Working Weimar Women into the National Socialist Community: Carl Froelich's Women's Labor Service Film, Ich fur Dich--Du fur mich (1934), and Madchen in Uniform (1931).
It has become common to acknowledge continuities and discontinuities between Weimar and Third Reich cinema, connections that scholars have also studied in some depth. Julian Petley, for example, argues that the film industry of the Nazi era originated to some extent in Weimar crises and institutions (173-76). Institutional continuities are clear in Klaus Kreimeier's history of the UFA film studio, and elsewhere he has argued that Third Reich genre cinema has its stylistic roots in Weimar as well (Die UFA Story; "Von Henny Porten zu Zarah Leander"). Thomas Elsaesser sees affinities between German films of the early and mid 1930s ("Moderne"; "Hollywood Berlin"), and a fundamental concern throughout Sabine Hake's Popular Cinema in the Third Reich is "to reconstruct the processes of appropriation, incorporation, and transformation that connected filmic practices after 1933 to the Weimar period" (xi). The following essay contributes to explorations of the relationships between German cinema in the Third Reich and its Weimar past by examining the strategies and effects of a Nazi Party-sponsored propaganda feature's instrumentalization of its Weimar heritage to promote a new vision of womanhood.
Individual case studies have illuminated relationships between Weimar and Third Reich cinema. Hake's analyses of "transitional" comedies reveal the gaps created by the forced coordination of the film branch and its exclusion of Jewish filmmakers (Popular Cinema 23-45). Katie Trumpener's reading of Detlef Sierck's April, April/(April Fools, 1934) showcases the stylistic inconsistencies of the transitional years and an overlap between older and newer depictions of class, noting that "the cinema of the Third Reich inherited its entire domestic audience from the Weimar Republic" and that transitional films "remind[ed] audiences of their own viewing histories and habits" even as they adjusted to new aesthetics and ideals (41). Heidi Faletti examines influences on the 1933 martyr films Hitlerjunge Quex (Hitler Youth Quex, dir. Hans Steinhoff), Hans Westmar (dir. Franz Wenzler), and SA-Mann Brand (SA Man Brand, dir. Franz Seitz), which relied heavily on styles and motifs from the street film and leftist films of the Weimar Republic to fight leftist ideals and promote self-sacrifice. These case studies and others depict the transitional years of the German film industry as years of both continuity and change; elements familiar to German audiences reappeared within new artistic and political constellations, at times calling attention to lack, inconsistency, and exclusion.
Much research also focuses on the evolution of images of women from Weimar into the Third Reich. As with cinema generally, Weimar images of modern femininity were co-opted and revised after 1933. Erica Carter describes Third Reich cinema and its female stars as haunted by the ghosts of the Weimar past, highlighting and masking losses while functioning as ersatz models promoting new aesthetics and ideals (Dietrich's Ghosts 173-219). Antje Ascheid's analyses of Nazi era female film stars illustrate her point that "more often than not Nazi films featured actresses whose star images and screen characters struggled to incorporate National Socialist doctrine [...] refer[ring] back to those discourses operative in international cinema and Weimar traditions" (6-7). Integration of such figures may have served a Nazi agenda. In her interdisciplinary study of women's appearance in the Third Reich, Yvonne Houy argues that National Socialism promoted a modern female image (among others) in order to attract modern women to the movement and to convince those with "folkish" views to accept such women into the national community (62-66).
This article studies the transitions in both femininity and filmmaking not as they were expressed in the Third Reich's popular genre films--in which continuities and discontinuities have been most noted and discussed--but rather as manifest in party propaganda: Carl Froelich's Ich fur Dich--Du fur mich (I for You--You for Me), a feature film commissioned by the Reichspropagandaleitung Abt. Film der NSDAP (Film Division of the Propaganda Office of the Nazi Party) and the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) program in 1934. Analysis of this work illustrates Nazi ideals and exemplifies how the party dealt with the Third Reich's inheritance of Weimar women and Weimar film spectators. Ich fur Dich celebrates the Frauenarbeitsdienst (Women's Labor Service) and envisions how the modern, New Woman associated with the Weimar era can assimilate into an idealized National Socialist community and channel her sexuality into forms consistent with National Socialism. Simultaneously, this film deploys filmic references to Weimar cinema easily recognizable to its target audience. Such incorporation suggests that despite the National Socialists' vocal disapproval of prevalent themes and styles of Weimar-era film and femininity, in the early years of the Third Reich the regime cultivated and exploited continuities with Weimar to promote its own interests. Despite the instrumental uses of such references, however, they also had ideological effects that were, at times, contradictory to explicit National Socialist aims.
