Universum Film AG

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Not to be confused with de:Universum Film GmbH.
Universum Film AG
Type subsidiary, AG
Industry Film industry
Founded 1917, Berlin, Germany
Founders Government
Headquarters Berlin, Germany
Area served Domestic area
Products Dr. Mabuse (1922)
Metropolis (1927)
The Blue Angel (1930)
Production output Film, TV program
Parent RTL Group
Website www.ufa.de

Universum Film AG, better known as UFA or Ufa, is a film company that was the principal film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry during the Weimar Republic and through World War II, and a major force in world cinema from 1917 to 1945. After World War II, UFA continued producing movies and television programmes to the present day, making it the longest standing film company in Germany.

History[edit]

UFA Studios in Berlin-Tempelhof, 1920

UFA was created during November 1917 in Berlin as a government-owned producer of World War I propaganda and public service films. It was created through the consolidation of most of Germany's commercial film companies, including Nordisk and Decla (Studio Babelsberg). Decla's former owner, Erich Pommer, served as producer for the 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which was not only the best example of German Expressionism and an enormously influential film, but also a commercial success. During the same year, UFA opened the UFA-Palast am Zoo theatre in Berlin.

Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, who together created many of UFA's most noted films, in their Berlin apartment, 1923 or 1924

Pressured by the US film industry, in late 1921 UFA was merged with Decla-Bioscop, "with government, industrial and banking support" and a near-monopoly[1] in an industry that produced around 600 films each year and attracted a million customers every day. In the silent movie years, when films were easier to adapt for foreign markets, UFA began developing an international reputation and posed serious competition to Hollywood.

During the Weimar years the studio produced and exported an enormous, accomplished, and inventive body of work. Only an estimated 10% of the studio's output still exists. Famous directors based at UFA included Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau; under chief producer Erich Pommer the company created landmark films such as Dr. Mabuse (1922), Metropolis (1927), and Marlene Dietrich's first talkie, The Blue Angel (1930).

In addition to avant-garde experiments and lurid films of Weimar street life, UFA was also the studio of the Bergfilm, a uniquely German genre that glorified and romanticized mountain climbing, downhill skiing, and avalanche-dodging. The Bergfilm genre was primarily the creation of director Arnold Fanck, and examples like The Holy Mountain (1926) and White Ecstasy (1931) are notable for the appearance of Austrian skiing legend Hannes Schneider and a young Leni Riefenstahl. The flying ace Ernst Udet also appeared in several of the films.

The studio over-extended itself financially during the late 1920s, partly as a result of the expensive production of Metropolis, and was taken over by the press baron, former Krupp manager, and DNVP leader Alfred Hugenberg in March 1927.

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels on a visit to the UFA studios in January 1935. On the left, film producer Günther Stapenhorst.

Once it became clear in the late 1920s that sound film had taken off, UFA rapidly switched its production away from silent film and added soundtracks to films already being made such as Melody of the Heart. In spite of this the first German sound film was produced by its smaller rival Tobis.[2] UFA had previously been able to export its silent films around the world. Because of the new language barrier in the sound age, major films were often made with versions in several languages as happened with the expensive musicals The Three from the Filling Station (1930), Monte Carlo Madness (1931) and The Congress Dances (1931). UFA particularly targeted the British, French and American markets.

Nationalization[edit]

National conservative Hugenberg in the course of the Nazi "Machtergreifung " on 30 January 1933 became Reich Minister of Economy in Hitler's cabinet. He resigned in June, but the company nevertheless became a compliant producer of Nazi propaganda films, supervised by Hugenberg's cabinet colleague Joseph Goebbels. His Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda essentially controlled the content of UFA films through political threat. Because of this, Lang, like many of his UFA colleagues, would soon leave Germany to work in Hollywood. Decrees by the Reichsfilmkammer, established in July 1933, officially banned the employment of artists of Jewish descent.

During the 1930s UFA produced both lighthearted musicals and comedies (starring such genuine talents as Truus van Aalten) – and, as the Nazi Party gained power, antisemitic propaganda.

In March 1937 Hugenberg was forced to sell his shares to the Cautio Trust company, which was actually controlled by the Propaganda Ministry. Thereby the Nazis de facto held 72% of UFA's shares and installed their party representative Carl Froelich as a production supervisor on the management board. In 1942 the company was nationalized totally by the Third Reich as the monopoly parent company of the German state's film industry, absorbing all other production and distribution companies still active at that time, such as Bavaria Film and Wien-Film (former Tobis-Sascha-Filmindustrie AG) with their studio facilities.

During the war the studio made several part-entertainment, part-propaganda feature films using the Agfacolor process, such as Münchhausen (1943) and Kolberg (1945). The studio's design was also an inspiration to the newly constructed Manchukuo Film Association.

After World War II[edit]

After the end of the Second World War UFA ceased activity, and initially was so associated with the Third Reich that even reissues of its non-political product were possible only by removing all reference to the company from the credits. Furthermore, the UFA studios were located in the Soviet zone of Berlin and were incorporated subsequently into the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The new studio, DEFA (Deutsche Film AG), carried on the UFA tradition with many directors returning from exile, while actors and technicians were recruited from the old company.

During the 1960s, the UFA name and logo were co-opted by a West German chain of movie theaters. DEFA went out of business soon after German reunification in 1990, but UFA's old Babelsberg Studios now house a number of independent production companies as well as a theme park and museum devoted to the history of German film. Attempts were made in West Germany to resurrect UFA as a production company, but failed to produce more than a few films. During 1991, UFA was re-established as a major producer of television programs. Now it is part of the multinational Bertelsmann corporation.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ursula Hardt, From Caligari to California: Erich Pommer's life in the international film wars. Berghahn Books, 1996, p.59ff
  2. ^ Hardt p.128-130

References[edit]

  • Kreimeier, Klaus : The Ufa story : a history of Germany's greatest film company, 1918-1945. New York : Hill & Wang, 1996; Paperback: Berkeley, Calif. ; London : University of California Press 1999, 459 pp, ISBN 978-0-520-22069-0

External links[edit]