The representations of the violence of war inspired many critics to make political statements, and this was also true for the characters in the films. The analyses of the films showed that the characters, including their actions and motives, represented certain meanings and values. The three main categories of meaning in which these actions and motives were placed - by the critics as well - are comradeship, heroism and nationalism. How these were then judged often dependend on the ideological perspective from which the film was viewed. Not all characters turned out to evoke ideological connotations. In the films, some characters were not profiled as sharply as others, and this was also true for the reviews. The reviews of Westfront 1918 were an exception, in that they commented on practically all the protagonists. Reviews of Die andere Seite paid most attention to colonel Stanhope, and in reviews of Niemandsland, it was the German, the African and the Jew who were looked at most closely. The other protagonists and minor characters were usually mentioned briefly or perhaps evaluated in terms of their acting capabilities.
The analysis of Westfront 1918 showed that the characters represented social types. While none of the reviews pays any explicit attention to this point, the exemplary nature of the characters is nevertheless noticed. The critic of Der Montag, the only weekly newspaper of the right that wrote very favourably about Westfront 1918, said the following: 'Vier Infanteristen, in denen sich das Schicksal von Millionen verkörpert. Vier Männer, in denen sich Hunderttausende von tapferen Volksgenossen widerspiegeln.'90 Eugen Szatmari, writing for the left-liberal Berliner Tageblatt, remarks:
Vier Menschen verschiedener Abstammung, verschiedenen Charakters, zusammengeschmolzen im fürchterlichen Tiegel des Schützengrabens. Vier Schicksale und doch nur eines. Das Schicksal von 10 Millionen Menschen.91
The ideological difference between both reviews is expressed in the words 'tapferen Volksgenossen' with which Der Montag associates the four infantry men. The author refers to national heroism, which is not mentioned at all in the second review. I will return to the associations with heroism later.
The characters were not associated with their social origins, but with specific war or home front experiences. The Student with his death agony, Karl with his homecoming, the Lieutenant with his law-abiding attitude and his madness, and the Bavarian, finally, with his anti-heroic remark. The reactions to the scene with the Student have already been discussed extensively. It is therefore appropriate to discuss the reactions to some of the other characters.
If we are to believe the critics, the premiere of Westfront 1918 was a lively affair. The audience did not only react strongly to the film violence, but the sequence in which Karl catches his wife in the act provoked a strong response. Apparently, many people in the audience found the sequence hilarious.92 According to the critics, the unintended comedy occurred because the scene was trivial93, kitschy94, superfluous, old-fashioned95, embarrassing and stupid96. This sequence was the only one in the film that was set on the home front. It is not unlikely, therefore, that the transition from the realistic and rough front scenes to the homecoming scene, with its overtones of the 'Kammerspiel', was felt to be a stylistic incongruity. The naturalistic acting performances by the front soldiers was a considerable contrast with the theatrical acting style 'des albernene Dialogs, (...) des altmodischen-getragenen Spiels'97 of those representing the home front.
