Thursday, 28 July 2011
Last night I watched a bit of a DVD I've obtained from the US - "Kolberg", dating from 1945, about the Napoleonic Wars in Germany. I am astounded that I have never heard of this film before. It was a pet project of Goebbels - intended to fire up the German people late in WW2 so they would rush to join the Volksturm. Decidedly strange in places - some of the dialogue is lifted from Goebbels' own speeches - Gneisenau is portrayed as a rather unhinged zealot, who constantly berates the stammering (and very short) King of Prussia about the need to mobilise the citizens to defend the Reich. The main plot surrounds the brave defence of Kolberg against the French by the Prussian people's army - to be honest, I haven't got very far into the main film yet, and I'm not even sure which campaign is depicted.
Thus far, I have mostly watched the introductory feature, describing the circumstances in which it was made - all sorts of sub-plots about Goebbels objecting to individual performances etc. At a time when Berlin and the other chief cities were being bombed into ruin and the German regular army was very short of men and everything else, he was granted vast numbers of soldiers, many hundreds of horses and anything else he needed to make a propaganda film. No expense spared. The initial version depicted what the director considered realistic battle scenes - Goebbels apparently was very upset, accused the director of presenting warfare in an insufficiently glorious light, and they had to cut a huge amount of the film. Of course, the war ended before they ever got to show it to anyone. The version I have is (I think) restored to the director's original.
I'll watch it properly at the weekend - I think it is going to be of academic interest rather than true entertainment, but I'll certainly give it a go. Being a geeky person, I note that we seem to have Prussians in shakos fighting French in bicorns - hence my uncertainty about the period depicted - but it's a fantastically ambitious production - full colour, the works - and the restoration looks pretty good.