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THE NATURE OF TRUE FILM ART 

–  Main address by Prof. Karl Ritter, RFK Congress, Berlin, 1938

 

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" The generous and unique actions of the State for the freedom of film work represents a heavy, not generally grasped, obligation for German filmmakers of every kind. The State expects from us no other achievements than in the businessman period of our film development. The State has removed all obstacles, fundamentally and incisively, like no other place on earth. The way is clear for the once richly derided, skeptical doubting from art. We must trod this path or cede to others, to make way for a better place.


For decades the German filmmaker had to appeal to the dictatorship of industry if the great gamble failed. For decades he could, with good reason, maintain that artistic film endeavors must remain a stepchild as long as film was a “line of business,” as long as salesmen ruled, for when art was less understood than business, as long as the customer clapped his hands over his head when he heard that the hired film was supposed to be a work of art.


The conditions have fundamentally changed as we turned to hope through our bold dreams. Those who lived through the evolution of film from the primitive “flickers” show booth, from the cheerful sensation of the Bioscope and the street cinema from the object of business speculation, of calculating finance men through cheap entertainment for the masses, witnessed the condition of filmmaking in today’s Germany as a miracle.
Today our achievements are not those of economic guidelines nor after the supposed tastes of the supposed public - today they are so far as film work is concerned, once and for all guided by the expectations of the State.
We have to again and again hold up this newness, joyous and moved by the high distinction, from the unique lifting of our work out of the depression of superficial endeavors and businesslike situations, to the level of creative and national-political activities, with equal rights to those of visual art, next to poetry and music and the art of the tradition-laden theater stage.


Whoever does not feel the deep responsibility to today’s creative, economic, or technical filmmaking, which is imposed upon our work for all time, or who feels it is disturbing to business – he must leave and return to the profession from which he once found a favorable economic time.
I think it does not preclude —  it is not necessary that every film be artistic or national-political, for instance in the sense of our state-certified Predicates. There must be gradations given, like in literature, or the theater stage. and also in the visual arts. Therefore for example, a ladder of great dramas down to those of farce. One cannot say that there must be mediocrity, just so that first-class top performances can stand out.
No, this principle had its validity in the past period of commercial films. Today it is not allowed to be so characterized. Just as little are we,  from the artist, consciously striving for mediocrity, just as little do we permit our desire to work to be directed which is not artistic or quite unartistic, to fail. I will by that say that every German filmmaker, whether he is a producer, head of production, actor, or any other colleague involved with film, from the beginning has the ambition of top performances and must possess the imperturbable striving towards the artistic end goal. There can be no more films in which this will for instance is uncalled for or is superfluous, for that in no way corresponds to the generous action and the high expectations of the national leadership, whose state-political goal it is that film be raised as a matter of the peoples’ understanding and for the spiritual education of wide sections of our Volk, to rise to an ever-higher artistic level. Therefore, inevitable pure businesslike calculations and speculation without looking back at the cinematic oeuvre which belonged to (each) past, in which we characterize in men as a “line of business” and “industry,” the concept of cinematic art came a long way behind film commerce.


Today film in Germany must be created by filmmakers and not by film businessmen. That is how the State and our increasingly sensitive Volk expect it to be. Today’s films must be felt as cinematic artistically, not commercially, from the first plans, indifferent as to whether their content is of a serious or joyful nature, whether a drama, spectacle, comedy, operetta, or farce as to the validity of their plot. That this is a utopia we can prove only too well by other old art forms. It is not always successful to reach an ideal one has in mind. But unquestionably, it is better from the beginning to wish for the highest, best and most beautiful, rather than consciously tackle something less worthy and second class, with the feeble consolation to perhaps strive for one or more top performances later in the framework of the program.


No and again No!  For a few single successes has the State certainly not fundamentally changed German film-making. The level of the entire German film industry should be raised, not just in the interest of German film alone, but rather in the interests of the German Volk, for which – in contrast to the earlier – bluntly, only the best is good enough.


