Films before the Court.

The Theory and Practice of Film Assessment in Germany from 1920 to 1938*


Because of the systematic division of labour that informs its production film ranks alongside photography as the medium of the twentieth century and of the industrially developed world. It is at the same time that symbolic form which is closest to reality, because of the photographic character of the images it depicts, and because of its temporal structure. The technological basis of the medium is one reason why, from the beginnings of the history of film until the present day, films have been assessed before entering the public domain - either by state supervision or by a process of self-regulation institutionalised by the producers. These modes of assessment appraise films with regard to whether they are in accordance with the ethical and moral foundations of a society, or whether they clash with that society's norms and values (which are themselves the subject of historical change). Such assessment obtains irrespective of the prevailing political system - whether in states with a constitutional monarchy, a democratically legitimised government, under totalitatian regimes, or social systems dominated by religious fundamentalism. Restrictions imposed upon films are a transnational and transcultural phenomenon with a decisive impact upon the internal constitution of the production of media.

1. The (Re-)legitimation of Film Censorship after the First World War

On 12 November 1918 a proclamation of the People's Council abolished censorship in Germany, including the censorship of films, by power of law. This put an end to a practice for which up to that point the different states constituting the German Reich (the Länder) had been responsible. In Prussia film censorship, firmly anchored in the General Prussian State Law, was the responsibility of the police. They were responsible for "the preservation of public peace, security and order, as well as the prevention of any danger threatening the public or individual constituents of the same." [1] The appraisal of films, which was a precondition of their being shown in public, was carried out by the police in situ. The owners of the cinemas were obliged to subject to police approval the films which they purchased, or (from ca. 1910) for the most part borrowed. At a later point film producers themselves and the importers of foreign productions also submitted their films for appraisal.

The police headquarters in Berlin acted as the central assessment institution in Prussia. The local police authorities had to further the films submitted to them by producers and distributors to Berlin for assessment. They themselves retained the right to censor the the films submitted by the cinema owners. The states of Brunswick and Württemberg passed new laws for the assessment of films on 5 December 1911 ("Regulation concerning public cinematographic showings") and 31 March 1914 ("Regulation concerning moving pictures"). [2]   During the First World War the censorship powers of the local police authorities continued to exist, and in some towns military advisors were additionally made party to the censorship processes, deciding whether a film "endangered the preservation of military secrets or the maintenance of public morale". [3] Among other films produced in the eighteen months between the end of 1918, when all censorship was suspended, and the spring of 1920 were a large number of what were termed "moral and educational films" ("Sitten- und Aufklärungsfilme"), to which conservative voices raised violent objections. [4] After lengthy discussions concerning the reorganisation of film censorship had taken place between the Reich and the Länder, involving in particular Saxony, Bavaria and Prussia, the government submitted on 9 November 1919 a draft law for the new regulation of film censorship to the German National Assembly, responsible for formulating the constitution. After this draft had been passed on 15 April 1920 following a second and third reading in the Reichstag, the National Assembly passed the "Reich Moving Picture Law" ("Reichslichtspielgesetz" = RLG) on 12 May 1920, in accordance with article 118 of the Constitution of the German Reich. It took effect on 29 May 1920. Although article 118 of the Weimar Reich Constitution stated the principle that "No censorship will take place", a special regulation applied to the cinema from that point: "in the case of films, however, regulations which differ from the above may be prescribed by law." [5] While, therefore, with the beginning of the first German democratic state the practice of registration and prohibition was in effect abolished in the area of theatre and literature, the authors of the Weimar Reich Constitution remained suspicious of the relatively youthful medium of the cinema and its public. This restrictive additional clause to the constitutional principle of freedom from censorship, delegating a sensitive area to a law, was a concession on the part of the National Assembly to the preventive positions which had been adopted by influential bodies (such as teachers, etc.) since the early 1910s. Objections had already been raised in the context of the "dirt and garbage debate" ("Schmutz- und Schunddebatte") to film as the entertainment medium and leisure pursuit of a predominantly urban, (petit-) bourgeois and proletarian public, as defined by Emilie Altenloh in 1912 in her study "The Sociology of the Cinema" ("Zur Sociologie des Kino"). About this time an increased political interest in censorship or self-censorship of the screen had evolved in Germany, with the formation by educationalists and lawyers of the Cinema Reform Movement (Kinoreformbewegung). This movement demanded that the artistic level of feature films be raised, and pronounced in favour of restrictions on films which did not meet these norms. Cinematography was to be an educational medium directed at broad spectra of the population. The underlying aesthetic concept was linked to the classical triad of the "Beautiful, True and Good", in reactionary opposition to contemporary trends in art and literature.  Since the turn of the century, under the banner of naturalism and aestheticism, norms and values which lay outside the bourgeois canon, and new, proletarian or minority milieus had become fit subjects for literary and artistic representation. The prevailing bourgeois conception of art felt itself endangered by the representation of poverty and misery, sexuality, disease and criminality, and concentrated especially upon the media of photography and film, with their capacity for technological reproduction of visual images.The difference in the way in which literary media and visual media, particularly film, were treated, which formed the basis of the new legitimation of censorship after the event and its legal justification, suggests that images in this phase were perceived primarily in terms of their referentiality to social reality - in contrast to literary texts or dramatic productions. The mimetic character of the photographic image in particular pretends to a greater transparency in its treatment of reality. Seen from this point of view, the artificiality of the dramatic production and the perception of signals of fictionality recede into the background, the focus being upon realistic effects.