Those parts of the sequence in which the food shortages were represented were much more appreciated. The realistic style fitted in much better with the front scenes. According to the critics Kracauer and Szatmari, however, the scene did no justice to the home front situation: 'So bleibt doch insgesamt die Front in der Heimat unsichtbar.'98 Bearing in mind the 'Dolchstosslegende', we need hardly be surprised that the Völkischer Beobachter found it hard to muster any 'sympathy' for the 'Heimat, die zwischen Jammer und Genuss in Sicherheit dahinlebt'.99
Another character that caused resentment was the Lieutenant who fell victim to madness. While some critics found the scene exaggerated or unreal, Szatmari of the Berliner Tageblatt opened his review with an extensive description of this scene, which he considered the high point of the film.100 The dramatic words that he chose to express his feelings leave little doubt as to his appreciation of this scene. What follows is part of a paragraph he devoted to the Lieutenant:
In dem zusammengeschossenen Graben, im Geschosshagel, im Nebelschleier der Explosionswolken der Handgranaten erhebt sich aus einem Haufen verstümmelter, blutender, zersetzter Menschenleiber ein Mann. Ein Leutnant. Greift sich an die Stirn, starrt mit irren Augen in die verpestete Luft, sein vom Grauen verschleierter Blick tastet die aufgewühlte, von Granaten zerpflügte Erde ab, er wirft die Arme in die Luft, wie einer, der zu Tode getroffen wurde, und brüllt auf. 'Hurra' - schreit er -'hurra, hurra!' - brüllt weiter, kein Mensch mehr, sondern ein verwundetes Tier, der Wahnsinn zittert in seinem Geheul.101
It was not often that a film elicited such dramatic, almost literary descriptions from a critic. In contrast, the Kreuz-Zeitung found this particular scene, as well as many others, the absolute low point of the film. 'Am unerhörtesten ist aber ohne Zweifel die Szene, wo der Leutnant und Kompagnieführer, wahnsinnig geworden durch einen Granateinschlag in Grossaufnahme gezeigt wird.'102
These are two contrasting interpretations of one and the same scene. While Szatmari explains the madness explicitly from the Lieutenant's view of the 'field of death', the Kreuz-Zeitung says the fit of madness is caused by an exploding shell. This assertion does not correspond with what the film actually shows, but it does fit in with what is described in the book.103 No blood is seen streaming from the Lieutenant's head, nor is he hurt in his legs, or he would be unable to stand up, as Szatmari correctly describes. The Völkischer Beobachter adopted a middle course, saying the Lieutenant suffered a 'Nervenzusammenbruch' or 'Hirnverletzung'.104 These are the only two reviews that refer to a physical wound, critics of newspapers that did not belong to the political right only speak of madness. The Völkischer Beobachter did not pay much attention to the madness scene, focusing instead on the way Pabst had represented the law-abiding side of the Lieutenant's character: 'Das ist natürlich auch Tendenz, gegen den "Kadavergehorsam" und so!'105 Although this critic says he is revealing Pabst's true intentions, the Vossische Zeitung says the officer in question is the type that would 'heute [be] irgendein rechtsradikaler Jugenderzieher (...) der seinen Jünglingen von einer "schrecklichen Schönheit" des Weltkrieges nicht genug erzählen konnte'.106 It goes without saying, however, that the National Socialist movement would rather not have any officers with overstrained nerves among its rank and file.
The character of the Bavarian was in a number of cases also interpreted as an expression of the film's tendency. Of course, this pertained to his remark 'Dös, wenn wir Helden wären, täten wir längst daheim sein!'107 Critics found this 'der beste Satz dieses Sprechfilms',108 'ganz verständlich',109 'damit sagt der Soldat das Wesentliche'110 and 'höchst bedenklich'111. In the first three commentaries, derived from left-liberal newspapers, the remark is implicitly or explicitly associated with a pacifist tendency.112 It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the right-wing Kreuz-Zeitung - the last quotation - should have rejected the remark. Despite the fact that the Bavarian implies that he and his comrades are not heroes, the film is not free from heroism, as I already pointed out in the analysis of the film. Pabst's ambivalence on this issue is borne out by the review in the Völkischer Beobachter. While it is true that the critic for this newspaper did not pay any attention to the Bavarian's remark - who, incidentally, was one of his favorite characters - he closely examines the role of heroism in the film. In the third paragraph of his article, after referring to Remarque, even, the critic asserts that it is no longer possible to ridicule the front soldier or falsify the front experience.