What was primary earlier - the concept of amortization and net profit – turnover and sales – that is today obviously secondary. Certainly the State has not smoothed the way for an artist so that he can create a catastrophic film. The proud word being expressed for the national stage is: “Since you are not chasing money, money is now chasing you!” must also be valid for us, and all skeptical and nervous grumblers should be told: “That will do!”  We have had enough examples. It is a proud and delightful feeling to experience today that with true film works equal or greater profits are being achieved than with the so-called commercial films of earlier times. This certain belief must satisfy every German film maker, not the thoughts on the mentality of the general public, to the financial success in major cities or the provinces, domestically or overseas, or the approval of the film salesmen.


Today’s film manger has thankfully become different. He is happy to obtain income from worthwhile film works because he too makes increased profit in contrast to the businessmen who, with shallow kitsch and superficial productions, wanted to make money. I believe also that the cinema owner stands with a raised artistic spirit of audience members, in contrast to the “Flicks” owner who wanted to fill his coffers with botched-up works, which deliberately appealed to the basest instincts and the lecherous and sensational greed of the wide masses, who were made into objects of exploitation.


The film manager and cameraman wish to be carefree; we wish the same thing if profits are not yet higher than before. That should be a not unimportant part of our ambition. But we want to reach out in other ways than erstwhile in the past. Thanks to the binding and constantly admonishing initiatives of the national leadership, we want and will fill the cinema box office with contemporary film productions of the film studios, namely with the works of true cinematic art; that a few years ago was the jocular word of the film offices on Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse. True film art: a controversial and in the rapid development of filmmaking a yet unfinished contouring concept.  We still try, we feel our way, we approach a goal of which we dream. Slowly a shape arises, that is worthy and can bring other artists alongside, without these – as so long feared – being affected/touched on.


The new Muse is no child of Thalias, she is the young sister and the equal of Polyhymnia, Therpsychore and Klio. For film does not wish to replace the stage, to displace the book: it wants its own realm, its own life, its own legitimacy. It is the youngest, therefore contemporary, form of expressiveness of the dramatic arts, nearly without tradition, still in the stadium of ripeness, becoming. A new land with as yet undiscovered areas and apparent unlimited possibilities.


The means of discovery in this new wonderland of art remains reserved for the practical working filmmakers. Because film is too young for theories. It has not yet reached its summit, from which it can look both back and forward with leisure. And yet, it appears delighted – also for the man of experience – now already following the rules – that can prevent it – that the degree of perfection of a few film productions is left to chance. I am strongly convinced that the time is over in which a commercial or artistically successful film was a gamble. That was in those years the case in which the cinema public gave consideration to unknown quantities because of class and race, in political parties and mentalities, in national and international, in cities and provinces, in narrow-minded and aesthetes, and in God knows what still broken.


That that is today otherwise, we consider self-evident. The Volk, for whom we create, no longer has 67 million different beating, feeling hearts. It has through the great spiritual radical change, under the leadership of its Awakener, once again that of a simple, great pulsating heart which has found its way back to its tremendous past and its eternal writers and thinkers.


For the creative artist this is a deeply delightful fact. For nothing else does he form and work than the heart. If he does not find his way to the peoples’ heart, if he does not follow the pulse in his own small heart, then all attempts and activity, every flow and fanaticism has lost its sense. Out of this contemplation my feelings yield to the highest law of today’s art and therefore also for the truly genuine cinema: its works must come from the heart of the artist and not from the developed constructed intellect, if it is supposed to find the way to the hearts of our Volk.


There are two principles that form our existence -  reason, which certainly through the combination of intellect and instinct, consciousness prevails. The disposition, fed from the source of emotional feelings, influences the unconscious.


It was a major mistake of our former film industry – leaving out vanishing exceptions – which instead from the depths of nature only developed pure mercantile points of view. The way to genuine art must have necessarily remained closed. Art cannot be generated through the intellect when one oneself once strived. It takes root in the soul of the creative. It springs from the heart, not his head. That means for us – those of us who want to make films – the decisive foundations of our efforts are never constructed purely rationally, but rather predominantly must be instinctive.


