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German Tendency Films (Tendenzfilme)


This term is used in film journals and books to designate Third Reich propaganda films, although the term was also used in the Weimar years for both Nazi and Red films as well. Today, the term is still employed when discussing a Nazi film's 'tendencies' to influence audiences with the world-view, ideology and contemporary societal values set by Hitler's Germany.

Putting aside the approximately fifty true propaganda feature films produced between 1933 and 1945, there remains another thousand films with varying degrees of  overt and covert NS values. Debate today centres on how subversive such subtle propaganda is for 21st Century audience members. It has been argued that the absence, for instance, of Jews from such films reflects  the ideal Nazi world so the films are inherently suspect by presenting German audiences the world they felt comfortable inhabiting.

The article below is one of the very few published in the Third Reich which discussed tendency films. It appeared in the February 1938 issue of the Will & Power, Leadership Journal of the Hitler Youth, published in Berlin by the Reichsjugendführung.  The author was Gerd Eckert, who was a journalist, writer, and publicist in media and broadcasting, whose real name was Gerhard Eckert.



We have translated the article and present it here for a variety of reasons. First, the article is a long piece and has a solid commentary on the subject. Secondly, it cites the film Hitlerjunge Quex as a 'role model' of Tendency Films. Thirdly, it points out the best such films to date were produced and directed by the same man – Karl Ritter – citing besides Quex his films Operation Michael, Patriots, Traitors, and Leave on Word of Honor.  Forth, it may surprise readers that as at February 1938, in the sixth year of Hitler's regime,  it complains that the Third Reich's film men are failing in producing more of such films. It criticises some film titles by name, and states that the present–day National Socialist Germany is not being represented on the silver screen as it should be.

It goes without saying that many of the most famous or infamous Nazi propaganda films were not produced until the beginning of the Polish Campaign, and the transition into WWII. These included, of course, the many military and war films, anti-Semitic hate films, and Home Front morale-boosting entertainment films such as some of the Zarah Leander, Marika Rökk , Johannes Heesters, and similar pictures.  Nonetheless, the article is worth reading to gain a better insight into the perspective of  those twelve years, and by an important journal of the Reich.


Film tendency and tendency film

The catchphrase with which people in the film circles tried to fight National Socialism and to keep it at bay before 1933 was: Tendency!  The good citizens of all shades dutifully joined in the cries raised by the numerous film Jews and believed that the takeover of power by National Socialism would allow the old Germanic tribes to parade on the screen, dressed in fur, in ever new acts. And the good patriots were worried that the National Socialist film would only be met with cheers. and shouts of healing would work, so that the political purpose, because it was understood at the time, could sanctify all the means of a crude national kitsch. That's not how it happened. On the contrary. The number of films with a political tendency made in five years is only small so that the period before 1933 is notable for films such as "Kuhle Wampe" and "From the Diary of a Gynecologist" or "The Rebel", "Yorck" and “Dawn”  and some others in the field of film tend to be even more fruitful. In the summer of 1933, when the "SA-Mann Brand" appeared on the screen and the film then called "Hans Westmar - one of many" was in preparation, the fears of earlier times seemed to come true. But soon the words of Dr. Goebbels described the situation: “We absolutely do not want, as I have already expressed elsewhere, that our SA men march through the film or across the stage. They should march through the streets. This is just a form of expression of political life, and this form of expression is used when it becomes artistically unavoidable or, in other cases, when you can't think of anything better." The latter was exactly true for the two films mentioned.

Fortunately, the development of a decidedly National Socialist film was by no means complete, and it is still largely in flux today. Because one could not make a more misguided accusation against today's film-making than that its excess of tendentious films is poured out on the unsuspecting cinema-goer. You have to look for angles before you find a film made with a clear political intention that is clearly part of the film theatre's program. Even the most suspicious filmgoer cannot claim that the German feature film tried to influence him politically and ideologically against his will. Apart from some newsreels, the cinema in Germany, which has become political, is an apolitical oasis. And even if you want to be very clever and think that there is a lack  of tendency films, but that the tendency is contained in the details of the film's drawing, you can hardly cite examples for such an argument.

It is definitely not a play on words if tendency film and film tendency are understood as different terms. Depending on your opinion, the word tendency is viewed with more or less sympathy. As a tendency, for a long time, everyone rejected the work of art, the film, that did not agree with their views. A tendency, a clear direction, is something that undoubtedly speaks for an artist because he takes a clear position, he decides and disdains the harmless, non-binding “both – and". Also Schiller's "Robber", his " Wilhelm Tell", Lessing's "Emilia Galoti" or Goethe's "Götz" had a tendency that the people of that time were even more aware of than we who know about them ignore the contemporary problems that lie within them and only pay attention to the lasting basic ideas.