2.The Organisation of Censorship - the Film Censorship Centres in Berlin and Munich

The establishment by law of film censorship centres on the chief production sites, in Berlin and Munich, was preceded in 1919 by a highly charged discussion between the Reich Ministry of the Interior and the Länder as to who might claim to be competent to assess films. The Länder insisted that each of them should to be able to decide about whether to permit a film within its own area. This would have meant that assessment procedures, as before the First World War, would have been the task of the local police authorities. Such a solution would have made the production and distribution of films into an entirely unpredictable undertaking. When the Moving Picture Law (RLG) came into effect, the censorship centres established in Berlin and Munich took over the function which had hitherto been the province of the police. The assessment committees consisted of a civil servant in overall charge of several subcommittees, each of which had five members (one civil servant as a chairman and four other members). These members were appointed by the Reich Minister of the Interior for the duration of three years, on the basis of lists of suggestions submitted by interested bodies. A quarter of them were from the "moving picture industry", another quarter from the field of "art and literature"; the other half were appointed from the areas of social welfare, education or youth work. Representatives from the areas of film criticism or film production were conspicuous by their absence.

3. The Establishment and Censorship Activity of the Film Assessment Headquarters in Berlin

The status of the Berlin Film Assessment Headquarters and its members is highly problematic in terms of the constitution of the Weimar Republic. Wolfgang Petzet describes it as "Janus-headed", in that the institution was perched between the status of judiciary body and executive body. The persons who in the last resort decided whether to permit or forbid films were both judges and administrators.

