Tracing German Post-war Newsreels in Archives

Sigrun Lehnert

5 September 2017


Many film archives are affected by closures or absorbed by other, larger archives – for example the newsreel archive of the Deutsche Wochenschau in Hamburg, which I mentioned in an a article in 2014, doesn‘t exist anymore. [i] During the liquidation phase of the archives, questions may arise again regarding usage rights for films, and materials might not accessible any more – for months or for years or even never again. The migration of all data to existing databases takes time. Furthermore, due to lack of storage, particularly context material could be at risk as it is often regarded not to be important. Context material comprises documents, which could provide information about the media usage or the film production. However, holistic research on media content and media design linked with production, distribution, and reception is essential.

The cinema newsreel is a media format which is no longer produced and shown today, but it was very important before television was established in West Germany at the end of the 1950s, in East Germany at the beginning of the 1960s. The ten-minute films containing different current reports were shown in the interludes. In those days, political and social interest groups attached great importance to the newsreel. Due to its cinematic elements and emotional effect by film montage with music and sound, newsreels were regarded as having a high impact on the peoples’ opinions. Moreover, the newsreel films have contributed to the cultural memory for generations of cinemagoers and are described as a “family album of the nation” (Minister for Culture and Media Michael Naumann at the 60th anniversary celebation of Deutsche Wochenschau).[ii]

The company Neue Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH was established in 1949 (renamed to Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH in 1955) and produced the newsreel Neue Deutsche Wochenschau (NDW). However, the collection contained also the first post-war newsreel in Germany, the British-American community production Welt im Film (first edition from 18 May 1945), which was used for re-educational matters. Initially the British and then in 1952, also the Americans withdrew from the newsreel production. After the Welt im Film was taken over from the Neue Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH, it was renamed Welt im Bild and in 1956 renamed Ufa-Wochenschau, which was produced until 1978. In 1963, the NDW was renamed Zeitlupe and was terminated in 1969.

So, the collection had a history which spanned 70 years – a complete inventory from the first newsreel edition to the last one. Producing newsreels (see fig.) not only meant piling reels every week, all the remains of the editing were also stored and furthermore, the archive grew through the worldwide exchange with other newsreels.

Figure 1: Newsreel Producing Team in 1950s (with kind permission of Film- und Fernsehmuseum Hamburg)

Not just the films, but a lot of other materials were preserved in the Hamburg newsreel archive: folders with cinematographers’ reports, with the film exploitation notes, all the commentary texts and film content descriptions, folders for lists of films from other newsreels abroad, the music lists and folders for commissioned documentaries. In addition to this, film tins and files with production records for every single edition were stored in cellars. Those records comprised, for example, newspaper excerpts as the information basis of the reports, also including correspondence, brochures and notes.

Since the NDW from 1950 to 1952 received financial support from the Federal German government (cf. BArch B145/147), it was considered that the film stock (estimated 3,000 editions) was owned by the state. In an official tendering, the Deutsche Wochenschau lost the exploitation rights to the Bundesarchiv and their partners. At the beginning of 2016, the film reels, video cassettes, and documents from the newsreel archive of Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH in Hamburg were transferred to the Bundesarchiv in Berlin (cf. Paschen, 2016).

Today, television channels use the newsreel films for documentary formats and pay for the usage rights. In 2010, the Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH had already started to digitize the films and make them available on the Internet. In addition, the written film contents were available online. The Bundesarchiv continued the project and started the platform www.filmothek.bundesarchiv.de. Almost all editions of NDW, Welt im Film/Welt im Bild, Ufa-Wochenschau and Die Zeitlupe are now accessible.