In an analysis of two documentary shorts about young women in the Labor Service, Hake argues that notions of femininity, beauty, and eroticism in Third Reich film emerged not only through form and narrative but also through underexamined "intertextual relationships and dialogic effects" ("Disziplinierung" 159). (1) Drawing on a critical tradition pioneered by Mikhail Bakhtin, Tzvetan Todorov, and Julia Kristeva, Hake claims that gender and sexuality in the Third Reich were shaped by a network of images and texts, by the intersections and contradictions between the documentary and feature films on Nazi-era film programs as well as between those films and other elements of visual culture, contemporaneous and past. Hake's use of these poststructuralist terms also implies the production of meaning that is ambivalent, not fixed, and that may resist dominant ideology. (2) This essay reconstructs a different part of the complex web of meaning shaping gender and sexuality in 1930s Germany. Instead of the dialogue between documentary and feature film in the Third Reich, it focuses on the meanings generated between feature film of the Third Reich and that of the Weimar Republic, and in particular how such intertextual references both assist and undermine the Nazi party's attempts at ideological hegemony. To do so, it examines the connection--noted in contemporary reviews--between Ich fur Dich, a lesser-known film by one of the Third Reich's most prominent directors, and Madchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform, dir. Leontine Sagan, 1931), a successful women's film of the Weimar era. Madchen was made by a cooperative under a (failing) democracy and has been widely received as an antifascist, pro-lesbian film. Ich fur Dich was explicit propaganda commissioned by a fascist dictatorship that had already begun to bring the film industry in line (Gleichschalten) and purged it of Jews and political opposition. Yet the former had features that could be (and were) adapted to the needs of the latter. Ich fur Dich's citations of Madchen evoke the past while envisioning the future, promoting an evolution of femininity, female sexuality, and filmic style desired by the regime. Ich fur Dich's intertextual dialogue with Madchen thus helps define emerging Third Reich notions of gender, sexuality, and film, staging their relationship to Weimar as assimilative rather than exclusionary. The traces of older models, however, mobilized by Ich fur Dich's seemingly inclusive dialogue with Weimar threaten to destabilize some of the new regime's ideals.
In 1934, the Women's Labor Service was a subsidized volunteer work program to assist rural settlement projects and help the unemployed, connecting them to the soil and the German people (Gotz, sec. 3). Its educational functions included a "correct attitude to work," "a bridge between town and country," the development of practical and leadership skills in case of military mobilization, and the promulgation of "Germanness" and National Socialist values (Stibbe 117-18). The program also supported Nazi racial policies and expansionism in the East (Hake, "Disziplinierung" 164; Harvey 44-77). The party-sponsored and heavily publicized Ich fur Dich promoted this program. Featuring a group of young urban women in a rural work camp on Rugen and focusing more on situation and setting than character or plot, this ensemble film is organized loosely around the story of Hanne, a domestic worker from Berlin who has lost her job because her boyfriend, Werner, spends his time obsessively pursuing her and a lost inheritance, rather than looking for work. Hanne joins the Labor Service to gain employment and escape Werner and the city. She adjusts well and is assigned to Settler Mahlow and his nephew Christian, who falls in love with her. Werner treks hundreds of miles to find Hanne, arriving to find that Christian intends to propose. At an evening gala held by the Labor Service women, the two men brawl. Werner is brought to the hospital with a mild concussion but escapes, wandering over the moor and getting stuck in the muck. Meanwhile, the women have been sent back to their dormitory, but Hanne, supported by her friends, sneaks out to find Werner. She faints and is returned to her dorm, while the men from a nearby Labor Service camp rescue Werner. After his recovery, Werner joins the Labor Service, which will make an honest man of him and prepare him to marry Hanne someday. Order and community are restored and the bonds between the Labor Service women and the local community are repaired. As was emphasized by the trade press, in Ich fur Dich, the Labor Service builds a community of like-minded, diligent, dutiful, and wholesome women out of a diverse collection of individuals and brings together urban and rural residents to forma national community (Volksgemeinschaft). (3)
While initially there is argument, teasing, and mistrust among the girls, and even more distance between them and the local population, by the end of the film, shared labor erases differences between classes, personalities, and regional origins, and forges bonds between urban and rural. In this regard, Ich fur Dich parallels the plot conventions of boys' films of the era, namely, the "boy-collective-growing-together-in-service-of- the-community," culminating in the integration of an outsider (Steinlein 231-32). Ich fur Dich culminates in the redemption of Werner, while the integration of less marginal figures, community building, and service feature in the film's other plotlines: wealthy Lotte changes from a snobby social outcast to a productive community member. Inge, a medical student sent to help Frau Kollerbuch give birth and care for her children, initially is mistrusted by the farmer's wife and desired by her husband. Yet by the end of the film, Inge has made herself so useful to the Kollerbuchs that they ask her to carry the baby into the church for christening and name the baby after her.
