THE MEANING OF HITLER (2021, doc)

August 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. The Holocaust and Nazi Germany. No subjects are likely even close in regards to the number of documentaries on topic. Yet somehow, there always seems to be more to mine. Co-directors Peppa Epperline and Michael Tucker have based their project on the 1978 book by Sebastian Haffner. The objective is to pull back the curtain on the self-conceit at the center of the cult of Hitler. How did this happen? How has it been repeated? How do we expose this without adding to the fascination of Hitler? It’s quite a conundrum, and one not easily navigated.

One of the first points made near the film’s beginning is that most agree understanding Hitler is not possible. So by that definition, a cinematic pursuit for meaning is a futile undertaking. But that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from trying. On their quest, they interview many experts and travel to various places of interest – museums, historical sites, camps, and even Treblinka.

Hollywood’s fascination with Hitler is discussed, including Mel Brooks’ THE PRODUCERS (2005) and the “Springtime for Hitler” sequence, Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009), and the superb DOWNFALL (2004). An excellent point is made in regards to the film comparisons of how Hitler’s suicide is typically portrayed behind closed doors, while Holocaust victims are not afforded such dignity. There is even a segment on Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary on the Nazi way, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (1935). Novelist Francine Prose labels the work, “kitsch”.

Infamous Holocaust denier David Irving is featured, and we hear him describe Auschwitz as “not important”. The technological advances in microphones are explained in regards to how the “Hitler bottle” allowed him to be more demonstrative during speeches, often resulting in working the audience into a frenzy. Interviews are included throughout the film, and feature historians (Saul Friedlander), authors, deniers, psychologists, and even Nazi hunters.

“Fascinating Fascism” is examined as pageantry and spectacle and other enticing aspects. The theatrical presentation that led to this fetish might today be termed marketing. It’s a bit of a relief to see the filmmakers avoided focusing too much on the parallels to a particular modern day phenomenon, despite the timing being right to study similarities. They do, however, make the comparison to Beatlemania, and how history has a tendency to repeat itself in various forms.

The film bounces around some, with certain segments more insightful than others, and there are some astounding points made. One of those interviewed states, “The Nazi ideals were acted out by people who were absolutely normal.” It’s a frightening thought. Another discusses the human conflict: humans are animals that kill, as well as being herd animals. The Nazi mission played into both. What the film left me with was the belief that the Nazi propaganda has been repurposed as history, leading to the fascination, whereas the focus of that era should be something else.

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