To do so, a specific combination of talents came together in Babelsberg: creative cameramen such as Karl Freund, architects like Otto Hunte and Erich Kettelhut, directors like Fritz Lang, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and Ernst Lubitsch. They produced big-budget films with stars such as Pola Negri, Henni Porten, Emil Jannings, Conradt Veidt, who were also suited for the international market. In particular the nuanced cinematography and free-moving camera, as found in Murnau’s Der letzte Mann(The Last Laugh), formed the studio’s signature style.
Studio Babelsberg during the Nazi period
In 1928, the publisher Alfred Hugenberg bought the studios. From 1933 all Jewish members of staff were fired. How would you describe the upheaval of that time?
One has to distinguish between the takeover by Hugenberg, a German nationalist publisher and the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933. Under Hugenberg, Ufa continued to produce entertainment films. For the most part the company remained loyal to its directors and writers. What was new was that Ufa produced more so-called “national” works, stories that appealed to conservative segments of society.
But then, in the early 1930s, Ufa developed a genre that was a reaction to what was happening in society with a lightness, which is unique in Germany: talkie operettas, in which most of the directors, screenwriters and composers were Jewish.
It was a very short-lived genre that was immediately eliminated by the Nazis. Following Goebbels’ famous Kaiserhof speech, many Jewish employees, including most of the protagonists of the talkie operetta genre, were fired.
What sorts of films were produced under the Nazis?
The National Socialists first wanted to prohibit the production of films that contradicted their ideology. Goebbels understood the value of Ufa’s entertainment films very well, and they continued to be produced and weren’t hindered. As a kind of replacement for the talkie operetta came the 1930s revue film, with new stars such as Marika Rökk. Many melodramas were produced, with Zarah Leander in particular. Otherwise, there were of course the propaganda films, whose share of the total production was determined politically.