* Karl Ritter - His Life and 'Zeitfilms' under National Socalism (2014)
* The Making of The Crew of the Dora (2016)
* Legion Condor – Karl Ritter's lost 1939 feature film (2019)
provide the student or reader of Third Reich cinema an unparalled insight into propaganda film–making in these years.
Karl Ritter was the only film director from this era who kept a daily diary and added to it snapshots, telegrams and other ephemera to document his work in the German film industry from his Weimar Era days in silent film through to the end of WWII and beyond. His diaries spanned 1911 to 1977.
Privileged access to the diaries, held by his family in Argentina, allowed author William Gillespie to write the biography, and then the two subsequent books on the banned Luftwaffe film Besatzung Dora and the cancelled film Legion Condor. Both books, as well as the biography, draw on the diaries and private photographs, and Ritter's own words to tell these amazing stories. We also, of course, drew on our vast collection of hundreds of film books and original Ufa publications and film stills and posters to find detailed information on Karl Ritter and his films for these books. Research on the Ritter biography took five years alone.
Karl Ritter has thereby gone from being comprehensively shunned, ignored, dismissed and despised in post-war German film history, to someone with much more first–hand information and primary source material published than was even imaginable a decade ago. Post–war German film historians are by and large trapped in a Weimar Cinema parallel universe, a sad cul–de–sac focusing on silent films which bankrupted the Ufa studio and caused the decline and fall of other major Geman studios such as Südfilm and Emelka Film in the early 1930s. A handful of these films pioneered early motion picture development and evolution but were, even before the transition to sound film, already passé. (This allowed the USA to buy up most of the German film industry for pennies on the dollar and to make sure that it was crippled; so that Hollywood films could predominate thereafter.) One could argue that the last Weimar era style film was in fact Hitlerjunge Quex, directed by Hans Steinhoff and produced by Ritter in 1933.
The three Ritter books have been praised by scholars and German film historians in the UK, USA, Germany, Belgium and Austria for their 'meticulous research' and for their unearthing of new information. At the same time, both German and English language reviews of Gillespie's Karl Ritter books have criticised them for not taking a stand on Ritter or his films, or for not 'constructing his own interpretative narrative.'
'He counts upon the historic evidence and has it speak for itself rather than interpreting it. Regarding the topic and period of the book, this might cause some readers irritation due to the author’s lack of taking a clear position against his subject....'
'As in the case of the previous volumes, the LEGION CONDOR monograph may be accused of lacking an analytical approach, since it is primarily aimed at lovers and specialists who appreciate Gillespie's meticulous research.'
The main issue about such a narrative is that scholarly journals demand that such post–war film critiques universally look through the prism of Eisenstein / Kracauer / Adorno / Benjamin / Marcuse / Freud /Derrida marxist constructs and dialectics; and view all Third Reich films through such an intrinsically hostile and ideological lens. It in a way continues the political battle between National Socialism and Marxism by the written word.
After all, these philosophers and critics were far from neutral – –– Eisenstein's 1929 Soviet film The Old and the New/The General Line implicitly endorsed the mass murder –– the extermination –– of a million Kulaks through Trotski's Red Army terror and its calculated slow starvation (but unlike Riefenstahl, he is still taught to wide-eyed film students in western countries today); refugee Siegfried Kracauer reputedly never saw some of the NS films he critiqued in his From Caligari to Hitler, Theodor Adorno was a bigoted marxist who, for example, loathed African–American music and said that 'totalitarianism and homosexuality go together.' Marcuse was hailed as 'the father of the New Left.' Derrida called his theory of reconstruction 'a radicalization of a certain spirit of Marxism.' Walter Benjamin's sister-in-law was the notorious "Red Hilde" Benjamin, who was a Communist lawyer in Weimar Germany and later was appointed by Moscow as the first Minister of Justice [sic!] of the criminal East German government, notorious for many "show trials" of that regime. All of these gentlemen would have had to have run for their lives after 1933 from Germany – some did so -- so how could they possibly ever be seen as objective about any film made in Germany between 1933 and 1945? Would we accept without question a Nazi film critic's reviews of Hollywood pictures today?
Gillespie, provided unprecedented access to Ritter's private diaries, has unearthed many overlooked and unknown facts, discovered a lost film script, and published a huge number of private and heretofore unseen photographs and documents which provide the reader of his three books the basis on which to make up their own minds. The contemporary 'Zeitfilms' written, and directed and produced by Karl Ritter were a product of their times, and should be seen within that historical context. Post-war modern marxist film theory, often laced with other side issues such as feminism, cannot provide the unbiased history inherently due to every reader. For post–war film historians to bring such bias to their writings is an abdication of duty and an unfortunate feature of German film historiography.
IN SUMMARY :
These three Karl Ritter books have been written using unprecedented access to over one thousand pages of Ritter's private unpublished diary pages between 1925 and 1945 and combined; total:
Karl Ritter: a licenced pilot before WWI; decorated war veteran in both WWI and WWII, a skilled graphic artist, fluent in both Greek and Latin, an Ufa production leader, film director, script–writer, and early NSDAP member (1925) is without any question the most fascinating Third Reich film director, bar none. Enter into Karl Ritter's life and you will not be disappointed. Third Reich film-making as you have not experienced it before, from the hardest–hitting propaganda film–maker of the Zeitgeist. Make up your own mind about Ritter and his films!
International Historic Films in Chicago, Illinois, USA, is offering an amazing price of just US$69.95 plus postage for all three books bought as a set, in their 2019 print catalogue. (The offer is here: Cat. # K95.)