The German film press promoted Ich fur Dichas, in a Reichsfilmblatt article title, "a new film for a new time." (4) Critics regularly refer to it as the "first" something--from "the first film of the young generation in the new Germany" ("Ich fur Dich," Film-Kurier 3) to "the first film that [Froelich] was allowed to make for the National Socialist movement and the masses of the German Labor Front" (Belling 3). (5) Repeated discussion of the film's use of primarily unknown actresses underscores the newness of Ich fur Dich and is linked explicitly to community, ensemble, realism, and the building up of the German film industry for a new era. (6) Critics tended to agree that the film balanced entertainment, production quality, and National Socialist values well, including community, camaraderie, duty, work, relations between leader and followers, appreciation of the German countryside, erasure of class differences, and purging modern urban vices.
Although presented asa new vision, Ich fur Dich did not represent a full break with the past. Ich fur Dich does not construct National Socialist women from scratch. Instead, it depicts the assimilation of Weimar women. The women who acquire Nazi values in the Labor Service begin as modern, cosmopolitan, "New Women." Except for Lotte, each woman has a career, from housekeeping and factory work to medicine and architecture. The women's fashion choices reflect Weimar modernity clearly. When the women first arrive at the camp, they wear different modern fashions, some reflecting the menswear trends associated with the "New Woman": short hair, trench coats, hats, ties, pants, and vests (see fig. 1). They treat one another as individuals rather than a team, and there are class divisions between the girls. We see this in the disdain they express for one another and some of the teasing that goes on the first night, particularly of the upper-class girls, awkward in the modest setting of the work camp. The women's skills, fashions, and behavior all evolve during the film, as the Labor Service integrates them into the NS-collective. Devotion to work and one's comrades replaces interest in superficial differences and creature comforts. By the end, these happy laborers wear peasant dress on the farm and plain, matching garb for formal occasions, work together to help a comrade in distress, and are well worked into both the farm settlement and the National Socialist community (see fig. 2). (7)
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The resulting female image is overwhelmingly positive and could have been very attractive to some of Weimar's New Women: competent working women develop their own character and skills, serve the local community and the nation, and forge bonds among themselves. These women become "women-soldiers" (R., "Ich fur Dich" 2)--strong, active, disciplined comrades, who assist others rather than build their own families. Marriage is deferred, and motherhood, a major focus of Nazi propaganda and policies for women, appears asa rather unattractive option, represented by Frau Kollerbuch, who is thoroughly exhausted by childbearing and -rearing. According to Hake, the type created in Ich fur Dich, seen also in Madel im Landjahr (Girls in Their Land Year, dir. Hans Curlis, 1936) and Hitlerjunge Quex, shares a number of features with Weimar's New Woman, "youth, athleticism, activity, and a certain androgyny," and was modeled after Weimar-era stars such as Hertha Thiele (the star of Madchen), Renate Muller, and Leni Riefenstahl ("Disziplinierung" 162). Thus the new order welcomes Weimar women, partially domesticating and partially accommodating their modern, urban ways, inviting them to contribute to German society, evening out class and regional differences, and building a harmonious community.
Just as the Labor Service tunas Weimar women into National Socialist women, Ich fur Dich converts Weimar cinema into National Socialist cinema. "R.," writing for the Film Kurier proclaims, "This film is today and young. It brings no filmic Revolution, no roaring overthrow of styles and creative forms; how should Froelich disguise himself or deny himself exactly that which makes up his personality," including his ability to realistically and lyrically represent daily life, particularly that of young people ("Ich fur Dich" 2). While praising Ich fur Dich as something new, R. hearkens back to Froelich's pre-1933 successes and claims that Froelich's style, developed in this earlier time, transfers well to the young film of today, which should not contain any formal revolution--part of what the Nazis disliked about Weimar-era film.
A film from Froelich's past invoked often in discussions of Ich fur Dich was Madchen in Uniform, produced by Froelich and under his "artistic supervision." Madchen, a film about same-sex desire and Prussian discipline in a girls' boarding school, like Ich fur Dich, is an ensemble piece featuring a cast of young women new to film. Trade press articles about Ich fur Dich frequently give credit for Madchen to Froelich and highlight the films' similarities, emphasizing Froelich's naturalism, his ongoing interests in the problems of youth, and his experience working with young, inexperienced actresses. (8) The postwar reception of Madchen would lead one to believe that it is a transgressive film that was unwelcome in Nazi Germany. (9) Yet Madchen was shown publicly in Germany as late as 1939, at which time the Film-Kurier called it "a classic document of filmic art" that rose above the political and artistic confusion of Weimar, and described "an excited, large audience" that was "deeply moved" by the film's ending (R. G. 3). By attributing Madchen to Froelich and citing its parallels to Ich fur Dich, the trade press linked the new National Socialist film to Weimar's artistic successes.