The original concept of film works must have come from poetic sources. They could not have been borne out of salesmens’ economic considerations. They were never developed from turnover statistics or settlement tables. That itself should be sufficient for us to clear away the unfortunate concepts of “film business” or the “film industry.” Industry can be thousands of useful and necessary things but it can never produce works of art. The idea of our cinematic art can also not – as was often earlier the case –be found by surveying the clientele of visiting representatives, not through salesmen-like consultations in the film studio offices, and not through constructive contemplation of dramaturgy. It can – and this must be our filmmaking creed – only come from the same source as men have to thank for the Zeus of Otricoli, the gothic dome, the Ninth Symphony, the Mastersingers or for Faust. And this source is the divine spark, the promethean fire in the heart of creative artists – simply therefore, the artistic talents.


Just as rarely will the untalented get an idea and attempt a massive painting, a sculpture, a large building, or a symphony, because a certain mass of artistic talent is a natural prerequisite for such things, just as little could an unartistic person go and plan or shape a motion picture.  Equally this goes for the writing of books, the composing of music, and the formation and particularly for the directing and production of film works. Everyone, but also the artistic co-creators, must adequately try to be true internally to the spirit, not to make their artistic contributions rationally from the outside, but from the inner bottom of their heart. Only in this way can the collective work on a film take form like a heartfelt symphony: whose vibrations whether quietly or loudly move the heart – for that it surely does. Ideally this applies to all the contributors to the overall design and the stronger the echoes of our creation will be in the millions of souls which we, in a realistic way, by projection and loudspeaker, convey the impressions of true art.


For in earlier trains of thought, entangled skeptics would have said that the fundamental demand of creativity came from the heart outwards, not only for highly serious dramatic filmmaking, but equally valid for the children of our joyful and most happy Muse. Works of literature, the stage and visual art prove this to us sufficiently. Everything that we found in the course of thousands of years has a tiny but divine creative force in it. Therein lies its magical and eternal effect on humanity. When we do not place our wretched creations on the same level as that of our greats, we must be steeped in it – that the source, also of our creative works, is the same as that of eternal works. That is no delusion, but quite the opposite, a recognition that the true artist of great modesty will be led to the highest comparison of his responsibility.


We want to never forget that our work remains silent if it is produced only out of reason and instinct. Let us always be aware that they must originate in making maximum use of intellect and instinct primarily out of the depth of our German soul, out of our minds. For this, we unfortunately have no tool for verification, no pointer deflects from a precision scale, here rises or falls no mercury. We are proud that we carry the apparatus to determine the principal characteristics of genuine art work in our breast, and we see it anew each time with internal shock, that the same fine imponderable reactions arise even in other locations; namely in the hearts of millions whom we want to meet. The more we succeed, the more effective is the great inner experience to be used for the massive capital expenditure in other rich lands.


In addition to the abstract claim on true film art I place the highest concrete property of absolute simplicity. In the possible large spread between the clarity of the original idea and its fertility, lies the ideal of the artistic film plot. With all the complexity of developing ideas, the overall picture must be crystal clear, comparable roughly to the impressive monumentality of a contemporary building, whose interior contains one bewildering plethora of technical equipment. Precisely because we want to contribute to the millions of ordinary people, our artistic creations should demand basic, indifferent to whether we embody films by writing, directing, constructing, or photographing them. The fact that we only achieve a particular degree of perfection, if we simply stay in our own lives, appears self-evidently National Socialist. Overweening conceit to simplicity in relation to our film plots must however have its degree of “substance.”  Here there can be no doubt. Every image and every scene which does not contain the whole, can fall away. From the weight of a hundred images results the total weight of the film work. From the systematic adjustment of the individual weights results the rhythm and dynamic of the process. The sovereign control of the balance is vital for the filmmaker, from it you realize the true master.


