Die Legende von der Unschuld

Films about the run-up to the war, especially

1914. Die letzten Tage vor dem Weltbrand

The Weimar period was characterised by numerous burning questions which each in their turn, or simultaneously, troubled public opinion. One of these was receiving attention almost constantly: the negotiations surrounding the Treaty of Versailles and the issue linked to them, that is, the question whether or not Germany was to blame for the outbreak of the First World War. In order to prove that Germany did not bear any guilt for the war - and would therefore not have to pay for it - large-scale research was carried out into the period that had preceded the war. This chapter deals with the way films tried to contribute to the discussions surrounding the run-up to the First World War. One film especially will be central to the discussion in this chapter: 1914. Die letzten Tage vor dem Weltbrand (1931) (from now on referred to as 1914).2 This film was director Richard Oswald's first (and only) serious attempt to make the complex issue of the question of guilt accessible to a large audience. In two earlier films that dealt with this subject, a central position had been taken up by the romantic aspect. They are Der Doppelmord von Sarajewo (1920) and Brandstifter Europas (1926), which had originally been made in Austria. Since very little source material has been preserved about these films, they will be given less attention than 1914.

This chapter will deal with the question which interpretations of the question of guilt were possible in the Weimar period, especially in film and literature. Which means of representation did the directors and authors choose, what were their starting points, what obstacles did they find on their way, and finally, what were the reactions in the press? The three films were, to a greater or lesser degree, part of the debate surrounding the guilt question. In order to understand the outspoken reactions that came from the authorities and the press, we will analyse the above-mentioned films and discuss some of the specific sources that formed the basis for the 'film stories'. This procedure is especially useful for 1914. The controversies sparked by this film even before its release indicate the sensitive nature of the subject. Incidentally, war films were part of a group of films that induced critics to use different evaluation criteria. While critics judged films that had nothing to do with the recent war past mainly on the basis of their aesthetic and dramaturgical merits, war films were often judged in terms of how 'accurate' they were historically and how 'correctly' they reflected the recent past in political terms.

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