The connections between Madchen and Ich fur Dich are apparent not only in the reception but also in the film texts. Both women's ensemble pieces have a similar plot structure, organized around a woman joining a community, scandal, and resolution. Dormitory scenes, female friendship, a party where girls perform a play, and a communal uprising to rally around the heroine are all restaged with different emphases and outcomes, reshaping women's communities, relationships to authority, and female sexuality. Stylistically similar, both films feature realistic acting, editing, and mise-en-scene that still use form to underscore thematic concerns. (10) W. P. of the Deutsche Filmzeitung describes how crosscutting and parallel editing in both films highlight the fate of the individual within the collective destiny (6). Ich fur Dich begins in this way, following the raising of the Labor Service flag with scenes of women in the fields, cutting to sequences showing several women choosing to join the service, and then returning via the flag to the work camp on the day of their arrival. The opening montage in Madchen likewise splices the individual into the community she will join: it establishes the Prussian context, shows the girls marching, cuts to Manuela's arrival at the school, and then crosscuts between her and the girls singing in chorus until she meets them on the stairs.
Carter argues that Froelich's style exemplifies Third Reich notions of a "volkisch sublime," asserting the "personality" through which the artist expresses the spirit of the Volk (people; 110). Froelich rejected conventions associated with modernism, Weimar, and Hollywood, and reprised techniques such as slow cutting, deep focus, single shot tableaux, and bounded, pictorial framing from his early films and the traditions of the Wilhelmine era (112-16), creating a "detached and centred subject" that lays the foundation for spectators to experience the sublime (116). He uses Weimar and Hollywood style lighting to occasional effect and instead primarily uses lighting to "frame and delineate the space around the aesthetic object" and to "emphasi[ze] the aesthetic ensemble, not the star, as the source of visual pleasure within the camera frame" (118). The result is that individuals diminish in importance, serving as they do in such "community" films as Ich fur Dich as representatives of the collective, becoming visually equivalent to inanimate objects (120).
Ich fur Dich is paradigmatic of Froelich's style as described by Carter. The majority of shots favor a distanced, pictorial perspective over individual points of view, used almost exclusively with characters depicted by the narrative as too individualistic--Lotte in her posh riding get-up, and Werner, when he looks down on the Labor Service men. The camera moves rarely, and then to follow the dialogue. Editing is slow and usually used to shift to a new focus of action or conversation. Outdoors, long shots dominate, including extreme long shots, with individuals dwarfed by dramatic landscapes recalling Romantic paintings (see fig. 3). Interior scenes tend to feature medium shots of speakers in the center of the frame. Close-ups are rare and characters' faces often difficult to see. Sets are lit by a combination of diffuse overhead light, visible light sources such as lamps and windows, and spotlights. Actors move in and out of puddles of light, occasionally to dramatic effect, but more often in a manner that seems visually realistic and that, as Carter suggests, downplays the importance of any individual vis-a-vis the set, props, and other actors (see fig. 4). In this film, Froelich's trademark style emphasizes the setting, landscape, and community over the individual. When the plot, staging, or lighting brings someone into the foreground, it is as a representative of a principle, a type, a value, or an aspect of the Volk. This is most obvious in the closing scene where, in the film's most noticeable cinematic effect, as editing singles out the more prominent characters, cross-cutting and dissolves merge the baptismal procession from right to left with Labor Service men marching left to right, blending tradition with future, worship with labor and militarism, individual with collective (see fig. 5).
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Studying Froelich's handiwork in Madchen reveals telling similarities and differences between it and his later films. Although not director of Madchen, Froelich as "artistic supervisor" had a heavy hand in that film. In a 1981 interview, Hertha Thiele claims that Sagan knew acting but not filmmaking and that Froelich ultimately controlled every shot (34). As in Ich fur Dich, in Madchen an outside perspective and medium shots predominate and the depth, framing, focus, and lighting illuminate space and boundaries. Visually, Froelich stresses the specific context and specific limits around a particular community. Madchen, however, unlike Ich fur Dich, foregrounds the conflict between individuals and those limits. The individual is emphasized through more close-ups, point-of-view shots, camera angles, movement, and editing that showcase multiple perspectives, brighter lighting on faces in general, and back and fill
lighting on the stars at emotionally charged moments. Conflict is heightened by more rapid, sometimes jarring, editing and busy shots in which active girls crowd the frame. Ich fur Dich retains the communal style of Madchen and stresses the new political setting. In establishing montages, Nazi flags and rural landscapes replace Potsdam's finery. Girls disappear into the setting of the work camp instead of being imprisoned by boarding school walls. The rapid tempo and subjective shots fade away, returning only in parody in the "Tom the Rhymer" scene, discussed below.
