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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film documentary review: the power of propaganda

Forbidden Films The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film green light

A frustrating movie in some ways, but an important reminder of the power of cinema to manipulate and seduce us, and not always for the better.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Nazis: we hate these guys. But can we learn anything from the wildly popular propaganda films they made for German and occupied-Europe audiences in the 1930s and 40s? That’s the question German documentarian Felix Moeller explores in his Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film.

This is a frustrating movie in some ways: if you’re expecting, as I was, a thorough look at the Nazi films themselves, you will be disappointed. We get snippets of some of the most notorious of the movies, such as 1940’s Jew Süss, a historical drama that some consider the most anti-Semitic film ever made (though I learned this from Wikipedia, not from this doc), and 1941’s Homecoming, which defended the Nazi invasion of Poland by recasting it as a matter of self-defense against the horrible anti-German Poles. (Apparently at least some of these movies are available on YouTube, which one historian here calls a “hotbed” of neo-Nazi activity. I haven’t searched for them.) But Forbidden Films is more about the controversial debate in Germany over whether these films should be shown publicly; many are still banned outright except for screening under severe restrictions, and then only for educational purposes. And that is a fascinating discussion, which Moeller captures via interviews with filmmakers, film historians, relatives of those who worked in the Nazi film industry, and ordinary members of the public at carefully controlled screenings in Berlin, Paris, and Jerusalem. One seemingly sane and reasonable audience member, a man who is far from a child, is surprised to “learn” the “truth” about the Nazis in Poland, which underscores the power of these films to sway the ignorant with their lies and manipulations.

And that is the real power of Forbidden Films even for those of us outside Germany. The Nazis films were first and foremost entertainment, and were as popular as entertaining movies were in the U.S. and other Allied nations in the decades before television. More people saw Jew Süss, Moeller notes, than have seen Titanic or Avatar in recent decades… which is the same thing you could say about Gone with the Wind. Quite apart from the historical and educational value of the Nazi films — which is enormous, of course — is the subtle warning to us movie lovers today, to be aware of the seductive power of movies. Of any well-crafted pop culture, really. Have you been seduced into believing something you might not otherwise accept? It’s a chilling thought.

green light 3.5 stars

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Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film (2015)
US/Can release: May 13 2015

MPAA: not rated

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Youtube is a hotbed of everything, isn’t it? More or less by definition?

    Nobody involved in mass media or education wants to give people memetic defences. Those tools of manipulation are too useful, whether you’re a politician, an advertiser, a film/TV producer, or just a bad teacher. Pretending the bad memes can be locked away, as Germany does, just means that people have even less defence when they encounter them for the first time.

  • And that’s part of the debate happening in Germany (and Israel) over these films, we learn here.

  • David

    Propaganda is everywhere. How many people believe that there is an epidemic of white on black racial violence, or that women make less money than men for the same work, or that the confederacy seceded for “state’s rights” instead of slavery and white supremacy, or that “Palestinians” are fighting for
    an independent state instead of to annihilate Israel, or that Muslims are persecuted or oppressed by the West?

    The best propaganda is the kind that uses kernels of truth
    to sell lies. The Nazis were really good at this. The Nazis were very good at portraying themselves to the world as victims of the post First World War settlement and using that to justify their aggression. The Munich pact wasn’t justified by “Germany is so big and powerful so we must sacrifice smaller nations to save ourselves.” It was justified as “the Germans have grievances, if we satisfy those grievances then they won’t have any reason to continue their aggression.” Hell, the British were the first ones to use concentration camps in South
    Africa, a point the Germans used to justify their own camp system in the 30’s. This is why I never stand by an opinion unless I have looked at all the different sides of the issue and I don’t trust mainstream media outlets.

  • David

    I fully agree with this, that’s why I am ardently opposed to hate speech laws. As vile and disgusting as Stormfront or electronic intifada are, I do support their right to operate.

  • Danielm80

    I’m not clear on what you’re trying to say. Are you suggesting that there isn’t a pay gap between men and women, or the opposite? Because it’s pretty clear there’s a problem:



    And we can debate the meaning of “epidemic” or the causes of violence, but a lot of African-Americans are being killed by police:



    If you think the propaganda is coming from people who deny the problems exist, then I agree with you. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem.

  • David

    The gender pay gap myth has been debunked. Women don’t get
    paid less for doing the same work they get paid less for doing different work. To put it another way, “modern feminism is a bunch of gender studies majors whining about how not enough women go into STEM.” The pew research you linked to supports this view. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/08/gender_pay_gap_the_familiar_line_that_women_make_77_cents_to_every_man_s.html).

    As for the second issue, the narrative being pushed is that black men are being targeted by white police officers for racial reasons when in fact the majority of blacks shot are shot by black policeman and that black criminals are not more likely to be shot than white criminals. Also, black on white violence is far more common than white on black violence (although the majority of blacks are not violent). The media simply hasn’t covered it with national attention unless it has been white cop on black citizen. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/21/police-kill-more-whites-than-blacks-but-minority-d/?page=all

  • Danielm80

    For every article that claims to debunk the idea of a pay gap, there’s another article debunking the debunkers.



    If you want to do a detailed comparative analysis of the statistics, go ahead. But if you take a complex social issue and just dismiss every study you disagree with as propaganda, you’re being ridiculously simplistic.

  • Women don’t get paid less for doing the same work they get paid less for doing different work.

    No, they don’t. Pay-gap studies account for this. And even in women-dominated industries (like teaching or nursing) men *still* get paid more:


  • Just to be clear: You are not going to find a lot of sympathy here for your “arguments,” and almost no one is going to be interested in “debating” you over your personal “facts.”

    So if you think you’re going to have fun trolling us, think again.

  • David

    These aren’t my facts, these are facts. More to the point, why would you only want to talk people who agree with you about everything? How can you know you’re right if you only get information from one side? Truth is I used to be very left wing; like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore. I always had a strong urge to seek out the truth even when it conflicted with my worldview and I found that the other side tended to be correct more often. BTW, more than once I’ve been accused of being a leftwing troll by commenters at Breitbart.com and TruthRevolt.

  • David

    I actually did look at each of those studies and each one admits that they don’t compensate for things such as hours worked. For example, if Betty works 30 hours a week because she wants to be close to her children and Bob works 50 hours a week then Bob is more likely to get promotions and raises. There have also been studies that show that single women earn MORE than single men in urban workplaces: http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/apr/09/genevieve-wood/what-pay-gap-young-women-out-earn-men-cities-gop-p/


  • David

    Hypothetically, what evidence would you need to see to reconsider your viewpoint?

  • Danielm80

    I don’t see any point in re-opening this discussion, but John Oliver’s take on the wage gap is very funny, whether or not you agree with it.


  • David

    I had two weeks of Army training, plus I moved from S. Florida to Boston and am soon going to move to NYC, so I’ve been pretty busy. This is my first chance to actually respond. This video is a perfect example of the way that most of pop culture and television is geared towards the left. I will say that the left excels at using comedy in a way that the right frequently fails at.

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