Until 1924 the Berlin Film Censorship Headquarters was headed by the author and senior executive officer Dr. Bulcke. He was dismissed and succeeded on 1 March 1934 by the lawyer Dr. Ernst Seeger. Seeger was a typically conscientious civil servant who had no problems in complying with the change of government on 30 January 1933. The clearest linguistic evidence of this ad hoc transformation can be seen in the prohibition of Eduard Tissé's semi-documentary film Frauennot-Frauenglück (Women's Woes - Women's Joys, 1929/30). [6] This prohibition was preceded by a discussion with the Bavarian authorities, which attests that Seeger interpreted the law in a manner that was in principle more kindly disposed towards films and rejected the excessively restrictive arguments put forward by the Länder.After the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (the Ministry for Enlightenment of the People and Propaganda) was created on 13 March 1933, Seeger became Head of Department V "Film", and a month later was appointed to a contingent post in charge of film imports. [7] On 20 April 1934, Hitler's birthday, there appeared the collected "Laws and Decrees of the National Government for the German Film Industry", edited by Seeger. On 29 June 1937 Goebbels appointed Seeger head of the film industry section of the 'Commission for the Preservation of Contemporary Documents'. Ernst Seeger died on 17 August 1937. [8] The Assessment Headquarters were then dissolved in 1938, marking the completion of the transition from films being subjected to censorship after production had finished to the total state supervision of production processes by the Reichsfilmintendant (Reich Film Supervisor) under the Nazi dictatorship.Let us return to the practice of censorship in the Weimar Republic: the Reich Moving Picture Law of 1920 concedes to both film producers and distributors, and to the authorities of the individual Länder, the right to object to the permits, imposition of cuts or prohibitions pronounced by the film assessment bodies, which were valid throughout the Reich. Complaints had to be submitted within two weeks of the decision being made by the assessment body. After a producer or distributor raised an objection to a censorship decision, or a Land authority submitted an application for the rescinding of a verdict (Widerrufsantrag), the film in question was the subject of further discussion on the part of the Film Assessment Headquarters, in a committee consisting of five members. The certificates of the Film Assessment Headquarters had the status of administrative legal verdicts valid throughout the Reich. Cases such as Eduard Tissé's Frauennot-Frauenglück, which was the subject of debate for the best part of two years, show that these verdicts were in practice, however, evaded time and time again by the Länder and in situ. The applications for the rescindment of verdicts which were submitted by the Länder generally adduced individual scenes from a film and formulated hypotheses concerning the impact of the motifs in question. Thus the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, applying on 10 November 1928 for the rescindment of the permit granted to Cecil B. DeMille's Das Gottlose Mädchen (The Godless Girl, 1928) by the Munich Film Assessment Centre came forward with the theory that the film's "entire presentation of its subject-matter was of such a nature [...] as to put at risk the labour invested in correctional education and thus disrupt public order". [9] The authors of the application do concede that the film depicts conditions in a house of correction in the USA, but this distinction is ignored and is indeed the subject of further resentment: [10] "Given the way in which the German film market is flooded with American products, the population is so accustomed to see events in daily life in an American guise that the majority will certainly [...] conclude that the conditions in German institutions are similar and will therefore be reinforced in their resistance to German correctional education."The Film Assessment Headquarters did not in fact give way to the Bavarian application for rescindment, nor to a further intervention on 16 November 1928 by the Prussian Minister of the Interior, who had demanded cuts in two scenes, but did impose cuts, particularly in scenes in Acts 5 and 6, in which superintendents treat the inmates brutally. Moreover, the Film Assessment Headquarters did not accept the argument of the Bavarian application for rescindment, as the film was "obviously set in America". Nor did they accept the verdict of the expert, Dr. Kämper of the Prussian Ministry for Social Welfare, who had demanded the film be prohibited "because its publication could have a disastrous effect on the suspicious attitude to the institution of correctional education, which is still rooted in the minds of the people 'at this moment in time'". The background to the debate is the transition from compulsory to correctional education which had only recently taken place in Germany; its reputation was regarded by the expert as under threat from DeMille's film.From this and similar documentation it becomes clear that film censorship, originally a purely social and ethical instrument, is evidently experiencing a process of politicisation in the course of the 1920s, and that decisions are being taken on an increasingly political basis. [11] This is particularly the case when a film presents in a critical light professional groups which enjoy high social repute or possess an important public function, such as lawyers, teachers, doctors, civil servants, or members of the armed services. In particular, films critical of the legal system, such as William Dieterle's 1928 melodrama Geschlecht in Fesseln (The Fettered Sex), are the subject of stringent processes of censorship. The treatment of Martin Berger's Kreuzzug des Weibes (The Woman's Crusade, 1926), which has as its protagonists a barrister, a doctor and a schoolmistress, is a particularly clear example of the sensitivity that existed with regard to the depiction of respected bourgeois professional groups.

4. The Concept of Wirkungszensur ("Censorship based upon Effect")

In contrast to the kind of censorship which had hitherto been practised, censorship of content (Inhaltszensur) or of taste (Geschmackszensur), the Moving Picture Law sought its legal justification in what is termed Wirkungszensur, a form of regulation which sees itself as preventing the undesirable psychological and social effects of film reception. The effect of visual signs remains, however, highly speculative in nature. Since the turn of the century the principle of catharsis established in the Poetics of Aristotle, the concept of the purifying effect of the depiction on the stage of violent scenes in particular, had come into conflict, in the discussions concerning censorship, with two new concepts. On the one hand there existed a diffuse concept of the imitation of deviant forms of behaviour as a result of the reception of the pictorial media; [12] this coexisted with a more indirect idea of the conversion of reception processes into undesirable mental attitudes. This is most clearly expressed in that section of the law which cites the criteria for the total prohibition of a film:

"A permit is [...] to be denied if appraisal reveals that the showing of a film is such that it is inclined to endanger public order or safety, to injure religious sensitivities, to have a morally brutalising or immoral effect, to endanger the reputation of Germany, or the relations of Germany to foreign states." [13]

The authors of the version of May 1920 were fully aware that the general formula laid down in § 1 of the RLG scarcely permits a clear distinction between 'effect' and 'content', since the rating "endangering public order and safety" would always have to take into account the specific actions and events depicted in a film. The following passage of § 1 of the RLG qualifies the argument in favour of prohibition with reference to the right to freedom of speech: "A permit may not be denied on the basis of a political, social, religious, ethical or philosophical opinion as such." [14]