The reduced tension between individual and environment from Madchen to Ich fur Dich is consistent with the later film's assimilatory thrust and its message that National Socialism welcomes modern women. The comparison invited between the films tells the viewer that National Socialism offers women a more attractive community than Weimar's lingering Prussianism. In the Deutsche Filmzeitung, C. B. claims that Ich fur Dich recasts the question of camaraderie among girls from involuntary communal living in Madchen to voluntary in Ich fur Dich ("Frauenarbeitsdienst" 3). These differing portrayals of environment and community are underscored by the films' narrative and iconography. The women of the Labor Service choose their fate and learn to enjoy it. Open shots with lots of free movement and singing and the beautiful scenery of Rugen underscore that this is a joyous, elective community. Initial complaints by urban, upper-class girls about what are presented as normal rural conditions--for example, that they must sleep on straw mattresses and take cold showers--are brushed off by girls who have been in the camp longer, and the new girls are shown to thrive as the film progresses. In contrast, the girls in the boarding school in Madchen constantly bemoan their living conditions and are construed as imprisoned, both by their striped uniforms (Eisner 325) and by lighting and a mise-en-scene that regularly pictures them behind bars (Scholar 222; Rich 66, 74, 82). R. sees the National Socialist collective in Ich fur Dich as one in which the Ich need not subordinate itself to the Volk, but rather raise its head high and take pride in fulfilling its duty; these women "live less uniformly" than the earlier girls in uniform ("Ich fur Dich" 2). We can see this, for example, when the women perform their morning exercises. Although they wear matching singlets and follow their leader, members of the group are never entirely in-synch, enjoy themselves immensely, and finish the scene freely performing different gymnastic skills, whereas the girls in uniform march dourly in double file, wearing striped dresses. The community in the boarding school in Madchen is coerced, taken only from the Prussian officer class, and forged by hardship; the community built by the National Socialists is joined freely, unites comrades from different social classes and regional backgrounds, and leaves room for pleasure and individuality.
Both Ich fur Dich and Madchen culminate in a rebellion to rescue a comrade, actions which appear similar, although they reveal differing relationships to authority. In Madchen, the girls save Manuela from suicide after the principal has forbidden all contact with her. In Ich fur Dich, the women let Hanne escape the camp to find Werner, threaten to quit when Fraulein Behrens, the camp leader, threatens to expel her, and rescue her when she suffers a nervous collapse. In Madchen, rebellion is a reaction against tyranny and implies that a different relationship between leader and followers is needed. In Ich fur Dich, the rebellion is treated as a sign that a new social order has been achieved. Ruby Rich describes a power structure in Madchen where a good-cop/bad-cop duo of Fraulein von Bernburg and the school principal represents absent patriarchal authority (68). The principal believes that Manuela, who has publicly declared her love for Bernburg, should be expelled. When this proves impossible, due to Manuela's connections to the royal family, the principal wants her isolated. Bernburg, believing the principal's methods to be too cruel, resigns. The girls follow Bernburg's model of compassion, disobey the principal, and save Manuela. This seems to challenge the principal's authoritarian regime at least temporarily, or at least teach it discipline with a more gentle hand (Kracauer 227-29). While the Prussian discipline represented by the headmistress effectively builds community, her lack of compassion leads the girls to rebel. (11) The system of authority in Madchen needs compassion to function smoothly and to maintain the community's obedience.
