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Local versus central film assessment in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany

The comparative work in COLLATE shows that the Czechoslovak and German film assessment had a great deal in common and that the censorship practice in these two countries often differed from those of Austria. However, a noteworthy similarity in all three countries is a disparate handling of films in the capital cities and in other administrative districts.

As the POTEMKIN affair shows, local prohibitions were much more usual and also much more severe in Germany than in Austria and in Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless the phenomenon appeared in all of these countries – although with country specific peculiarities.

The first important question that arises concerns the legal basis for local film assessment: In Austria film censorship had actually been abrogated in 1918 – what was not really an appropriate basis for local censorship [press article]. In Germany and in the Czechoslovak Republic the situation was a bit more well-defined: According to both the German and the Czech censorship regulations the decisions made by the Censorship Committee in Czechoslovakia as well as by Censorship Offices and Headquarters in Germany were valid nationwide. However, in Germany the local police was authorised to prevent film screenings under special circumstances.

In Czechoslovakia in some special cases the Censor Advisory Board in Prague could make rulings, which were not valid for Slovakia. In such cases where the decision carried the affix “except Slovakia” the Censor Advisory Board in Bratislava was explicitly asked for local censorship. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN exemplifies the mechanism and the inconsistencies of local film censorship in Austria , in Czechoslovakia and in Germany.

Although some loophole in the legislation of all three countries allowed the local prevention of film screening, the legal basis for that was indeed precarious.
Consequently, the local interdiction of films was publicly questioned. Not only the press contested the legitimacy of the measures [press article], but there were interpellations against the local interdiction of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in the Reich Parliament Berlin [correspondence] as well in the Parliament of the Czechoslovak Republic [application form ; document].

The parliamentary discussions concerning the POTEMKIN case show that political issues often played a decisive role in the local interdiction of film screenings. The second evidence in this line is the fact that the public screening of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Austria, Czechoslovakia and in Germany usually ran without public commotion. Moreover, cases of riots and disturbance of peace in Austria and in Germany rather underline their political aspect: the riots and disturbance of screenings were mostly organised to offer a pretext for a ban. They were not an evidence of civil commotion but rather a demonstration of power by some political groups. Even in May 1926, shortly after the first permission of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Germany the newspaper “Neue Berliner Zeitung” mentioned interfering acts, “which were initiated to force the chief superintendent of Berlin to prevent the public screening of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Berlin” [press article]. With the same aim the national socialists organised the disturbance of screenings in Vienna in June 1926 [press article ; press article ; press article ], as well as in Munich in 1927 [press article ; press article ].

Some disturbances of screening took place also during the screening of the film in Prague at the end of October 1926. A group of cinemagoers, probably sympathising with rightists, made noise during screening. Attendant police agents stopped the performance [press article]. In spite of this event the film was screened in Czechoslovakia again without any restrictions.

There is also another factor that should not be ignored: the censors themselves presumed a diverse film reception by audiences in different - metropolitan and rural - areas. It should be mentioned that the German censors often assumed discrepancies between the urban and rural populations, which had to be considered in the rulings [censorship decision]. In the Czechoslovak Republic in some cases the censors probably supposed a different reaction of cinemagoers in Slovakia, due to differences in the political and economical development of Czech and Slovaks. And in Austria there were clearly observable discrepancies between the film assessment in Vienna, Tyrol and Voralberg. Without wishing to transfer the German conditions to Austria and the Czechoslovak Republic one should allude to Jan-Pieter Barbian (1993: 51-78), who hypothesises an aesthetic north-south division between Berlin [press article], representative of modern art, and the more traditional and conservative southern states Bavaria [press article], Baden and Württemberg.

Another possibility to understand the phenomena might be the conflict between federal and regional governments (or between different regions). Stefan Fisch (1997) maintained that the conflict between the German States and the Federal Government played a decisive role in the local prevention of POTEMKIN’s screening.

However, the very fact that basic political causes played a role in the local interdictions does not suffice to explain why the handling of films in Berlin, Prague and Vienna was so different from that of the other administrative districts. Noticeable are not only the differences within country limits – although this raises the question if the situation in some districts substantially differed from that of the rest of the country. Remarkable are moreover the parallels between Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany.

Although the aspects mentioned above do not elucidate the question completely, considering all these aspects allows us to contextualize the disparate censorship in the central and local assessment bodies in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany in a better way. It also enables us to realize the situation’s complexity (and its contradictions). However, what can not be denied is that these varying film assessment practices were a controversial matter and were often seen as undermining democracy [press article]

by Laura Bezerra


Source Edition urrogat Production Introduction Censorship Regulations Battleship Potemkin Horror Films Conclusion Bibliography Germany Introduction Czechoslovakia Austria Synopsis Local vs. central film assessment Potemkin abroad Russian films