The East German newsreel Der Augenzeuge however, was and still is distributed by the Progress-Filmverleih in Berlin. The institution started its own internet portal www.progress-film.de for Der Augenzeuge and DEFA-documentary films (DEFA – Deutsche Film AG, state controlled, founded 1946 with support of the Soviets in East Germany). Unfortunately, a lot of editions and documentaries are not available online so far. Missing films are for the most part accessible on 35mm reels, on DVD or Video tape at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, whereas written materials regarding Der Augenzeuge, e.g. correspondences, committee minutes, and music list, are accessible at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Lichterfelde. Regrettably, nothing is known about the whereabouts of all the files with context materials from the former Hamburg newsreel archive – they are not recorded in finding aids of the Bundesarchiv. Some documents about the newsreel institution and its connection to the Federal Republic Government can be found at the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz.

For getting access to the Bundesarchiv collections, it is recommended to get in contact with an archivist and asking for advice and support for selecting the folders or films, as the online-catalogues are incomplete. Written documents are not digitized – in exceptions, documents are delivered on microfich. So, still it is necessary to travel to German archives for doing time consuming research on the spot. Hopefully, in the process of general digitization, it will be more and more possible to work with reliable and linked search engines online. There are some stumbling blocks for digital archives, but also advantages, for example to cooperate with other archives and their databases and to build up new networks for interdisciplinary research.


[i] Joachim Paschen (2016): Eine Kulturschande für Hamburg. In: Hamburger Flimmern No. 23. Hamburg: Film- und Fernsehmuseum e.V., 26-31, here: 28, edition available: http://www.filmmuseum-hamburg.de/fileadmin/bilder/flimmern_pdf/flimmern_23.pdf

[ii] Exemplarische Studie: Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren. In: Behmer, M., Bernard, B. & Hasselbring, B. (Hrsg.) (2014): Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung. Wiesbaden: Springer, 261-268, book available: http://www.springer.com/de/book/9783531183190


Dr. Sigrun Lehnert majored in Media Management (Master of Arts) in Hannover, Germany. Since 2010 Sigrun Lehnert is scientific assistant in Hamburg. Her dissertation project at the University of Hamburg was on „Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren“ (German newsreel and early television news in the 1950s), supervised by Prof. Dr. Knut Hickethier. The following book has been published in 2013 by UVK, Konstanz. Her research fields are: film history, television history, documentary film, newsreels, archives and film heritage.

Website: www.wochenschau-forschung.de


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Queen Victoria on Screen

 

Jeffrey Richards, Lancaster University

25 July 2017


Cinema has always been irresistibly attracted to monarchy. Films have simultaneously mythologized and humanized their royal subjects – mythologized by casting famous screen stars as famous monarchs and humanized by showing them experiencing the same emotions as their subjects. In his book Biopics (1992), George Custen points out that a recurrent theme in female biopics is ‘the conflict between the fulfilment of heterosexual desire through romance and marriage and professional duty’. This is nowhere more apparent than in Elizabeth I biopics in most of which love affairs have played a major role, duty has been eventually affirmed and she has been celebrated as The Virgin Queen. As Custen argues ‘Gender is one of the most powerful frames informing the construction of fame’. Gender, in Victoria’s case, meant something very different from Elizabeth. Victoria’s authority derived not from avoiding marriage and romance but from the fact that during her reign she moved successively through the various phases of approved nineteenth century models of womenhood-youthful virgin queen, devoted young wife and mother, grieving widow and grandmother of the nation. Her longevity coinciding with the zenith of the British Empire made her by the end of her reign a living imperial icon. Personally Victoria was strong-willed, stubborn and passionate. But her recognition of her own nature led her to defer to masculine guidance. Throughout her reign she depended on the support and advice of a succession of men: Lord Melbourne, King Leopold of the Belgians, her beloved husband, Albert, the Prince Consort, the highland ghillie John Brown and Benjamin Disraeli. She also opposed the idea of votes for women. Her marriage to Albert and the birth of their nine children firmly fixed her in the role of wife and mother and the royal family, with their musical evenings, seaside and highland holidays and annual Christmas festivities, became the epitome of the bourgeois family.

