Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Wall (1962)

One of the 50 films in the 4-disk boxed DVD set called "Treasures from American Film Archives (2000)", compiled by the National Film Preservation Foundation from 18 American film archives. This film was preserved by the National Archives and Records Administration. Because it was a propaganda film, it could not be shown in the United States until the cold war ended.

Runtime: USA:9 min Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Black and White
Sound Mix: Mono
Certification: USA:Unrated

The Wall
U.s. information Agency, 1962
Director/writer: Walter de Hoog
Narrator: Alexander Scourby.
Editors: Vincent Apollo an Robert Brown

Transferred from a 35 mm positive preprint
preserved by the National Archives and Records
Administration; 10 minutes.

This taut 1962 documentary about the first year of the Berlin Wall is a little known to Americans as are almost all of the films produced by the United States Information Agency. The USIA, created at the short of the Eisenhower administration in 1953, was charged with disseminating ideas about America and the "Free World" to audiences abroad. In addition to its "Voice of America" radio network and foreign- language magazines, the USIA produced films that by law could not be screened publicly within the United States. This restriction, intended to prevent the federal government from propagandize its own citizens, also meant that Americans could not view the films at all, even for study at the National Archives. With the end of the Cold War, the law was changed in 1990 to allow domestic release of USIA films twelve years after their distrubution overseas.

If the Cold War was partly a battle of ideas, no symbol was more potent than the Berlin Wall. It was as if Churchill's 1946 metaphor of an "iron curtain" dividing Europe finally took physical form in 1961. In those intervening fifteen years, thousands of Germans had daily crossed the border between East and West Berlin a divided city located well within Communist East Germany and at least two-and-a-half-million East Germans had fled permanently to the West. From the East German and Soviet perspective, the drain of skilled workers threatened the state. On the night of August 12-13, 1961, the East German army erected a barber-wire barrier, soon fortified by concrete, watchtowers, and mines. The wall eventually ran twenty-eight miles across Berlin and further seventy-five miles encircling West Berlin, thus preventing East Germans from using West Berlin as a portal for escape-except to those with the daring captured in this film.

Like the best USIA films, The Wall distills political events into an emotionally clear and compelling ideological story. In 1962 Walter de Hoog gathered footage from U.S. and German newsreel sources and crafted this short film at the production facilities of Hearst Metrotone News, where he had worked since 1950. His straightforward, keenly balanced narration portrays Berliners as "accepting the wall but never resigned to it," as he put it recently. The extraordinary footage of the first escapes was propaganda enough. His challange was to make the politics human.

The Wall was produced during the Kennedy administration, when the USIA was directed by legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and its Motion Picture Service headed by twenty-eight-year-old George Stevens, Jr. The early 1960s are the great era for USIA films, which then displayed a wider range of political philisophies than after Vietnam became central to American foreign policy later that decade. Among Walter de Hoog's other gevernment-sponsored films are 'In teh Niger' (1968, about the Peace Corps), 'The Infinit Journey' (1970, about the first Apollo moon landing), 'If one today,Two Tomorrow' (1976, about overpopulation), and 'The Five Cities of June' (1963, co-directed with Bruce Herschensohn), which President John F. Kennedy praised in a letter to Murrow as "the best documentary I ever saw." Kennedy was no doubt influenced by te film's help in turning his June 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech into a key ideological event in the history of walled Berlin. The Wall remained a favorite documentary of the president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who went so far as to show it surreptitiously to visiting Soviet artists who didn't always take well to the favor.

"We refuse to think that it always be this way," narrator Alexander Scourby speaks for Berliners in de film. Twenty-seven years later, on Novenber 9, 1989, the wall became history.

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