German Music in The Movies – Pt 1

Great to see the superb 2002 WW-II Prisoner-of-War Hollywood movie Hart’s War, (starring Bruce Willis & Colin Farrel), getting another welcome airing on the BBC last night.. and so giving Tomahawk another equally welcome double-credit as the archive supplying the main German musik tracks to the film, the Deutschlandlied and the Horst Wessel Lied as performed by the Musikkorps of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitlerand taken from our album of the same name…

Both the Horst Wessel Lied, (often known as the alternative Nazi National Anthem), and the ‘true’ German National Anthem, were both supplied to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Los Angeles on disc, where both tracks were then beautifully re-worked by MGM’s audio department and dubbed into the sound-track to appear as if coming directly from loud-speakers of the POW camp that Bruce Willis’ character found himself in… and it was most interesting to hear how the movie’s dubbing team were able to suppress and alter our original high quality re-mastered recordings to give that very ‘tinny’ effect of schellack 78rpm records playing on a wind-up record player via an old 1940s metal loudspeaker over a large area…great work!

Actually in addition to the marketing of our CDs & DVDs to collectors & enthusiasts around the world, as a full-time professional German Archive, Tomahawk is now regularly involved in helping, advising & supplying our original music to similar movie & television production companies for use on their documentary & movie soundtracks and latterly, the incredibly moving and thought-provoking 2008 Disney-Miramax, Mark Herman-directed movie ‘Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ (US spelling), also contacted us for help with their soundtrack..

The movie is based on the isuperb 2006 novel ‘Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ as penned by Irish author John Boyne and which was recently required reading on the history syllabus in schools & colleges here in the UK; and we were contracted to supply two of our tracks, (the Horst Wessel Lied which is actually now one of the most popular tracks for producers, again due to that ‘alternative’ Nazi National Anthem tag), as performed by the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and ‘Mein Regiment, mein Heimatland’ as performed by the Musikkorps des Infanterie Regiments Grossdeutschland’ and which can be found on our Third Reich Favourites CD.

In fact this past weekend has been a good ‘un in terms of television credits for Tomahawk, thanks also to the airing on the History Channel of the US New Animal Production’s excellent 2-part series Third Reich – The Rise and The Fall… which was first shown in the US and if you have not yet caught it here over in the UK, then you are in for an absolute treat… I certainly enjoyed oit very much indeed!

I must admit that it has been quite a long while, (despite my 40-odd years of working with, and viewing, archival footage) since I last saw so much original German newsreel footage in a single production such as The Rise and The Fall for, sadly these days, many documentaries are now produced on a very limited budget; allied to that, some network bosses seemingly say to their staff: “go out and make me a documentary on such & such” as if they were heading to the supermarket to merely buy groceries. Sadly I have experienced this at first-hand, having been on the receiving end of a regional TV ‘producer’, (deputed to make such a film at a time of a major WW-II anniversary),  who was sent to me to pick my brains..(free of charge..natch! ).

Unfortunately one of the direct results of these ‘docs on a budget’ is that, unable to afford trained film researchers any more, many WW-II or Third Reich documentaries simply include the same old, (and in many cases very tired), German newsreel footage and you get the impression that the unfortunate individual ordered to find the required footage just sticks his or her head into the Archive to grab the cans or tapes nearest the door on an: ‘oh, that’ll do.. the audience won’t notice”..basis!

Thus it is that often these days, no matter what you watch you will just keep seeing the same old recycled footage coming around time and again..! Makes you wonder why people bother to keep producing such docs in the first place when they have nothing new to add to a debate, nor nothing new to illustrate that debate with…. especially given that most tv audiences for such WW-II documentaries are highly knowledgeable & incredibly well-informed and usually know far more about the subject than most producers do… and will have your legs off at the knees if you make a mistake, especially if it is an unfortunate ‘schoolboy howler’..!

To be fair, I know that original ‘unseen’ footage is becoming ever harder to uncover, which is why the new genre of ‘re-enactors’ being filmed in documentaries is now gaining currency, and though not my favourite production trick I’ll admit, the recent superb Channel 5 series on ‘Heroes of the Skies’ accomplished this with great aplomb, to make a most enjoyable run of programmes.

But this lack of new footage was one of the main reasons Tomahawk Films actively ceased being a WW-II Documentary distributor some 20-odd years ago because every single programme we were being offered increasingly included much the same footage as the previous one, (whatever the WW-II topic being addressed), and we felt we could no longer offer collectors & enthusiasts such a range of apparently ’differing’ documentaries if most were now simply containing the same duplicated footage, time after time.. as that was just not the honourable thing to do..!

However with this superb The Rise and The Fall two-parter by the American New Animal team, they really went the whole hog and not only are their production values quite superb but so much of that I saw in terms of Third Reich archival footage is/was actually new to my eyes. Such a genuine treat and this made it equally exciting for us to see so much our archival music, (12 German tracks supplied in total), being purchased for use on the soundtrack, including a welcome airing for several evocative & spine-tingling tracks from our ever popular Third Reich German Christmas Carols CD..

