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Too often dismissed as escapist entertainment or vilified as mass manipulation, popular cinema in the Third Reich was in fact sustained by well-established generic conventions, cultural traditions, aesthetic sensibilities, social practices, and a highly developed star systemnot unlike its Hollywood counterpart in the 1930s. This pathfinding study contributes to the ongoing reassessment of Third Reich cinema by examining it as a social, cultural, economic, and political practice that often conflicted with, contradicted, and compromised the intentions of the Propaganda Ministry. Nevertheless, by providing the illusion of a public sphere presumably free of politics, popular cinema helped to sustain the Nazi regime, especially during the war years.
Rather than examining Third Reich cinema through overdetermined categories such as propaganda, ideology, or fascist aesthetics, Sabine Hake concentrates on the constituent elements shared by most popular cinemas: famous stars, directors, and studios; movie audiences and exhibition practices; popular genres and new trends in set design; the reception of foreign films; the role of film criticism; and the representation of women. She pays special attention to the forced coordination of the industry in 1933, the changing demands on cinema during the war years, and the various ways of coming to terms with these filmic legacies after the war. Throughout, Hake's findings underscore the continuities among Weimar, Third Reich, and post-1945 West German cinema. They also emphasize the codevelopment of German and other national cinemas, especially the dominant Hollywood model.