Otherwise a spectacular museum, the Museum für Film und Fernsehen (pictured obscurely on the left) in Berlin suggests that some films do not contain any ideological messages. Especially earlier films, it claims, such as those starring or directed by Asta Nielsen, a popular Danish actress who starred in many silent German films during the 1910s and 1920s. She’s hailed as the “first international movie star”. Yet it seems that all through out film history, the even the figure of the woman (in all its various forms) is idolized and encoded with secret ideological messages. The androgenous Marlene Dietrich, another German actress, was impossible for men to understand. Confident Dietrich also had explicitly anti-Nazi political goals. In a very unobscure way, how can she avoid being ideological in that sense, a simply political sense? Ms. Nielsen was not only a woman acting as various women in political-social situations, she also had a political statement to make as well.
The museum doesn’t mention this oddly enough. Ms. Nielsen (pictured right) was approached by the Ministry of Propaganda and asked to promote the Nazi regime through film. She thus fled to Denmark in defiance. An original document in the museum quotes Ms. Nielsen later in her life as saying that she believes in her own genius. She says that she could do anything she wanted, anything a man could do. Hell, she says, I can even “read and write”. Her films are mostly like circus-style cabaret from the early, early 20th Century. That’s how most films started out too: as imitations and renactments of the circus; mainly for those who weren’t wealthy enough to actually attend them. So already her films are participating in a new sort of “circus for the working class masses”, and so on.
The circus at any rate is chalk-full of ideological statements. Everything from encoding the legitimacy of animal captivity to human triumphalism, and on that point, reinforcing the many barbarisms of our species. Nielsen’s films reflect this circus mentality undoubtedly. The films also reflects her nearly proletarian outlook, almost as if she were a “tramp” in one of Chaplin’s films. She lived most of her childhood in extreme poverty. She thus reflects in all her films her own auteuristic, class-conscious personality. Her own ideas and emotions, from her perspective. These are encoded through the use of film, easily. Perhaps the museum wanted to avoid the rather alarming thesis that everything is ideology. But I think it is, even the smallest overlooked things. And I think even the earliest films, those of Asta Nielsen, embed that core ideological fascet of film that persists today.