I was also pleasantly surprised by the producer’s attitude to the doc’s archival music needs in that they also opted for differing tracks from the norm and so also include are lovely dance tracks from our CD ‘Komm mit nach Madeira’:  as performed by Hitler’s favourite band conductor the Hungarian, Barnabas von Géczy, (1897-1971), along with several further emotive tracks from my favourite singer, Ms Lale Andersen as supplied from our Wie einst Lili Marleen CD…

Part one of Third Reich -The Rise has just aired on the Military Channel so I shall now be scanning the TV listings to see when Part Two -The Fall is due to air… hopefully another two hours-worth of really exciting, much unseen & certainly thought-provoking original film footage… and with the appearance of yet more German/Nazi-era period music from the Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive... result!!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012

Kriegsweihnachten – Third Reich Christmas Carols 1939-44…

Around this festive time of year I always think it is worth reminding folk of our delightful, (if we say so ourselves!), war-time German Christmas Carols CD: Kriegsweihnachten which always starts to fly out of the door during this pre-festive run-up to the holidays…

Over the 25 years we have been operating our WW-II German Archive we have been very fortunate in that in amongst the many welcome ‘phone calls that our production office receives from WW-II veterans, musik collectors & enthusiasts, there have often emerged interesting suggestions for themes as to new German-based CD albums that we could also possibly produce.

Indeed a number of our archival musik CDs have come about precisely because of such helpful customer suggestions namely: Instrumental Marches of Adolf Hitler’s Elite Musikkorps 1935-45, which was indeed suggested by many of our customers who actually prefer ‘purely instrumental’ German Marching music only, as opposed to those with choirs also singing on them..!

Over the years as the Tomahawk’s studio producer I have always tried to research and then re-master our original CD collections to have a balanced mix of instrumental tracks & German soldier songs, (this latter of which I’m an avid collector myself), as sung by the accompanying Regimental Musikkorps choir, however it wasn’t until we started getting such direct requests for an instrumentals-only album that we would indeed set about researching such a new music production.

So it was with our war-time German Christmas Carols…but original pre-1945 78rpm schellacks ‘don’t grow on trees’..and as we only work with the genuine material it was a case of going into research mode and putting the word out amongst ourGerman contacts to see what may be in various archives or private collections.

But it is not just finding such historical records, it is the nerve-wracking business of getting them shipped back to the UK in one piece; many is the time we’ve waited nervously, after many months of searching, for a box to arrive from Leipzig or Frankfurt, only to open it up to find just black dust: a number of schellacks within having exploded in transit and shattered into a zillion pieces!  So finding the original material is only half the battle..!

However when we actively set out to produce an original collection of the very emotional & emotive Christmas Carols that we knew existed, we were extremely lucky in that after a reasonably short time of searching within Germany, we located a terrific selection of Third Reich Carols on schellack in just one private collection and that actually became available for Tomahawk Films to purchase..and not only were we able to secure the treasured haul, but it also arrived back here in ‘Blighty’ in one piece… the heavens be praised..!

So into production we went and in addition to producing a quite soul-stirring collection as a Tomahawk Musik CD, (thanks to studio engineer ‘Woody’s’ great suggestion,) we were also able to incorporate a small historical introduction on the CD which, wearing my other professional hat as a TV voice-over artiste, I narrated..(as indeed I have also done with a number of our other Tomahawk audio titles that also have a little more of an historical  story to tell… and where it would help ‘set the scene’ for the listener).

Obviously Christmas is very important in the German psyche and actually lays claim to many of the seasonal traditions: from trimming the Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree) to the Advendskranz (Advent Wreath); also the eve of December 6th (Nikolaustag), festivities when the Reich’s children would place a boot by the fireplace and St Nikolaus, the Patron Saint of Children, would visit each house, noting misdeeds in his Book of Sins and leaving out sweets for those good, twigs for those bad!.

For the soldiers at the Front it was also a very emotional time as they would  make traditional wooden gifts to send home in the packs of comrades lucky enough to get leave, whilst their loved ones back home across the Reich would be hanging up Advenzkranz of holly & four red candles, lighting one each Sunday whilst the children used the Advent calendar to count down to Christmas Eve, the day Germany actually celebrates Christmas and the Weihnachtsmann arrives bearing gifts.

Meanwhile back at the Front, the troops would decorate their trees for bunker and prepare a goose for the table along with traditional ‘Dresden Stollen’, (a heavy, fruit-filled bread) as they listened to these heart-rending carols, played on wind-up gramophones in fox-holes or broadcast via Soldatensender (Forces Radio), and so remind them of happier, pre-war Christmas’ at home..

..and this beautiful ‘Kriegsweihnachten’ CD contains 12 of those beautiful & highly emotive schellack recordings including, of course, ‘O’Tannenbaum’ and Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’…  and is a totally unique accompaniment to your family Christmas… enjoy!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012