The term tendency has become unpopular because the incompetents believed that only the self-conscious and one-sided representation of their imagination was enough to create a work of art. This applies to all art genres. The black-and-white approach is actually the enemy of tendency because it creates the impression that tendency and misrepresentation are the same thing. This tendency that turns black into white (and vice versa) is either a will that lacks an ability, or an ability whose intention is to deliberately mislead. The fact that something like this is possible does not speak against the tendency itself. This concept extends beyond the narrowness in which it was located at the time of the [Weimar] System, i.e. in the age of a thousand different opinions. Today, a tendency can only be described as a law of life and worldview, as the idea that shapes the face of an entire people. Dr. Goebbels said this clearly enough in his first speech to the filmmakers: “The objections that claim that all art has no tendencies are stupid, naive and illogical. Where is there absolute objectivity? It is precisely the non-tendency that is dangerous, and we must take a closer look at those who advocate it.”

A tendency film is a work that is designed from the outset to guide people in the direction of a specific idea. Only an apolitical person will associate the term "tendency film" with a disparagement of the work described above. Tendency films in this sense, which did not use external symbols, but were designed from within and promoted them, were " Refugees”,  “Hitlerjunge Quex”, “Friesennot”, “Traitors” and “Leave on Word of Honour”. In addition to the tendency film, there is also the film tendency. This is an influence on people by the way certain things are portrayed in the film. A very primitive example: it can be attributed to the film that the suspenders were gradually replaced by the belt. The designers of fashion can also tell enough about the influence of the film in many respects. In this way, the impact of film can be seen in countless areas of life, and this film tendency can be expressed and used to an extent that has hardly been properly recognized until now.

The tendency film is a genre that either doesn't suit Germans or that hasn't yet found the right men. One would rather believe the latter because the propaganda achievements in all areas make it unlikely that the film in particular should be closed to this use. And it is certainly no coincidence that there are three exemplary tendency films - "Hitlerjunge Quex", "Traitors" and “Leave on Word of Honour" - as well as the same man, Karl Ritter, was significantly involved in "Patriots" and "Operation Michael" on a similar level. If in a film genre, the person who is internally moved by the idea has to stand behind the value, this also applies to tendency films. Can another film be shot with routine, with cool calculation and still make a certain instant impression - for the tendency film, the artist is necessary who gives the work the breath of the experience. Because only he can put other people under his spell of the work, who was himself gripped by this work. Hatred can also be such a guiding principle, and the inflammatory films against Germans that appear again and again country and National Socialism, whose dangerous impact is undeniable, arose from such sentiment.

According to the German nature, the German tendency films never grow from such an origin. They want to inspire, to carry people away, and the danger is that the German film loses itself in pathos. Even some successful tendency films did not have the unbiased self-evidence and ease that the Anglo-Saxon nations achieved when it concerned the cause of their fatherland. An attempt in this direction was the film “With Sealed Order”. Here the apparent idler finally turned out to be a hero. But the idea, once conceived, was exaggerated so that the original attitude of the material was completely lost,  was blurred,  and the character change was not necessary. Heroism is a matter that doesn't always need big words and can be expressed far more compellingly in film in other ways. German film producers also have an almost morbid fear of clearly committing to one line. Films like the one just mentioned, “White Slaves” or “The Warsaw Citadel,” which certainly had the foundations for a tendency film, became apparent through the ingredients in the form of clichéd vaudeville or dance scenes reduced to the level of somewhat sparkling entertainment. It is shameful that the film producers here lack the courage that we easily find in “Bengali”, “His Last Command”, “Alarm” or “La Bataille”. The tendency to give a little bit of everything is nowhere more disastrous than in films that want to convince and thrill the viewer. He soon realizes that the designer of the film was just as unsure about his work as he gave something "for feeling" just in case. This lack of decisive attitude is also the main reason why we have so few and among them even fewer good attitude films - as we would like to call tendency films. The tendency film is of course first and foremost a matter of the material, because the viewer deals with it first. Only the plot, which is compellingly developed down to the last detail, can achieve the intended journalistic effect. The script of the entertainment film, which works with coincidences, improbabilities and the hope for the goodwill of the audience, is completely excluded from the film of conviction. It is equally impossible to create something through formal means that is not rooted in the fabric of the material.

The communist “Battleship Potemkin,” rightly described as exemplary, had its effect in equal parts from the cinematic formal language as from the logically inexorable nature of the theme. “Der Hitlerjunge Quex” was also designed in a completely different style, namely German, but also in accordance with form and content. Devices such as close-ups or strongly contrasting cuts should only be used at the climaxes so that they retain their effect and do not change or run dead. The oversized representation of the figures on the canvas and their louder speech than in life ensures an increase in the effect in a very simple way. But above all, as already emphasized, the black and white drawing is an unsuitable means, as it... Perhaps it doesn't convince viewers who aren't yet internally stable but rather offends them. Nevertheless, it's completely self-evident and one of the first propagandistic laws that the worldview expressed in the film must appear to be the only correct one. But the representatives of the other side must be people, which are almost as close to the feelings of the spectators, whose final conviction is then perceived as a success. They are people who are almost as close to the feelings of the spectators, whose final conviction is then perceived as a success. Here, too, "Hitlerjunge Quex" is a role model that could only be matched in terms of human consistency by “Leave on Word of Honour." The communists in this film were not just bad guys, but also feeling people, and the viewer felt their conflict, and the National Socialist tendency of this film really penetrated the heart. It can be seen as certain that this film, in the first year of the Third Reich, won many cinema–goers over to National Socialism. The feature film can, as can be proven in many ways, be used for journalistic purposes. The newsreel can only show the facts, while the feature film is open to all the topics to which the newsreel has no access, and it can recreate what the reportage-like newsreel missed. Above all, however, the feature film combines a plot with the facts, which gives the events the meaning that relates to individual lives.