Man muss Konzessionen machen. Selbst der Latrinenschreiber Remarque ist angewiesen worden, seine Zerrbilder mit etwas Heroismus zu vermengen, um eine gute Presse für die Reklame zu haben. So ist es auch hier.113
With any representation of the trench war, the intention will always be 'die Widerstandskraft eines Volkes gegen das Schicksal zu zerstören, aber eine allzu tolle Verschiebung der Wirklichkeit kann man sich nicht mehr leisten'. In pacifist film propaganda, the important thing is the conclusion reached 'während der Darstellung an sich in ihrer Realistik objektiv bleibt.' Westfront 1918 also gives an 'im ganzen einwandfreie Wiedergabe der Wirklichkeit'. And in the next paragraph: 'Die ganz unverhüllte pazifistische Schlussapotheose dieses Films [wirkt, BK] grotesk und aufs tiefste unbefriedigend nach der Darstellung von soviel Heldentum!'114
Here, heroism is not ascribed to nationalist motives that are lacking in this film. The fact, for example, that Karl and the Student volunteer for reasons other than honour and patriotism is left out of consideration. Carrying out combat patrols and the courage this requires were enough to speak of heroism. It is striking how much the critic tries to rationalise his own enthusiasm for the film by discrediting Pabst. He is supposed to have made concessions in order to ingratiate himself with the press and the general public, and this means he cannot escape from representing the war in accordance with the views of the political right, meaning an emphasis on heroism. As became clear earlier, Die Rote Fahne was not particularly enthusiastic about the film. Here too, but this time in the opposite and very superficial way, the argument of heroism was deployed. The weakness of the film was mainly in the ' ersten teil, wo ein bisschen in "Heldentum" gemacht wird'.115 Nothing is said about how the film gives shape to this. Although it is impossible to deny, on the basis of the reviews, that Pabst's attitude to heroism is ambivalent, both newspapers disregard the fact that what he shows in his film is a different kind of 'heroism'. Remarkably enough, the two newspapers do not mention the Bavarian's observation. This other kind of heroism was, however, noticed by the left-liberal Berliner Morgenpost: 'Es geht um das Vaterland, um das Stückchen Graben, natürlich, aber das ist dem Frontsoldaten erst zweites Bewusstsein. Das erste ist: es gilt mein Leben, das muss ich verteidigen!'116 The Bavarian's remark is said to convey this "Wesentliche" (see earlier quotation). 'Gewiss, man kann sich diesen Ausspruch auch anders auslegen, aber, wer das da mittgemacht hat, weiss genau, wie es gemeint ist.'117 Not as cowardice, of course.
With a number of critics, Die andere Seite evoked associations with heroism as well, usually through Conrad Veidt in his role as commander Stanhope. Analogous to the film poster, which features his head prominently, the film shows Veidt's face a number of times in close-up. As the Vossische Zeitung wrote, 'Man lernte Veidts Stirnadern kennen, Veidts Zähne, Veidts Halsmuskeln, Veidts Pupillen.' It is not surprising, therefore, that the character he played received the most attention. Besides, he had already achieved considerable fame as a screen actor. Critics praised his humanity as well as his valour. About the former quality, the Berliner Morgenpost writes: 'Ohne jede Pose, absolut menschlich, zeigt er sein Inneres, und er vermag diesen zerrissenen Mensch glaubwürdig zu gestalten.'118 This humanity was also associated with the other side of heroism, as Vorwärts writes:
Der Engländer Sheriff untersucht, durch welche Mittel der Held seinen Mut erkauft, er deckt die andere Seite des Heldentums auf. Die andere Seite des Helden ist 'Black and White'. Der fürchterliche Unfug des Krieges wird mit Hilfe von Alkohol ertragen.119
True enough, the right-wing Der Tag recognises Stanhope's fear ('Kleinmut'), but it stresses his heroic character:
Veidt ist nicht dämonisch, er ist besessen von dem Zwang zur Pflicht, von dem inneren nicht Zurückkönnen, vorwärts, gepeitscht von der Verehrung seiner Untergebenen, die nur das Heldische an ihm, nicht den immer und immer wieder unterdrückten Kleinmut sehen.120
In a similar vein, the right-wing confessional newspaper Germania describes Stanhope as someone who seems 'hart, brutal, gefühlsroh [erscheint], [but] der mit ganzer Liebe an seinen Kameraden hängt, und der nach dem letzten Schmerz aufrecht den Tod annimmt'.121