The casting of Ich fur Dich refers back to the authority structure of Madchen. While most of the actresses are new to the screen, a few are known from roles in other films. Among these is Emilie Unda, who played the principal in Madchen. In Ich fur Dich she plays Hanne's unsympathetic employer, Frau Haberlein, who fires Hanne because of Werner's constant whistling outside the window. Hanne finds a more sympathetic boss in Fraulein Behrens, the leader of the women's work camp, who is both a comrade and a superior to the younger women. One of the older girls explains this to a new girl on the first night at camp, and Fraulein Behrens repeats it when she tells the girls why she was disappointed by their disobedience; while she is pleased with the comradeship they showed Hanne, Fraulein Behrens feels that they failed to treat her in a comradely way. In this approach to leadership, Ich fur Dich is analogous to Nazi youth films for boys, which feature young, brotherly leaders whose authority comes from "superior knowledge, achievement, understanding for the youth entrusted to them, and comradeship--true youth leaders acting in the spirit of partnership" (Steinlein 232-33). Like Emilie Unda, Maria Wanck in her role as Fraulein Behrens also refers to Madchen, and not only because she plays an attractive young woman who rules younger women with love and discipline. Although Maria Wanck was not a well known actress, in discussion of Ich fur Dich, the press points out that Wanck had appeared in Anna und Elizabeth (C. B., "Empfang" 5; C. B., "Frauenarbeitsdienst" 3; "Zur heutigen Premiere" 3), a 1933 film featuring the stars of Madchen and that was intended to recapture that film's magic (Eisner 326). In Anna und Elizabeth, Wanck played the sister of Dorothea Wieck, the actress who played Fraulein von Bernburg ("Ein neuer Film von neuer Zeit" 4). Indeed, W. P.'s review of Ich fur Dich in the Deutsche Filmzeitung comments on the two actresses' "striking similarity" (6). Their similarity is not in appearance only; in Ich fur Dich Wanck speaks in the same register and clipped manner as Wieck did in Madchen. Furthermore, Behrens's name sounds a little like a common version of von Bernburg's. Thus Fraulein Behrens likely recalled her "sister" Fraulein von Bernburg for a number of contemporary spectators.
In Madchen, merciless and compassionate authorities struggle until the girls' communal act of heroism shows that the nurturing yet strict Fraulein von Bernburg was right. The girls rebel against tyrannical authority, but they do not disobey their loving and beloved leader. This changes in Ich fur Dich, in which the good cop replaces the bad cop early in the film. A conflict arises between camaraderie and obedience when the girls choose to stand by Hanne as she disobeys Fraulein Behrens's orders (W. P. 6). W. P. sees this as a conflict offered without a solution, for Fraulein Behrens's orders and the girls' obedience to "camaraderie of the heart" both seem justified (6). S-K. of Licht Bild Buhne, on the other hand, believes the film expresses the spirit of the new era, and praises Ich fur Dich for the relationship it portrays between leader and followers, which rejects "blind obedience" in favor of voluntary obedience, mutual support, and high principles ("Ich fur Dich: Ein Film" 3). While not consistent with our postwar understandings of National Socialism, Ich fur Dich was understood by its contemporaries to say that one should have a compassionate leader and that, even then, it may not be appropriate to follow her commands under all circumstances. Behrens accepts the girls' actions, even as she chides them for not treating her as a comrade. Within the context of a party-produced film, this modification of the power structure depicted in Madchen seems to indicate that National Socialism will offer a more open-minded and compassionate alternative to older, intolerant forms.
Where Ich fur Dich most assertively breaks with Weimar is in ideals regarding female sexuality. Madchen is best known today as an early treatment of same-sex desire. (12) Numerous scenes depict affection between women, including intimate female friendship, love letters between the girls, and the famous kiss between Manuela and Fraulein von Bernburg. The women in Ich fur Dich represent homosocial camaraderie as well, and we see similar scenes of friendship. Yet the film emphasizes chaste heterosexuality. The plot is structured around Hanne and Werner's romance, and heterosexual relationships are the frequent focus of discussion: from the girls' boyfriends, to marriage prospects, to Herr Kollerbuch's unwanted advances toward Inge. These relationships, however, are never consummated, the pairs being separated by distance, regulations, or lack of reciprocal interest. The presence of men in Ich fur Dich also diffuses some of the homosocial dynamics of Madchen in that it allows for heterosexual triangulation of homosocial relationships: Berta competes with Hanne for Christian; Christian's uncle competes with Christian and Christian competes with Werner for Hanne; even Inge serves as an unwilling third in a triangle with Frau Kollerbach and her husband. These relationships place members of the same sex who live together and are emotionally close into competition with one another and displace desire unto a member of the opposite sex.
Ich fur Dich channels this heterosexual desire into productivity and eventual marriage. One of the problems between Werner and Hanne is that he constantly craves her attention but has no work, and thus no marriage prospects. Their relationship improves after both have joined the Labor Service and sublimated their desires into productive work, the land, and the community; once they have fulfilled that duty, they will be ready to marry. The other relationships in the film conform to this model as well. Herr Kollerbach's extramarital desire for Inge is represented as abhorrent, but once she threatens him with a stick and gives his wife needed help with the baby, the Kollerbach marriage emerges happier than ever. Christian's desire for Hanne is so oriented toward finding a wife to help on the homestead (he describes his ideal marriage as two partners working side by side on the farm), that once Hanne rejects him, he easily tunas to Berta. Fraulein Behrens iterates that the camp rules allow no informal sexual or romantic relationships, although if the women want to make a life with a man in the settlement after their obligation is complete, that is consistent with the project's aims. Whereas desire in Madchen is never fully contained, Ich fur Dich mediates same-sex desire through the heterosexual love triangle and channels heterosexual desire through work into the promise of future marriage. Thus the film attempts to erase the traces of female homosexuality left by its reliance on its cinematic forbear.
