Consider the role played by Hollywood films in shaping the perception of World War Two for the American public. Were they similar to propaganda emanating from other countries? In what ways did American films constitute a “democratic” form of propaganda, and how did they meet the needs of propagandists at the OWI? Discuss in relation to at least two films
Until the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 the USA had remained out of the war with its isolationist attitude. Pearl Harbour swayed public opinion to a pro war stance like nothing had ever before. Several Hollywood studios and certain directors had been using their films to try and influence the general public for several years before Pearl Harbour, many of which were films of various genres that had a pro war or anti-Nazi message. However in 1942 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) decided to move all American Propaganda under the umbrella of the newly created Office of War Information (OWI) whose remit it was to organise and control the flow of information form the government to the people regarding the war, who they were fighting and the allies the army was fighting with. This new body was headed up by renowned radio presented Elmer Davis who used his remit in the OWI to focus Hollywood towards the war as he thought it would be the best way for their message to reach the general public, “the easiest way to propagandize people is to let a propaganda theme go in through an entertainment picture when people do not realize they are being propagandized.” Many of Hollywood’s finest filmmakers got involved with the OWI and were instrumental in the propaganda that was produced during the war, not only the Hollywood films but newsreels, documentaries and pictures. One of the finest examples of a Hollywood director being involved in war propaganda that was not a Hollywood film was Frank Capra’s, ‘Why We Fight,’ series of seven documentaries, the first of which, ‘A Prelude to War,’ tried to show the American people the difference between the democratic USA and the Fascist Japan, Italy and Nazi Germany in the attempt to drive up support for the war and encourage people to enlist for active service. It was also Capra’s direct response to Leni Riefenstahl’s, ‘Triumph of the Will,’ which he saw as being, and “the ominous prelude of Hitler's holocaust of hate. Satan couldn't have devised a more blood-chilling super-spectacle,” (The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. P.325) While productions such as,’ Why We Fight,’ were useful and informative they did not grab the attention of the viewing public and influence in the way only Hollywood can. Before the formation of the OWI and America joining the war several of Hollywood’s greatest directors and procures had already been making films that had, perhaps not a pro war message but certainly portrayed the Nazi’s as dangerous enemies who America should be wary off. One such film was the 1940 Irving Pichel film, ‘The Man I Married,’ which tells the story of how a woman who loses her husband to the Nazi party while in Germany. This film was at the time described by New York Times critic, Bosley Crowther as being an anti-Nazi picture for the way the film depicted life in Nazi Germany in comparison to life in America, this is shown From the point of view of an American woman married to a German-American, with whom she and their small son return to the Fatherland for a visit in 1938. And through her clear, un-befuddled eyes—and the eyes of an American newspaper man whom she meets—is seen the incredible fanaticism of the German people, their ridiculous regimentation (as compared with the way people act back home), their frightening mass meetings and their brutalities. Slowly she beholds her husband slip away from her, caught up by the hypnotic spell and the enthusiasm of a young Nazi woman, until he is lost Despite the fact America was not at war this Hollywood film would have been greatly able to influence the watching...
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