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August 2000, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thomas Morsch <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 19 Aug 2000 20:01:38 +0100
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Some more comments on the recent discussion:

Jeremy Butler wrote:

>I ask the following question as a point of information, Thomas:
>Are there any laws or university policies in Germany that would restrict
>the showing of pro-Nazi or Neonazi films?  If they are permissible in
>classroom screenings, are they also permissible in, say, a film society's
>screenings or in a public cinema?
Unfortunatley I am not fully aware about the precise legal rules.
Generally speaking it seems save to say that in Germany you are allowed
to show and discuss pro-Nazi and Neonazi films within an educational
context and for educational purposes.
I am not sure about film society's screenings and public cinemas. I
suspect, though, that some kind of educational 'frame' would be required.
Another problem involved here, of course, is to determine exactly in
legal terms what pro-Nazi films are. Leni Riefenstahl might be an
interesting example. I would classify Triumph Of The Will as a Nazi-film,
but not everybody would agree. In any case, your are allowed to screen it
despite of its propagandistic nature. There even has been a large
Riefenstahl exhibition and retrospective in Germany recently and a
colleague at another University held a course on Riefenstahl as well.

>Extending your comment above, there is a clear difference between promoting
>Nazism and discussing a pro-Nazi film.  I often show TRIUMPH OF THE WILL in
>my classes and no one has ever accused me or my courses of being
>pro-Nazi.  But I wonder if German politicians and university administrators
>would feel the same way.
Yes, I think they do.
(In case you would like to get more information, I could try to ask some
colleagues who are more experienced with courses on Nazi-cinema.)

Some more points:

[log in to unmask] wrote:
>Am I the only person that's bothered by the "students should take what we
>give" attitude that's been expressed in some of these posts?  As somebody
>who nearly failed a class in high school because I refused to watch first
>aid training films (odd as that sounds to anybody who knows me today) I'm
>too well aware that some people have very real problems dealing with this
>kind of material.  A close friend of mine is very well read, knows a
>phenomenal amount of history and is quite familiar with film history but
>she is genuinely disturbed by violence and "offensive" language.

I think you are painting a too simple picture of this discussion's topic.
It is not a matter of enforcing any film we like on students. The
question is, if we are willing to accept that the sensibilities of few
students dictate the choice of films we might discuss.
As far as the example of your close friend is concerned: In my view there
is nothing wrong by being offended by violence or explicit language. But
for anyone who studies films it should become a problem when the offense
leads to a refusal to watch this kind of films at all. In this case I
wonder how this person would be able to gain an extensive knowledge of
film history.

>substitutes.  Several professors talked about how they worked with
>students to find an alternate which I think is not only fair but truest to
>a genuine spirit of education.

From my experience I doubt that, when you ask students what films should
be discussed in class (which I often do), they propose *less* offensive
films than I do. ;-)

A more serious problem is raised by Jesse Kalin:

>However, what does bother me--and there seems little way of dealing with
>it--is not offending sensibilities in these kind of cases, but
>inadvertently opening wounds, for lack of a beeter term.  This was brought
>home a number of years ago in an aesthetics class when a student said she
>had been unable to complete the assignment on Peter Greenaway's "The
>Draughtman's Contract" because of the rape scene (or what she took to be
>such), herself having been raped only a few weeks before.

This is a really nightmarish situation. All I can say is that maybe
certain academic structures at German universities help to avoid such
situations: Students can always decide not to attend a certain session of
a course without any need for explanation, because, as a general rule,
they can fail to attend three times within a term's course without
violating the obligation of attendance. Furthermore, they are by and
large able to choose for themselves about what films they write in their
class papers (which is generally done as a home work and not as a test
within class). So I do not assign any specific topic to them. As a
teacher I just narrow their choice by the topic of a particular course.
If it was my duty to assign a particular topic to them, I would have to
pay much more attention to possible offenses.

In general I think Cherly Herr said something very important when she
pointed out that so much depends on the discursive frame and the
teacher's presentational style. When you present films in class that
might be offensive for one reason or the other, you should introduce them
carefully, talk about possible offenses in advance and, while encouraging
them to at least watch the film, tell them that they are free to raise
any kind of complaints after they saw the film.
This seems an appropiate way to deal with the issue and should ensure a
viable balance between academic freedom and attention to possible

Finally, Chris Ames wrote:

>We should encourage the
>wary student to challenge the values of a potentially offensive work in
>class discussion, rather than trying to avoid encountering disturbing
>material or chastizing the teacher for not censoring it.  Too often, when
>students say they are offended, they haven't thought through the issues
>about what actually offends them (e.g., a student is offended by a criminal
>or racist or misogynist character who is not being endorsed by the text).
>Strong student responses are, on the whole, a good thing if we can use them
>as teaching opportunities and not as reasons to foreclose discussion.

I could not agree more.


Thomas Morsch
Film Dept.
Freie Universitaet Berlin

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