By borrowing elements from Madchen, however, Ich fur Dich allows a glimpse of desire between women. One of the key scenes in Madchen is the performance of the school play, in which Manuela plays the title role of Schiller's Don Carlos, reinforcing the film's themes of forbidden love, duty, and freedom of thought, and precipitating the scandal of Manuela's "coming out." (13) Similarly, the Labor Service girls' performance of Tom the Rhymer (Tom der Reimer) sets the stage for the conflict around Hanne. The ideological connections between Tom the Rhymer and the manifest agenda of Ich fur Dich are not as blatant as those between Don Carlos and Madchen. Still, the scene is interesting because it opens a window through which to welcome Weimar women and their desires and to challenge Ich fur Dich's overt goals.
Adapted from a fourteenth-century Scots ballad, with lyrics by Theodor Fontane and music by Carl Loewe, in Tom the Rhymer the title figure kisses the queen of the elves, binding him to her for seven years. In Ich fur Dich, two girls pantomime this scene as another sings, accompanied by live music. A noticeable stylistic shift cites filmic traditions against which film artists in the Third Reich were attempting to define themselves, namely Weimar and Hollywood. Editing tempo increases rapidly and the camera is more mobile. Shots rare in the rest of the film dominate here: point-of-view shots, reaction shots, and close-ups. The lead's heavily made-up face is shown in close-up with the backlight of a star (see fig. 6). Such techniques, used liberally in Madchen, evoke that film here, particularly because they showcase a school play, a cross-dressing blonde heroine, and her kissing the female object of her affection.
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
The chaste cheek kissing in Tom the Rhymer lacks the sensuality and duration of Manuela and Fraulein von Bernburg's kiss in Madchen. Nevertheless, this scene features the only kiss as well as the most romantic shots in a not-very-romantic film. Lotte as Tom the Rhymer is more glamorous than the elf queen, played by Inge. She wears short blonde hair, tights, and the "chic" boots for which she was mocked upon her arrival at camp. A close-up on these boots refers back to that opening scene and to several close-ups of feet in Madchen. In Madchen, the girls' feet serve as a synecdoche for how their education is bringing their entire bodies into step with Prussian militaristic values. Here, Lotte's boots show that she can step up to serve her community. Initially, Lotte's boots, riding pants, and bobbed hair marked her as an outsider for being modern, fashionable, rich, and unprepared for hard labor. But, as with Manuela's, we can read Lotte's prominent role in the play as a sign of her social acceptance. So long as she works and is a good comrade to the other girls (which she has learned to do), there is a place for her boots and bob, signs of her modernity and the masculinity associated with the New Woman. That light entertainment is the last haven for these Weimar traces is highlighted by the use of cinematic techniques seen in Madchen and foreign to the rest of this film, such as the close-up. While admittedly masculine and belonging to other times and places, Lotte's fashion choices can be domesticated to serve the community. At the same time, however, they evoke desire that the film has otherwise attempted to contain.
Like in its filmic predecessor, the cross-dressing here is eroticized. The cameras linger on the girls' faces and the tights show off their "pretty legs" (Madchen). While this sensuality, like that of a shower scene showing tantalizing shots of the young women's backs, likely was conceived for a male gaze, there is nothing to stop it from appealing to female spectators. In fact, Lotte addresses the female spectator directly, putting her in the position of the adored elfin queen, when she looks into the camera in close-up, backlit and with soft light on her face, and proclaims, "[Y]ou are the queen of heaven--you are not of this earth." Lotte is not a lesbian character. Nor does this heteronormative Nazi propaganda film consciously promote same-sex desire. Rather, its integration of Weimar styles and texts has unintended consequences. Situated in a drag performance, hearkening back to Madchen, the depiction of Lotte in this scene invites back some of the desire that the earlier film expresses.
