This year’s Oscar nominations dropped without me noticing or caring that much. Most of what I liked last year didn’t get nominated, and I’m okay with that. The Oscar ceremony is as meaningful as a given State of the Union address—not very much, and grandiose and overlong to boot.
But as I looked through the nominees in the Oscar categories this morning I was arrested by one nominee in the Documentary Short field: “A Night at the Garden.” I recognized the poster art immediately—a still photo of the stage, complete with American flags and a colossal George Washington, during a 1939 rally of the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund or German American Bund, an organization of Nazis. The Bund held this rally in Madison Square Garden. 20,000 people attended.
While the film is short and clearly meant to suggest Troubling Parallels, the filmmaker wisely lets the images themselves do the talking. (He explains his approach in the website’s Q&A.) This keeps the film from drifting into any of the outright foolishness characterizing our current political discourse. The film will make ideal classroom viewing and should prompt plenty of discussion, from the aesthetics of the rally itself—which worked gangbusters in Germany but mostly attracted curiosity in the US, if not the scorn it did in Britain—to First Amendment protections and the use of force by the police. One could also, if one really wanted to play with fire, start a discussion about why Nazis were fine with the Pledge of Allegiance.
The short runs seven minutes and is available in its entirety on the film’s official website. I highly recommend watching it, and I’m grateful that this is available now. No student that I’ve had in the last six years has known that there was an active and very noisy (if in reality rather weak) pro-Nazi organization in the US before World War II, and when I tell them about this rally they can’t believe it. This footage, paired with a good contextual talk, should come in handy.