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Culture by Cinema

The Great Depression and the Rise of Nazism

Black Tuesday Montage

There may be an interesting movie about the Great Depression; but I don't know of any. The closest I can come is a series of YouTube clips that I have posted on another page. Rather than distract you, I'll copy all the links over to this page:

The Stock Market Crash was a result of the panic on Wall Street, leading to the Great Depression. The Song "Brother Can You Spare a Dime? " [linked here to a recording by Al Jolson, referred to in the song] portrayed the desperation of the laborer when there was no more work to be done.

To Kill a Mockingbird

A Virginia school has temporarily banned "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain and "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. The decision was made after a parent complained that her high school-age son was negatively impacted by racial slurs contained in the books, WAVY reported.

Virginia Schools Ban 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' 'Huck Finn' Over Racial Slurs

I was horrified not only because of the general notion of book banning. I was horrified because the racially offensive language and the man who tries to stand up for racial equality in the midst of it is the whole point of the book.

This is one of the scenes that got the book (and the movie) banned:

To Kill a Mockingbird Hate Scene

The story is set in Depression-era southern United States. (I talk about the book, but this is one of those rare instances in which the book and the movie are so identical that you can talk about them interchangeably.) The story depicts the worst of the Jim Crow era: a black man is found guilty of a crime that it is physically impossible for him to have committed. But a white woman was seen having an intimate encounter with a black man, so it had to be rape, because no other explanation was possible. (We discussed that theme in the movie “Rosewood.”)

Along with southern racism, the inevitably simpler life that is a combination of the economic depression and the infancy of technology as we know it today is much closer than most people realize, and still exists in many parts of the United States. Rabid dogs and rocking chairs, phones without dials, because all you did was turn a crank and call the operator; and children who play in the dirt barefoot all summer because you save your shoes for “special.” And you try to make life better for people, knowing that you’ll only accomplish a small portion of what you wish, and that small portion is enough to fight for. That’s what this movie is about.

It also parallels the rise of the Nazi Party. Just as the Jim Crow South was still embittered by losing their privileges and authority after the Civil War, the Germans were using Nazism and World War II to erase the humiliation of having lost World War I. Sadly, in the era of Donald Trump's presidency, we can see this sentiment dominating the United States a third time.

The Color Purple

"The Color Purple" could appropriately be placed in this section about the Great Depression and Jim Crow; the history of Blacks in the United States; the history of women in the United States; or the history of lesbians in the United States. In fact, Wikipedia acknowledges that it is one of the most controversial books of the century because it is controversial on so many fronts:

It is 17th on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged or banned books.[9] Commonly cited justifications for banning the book include sexual explicitness, explicit language, violence, and homosexuality.[10]

I've chosen to place it here because the film version, by Steven Spielberg, is a mix of the book by Alice Walker and "E.T." The lesbian relationship disappears into a single kiss, and the relationships among the women are overshadowed by the relationships with the men, that the only part of the movie that is true to the book is the Jim Crow era. Sophia's 12 years in prison for having spoken back to a white woman is the only part of the front story that remains relevant.

Sophia Says No

The background, especially that of the rural South in the first half of the movie, is a sufficiently accurate portrayal that the movie deserves a place in the social history of the United States.


Just as “Chariots of Fire” shows the society of post-World War I England with fine, subtle references backstopping the main story, so does the 1972 film “Cabaret” show the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. The film version of Christopher Isherwood’s play is noticeably transformed by award-winning performances that virtually make the society itself invisible. It is commonly said that director Bob Fosse was so taken by Liza Minnelli’s singing and dancing skill that he had her scenes rewritten to become the central focus of the movie. In the Isherwood play, as more accurately portrayed on Broadway with Alan Cummings in the Liza Min elli role, the degeneracy of 1930s Germany overshadows the decadence, while the film reverses these two values.

Unfortunately, with so much emphasis on Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey (who both won Academy Awards), the theme of the original play was pretty much lost. If you look carefully, however, you can still see the gradual emergence of the Nazi party as a dominant force in society, as well as its eventual infiltration of the cabaret whose original purpose was to downplay the existence of the Third Reich. The first scene here shows the motives of a Germany that lost World War I seeking a restoration of its power; the second scene shows how that sentiment, ostensibly omitted from the cabaret, inevitably contaminates everything in its path.

Cabaret: Rise of Nazi Party

Both Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey did turn in stellar performances, but the purpose of the issue in the play and the movie as well are to show of the deliberate blindness that the German people showed to the evil of the Nazi party.

"Cabaret Jewish skit

Triumph of the Will

While "Cabaret" places the rise of the Nazi party in the background, Leni Riefenstahl's powerful "Triumph of the Will" places it squarely in the foreground. This is a documentary produced in 1935 about the rise of the Nazi party, and in particular about the famous Nuremberg rally of 1934. More than half a million people came to celebrate Adolf Hitler's promises of white supremacy and the destruction of anything that gets in its way.

Nuremberg Rally

It was the power of the Nuremberg rally that gave Hitler permission to overrun Europe. He knew that his army and his message were invincible at that time.

Culture by Cinema

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