Tom the Rhymer also functions as an alienation effect, questioning the "realism" of the rest of the film. The girls' attempts to make their play realistic come across as quaint or comical. Lotte, dressed as a man, appeals as a beautiful woman. The ballad puts the elf queen on a white horse, so Inge actually rides a horse onstage. Close-ups on its braided mane and its hoof pawing the ground construe this as ridiculous. Other shots show a girl pumping water through a waterfall on the set, an absurd effort to make one set element seem real when the other, the castle, is an obvious fake. On the one hand, the humor trivializes the Weimar themes and styles evoked by this scene. On the other hand, this scene indirectly reflects on the film as a whole. For this film's propaganda mission to be effective, viewers must interpret its positive depiction of the Labor Service as realistic. No doubt this is why the publicity emphasized the on- location filming and the casting of real Labor Service girls. Stories by C. B. in the Film-Kurier, Licht Bild Buhne, and the Reichsfilmblatt link this film to real life by telling a story of how, during the preparations to film the baptism scene, the crew stumbled upon a real baptism, with a Labor Service woman carrying the baby on behalf of the parents ("Die Wirklichkeit" 3; "Film und Wirklichkeit," LBB 4; "Film und Wirklichkeit," RFB 6). The Tom the Rhymer scene damages this veneer of realism through humor and a glimpse backstage. If viewers were to extrapolate from the play to the film, they might determine that the girls' performances are staged and that attempts at realism are both labored and comical.
In conclusion, Ich fur Dich uses narrative, style, and intertextual references to the popular Madchen in order to integrate Weimar women into a National Socialist community and to contain their sexuality. The film begins with an array of modern women and shows how the Women's Labor Service can sculpt them into a community with an ideal relationship to its leader and channel their desires into productive work and reproductive heterosexuality. As the women become visually and behaviorally more like one another, they learn the value of community, labor, German farmland, and marriage with a hard-working man. Continuities with Weimar are exploited here in order to promote the transition to National Socialism; they also create inconsistencies in the film's vision and with well-known National Socialist principles on gender, sexuality, leadership, the film industry, and Weimar modernity and decadence.
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Filmportal.de. Deutsches Filminstitut. <http://www.filmportal.de>.
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Frigo, Conrad. "Ich fur dich--du fur mich." Reichsfilmblatt 13.49 (8 Dec. 1934): 5.
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(1) All translations from German are mine.
(2) See Kristeva's "Word, Dialogue, and Novel."
(3) See Belling 3; Burgstaller 4; "Ein neuer Film" 4; Frigo 5; "Ich fur Dich," Illustrierter Film-Kurier 3; "Ich fur Dich," Der Film 4; "Ich fur Dich," Licht Bild Buhne 1; "Ich fur Dich," Der Kinematograph 2; R. "Ich fur Dich" 2; S-K. "Ich fur Dich: der erste Film" 1.
(4) Although individual "film criticism" (Filmkritik) would not be replaced by party-dictated film observation (Filmbeobachtung) until 1936, by 1934 the trade press already was under the control of the propaganda ministry and ideologically and racially had been brought in line with Nazi policies. For a concise summary of the institutional policies shaping Third Reich film follow the links "Themen" and "Film im NS-Staat" from Filmportal.de.
(5) See also C. B., "Empfang" 5; "Der erste Film" 3; S-K. "Ich fur Dich: der erste Film" 1; "Ich fur Dich," Licht Bild Buhne 1; "Ich fur Dich," Film-Kurier 1; "Ich fur Dich: Zu den Urauffuhrungen" 2; S-K. "Ich fur Dich: Ein Film" 3.
(6) See "Atelieraufnahmen 3; Belling 3; C. B., "Empfang" 5; C. B., "Frauenarbeitsdienst" 3; "Der erste Film" 3; "Ein neuer Film" 4; "Ein Musterfilm" 1; H. 4; "Ich fur dich vor dem Sender" 2; R. "Ich fur dich" 2; R. "Neuer Froelich Film" 1; S-K. "Ich fur Dich: Der erste Film" 1; S-K. "Ich fur Dich: Ein Film" 3; W. P. 6.
(7) Hence Hake identifies the film as a fictionalized example of the "disciplining of the female body" ("Disziplinierung" 162).
(8) See Belling 3; "Carl Froelich" 3; C. B., "Empfang" 5; C. B., "Frauenarbeitsdienst" 3; Kalbus 116; R. "Ich fur dich" 2; R. "Neuer Froelich Film" 1.
(9) The claim that Goebbels banned the film appears in scholarly and popular sources (Krimmer 46; Scholar 220; Von der Emde 37; "Madchen in Uniform"; "Madchen in Uniform (1931)--Trivia").
(10) McCormick discusses Madchen's "connection to trends in New Objective/'realist' filmmaking in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s" (156).
(11) Whether the girls effectively overthrow the old order is a topic of debate. Compare McCormick (151, 162), Rich (83), Ohm (104), Krimmer (41), and Zimnik (175-78).
(12) For example, see Krimmer, McCormick 146-62, Ohm, Rich, Scholar, Von der Emde, and Zimnik.
(13) For analysis of this scene, see Krimmer 41-43; Ohm 103-04; Rich 72-74; Von der Emde 45.
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|Publication:||Women in German Yearbook|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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