This would amount to an explicit censorship of content, which would not have the backing of the constitution. According to this definition, a complex of motifs perceived as 'tendentious' would only be free of restrictions if it proved not to have any effect. Yet the censorship authorities, in the course of the 1920s, increasingly pronounce in favour of cuts and total bans on the basis of philosophical, ethical and moral positions. Where total bans are concerned, opinionated decisions on the part of the assessment centres were clearly on the increase after 1929, as Wolfgang Petzet establishes in his early critique of 1931. [15] Petzet subjects each section of the RLG to a critical review, after some ten years of censorship being practised on the basis of the law, and summarises the debate which had continuously accompanied legal proclamations concerning contentious films between 1920 and 1933, both in the film press and in daily and weekly newspapers. [16]

The legal discussion concerning the concept of the "endangering of public order and security" was inaugurated by Wenzel Goldbaum, Syndic of the Union of German Film Authors, immediately after the RLG of 1920 took effect. His conclusion is that the prohibition of a film may only be pronounced when "... immediate danger threatens the public, the danger of a riot in which the public might incur injury, particularly in an enclosed space." [17] On the other hand, Albert Hellwig, judge of the municipal court in Frankfurt-am-Main and author of the book "Schundfilm" ("Garbage Film", 1912), supports in his commentary on the RLG a much more subtle concept of the effect of film, and extends the range of potential 'victims' of a film who ought to be protected by censorship:

"It is not simply a matter of the effect upon the viewers [my italics], [...] but also that upon the rest of the public which learns of the showing of the film. The greatest of caution must, however, be exercised in considering this matter of the indirect effect of the showing upon the public. A stringently objective yardstick must be applied, based upon what the effect would have been if that part of the public in question had actually attended the showing." [18]

Hellwig's treatment of the section concerning the possible threat to order and security posed by film is similar to the way he treats the concept of effect:

"It is sufficient [for the prohibition of a film] if the film is of such a nature as to endanger [the public], without it being necessary to establish whether such a danger actually exists. [...] It suffices if according to a rational view the causing of a disruption to public security or order is to be expected if the film is shown, even if such disruption is of a gradual and indirect nature." [19]

This broadening of the concept of effect is oriented less towards the cinema's potential for affecting the emotions of the public than with its mental attitudes, and presupposes the subliminal 'effects' of film showings upon the public, which, so the speculative argument runs, have the potential to go beyond the level of recollection and lead into explicit action. While the law that preceded the new version of the RLG still related the criterion of the "injuring of religious sensitivity" to a situation in which public order was endangered, [20] sensitivity towards the cinematic depiction of religious motifs has now increased. Here too there is a shift from a direct 'efffect', brought about by the reception of the film itself, towards a more abstract concept of an indirect 'effect'. Hellwig here adduces the heterogeneity of the urban cinema-going public and of other social groups, which "have not actually attended the showing in person, but have only learned of the content of the film by word of mouth, or through press reports, etc.", who are, however, regarded as potential cinema-goers. [21]

The increased importance attached to the concept of 'indirect effect' in the commentaries upon the RLG enhances considerably the possibilities of intervening against permits, as, for example, the case against Hans Kyser's film Luther (1927/28) shows. This became the subject of a dispute which went through several stages of the law, and which was initiated by a note of protest on the part of both churches against the showing of the film in Nuremberg. The film was accused of disturbing the religious peace. After the first and second permits issued by the Berlin Film Assessment Centre, [22] which had already imposed cuts, the Central Committee of Munich Catholics demanded that public showing in Munich be forbidden,

"as the film reveals such an aggressive anti-Catholic tendency, deviating considerably from the purely historical representation of events, that its showing would cause the greatest possible injury to Catholic sensitivities, would disturb the religious peace and lead to unforeseeable detrimental effects.„ [23]

This intervention cites in particular the depiction of the trading of indulgences, and of the court of the Inquisition, which condemns the reformer Martin Luther to death by fire without a hearing; it concentrates upon a small number of titles in which the authority of the Roman pontificate is viewed critically. [24] In this, as in similar cases, the authors regret, sometimes explicitly, that censorship of the film on the basis of its content (or its 'tendencies') is not legally permissible.

The description "morally brutalising or having an immoral effect" left even greater room for play for the censorship process. This hypothesis concerning a film's effect embraces all motifs which relate to the fields of sex and violence in the broadest sense. Hellwig's commentary adduces as potentially 'brutalising': "accidents, cruelty to animals, suicide scenes, etc." [25] He argues, however, that it is not merely the occurrence of such motifs which determines whether a film or a sequence is given the label "brutalising", but it is the manner of depiction and the narrative context in which these motifs occur that matters.

