It has been readily admitted that propaganda has little to do with the truth. Why then is it so convincing? Why does the demagogic appeal of propaganda triumph over reason and truth? The answer is that the power of our emotions and our prejudices clouds our reasoning; and even more, propaganda uses our emotions against us by manipulating them. We are shown what the propagandist wants us to see; we feel what the propagandist wants us to feel. And in that way, propaganda becomes a tool for exploiting the masses, for shaping public opinion and turning ordinary people into supporters, participants and onlookers of genocide. Both Triumph of the Will and Jud Suess function effectively as propaganda of the Nazi regime, though the films' specific goals and techniques are quite different.
The film Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens, Leni Riefenstahl, Germany, 1935)1 is perhaps the more blatant of the two propaganda films discussed in this essay. It is not so much a film in the modern sense as it is a careful collection of Hitler and Nazi Party members captured in all their nationalistic glory.There is no story, no plot, just one overriding theme that each and every shot contributes to.
The film was made in 1935, during the years that Hitler was working to legitimize himself and his regime in the eyes of the German public. Triumph of the Will reflects that objective: the images harp on nationalism and on the greatness of the Nazis-the perfect and seemingly endless lines of soldiers marching past Hitler; the huge crowds of youth gathered to hear Hitler speak; the fervency and devotion of the government officials. Of course, it is...
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...ove the Jewish people.
Both Triumph of the Will and Jud Suess are powerful movies, movies which do indeed make their point. Having been alerted to the fact that these films are propaganda, it is easy to see their emotional appeals and blatant disregard for the truth. But what of those who knew not what the truth was? For the great majority who had not an inkling of the truth, their ignorance become perhaps the greatest asset the Nazi regime could ever hope for. Packaged lies, labeled 'truth', delivered into the hands of an unsuspecting, unknowing public-that is where this propaganda becomes dangerous. Ignorance is not the only thing to blame; but how different would history be if ignorance was not a factor?
1"Triumph of the Will" by Leni Riefenstahl, Germany, 1935.
2"Jud Suess" by Veit Harlan, Germany, 1940.
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