Length: 32 Minutes
Director: Michael Kloft
MPAA Rating: N/A
Genre(s): Nazi / Documentary
Language: English / German
Features: WWII Film Gallery, Film-maker Biography
Produced in: Germany
Michael Klofts' documentary Television Under the Swastika is most definitely what people at one time referred to as a 'Curates Egg' of a film, in that it is 'good in parts'. Using the surviving portions of recently unearthed archive footage, the writer of 'The Goebbels Experiment' has sought to produce a unique insight into the mood of the German Nation or at least the propagandised mood of the Nation that the Third Reich wanted displayed.
The earliest mechanised television broadcasts from 1935 onward, although very complicated and only watched by a a few hundred high ranking party officials, were no more than Britain or America were doing at the same time It was however Germany's perseverance into regular network broadcasts, that puts it two decades ahead of the supposed 'Rise of Television' in in 50's America.
To enable the regular public to see the the Broadcasts on the later more reliable Television system, a number of 'Fernseher' rooms were set up to allow large audiences to see broadcasts in public rooms. Although as one, elderly German points out, “There was always a man, a technician there to adjust the Television”, it is easy to imagine this as a lo-tech “Big Brother” approach as the 'technician' could also watch the people while they watched. If that sounds somewhat paranoid then the racism is overt and so cloyingly presented it almost seems like a parody out of Monty Python.
While there is no denying the stunning archive material, impeccably selected and presented, the English dubbing is so dead and lack-lustre that it deflates any attempt by it's makers to engage the viewer. It's a fair assumption that First Run Features have their eyes set on American markets where subtitled films of any sort, let alone Nazi documentaries, always suffer poor sales. Cable and Satellite broadcasters will ironically buy up this documentary very quickly but those with a keen eye for a broad-based approach to media-history would do well to buy this short film and re-watch it to catch the strange cadences of Nazi propaganda, as fed to the man in the street.
Tellingly it is the short head-shot sequence of a large-headed presenter talking through a rictus grin about sending foreign musicians to 'special education camps' that is the most resonant and disturbing sequence.
Television Under the Swastika, is not a documentary for everyone, but those intrigued by the earliest days of television and by the Nazi Media and Propaganda should buy this without delay, if you can excuse the leaden voice-over.