The label 'having an immoral effect' relates to a film which "expresses the purpose of provoking sexual titillation or pleasure in sexual obscenity in such a way that it is, objectively viewed, of a nature to offend the sexual sense of shame of impartial third parties." [26] The criterion of offence to the sense of shame is interpreted strictly in terms of sexual politics:

"As women, generally speaking, may be more readily offended in sexual terms than men, and as experience shows that women form a large part of the cinema-going public, [it is recommended] that films such as a respectable woman might not watch without blushing should not be shown.„ [27]

This label was applied to many of the "educational films" ("Aufklärungsfilme") made in 1918/1919, when there was no censorship. It affected in particular Richard Oswald's Anders als die Anderen (Different from the Others, 1919), and the semi-documentary 1927 film Gesetze der Liebe (The Laws of Love), which incorporates two acts of the former film. Hellwig argues that the film constitutes "repulsive propaganda in favour of homosexuality". [28]

Where the export of German films is concerned, the "Aufklärungsfilme" are again listed by Hellwig under the classification "injurious to the reputation of Germany abroad". This basis for censorship is formulated in an extremely vague way - the commentary cites, along with the educational films, documentary films (films "which reproduce real events or at least aspire to reproduce them"), in which politicians or the military are depicted in a negative way, or which show the fraternisation of women with foreign occupation troops. [29] On the other hand, it is conceded that films which fall into this category may be permitted on condition that they are not exported.

Among the film motifs which might endanger the "relations of Germany with foreign states" Hellwig includes, inter alia, representations which glorify the monarchy or advocate a war of revenge. [30] Films which portray the lives of monarchs or link historial events with stages in a monarch's life are accordingly treated with particular strictness by the censorship processes. Two films concerned with the insanity and death of King Louis of Bavaria are of interest here. The Munich production Das Schweigen am Starnberger See (The Silence on Lake Starnberg, 1919), directed by Rudolf Raffé, was subjected to censorship in 1921. William Dieterle's Ludwig II., König von Bayern (Louis II, King of Bavaria, 1929) was the second long feature film on this subject. In Dieterle's film Louis drowns in the lake, exhausted after fighting for his life with his psychiatrist Dr. Gudden, overpowering him and escaping. The Bavarian Ministry of the Interior intervened against the permit issued to the film by the Berlin Assessment Centre, arguing that the Bavarian people preserved the figure of Louis

"in adulatory memory [...], and that there was no doubt that if this film, which despite its artistic excellence contains some scenes which are tasteless and have a brutalising effect, were to be shown to the public, then it would not be possible to preserve law and order." [31]

Whereas Bavaria feared disturbances of the peace on the part of an indignant local audience and a negative impact on the reputation of the German Reich, the representative of the Reich Ministry of the Interior, arguing against the Bavarian demand for prohibition, referred to the gap in time between the dethroning of Louis II in 1886 and the year of production of the film:

"Although [...] a gloomy depiction of a German royal court is given, in which the mentally ill monarch is only deposed by an act of state after the ministry has been given an assurance by his successor that it will remain in office [...], these events lie far back in the past [...] and are, therefore, not of such a nature as to injure the reputation of Germany today." [32]

5. The Imposition of Cuts as a Compromise Solution

Compared with total prohibition, the issue of the imposition of cuts presents an even more complicated picture in legal terms. Hellwig interprets the Moving Picture Law as signifying that

"as a rule a film is either to be forbidden in its totality, or granted a permit; thus the granting of a permit after the cutting of parts of the film is the exception to the rule. Only when it is the case that it is merely certain small parts of the film, as opposed to the film as a whole, which give cause for doubt, are they to be cut, and the otherwise inoffensive film granted a permit." [33]

Hellwig's commentary makes specific reference to the possible problems of comprehension affecting the plot of a film which has been cut in this way:

"Whether the remnant in that form which it retains after the cutting of the objectionable scenes is still comprehensible, or indeed whether it is still aesthetically successful, is a matter of indifference to the assessment office, which is not a dramaturge." [34]