The approach of the communist newspaper Welt am Abend is interesting. Its critic compares the stage actor Wiemann, who played Stanhope on the stage, with Conrad Veidt, and notices that a change has occurred in the film character:
Wiemann (im Theater): ein erledigter Mensch, neurasthenisch geworden, mit letzter Energie und mit Schnaps nach Halt suchend. Veidt (im Film): der stahlharte Kämpfertyp, wie er ihn in Hugenbergs 'Letzter Kompagnie' darstellte. Schneidig, forsch, gelegentliche Verzweiflung wird rasch überwunden. 'Ein Vorbild'. 'Ein Held'. Ein nationalistischer Propagandafilms also? Nicht ganz. Paul offenbart überhaupt keinen Standpunkt. Aber der Weg weist nach rechts.122
Reviews indicate that the way that Paul, through Conrad Veidt, gives shape to the heroic aspect did not provoke any negative reactions. Although Die Welt am Abend more or less places the film in the right-wing camp, the reactions from social-democrats and left-liberals are not negative. There is an attitude of indecision towards the film. After all, while the film shows the other side of heroism and of the war, it is not unequivocal, as is already clear from the film's motto. Besides the protagonists' overstrained emotions, we see also 'selbstverständlichen Willen zur Selbstbezwingung, zur Pflichterfüllung, zur Kameradschaftlichkeit', as the left-liberal Berliner Börsen-Courier remarks.123 Some see a positive side of heroism in this, a heroism in which is done with 'der Erfreulichkeit des Stahlbades, mit den Segnungen des Heldentodes', as the Reichsfilmblatt writes.124 This aspect is appreciated by the left and liberal press, while the right-wing press emphasises the heroic aspect. Due to this ambiguity, there are few newspaper critics who are enthusiastic about the film without harbouring any reservations (with the exception of the critics of the professional publications, Germania and the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, the last two mainly because of the 'spiritual-psychological' aspect). It should be noted that the film clearly suffered from the success of the play.
In the reviews of Westfront 1918, the violent scenes and the comradeship were the main starting points in the argumentation, while reviews of Die andere Seite emphasised psychology, heroism and again, comradeship. This aspect returns in the discussions of Niemandsland. Less ambiguously than in reviews of the other two films, the critics reviewing Niemandsland are divided into two camps. The left (with the exception of the communists) and the left-liberals are favourably impressed, the right is mostly negative. The film itself is unequivocal in its stance against war and in the notion of fraternisation that is part of pacifism. It goes without saying that the right-wing critics were less than enthusiastic. The communist left rejected the film for the same reasons it denounced Westfront 1918, namely that, even more so than in Westfront 1918, pacifism is the dominant force in Niemandsland. It is self-evident that the arguments used by the extreme left differed from those used by the extreme right. Although Die Rote Fahne treats the film slightly more positively than other war films - among other things, because Niemandsland was clearly inspired by Russian film art - the newspaper believed that the imperialist causes were left out of the picture, which for the communists was always an important reason to reject a war film.125
In their appraisal of Niemandsland, the right-wing critics in particular aimed at the stereotypical characterisation of the protagonists. The most controversial reactions were evoked by the African and, to a lesser degree, by the German. The way this last character was represented was cause for excitement at Goebbels' party paper, Der Angriff:
Der Deutsche ist ein spiessiger Tischler, der schmalzige Vereinslieder grölt und mit einer Kinderkanone seinen Jungen unterhält, der natürlich mit Soldaten spielt, damit doch die Welt darüber aufgeklärt werde, wie sehr in Deutschland bereits die Jugend mit dem Ungeist des Militarismus infiziert wurde. Schliesslich schleicht er zur Kaserne wie zum Begräbnis, bis schmetternde Militärmusik aus ihm einen heroischen Hanswurst macht.126
The film was said to make Germans look 'verächtlich und lächerlich' and to falsify a 'grosses geschichtliches Geschehen zur Karikatur'. Der Angriff wanted a ban on the film on the basis of these arguments. In contrast to this newspaper, most other reviews praised the representation of the German character. The right-wing Deutsche Zeitung, however, did not waste any words at all on the issue.
