Shadows in Paradise - Hitler’s Exiles in Hollywood
A Film by Peter Rosen
TV Format NTSC 4;3, Sound PCM Stereo, Languages E,D,F, Region Code 0
EUROARTS DVD 2058268 [55:00]
This hour-long documentary considers the fate of those exiled to the ‘Weimar on the Pacific’, Los Angeles, which at one point housed much of the elite of the Jewish and anti-Nazi artistic diaspora. There is a strong case to be made that the arrival of so potent a cultural force materially readjusted the hemispheric nature of American intellectual life by rapidly realigning the zeitgeist to the West Coast. This applies as much as to Schoenberg as to Fritz Lang, and it is as well to note that this disc devotes itself to the full range of artistic life, of which music plays an important but by no means overwhelming part, even though it’s narrated by conductor James Conlon.
Mediated by interviews with cultural historians we get a broad overview of this colony or series of colonies, and of their variously open or hermetically sealed natures. Some exiles clearly never overcame the shock of leaving their country or their language or both. Thomas Mann’s famous comment, reported in the New York Times, that ‘Where I am, there is Germany’ was not a sentiment shared by his brother Heinrich, for instance, whose inability to write creatively is succinctly delineated by Christopher Hampton (in an old filmed interview). For every Fritz Lang there was an Erich Zeigel, a talented refugee from Austria who, despite a teaching job, was almost wholly neglected as a creative artist. For every Korngold there was an Alfred Döblin. The author of Berlin Alexanderplatz, like Heinrich Mann, found the summary divorce from his language, and its context, too devastating. He too withered in his exile.
The photographs of elite gatherings sometimes skews the reality of the morass, sunlit but scarred, into which many fell. An evening at which Rachmaninov, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky swapped gossip - they represented different stages of emigration, and for different reasons - was wholly different from the tragi-comedy of Austro-German society trying to re-establish itself in the neon panorama of the West Coast. The fact that they were so elevated in their professions, and so internationally lauded, hardly diminishes the pitiful if companionable fate of émigrés clinging together tenaciously like limpets on the hull of American West Coast cultural life.
Had this wagon-circling manoeuvre been consistently helpful, and had it engendered new work, then it might have been less pitiable. But Mann and Schoenberg soon fell out, the result of simmering resentment, and after the war men like Eisler were forced out of America, in a bitter shadowplay of their earlier forced emigration from German: first National Socialism did for them and then McCarthyism. Thomas Mann, repelled by the whole thing, left America in disgust.
There is something melancholy in considering Theodor Adorno and Lion Feuchtwanger - the latter very much at the centre of things in his adopted city - Alma Mahler, and Franz Werfel and their transplanted book-lined conversations when, somewhere a long way to the south, unmentioned here, another man of letters, Stefan Zweig, as eminent as they, similarly exiled, took his own life unsolaced by the companionship of a chimerical Vienna.
The voice of reason here is the laconic though admiring actor and director Norman Lloyd, born in 1914 and still alive as I write this. His patrician but cogent look at Brecht and Eisler offers an American’s perception on the workings of this curious colony of displaced, misplaced interweaving characters. Elsewhere, the readings from diaries, in strongly accented German, plump up the dimensionality of their experiences though the film captioning leaves something to be desired - labelling Thomas Mann ‘an intellectual giant’ rather as one might caption Stanley Matthews an ‘outside right’ is surely insufficient.
The rapidity of the arrival and the eventual dissipation and dispersal of this remarkable, if heterogeneous collection of men and women, is perhaps the lasting impression with which one is left. And if scorn is the only reasonable response to the fact that America’s ‘Jew quota’ remained pitifully unfilled - a relic of its isolationist past, and its lingering disdain - then at least some kind of solace can be gained by the longer term artistic and creative impulses generated in various ways by the exiles who clung to New Found wreckage, sometimes extremely elegant and prosperous wreckage, in the hills of sun-kissed, film-drenched Los Angeles.
Considers the fate of those exiled to ‘Weimar on the Pacific’.