In practice the assessment bodies, which advocated a manifestly more liberal position than the conservative lawyer Albert Hellwig, very often opted for the compromise solution of granting films a permit provided cuts were made. Moreover, many verdicts of the Film Assessment Headquarters rejected applications for total prohibition and decreed cuts instead. The German assessment procedure in the case of Frauennot-Frauenglück, which lasted more than eighteen months, resulted in a shortening, step by step, of the Swiss original version, which consisted of 6 acts and was 1,954 metres long. Before this film, as mentioned above, was forbidden in its entirety on 19.6.1933, it had already been shown in the cinemas in an officially permitted version, 1,680 metres in length. In the case of Georg Wilhelm Pabst's Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street, 1925) the imposition of cuts resulted in the characterisation and plot suffering from considerable gaps in motivation, at odds with both the realistic handling of the narrative by Willy Haas and Pabst's characteristic directing style. [35]

The justifications given for cuts attested in many records of censorship reveal the complete obfuscation of the concept of Wirkungszensur, which was of central importance for the legitimation of film censorship; the elimination of indiviudal motifs and sequences amounts to nothing less than the direct manipulation of a film's content.

6. The revisions of the Moving Picture Law and the transition to National Socialist censorship practice

The RLG was first altered on 23 December 1922. § 4 concerns the procedures of the Film Assessment Headquarters and determines that a permit may be recalled on the basis of a reassessment of a film. For this purpose the film is shown in the version hitherto permitted. The new supplement prescribes that a recall may also be prescribed wihtout a new assessment, i.e. without a viewing, if no film material is available to the assessment headquarters. This means that the producers or distributors are obliged to submit a copy to the assessment headquarters within a given period of time. Failing that, a decision will be taken "on the basis of information available in the files".

In the increasingly exacerbated economic crisis the "Law concerning the showing of foreign films", passed on 15 July 1930, empowered the Reich's government "to pass decrees concerning the preconditions of the showing of foreign films (Bildstreifen), for the protection of the cultural interests of the German motion picture industry." The practical execution of such decrees was a matter for the Reich Minister of the Interior.

On 31.3.1931 a further section was incorporated in the RLG, which supplemented § 2. This passage prescribes that films "against the unlimited showing of which reasons for prohibition exist on the basis of § 1 may be permitted to be shown to certain circles of people or in limited performance conditions." This supplement related to films whose themes, for example in the area of medicine and (sexual) hygiene, had provoked numerous applications for rescindment and which had not been given a permit as educational films. To prevent total prohibition the form of "a closed showing" was chosen as a compromise. These films were thereby de facto withheld from the public. The most serious change to the RLG was the "Third decree of the President of the Reich in the interest of the security of the economy and business, and to combat political acts of violence", which was passed on 6 October 1931. § 1 of the Law is supplemented as follows: The granting of a permit to a film is to be denied "if assessment reveals that the showing of the film is of such a nature as to endanger interests central to the state, or public order or safety..."  § 4 is reformulated as follows:

"The granting of a permit to a film can be rescinded by the Assessment Headquarters for the Reich or for a certain area on the application of the Reich Minister of the Interior or the highest authority of a Land, if subsequently a reason for denying a permit arises which meets the sense of §§ 1 and 3 [the latter referring to the protection of youth, U.v.K.]. The authority applying for the rescindment can forbid the film to be shown until the decision of the Assessment Headquarters has been made." [36]

This supplement enabled the government of the Reich, represented by the Minister of the Interior, to intervene even in the case of films which had already been granted a permit. This placed the Assessment Headquarters, which was itself an institution of the Reich Ministry of the Interior, in an entirely subservient position. Its role as a court of referral or as the highest instance and instrument of mediation could in effect no longer be put into practice. Thus the administration of justice was rendered totally arbitrary by the emergency decrees of the government. Politically unpopular films, despite being initially issued with a permit, could not be shown for such time as they were subject to the process of assessment.

The greater severity accorded to the RLG in the context of the emergency decrees led to the legislator drawing an unfortunate conclusion from the censorship conflicts of 1930, which focussed upon Lewis Milestone's Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front). The showing in the Universum-Theater in Berlin's Nollendorf Square was met by violent disruptive action on the part of troops of National Socialist thugs, Goebbels being one of their spokesmen. Wolfgang Petzet depicts a grotesque scene: people

"[...]  who had not even seen the first scenes crowded onto the streets, broke shop windows, spat upon a Catholic clergyman, pulled at his beard and accused him, against his protestations, of being a Jew. The police proved equal to the situation, however, and dispersed these protesters, who were in their own fashion the spokesmen of patriotic indignation."[37]

On 19 February 1931 the Reich Minister of the Interior, Dr. Wirth, stated in the parliamentary budget committee that it was a waste of the constabulary's time "to employ their powers to protect this film. The fight against National Socialism is not being waged for the sake of this film. The police and the state have greater, more important tasks on their hands." [38]

The legal solution of increasing the restrictions levelled particularly at films produced abroad amounted to a concession on the part of the Reich government in the face of the disruptive protests - the National Socialists regarded this as a triumph.