While Der Angriff vilifies the representation of the German, the Jewish tailor and the African get off relatively lightly. The latter is accused of 'Albernheiten' and held responsible for spreading his pacifist ideas to his fellows in misery127, but the only argument for rejecting the film is its pacifism. However, the Deutsche Zeitung does not mince words when it coveys its loathing for the African:
Und weil man eben ohne Verfälschung der historischen Wahrheit nicht auskommen kann, tritt ein Neger in französischer Uniform als Friedensengel zwischen die vier Versprengten. Nicht ein brutaler Halbwilder, wie ihn die Franzosen als 'Kulturträger' zum deutschen Rhein marschieren liessen, sondern ein richtiger kultivierter Negerartist, der auch in französicher Uniform während der tollsten Trommelfeuer jongliert und steppt und wegen seiner vielseitigen Sprachkenntnisse im Niemandsland zum Dolmetscher und Friedensmittler wird. (...) Ob die Franzosen diesem Film einen Friedenspreis versagt haben, weil ein schwarzer französischer 'Kulturträger' - wenn auch in ungefälschter, günstiger Form - gezeigt wird?128
The moment an African is represented in a positive light, racism rears its ugly head, followed by an implacable attitude towards the French. The same combination can be found in the Kreuz-Zeitung, which, curiously enough, refers to the African as Swiss, probably because of his linguistic capabilities:
Im Mittelpunkt der Handlung steht ein Schweizer Poilu, der von Menschlichkeit trieft - die nettoyeurs, die die Franzosen in unsere Gräben schickten, um deutsche Soldaten mit langen Messern abzuschlachten, stehen uns jedoch zu deutlich vor der Seele, als dass wir auf so plumpe und verlogene Propagandamätzchen hereinfielen. Nach Schluss des Spiels umarmte der deutsche Hauptdarsteller den französischen [not the African, BK] zum Bruderkuss - man wird von uns nicht verlangen dürfen, dass wir uns an solchem Verbrüderungstheater erfreuen.129
The keywords in the right's arguments against the film are racism, hate against France and anti-pacifism. The war seems not to have ended, and resentment predominates. Old myths about 'semi-savages' and soldiers with long knives are used to discredit the war methods of the French. In addition, the ancient thesis of attack - Germany waged a defensive war - also played a role. To the right, the enemy is only imaginable as a 'real' enemy, not as a potential comrade or companion in misfortune.
It is clear that the four films (included Namenlose Helden) cannot be considered 'counter-histories' to the same extent. At any rate, this is suggested by the analyses of the films, as well as by the critical reviews. In both cases, Die andere Seite turns out to be the most conventional film. Reactions were in keeping with the film, i.e. moderate and not very sensational. Due to its realistic style and because of its uncompromising representation of the violence of war, Westfront 1918 is the most radical film, provoking the fiercest reactions. The weaknesses that were identified in the analysis (heroic myths, battlefront versus home front, racism) hardly surface at all in these reactions. Some critics were clearly more comfortable with accepting an African character in a negative role than in a positive one.
We can also establish that there was no problem of representation. After all, while documentaries were criticised for failing to represent the reality of war in a sufficiently truthful way (see the previous chapter), the 'fictive' reality presented in anti-war films did not satisfy either, as critics found the onscreen violence too much. In addition, the violence in the films was much more moderate than the violence described in war literature, and it was nothing compared to photographic representations such as those by Ernst Friedrich.13"
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