I see a certain amount of danger in the development of our cinematic art is the overestimation of our technicians. Certainly film is the true child of our technical era. But primary must remain the artistic. Technique, earlier the source of film, today comes second as a servant to the work. Undoubtedly it was a mistake that for a long time outwardly film was renowned for its excessive technology. Truly artistic nature has been deterred through it. The excess of technical superficiality of our earlier scripts, for example, left our writers turned inside out. And that was really not necessary. We want artistic film writing and none with numbers and technical instructions in cluttered film scripts. We want the contents to show itself. Technology has a matter of course to control the former, that the film work practically realizes. The film writer in any case needs to burden himself like the dramatic writer does. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Goethe or Kleist gave no technical instructions for their works to be realized on stage. The technique of film script-writing can be acquired, but not poetry. We have a great number of terrific technicians, but far too few writers, by that I mean writers for film. It is incorrect to believe that we can only write for film if one masters technology. To feel and to think cinematically has not meant for a long while to think of technical details. The film writer will place his demands – we go to a lot of trouble to achieve them – with entities controlled by our technique. The main thing that remains must be our placing the composition and artistic before the technical. Then one thing is certain: a technical yet so virtuous film will always be practical, even if a technically weak film remains inferior.


There is yet another line of obvious cinematic criteria. First of all there is the ideological, which must correspond to our current thinking and feeling in every particular. Each of us, who through his creativity is exposed to critics from the public, knows from the many positive and negative letters from the public what a fine, reactionary instrument is represented by the long unappreciated cinema masses. How much the mentality of our people has changed since the radical change has been noted distinctly and immediately by politicians as well as by artists.


It is a wonderful play between the upscale film work and the increasingly spiritual education of millions of our national community. It is therefore obvious that every filmmaker with both feet on the ideological ground of his people for whom he has to create. His art must necessarily be natonalistic, just like the great works of our nation, and also contribute internationally.


Many believe that genius must be one of the first prerequisites for filmmaking activity. I myself consider genius as one of the obvious qualities of artistically employed people, so I earlier gave as another prerequisite in the order of importance of merit: namely industrialness. The proverbial busy bee. The greatest genius is of little use to us if it is not paired with a fanatical and indefatigable work diligence. That is a question of training which above all in concerning our new recruits in all areas of filmmaking. We standing at the front know it all too well, what expenditure of energy there must be for success. We are all are of our genius less than the hot and heavy struggles with which each new task will be solved. The God-given artistic talent alone is insufficient. It is committed to a fanatical devotion and to the use of one’s last energy. It is astonishing how little of this is known amongst the broad masses. Because again and again you can find in the visit of laymen to the film studio poignant awe about it – that we have to be so busy and so thoroughly at work. They had imagined everything to be much easy and fun.


I would like to devote a request for the freeing up of the path to keep cinema as desirable, because I hoped for an expedient intellectual levelling of all interested personalities in filmmaking. It is the demand for the education of film economists and the economic education of filmmakers. The artistic education of economists is understood by themselves by my previous words. They are not in themselves new, because, thank God, the film salesman since the revolution in German films is almost entirely a thing of the past. But the question however remains current, because it is valid not only for the past, but also for the future and therefore for the new recruits in coming times. The film economist does not need to be a practicing artist himself; he does not need to have the capability to do so, but he does need to think and feel artistically in the same way as an opera impresario of the great stage or a large publisher in a book business. Only then will be the intercourse between he and the artists, as is necessary for the achievement of the ultimate goal of maximum performance; because the economist only then will be taken seriously by the artist, can have confidence in him, if he expects the full understanding of artistic concerns at the side of significant economy.


Much newer than this request is the need for economic education of those artistically active in film. The realization of our film plans now requires an astonishing capital outlay. But the artistic failure of a film work is in no way proportional to the capital expenditure – that means it can, depending on the film materials, even with little means attain a great artistic performance .