After the National Socialists' 'seizure of power' on 30 January 1933 the Ministry for Enlightenment of the People and Propaganda (Ministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda) was created by a decree of the President of the Reich on 13 March 1933. Hitler's decree of 30 June 1933 transferred to this ministry areas of competence derived from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, Economics, Agriculture and the Postal Services. The assessment of films was subsequently reorganised and placed totally in the hands of the state. The principle of subsequent censorship of freely produced films which had held sway in the Weimar Republic was abolished, and all aspects of production were subjected to central state control through the establishment of the Reichsfilmintendant. The institutional reorganisation of film assessment and state supervision of all home-produced films as well as of the import of foreign films went together with a significant expansion of the section concerning reasons for prohibition, i.e. the list of motives for censorship:

"A permit is to be refused if assessment reveals that the showing of the film is of a nature to endanger vital interests of the state or public order or safety, to injure National Socialist, religious, moral or artistic sensitivity, to have a morally brutalising or immoral effect, to damage the reputation of Germany or the relationships of Germany with foreign states." [39]

The justification of the new version of the RLG of 16 February 1934 reads:

"The task now arises of conferring upon film its fitting role as an instrument of culture and propaganda in the new state and securing the same.[...]. Whereas [however] the legal control of the moving picture industry, particularly in the area of film censorship, has hitherto been entirely negative in its effects, it is the task and responsibility of the new state to cooperate positively in the evolution of German cinema. The state can only fulfil this task if it devotes its attention to the whole process of film-making. [...] It can no longer be accepted today that permits are granted to films by the state assessment body on the basis of the censorship law, which on being shown lead to objections on the part of broad sections of the population." [40]

In this justification explicit reference is made once again to the film All Quiet on the Western Front, which continued to be the target of National Socialist propaganda even after Erich Maria Remarque's books had been burned. The new regulation concerning closed viewings (§ 10, section 2) "renders it impossible, as happened in the past in the case of the permit granted to All Quiet on the Western Front, that the range of people to whom a film forbidden to be shown to the public is made accessible should be of such a broad span that the permit has the effect of a public showing." [41]

Through the creation of the position of the "Reichs-filmdramaturg", who had the newly formulated responsibility of assessing all films in advance, the Berlin Assessment Centre (its Munich equivalent having already been abolished) and the Assessment Headuarters became by law institutions which could only accept de facto decisions which had already been made elsewhere. [42]  The Film Assessment Headquarters was abolished in 1938.

What began as an instrument of democracy, assembling film producers, educationalists, youth welfare officers, artists and lawyers at a 'Round Table', became after sixteen years a tool in the hands of a totalitarian state, which acknowledged only one authority where film was concerned, that of the Minister of Propaganda.

*translated by Cyril Edwards. This text is also published in: Leonardo Quaresima, Alessandra Raengo, Laura Vichi (Eds.): I limiti della rappresentazione. Censura, visibile, modi di rappresentazione nel cinema / The Bounds of Representation. Censorship, the visible, modes of representation in film. Udine 2000, S. 381-402.

[1] E. Seeger, Reichslichtspielgesetz nebst Ausführungsbestimmungen und Gebührenordnung (Berlin: Heymanns, 1923), p. 4.

[2] On film censorship before World War I see G. Kilchenstein, Frühe Filmzensur in Deutschland. Eine vergleichende Studie zur Prüfungspraxis in Berlin und München 1906-1914) (Munich: diskurs Film 1997) (= diskurs film bibliothek, ed. by Klaus Kanzog, vol. 12).

[3] E. Seeger, op.cit.., p.5.

[4] On the social and psychological preconditions of the Aufklärungsfilme and on the assessment of Richard Oswald´s films see K. Kreimeier, Aufklärung, Kommerzialismus und Demokratie oder: Der Bankrott des deutschen Mannes, in: Richard Oswald – Regisseur und Produzent (Munich: edition text & kritik, 1990), pp. 9-19. For an evaluation of the Aufklärungsfilm in the context of the censorship debate in 1919/20 and the parliamentary prehistory of the Reichslichtspielgesetz (RLG) see E. Sturm, ´Der Weg aus dem Sumpf´. Die Entstehungsgeschichte des ersten deutschen Lichtspielgesetzes von 1920 – Eine Reaktion auf den Kampf um den ´Aufklärungsfilm´? (Diss. Mag. University of Hamburg: 1997).

