain direct or indirect comments on social developments. Such direct references to any text outside the film, such as a book, another film, or a contemporary or historical event, are part of my analysis. In this way, the films are not only placed in a certain context by the opinion leaders of the day, but also by me.

Contemporary critics often reviewed films or gave social comment from a political or ideological angle, since most of the press were aligned to certain political parties. The scope for interpreting the war past, its consequences and the way it could be represented as defined by the ideological positions taken up by the parties: communist, social democratic, left-wing or right-wing liberal, confessional, monarchist or National Socialist. In 1930, someone cynically portrayed a film critic thus: 'He does not judge according to his own feelings, but according to the leanings of his newspaper. He does not write his own opinion, but that of his editors. He does not consider what he has seen, but he takes the interests and connections of his publisher into consideration.'82 By opting for a broad ideological spectrum l have tried to lend a platform to a wide range of different or even conflicting 'voices' commenting on the war and its cinematic representation. By close-reading the reviews, I have tried to bring the arguments, emotions and the associations with regard to the war itself and the films to the surface. My goal was finding out how the images of war were perceived and for what reason certain films or sequences of film were either rejected or accepted, booed or cheered.

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