Here's Paul Heise's review of "Karl Ritter's 'Stukas' and the use of Wagner in Nazi Cinema," a talk presented by Hans Rudolf Vaget (Smith College, Emeritus) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 Bicentennial Symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013:
As part of Goebbels' great Nazi propaganda machine a movie was made about the Stuka dive bombers. This was an example of the Nazi's culture industry in the service of mass deception. The movie was to have music of spiritual inspiration.
This film demonstrates a direct line between WWII and the Wagner festival at Bayreuth. It was begun on 11/18/40 and completed by 3/41, and was considered suitable for young audiences.
There was an euphoric period after Germany's easy defeat of France. Pilots sang the Stuka-Lied on their way to open the Battle of Britain. Operation Barbarossa began 6/7/41, the attack on Russia. Up to that time the war had lacked popular political support.
Karl Ritter was a descendent of Adolf Wagner, Wagner's uncle. A scene from the film "Stukas" is set within the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. A key prop in the film is a piano. Culture and warfare go hand in hand. There is a performance of a 2-hand piano transcription of 'Siegfried's Rhine Journey.' German 'Kultur' was said to distinguish German flyers from the French. The musical taste of normal airmen was light music for Philistines. In this film, the hope is expressed that Siegfried's heroism would inspire these Philistine bombers. However, this film had a poorly constructed plot.
Nazi hegemony was said to be based on the Germans' alleged cultural superiority. But Ritter was considered a journeyman artist, pedestrian and sophomoric. One of the pilots is wounded badly and becomes war-weary. His doctor recommends that he undergo a powerful experience. His nurse recommends Bayreuth. The themes here are obedience, patriotism, and heroism. Bayreuth provides a true metaphysical recovery.
Hitler overrated Winifred's wish to keep the Festival on during the war. Hitler had soldiers come on leave to attend performances at Bayreuth as guests of the Fuhrer. Soldiers were sent by the government to Bayreuth for free. This was an idealized version of the festival, with soldiers and their nurses attending. Soldiers are depicted being inspired by Siegfried's Rhine Journey to leave the opera house to rejoin their Stuka units. Pilots now sing the Stuka Lied.
1. The importance of Wagner to the Nazis depended on an aesthetic response to his works, and was non-ideological.
2. Siegfried was elevated to become the epitome of Wagner's heroes
3. Nazi leaders displayed an officer's loyalty to Wagner's inspiration
4. This was a ploy to mislead the Folk; there was no real use of art for art's sake. This all bestowed artistic legitimacy on Hitler's crimes.
5. Siegfried's heroism is doomed and flawed.
This film displayed a death-wish masked by art. Wagner was never mentioned in the film since there was no need to do so.
Question: Is there an ideology in Wagner's music? Couldn't the Nazis have used another composer?
Answer: Wagner's Weltanschauung had a tighter fit with the Nazis than Beethoven.
Question: Why didn't Ritter use the 'Ride of the Valkyries' in the Stuka battle scenes?
Answer: The Stuka Lied's operatic and brutal lyrics were sufficient
Question: Was this death-wish overt in the film, or unconscious? Hitler does not seem to have expected to survive the war.
Answer: This was an unconscious, covert death-wish. This was at work in a lot of the Nazi appropriation of Wagner
Question: Was it the case that Hitler did not need to politicize Wagner because other Nazi institutions were using him this way?
Answer: Hitler posed as a non-political admirer of Wagner. This was an expression of the cult of beauty and genius.
PH: A very interesting lecture indeed, examining another aspect of the Nazi effort to put Wagnerian opera, music-drama, and his legacy to use to support the Third Reich's policies, goals, and ideals, with, needless to say, nefarious and vulgar results
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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