Creating an experience for the cinema-goer – that has to be the point of the tendency film. Because he sets himself the task of convincing people and winning them over to the views he presents. It is precisely the decisive effect of the film that it appeals to the emotional world of its audience in everything. Film, like no other art, tends from the outset to tendency, i.e. to express an attitude, because it works with the most easily understandable and obvious means of the image. Precisely for this reason it must not only be used again and again as a pure means of entertainment, but also represent the mindlessness of a world with which we live in the National Socialist reality. have nothing to do with it. Filmgoers don't want any bias, claim the film's powerful people. But they forgot an important word in this sentence: moviegoers don't want bad tendencies! Films like "Hitlerjunge Quex", "Traitors" or “Leave on Word of on Honor" are certainly no worse business than the 26th Ganghofer film adaptation or one of those placeless and timeless operetta-like films whose lemonade infusion leaves an unpleasantly sweet aftertaste. And the numerous political film events, not least the Hitler Youth Film Hours, ensure that such a tendency film is evaluated and fulfils its purpose.

After all, what greater security can it provide for a tendency film than the stability of our state? The film–maker who wanted to make a tendency film in the spirit of the Brüning government six or seven years ago had to fear that when he finished this film it would be at the helm of the government after next. But the film artist who today lacks the courage to openly commit himself and work on the artistic formation of a tendency will never be able to create a German film because he is outside of time. A political people like the Germans have come to want to see more on the screen today than before, they welcome the film, which corresponds in everything to his political thinking, his feelings and his convictions. Your mindless people, who are not satisfied with our worldview, will always doubt this. But why do we still listen to them? That entertainment has to be in the film and it must be on a wide scale because people need relaxation after work, and that such films also have a purpose in this sense - who can condemn that! But a few times a year we want to sit in front of the screen and be conscious that this film speaks our language.

The entertainment film, however, contains precisely what must be described as the opposition of the tendency film with the film tendency. The question arises as to whether the film should be a pipe dream or not and we clearly choose the life that seems more wonderful and surprising to us than the mirage that nine-tenths of our films still lead us to believe. We see actors on the movie screen and we wish that they corresponded to the type that makes up the majority of our people. The screen should certainly show us beautiful actresses, but we don't want to see the embodiment of saleswomen or stenographers who owe their appearance solely to copies of American film divas, and whoever can do something and brings us a human fate to life is preferable to us rather than someone who plays in one world that doesn't exist. Our casting departments should select people for the films as we know them from life – realism in this respect is not a renunciation of artistic form. This can be seen in the “Leave on Word of Honor". The buildings that we see in the film are intended to represent the so-neglected taste in terms of interior and exterior architecture, but one should not create palatial monsters and luxury furniture like they do for ordinary contemporaries.  Film stars tend to live in their private lives, and who only owe their existence to the lush imagination of the architect of the film sets. If a film artist believes that he cannot deal with tendency films - and if he knows that he cannot and therefore leave them alone, we would rather hurt him than someone who does it anyway! But he should pay more attention to this film tendency, or let's say this educational opportunity for film, with a little more emphasis.

The more you go to the cinema, the clearer it becomes that the world depicted there has, in the majority of cases, nothing to do with our National Socialist present. Certainly, we have seen good films and significant technical progress has been made. But our new feeling for life has penetrated very few films. The month of January  [1938] brought us the premiere of nine German films  – of which only two were not based on a literary work, and these two were irrelevant. This view of the film producers, that they find satisfaction in filming literary works and forego the effort of tracking down the creative forces that certainly exist in our time, really has nothing to do with National Socialism and - this should be borne in mind - it is suitable for attracting young people to the cinema quickly and thoroughly to alienate. Relationship with life - every film needs this tendency, and only it will contribute to its own to develop German film style. So the demand for the future is clear, and that means: tendencies e.g. But these films are not intended to attack the audience with a club, but rather to increase their attitude to life. This is the same law that governs every true work of art. The world expects films from us that reflect the spirit of our time and our people, and we expect our films to reflect our view of life - at least not to contradict it. Just as the French film has its French tendency, the American film has its American tendency, the Soviet Russian film has its red tendency - our film should finally take on its characteristic German touch. This places demands and demands on film companies, directors and film actors that it seems superfluous to mention by name.

[Gerd Eckert, in:  Will and Power, Leader Organ of the National Socialist Youth, issue  4,  15 .2 1938, 6th publication  year,  pp.  19 - 25.]