Hitler and Film: The Führer’s Hidden Passion
By Bill Niven
Yale University Press, 2018, 312 pp.
Hitler’s passion for art, architecture, and Wagnerian opera is common knowledge. Yet the Führer was, above all, a film addict. In the years before World War II, he watched two or three movies a night, including all of those released in Germany. Although he personally financed, selected, and often censored films shown in public theaters and attended public screenings that were selected to cultivate popular support, his private tastes ranged far more broadly. He adored Mickey Mouse, often watched sophisticated works by Jewish émigré directors and with Jewish actors, and even viewed American, British, and French films in their original languages. Even more than his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, he took responsibility for Nazi publicity. He approved every German newsreel before its release and sponsored not just Leni Riefenstahl’s famous works but also films advocating the forced sterilization of the disabled and anti-Semitic ethnic cleansing. The latter were shown to people who were tasked with the extermination of the Jews. These events took place 75 years ago, but they contain lessons for today: tyrants are often surprisingly ordinary people, and state control over the media plays an essential role in creating and sustaining dictators.