The Royal Family in 1846 (1846), Royal Collection

The last years of Victoria’s reign coincided with the development of film as the new medium of communication and Victoria became the obvious candidate for a biopic. The first was the now lost film Sixty Years a Queen (1913) which interspersed the great events of the reign with sentimental domestic scenes. But there were no more biopics until 1937. For at the request of King George V the British Board of Film Censors banned any film featuring Queen Victoria while any of her children were still alive. The ban was lifted on 20 June 1937, the centenary of Victoria’s accession. Producer Herbert Wilcox was given permission by King Edward VIII to make a biopic. Victoria the Great (1937) which teamed Anna Neagle as Victoria and Anton Walbrook as Albert concentrated on the first half of the reign, emphasizing his training of her to become a dutiful Queen.

Anna Neagle in Victoria the Great (1937)

But it was more than just a respectable version of ‘the private life’ film, pioneered by The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). After the Empire had been rocked by the abdication of King Edward VIII over his love for a twice divorced American Wallis Simpson, Victoria the Great demonstrated the essential soundness of the monarchy by depicting a perfect royal marriage and a dedicated partnership in the service of the nation. It was such a critical and box office success that Wilcox promptly remade it in Technicolor as Sixty Glorious Years (1938). Released at the time of Munich, it stressed the need for peace with preparedness and emphasized the strength of the British Empire.

There have been two films specifically concerned with Victoria’s long seclusion and her eventual emergence from it, the years when she was popularly known as ‘The Widow of Windsor’. In the fictional but enchanting The Mudlark (1950) the devotion to Victoria (Irene Dunne) of a homeless waif Wheeler (Andrew Ray) persuades her to reappear in public. In the moving Mrs Brown (1997) the true story is told of the friendship that developed between Victoria (Judi Dench) and John Brown (Billy Connolly), who provides the masculine presence in her life lacking since the death of Albert.

While virtually all cinematic portrayals of Victoria have been sympathetic, there has been one notable exception, the thirteen part ATV series Edward the Seventh (1975). It covered his entire sixty nine years of life from birth to death. Ten of the thirteen episodes feature Annette Crosbie giving the most unsympathetic portrayal of Victoria ever seen. Virtually unbalanced, she is prone to hysterical rage, is bitterly jealous of the popularity of Edward (Timothy West) and his wife Alexandra, wallows in her grief after the death of Albert at the expense of her duties and implacably opposed all attempts to get her to devolve some of her public functions on Edward. Edward by contrast emerges as humane, kindly, decent, enjoying life to the full while seeking ways to serve and tirelessly endeavouring to maintain the peace of Europe. The shift of sympathies reflects the cultural upheavals of the 1960s when the old nineteenth century values, certainties and social controls were overturned.

The more recent Victoria biopics have returned to the themes of Anna Neagle films: the early years of the marriage and Albert’s training of Victoria to fulfil the duties of a constitutional monarch. The BBC miniseries Victoria and Albert (2001) with Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth, the feature film The Young Victoria (2008) with Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend and the ITV series Victoria (2016) with Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes all cover more or less the same events.

But Victoria uniquely interweaves the life of the royals upstairs and the lives of the servants, with their amours, rivalries and secrets, downstairs. In this it recalls Downton Abbey which may explain why 4.5 million people tuned in to watch and a second series was commissioned.


Jeffrey Richards is Emeritus Professor of Cultural History, Lancaster University, where he has taught since the early 1970s. He has published widely on the history of cinema and popular culture. His books include – but are not limited to – Visions of Yesterday (1973), Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York (1977), The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930-1939 (1984), Films and British National Identity: From Dickens to Dad’s Army (1997), Hollywood’s Ancient Worlds (2008) and China and the Chinese in Popular Film: From Fu Manchu to Charlie Chan (2017). Jeffrey is also General Editor of I.B.Tauris’ Cinema and Society series, and Manchester University Press’ Studies in Popular Culture series.

http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/history/about-us/people/jeffrey-richards

 

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