As a result, the production of art does not necessarily mean that unlimited sums of money must be spent. On the contrary, a number of other factors command that a high artistic standard with a minimum of capital outlay needs to be achieved. The more comprehensible and economical from that we can go to our artistic work, the better we can work in the common interest and the sooner we are able to realize always new and perhaps bold plans. These are considerations that lie very far from some filmmakers, and of which they do not like to hear. It goes without saying that in a country in which the brightest people working on the national utilization of the economy, to the carrying out of the Four Year Plan, including large capital investments for movies, have to be the most careful. It would be paradoxical for if a filmmaker in business wanted to claim that money played no role in his successes. This view belongs in the same past in which the producers of old Friedrichstrasse are sunk. Today’s filmmakers have to accommodate no less an interest in the economic part of film as they do the artists. Each idle moment, every unnecessary stoppage, every whim and difficulty must hurt him as much as a car driver overstraining a motor. In the complex transmission of filmmaking he must feel like a wheel that runs smoothly and with all his strength he must make efforts so that the gear remains running up to the last minute, as scheduled. Egotism and grand delusions, whims and hysteria must remain unknown quantities in the new Germany. This is not supposed to be a lecture on morals because I know a number of artists with whom I myself have worked, who think and collaborate with the overall plan perfectly. But only if this setting has become the common property of all filmmakers, can I foresee an ideal state – the coronation of collaboration between economist and artist.


I have to also remember something painful at this point, how we filmmakers feel when we think with devout passion about the reproduction of our produced works, reflected on the face of cinema owners. In many years of experience I am well aware of the hindrance of performance of an ideal desire here.  But if we have to raise our ardent demands for the continual renewal of film again, it will go to the places in which our work is made available to the public.


If we are always going to appeal to the rising tastes and increasingly artistic receptiveness of our people, then the places to which our people flow, must adapt themselves to what they ask for. The “Flicks” must belong to the past. It was probably once a really good source of income. But today the demands of the nation and the spiritual well-being of our people places on the cinemas different tasks than those of the former film distributors of Friedrichstrasse. The cinema owner has become an agent of cinematic art and thereby a culture bearer. The outer façade of his cinema, the interior spaces, and above all, the advertising of films displayed must correspond to the higher level of our work. It is impossible that one calls upon we filmmakers with a strong appeal for higher artistic successes, if the screening places are not in step with these demands.


The main fault as to why a great part of our intellectuals rejected film for so long and remain opposed today, is due to the vision of cinema owners. We do not any longer wish to hear that no art can be offered in cinemas which are cluttered with brightly colored advertising and crammed with photographs. Regrettably we filmmakers must hear that all too often. When it is apparent that the projection and sound reproduction must be the best possible, to convey the finished film, then this is also valid for the announcement in the newspaper and on the outside advertising of our cinemas too. I always dream about a time when so many new buildings arise that gradually German cinemas will also take on a form that corresponds to the artistic wants of the German filmmakers. I dream about that, because I believe that genuine art works only in the most attractive spaces, must be offered on a golden tray, just as the Ninth Symphony or Götterdämmerung did not appear on a Variety hall stage, Minna von Barnheim or Die Meistersinger were not presented on a beer hall stage. It is impossible we would see our work, borne out of a burning fanaticism, presented between beer posters and beer garden menus. That must stop, as it stands dramatically opposed to the costly artistic energy; and it discourages and paralyses it. We cannot be allowed to see in German cinema owners anything but leaders of the German stage of writers and actors. My words here should represent no criticism, but rather merely work to stimulate for the coming, new times. For only if the cinema owners, alongside the filmmakers and film economists, take on the most ideal form, then in the truest sense of the word the path will be free for artistic filmmaking in the sense of our national leadership.

On this occasion, the invaluable worth of collaboration with the press cannot be forgotten. The close affinity that film and press have in the workings on the broad masses of our people plays a special role.


