Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Devil's Mistress: A Love Affair with the Master of Propaganda

Having just watched The Same Sky on Netflix - a short espionage series about East/West Germany in 1974 - I tried its suggestion of The Devil's Mistress, the devil being Joseph Goebbels and his mistress the Czech actress Lída Baarová in this 2016 Czech movie.

First, let me say about Goebbels, although lots has been written about him and his contribution to the Third Reich, he's still not sufficiently acknowledged as one of the prime founders and practitioners of propaganda in the 20th century.  He had a PhD from the University of Heidelberg (1922), and was something very different from the Nazis as just anti-intellectual thugs.  (When I was earning my own PhD at New York University in 1970s, one of my professors, Terry Moran, used to cite Goebbels as an example of why, whatever you might subsequently do in your life, your PhD designation would never be taken away from you. Goebbels, to this day, is called "Dr. Goebbels" by historians.)  He was the first to explicate and put into baneful use the proposition that, the bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed by the masses.   Whatever Donald Trump may know about history, he applies this doctrine just about every day.

But The Devil's Mistress is much more about Baarová than Goebbels, who is portrayed as charming, witty, and brilliant (as well as viciously anti-Semitic),  but more for why the actress was so attracted to him (for his charm not his anti-Semitism) than as a master architect of broken history. The movie almost feels as if it is not only about the 1930s but was actually made back then, which is a plus in my book, because you don't usually see many 1930s movies on Netflix. Tatiana Pauhofová puts in an interesting almost old-fashioned and oddly compelling performance as Baarová, including a surprisingly tender scene in which she lets an assistant producer "stroke" her breast, when he shyly requests that as the thanks she offers him for enabling her escape from Nazi Germany.

Baarová's story has much in common with Leni Riefenstahl's, who may or may not have been Hitler's mistress, but definitely directed The Triumph of the Will and Olympia, to this very day among the most effective propaganda movies ever made.   (I regretted seeing no scenes with Riefenstahl and Goebbels in The Devil's Mistress.)  Riefenstahl (101 years) and Baarová (86 years) both survived the Third Reich and lived long lives, but Baarová's, as the movie shows in stark detail, was no bed of roses.

As the powerful depiction of Kristallnacht in The Devil's Mistress makes clear like a kick in the solar plexus,  The Nazis were monsters, the likes of which our world must make sure never get into power anywhere again.  All people of reason need to keep that in mind, with a President of the United States who takes far too many of his cues from the Goebbels handbook.

        fake news and propaganda 2016-217
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