[5] As quoted by W. Petzet, Verbotene Filme. Eine Streitschrift (Frankfurt: Societas-Verlag 1931), p. 19.

[6] Document O.6704, 19.6.1933.

[7] Cf. Film-Kurier (18 August 1937).

[8] Cf. Ernst Seeger – Jurist, Zensor, in CineGraph. Lexikon zum deutschsprachigen Film (munich: edition text & kritik, 1977ff, fascicle 20).

[9] BayHStA, MInn 66561, doc. no. 2546 b (10 January 1928), p.4.

[10] Ibid., p.5. The whole document is published in the edition, Zensur. Entscheidungen der Film-Oberprüfstelle Berlin 1920-1938. See the list of the 30 representative cases.

[11] Cf. J.P. Barbian, Politik und Film in der Weimarer Republik. Ein Beitrag zur Kulturpolitik der Jahre 1918-1933, Archiv für Kulturgeschichte, vol.80, no. 1 (Cologne-Weimar-Vienna: Böhlau, 1998), pp. 213-245.

[12] In his commentary on the RLG, Albert Hellwig cites Richard Oswald´s 1919 film Anders als die Anderen (Different from the Others) as a characteristic case: Officials established in this instance that it had been proven that as a consequence of the showing of the film a young boy had fallen victim to a lecher.„ A.Hellwig, Das Lichtspielgesetz vom 12. Mai 1920 nebst den reichsrechtlichen und landesrechtlichen Bestimmungen (Berlin: Stilke 1921), p. 105 (= Stilkes Rechtsbibliothek, no. 2).

[13] RLG, § 1; quoted from: Das Lichtspielgesetz vom 12.5.1920, cit. annotated edition by V.Szczesny (with implementing regulations, introduction, schedule of charges and index) (Berlin-Leipzig: Vereinigung wissenschaftlicher Verleger Walther de Gruyter & Co., 1920), p.10.

[14] RLG, § 1; as note 2, pp.10-11.

[15] See W. Petzet, op. cit.

[16] See for example the discussion of Lewis Milestone´s Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), which figured for several months in the daily press of 1930. The most imporant press documents are published in the edition „Zensur...„

[17] Goldbaum, no date [1920], p. 24.

[18] A.Hellwig, op. cit., p. 69.

[19] Ibid., p. 75.

[20] Ibid., pp.91-92.

[21] Ibid., p. 92.

[22] B. 17622 (17 December 1927) and B. 17863 (10 January 1928).

[23] BayHStA, MInn 66561, doc. no. 2546 b 8 (24 February 1928).

[24] Cf. Act 5, title 6: „Then there is after all something that is stroner than Rome and all the popes: the German conscience!“ Source: B.17863 (10 January 1928) (transcript), p. 6.

[25] A.Hellwig, op. cit., pp 96ff.

[26] Ibid., p. 99.

[27] Ibid., p. 102.

[28] Ibid., p. 105.

[29] Ibid., p. 107.

[30] Ibid., p. 108.

[31] Document O. 8 (8 January 1930), p. 4. For the later course of the case see also the second certificate in this edition, document O. 247 (15 March 1930).

[32] Document O. 8 (8 January 1930), p. 8.

[33] A. Hellwig, op. cit., p. 111.

[34] Ibid., p. 111.

[35] On the survival and reconstrution of the film see J.-Ch. Horak, Der Fall ‚Die freudlose Gasse‘. Eine Rekonstruktion im Münchner Filmmuseum, in: U. von Keitz (Ed.), Früher Film und späte Folgen. Restaurierung, Rekonstruktion und Neupräsentation historischer Kinematographie (Marburg: Schüren 1998), pp. 48-65. On the depiction of the erotic in this film, the subject of several law cases see G. Koll, Pandoras Schätze. Erotikkonzepte in Filmen Georg Wilhelm Pabsts (Munich: diskurs film Verlag 1998) (=diskurs film bibliothek, vol. 13).

[36] As quoted in Petzet, op. cit., pp. 149 an 159.

[37] Ibid., p. 97. Cf. also not 15.

[38] Ibid., p. 100.

[39] Das Lichtspielgesetz nebst Durchführungsbestimmungen (Berlin: Lichtbildbühne Verlag 1934), p. 17.

[40] Ibid., pp. 8 and 9.

[41] Ibid., p. 10.

[42] For a detailed account of National Socialist film censorship see K.-J. Maiwald, Filmzensur im NS-Staat (Dortmund: Nowotny, 1983).