Thankfully since the German revolution this has been cleared away – when film discussions took place behind the leather and fur markets, or that notices from the film world were restricted mainly to sensationalism from Hollywood about movie star salaries, divorces and other scandalous stories. During that time the System press, with a preference to gloss over the internal and intimate of the former film offices and studios, endeavored as possible to allow the audiences disillusioned glimpses behind the scenes, to make the film directors with the big cigars ridiculous,  and the critics qualitative to the size of the advertising. Today as it had for several years in the large and small press a truly serious interest in all areas of filmmaking prevails.


For the development of cinematic art is this positive collaboration naturally of inestimable value. For the newspapers as much as film reach all the hundreds of thousands and millions of people. Their reports on film can be just as harmful or helpful. The mental re-organization of our people leads here to a decisive change. And here we German filmmakers with growing satisfaction remark from day to day about how the entire press stands up with us shoulder to shoulder for the validity of true film art and thereby smoothes the ground for our efforts.


These connections between film and press must always become even deeper. The film script head and the artistic onlooker should be, as is thankfully nearly the case overall, credible supporters and our artistic friends. They should not, like their former colleagues, delight in the triumphant demonstration of weakness and to operate as negative know-it-alls and fault-finders – rather, just as we have in sight the high goal, to deepen the attitude of their readers to the serious desire for film, to remove crazy prejudices and to raise to a higher level the artistic receptiveness of the broad masses. Film will, no less than the high arts, know how to thank you.


And now a request to the artistic filmmakers: The small tradition that film brought back from its nursery is of such bad repute that we are still paying the price today. It is therefore a moral duty of true cinematic people who want to help remove this troublesome prejudice on their film work, and that means nothing other than that we must become gentlemen, as much as we are not already.  We today want to have neither Bohemians nor snobs, neither Bourgeois nor bullies amongst us. What was mistaken about the upbringing of film in an earlier era, we wish to put right.  The contemporary art of film should be reserved to comrades who are justly referred to as “Sirs” and “Ladies” without thereby creating a caste or social class of their own. This is imperiously demanded by the cultural and people-educating impact of the film which is especially increased in comparison to the other arts.


The practices of old Friedrichstrasse must remain in the never recurrent past. The negotiations in our offices, the sounds in our workplaces, from heads of production down to the last laborer, the association amongst one another must be a fundamentally different form than before.  Every work of art reflects against the man from which it came. To the last ends our own artistic and mortal attitudes to the worth of our films is characterized.  With pride we can maintain that film has been handed over to clean hands. The boundless trading spirit, the rotten exploitation, the wretched uneducated or semi-educated, the absolute egotism, the personal immorality of the influential, they have been swept out with an iron broom. The air is once again pure and this purity is the indispensable prerequisite for our German film art to blossom to greater mass and to become great.


Therefore we German filmmakers have an immeasurable advantage over the rest of the world. In the purity of our work atmosphere, in the natural guarantee of the freedom of our artistic creations, in the tremendous parity of our goals and successes with any of the other traditional art forms, lies an invaluable moral power which will have an effect year after year. The great duty for us however lies in the extraordinary interest that our Führer showed towards film long before the takeover of power and today is even more than then.


No other head of state in the world comes close to him, or even distantly. There can be no greater incentive to high successes given than the thought that our work, without exception, runs under the critical eye of our Führer. Who would dare to deliberately display less worthy, superfluous, mediocre, unfinished or unartistic work to those eyes?


The thoughts about that must make us grasp the original idea of our film planning. It will not allow us to let go of the draft of an expose, Treatment, or film script. It has us manage from the preparation to the start of the film shoot and we cannot lose a moment in the studio. Evenings, when we go home early, when we enter the halls,  we have to remain awake after the end of filming for the editing and the definitive conclusion, until we with inner pride and joyful devout hearts, make sure that the finished work can be presented to those eyes.


If we, without fear and doubt, have the security of looking forward to happier expectations, then we need not feel and try to speak about true film art, because we have found the way to German cinema that we once wanted to master,  to the highest and luckiest completion. "

 

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