Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Imaginary Reality: Ireland and the Irish in German Nazi Film

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Imaginary Reality: Ireland and the Irish in German Nazi Film

Article excerpt

This article examines the image and purpose of the representation of Ireland and the Irish in the film production of the Third Reich during the early 1940s. It analyzes The Fox of Glenarvon (1940) and My Life for Ireland (1941) in relation to the imminent transfer of propaganda and national or cultural stereotyping. Though both are fiction films rather than documentaries, the cinematic imagination of Ireland and the Irish connotes historiographic and cultural realism. The films present a highly subjective and ideological (Nazi) view of an assumed "reality." The article explores the often distorted realities, largely derived from historical German-Irish cultural contacts, and their impact on the German perception of "Irishness" and its cinematic representations.

Introduction

While not as highly regarded as the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) films, the films of the Third Reich (1933-1945) hold a fascination for many, both as historical documents of one of the most important and disturbing periods of twentieth-century history and also for their own artistic merit. Particularly since the 1980s, the cinema of the Third Reich has risen to the center of academic research, mainly within the subjects of Film and Media Studies, Cultural Studies, and, of course, German Studies. Groundbreaking research on the subject has been done in Germany in the late 1960s and 1980s (e.g. Leiser, Albrecht, and Drewniak), with relevant studies in English on specific angles being published in the 1990s and more recently (e.g. Rentschler). However, the main focus of this research has been on the transmission of fascist propaganda--in particular with reference to anti-Semitic representations of Jews--and on cinematic issues, such as the artistic means of manipulation and idolization of Nazi power, filmic representations of the alleged supremacy of the German people--most infamously displayed in Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (1938) and Triumph of the Will (1935)--as well as critical reflections on the peculiar esthetics of Nazi film.

This article sets out to examine the image and purpose of the representation of Ireland (neutral in WWII) and the Irish in the Ufa (Universe Film) production of the Third Reich during the early 1940s. It concentrates on the transmission of national and cultural stereotyping predominant in two Irish subject films produced in the Third Reich: The Fox of Glenarvon (1940) and My Life for Ireland (1941), with specific consideration of the context of Irish-German (intercultural) relations and by employing the discourse of cross-culturalism to describe imagined and real cultural interactivity displayed within the aforementioned films.

Having emerged in the Social Sciences in the 1930s, cross-culturalism initially referred to comparative studies based on statistical compilations of cultural data. However, it has increasingly acquired an additional sense of cultural interactivity with a focus on interdisciplinary discussions of the effects of cultural likeness and/or differences. Cross-culturalism is predominantly concerned with cultural exchange beyond the boundaries of the national or cultural group, and, despite some disagreement over what exactly constitutes (significant) cultural divergence (1) and how to categorize it, the concept has become a useful framework for the examination of cultural expressions that may not fit within a single cultural tradition (see Grossberg et al.) In this context, the film medium in effect puts a frame around a particular culture, or aspect of culture, and, in doing so, calls attention to what is included and/or excluded. In other words, "films are mirrors through which we can explore culture" (Street xv). Though fiction feature films seldom present a fully developed portrait, they often provide insight and, as cultural artifacts, can invite cultural comparison and evoke or provoke valuable discussion.

Nazi Film Production

The term "Nazi Cinema" is contested by some commentators (see, for instance, Grunberger and Kreimeier, Die Ufa Story) arguing that not all German films made during the Third Reich warrant this appellation, as some of them would conform to an estheticism prominent in Weimar Cinema and bearing testimony to the continuity of certain genres such as musicals, homeland films, period dramas, or adaptations of literature. …

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