Posts Tagged ‘Nazi’

Triumph of the Will (1935)

June 19, 2012

Having made two short documentaries of the Nazi party during her early flirtation with the Nazi, Leni Riefenstahl was courted and commissioned by Hitler to make a feature documentary of the annual Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg in 1934 – the final film would become the controversial The Triumph of the Will, a hypnotizing propaganda film that was both lauded and loathed, polarizing both critics and viewers still today.

The film opens with the following passage followed by a series of aerial shots intercut to look like being shot from the same plane that flied Hitler to Nuremberg:

On 5 September 1934
20 years after the outbreak of the World War
16 years after the beginning of German suffering
19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth
Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful followers

Hitler arrived at the countryside received by crowd whose elation looked genuine and not staged. The scene set the tone for the rest of the film – Hitler, a messiah-like figure, raised from the rubble of the World War I, led and liberated Germany to her rebirth. Hitler’s appointment as chancellor from less than 2 years ago led to months of chaos in his party particularly the disintegration of the increasingly uncontrollable SA and its leader Ernst Rohm, prompting Hitler to tone down his racial policy and promote peace and unity.

The problem with the SA ultimately led to the Night of the Long Knives, after which it was important that Hitler was able to drum up the propaganda machine in Nuremberg and via Triumph to reassure the country unison and peace. In several speeches delivered by Hitler, it was almost surreal that he emphasized peace, love and unison, he almost looked that he genuinely believed in those words, and without hindsight the Hitler Youths standing before him were mesmerized by his dazzling oratory skills. There’s a creepy quality while watching the teens saluting Hitler yelling uniformly “Seig Heil!”

The film works with a hypnotizing power that one finds it hard to resist. This was obtained by powerful film language and innovative cameraworks such as aerial shots and tracking shots, which are taken for granted today but were extremely difficult back then. Hitler was often shot from an extreme low angle framing him with a God-like quality, intercut with close-ups of mesmerized faces of the audience. Special set was built so the grandeur of the Nazi architecture and carefully orchestrated rally could be fully captured.

The artistic relationship of Riefenstahl and Hitler was at the height during the making of Triumph, Riefenstahl was given a large budget that allowed her to hire a crew of 172 people (unheard of by the standard of the days) and influence how the rally was designed for the movie. Triumph was critically acclaimed both inside and outside Germany, making Riefenstahl one of the most prominent female filmmakers in the history. She was subsequently vilified after the war that she was never able to make another movie again. She was prosecuted frequently after the war, she was still being investigated for denying the Holocaust still in her 100th birthday in 2002.

Triumph raised the bars of propaganda filmmaking and documentary in general, although some would argue that it is not strictly a documentary as some scenes were reenacted in the studio. It is dull by today’s standards for it’s a tough job watching the Nazi talking heads speechifying 2 hours. The value of Triumph today lies mostly upon the historical value of the superbly filmed scenes of the Nazi rally and Hitler’s speeches. It also serves as a Faustian tale of an artist who seals the deal with the devil for the sake of arts.

Triumph of the Will is directed by Leni Riefenstahl, starring Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring and Max Amann.



The Boys from Brazil (1978)

September 2, 2011

“The Boys from Brazil” is by no mean a great movie, but it certainly has a hell a lot of fun. If you are a sucker for every World War II picture that typecasts everyone with a thick german accent in a sinister Nazi role, you are in for the show.

Adapted from a british novel of the same name written by Ira Levin, the plot is insidiously silly. It involves the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele aka Angel of Death (Gregory Peck) plotting a world domination plan of cloning Hitler. Stepping into the show is young Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) who dies fairly early into the movie, followed up by the old legendary Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), obviously based on the real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who now must battle the Angel of Death and stop his evil plan.

Anything involving the World War II, the Nazis and Nazi hunters has to be an entertaining movie. It has all the ingredients for the perfect backdrop of an absorbing story – you get the absolute evil, the heros, the war, the apocalypse, etc. “The Boys from Brazil” is a pioneer in the way that it paves the way for movies like “Inglorious Bastards”, Tarantino’s own parody of the genre. A movie like this kind is not to be taken too seriously, but to explore the what-if and throw in a lot of fun along the way.

In real life Joseph Mengele escaped to Brazil after the war and was last seen in Paraguay. Real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal reportedly spent half of his post-Holocaust life trying to hunt down the Angel of Death, without success. The doctor is assumed to be dead by now given the old age. And I only wish someone would make a biopic of Simon’s manhunt of the notorious Nazi doctor!

The Boys from Brazil” is directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, adapted by Heywood Gould from a novel by Ira Levin.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

August 21, 2011

History is written by the victors so its said by Winston Churchill. It has served as some sort of a contemporary truism ever since. The collective wisdom is examined in depth in Judgement at Nuremberg, a fictional account of the famous post-World War II Nuremberg Trials. This time, standing on the trial are 4 notorious Nazi judges, with the most famous being Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster), the judge among judges, once a symbol of justice in Germany.

The film explores the complexity of the war crimes committed by the state, and those who execute the orders. On one hand we have Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) who believes in absolute certainty that Janning and his fellows are as guilty as Hitler as part of the genocide. On the other there is Hans Rolfe (played by the excellent Maximilian Schell), the defend attorney and a fan of Jenning, who is on a mission to restore the dignity for his country in the attempt of restoring the glory of Jenning regardless he is guilty or not. Trapped inbetween is the chief judge of the case Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy). Like us, he comes the court knowing already the result of the hearing, but on the way he meets various good hearted germans, including Mrs. Bertholt, a minor character played by Marlene Dietrich. He is, however, a man who seeks the absolute justice, that is outside of the state law and sympathy.

Different from the other movies that deal with the same subject, Judgment at Nuremberg deals with the aftermath of the war. The story asks if these men in question should be condemned guilty just for the sake that they lose the war. Are the Nazi participants as guilty as Hitler in the crimes the state commits? What if their actions are based purely on their love for the country? If one is to betray his/her country, is he/she then also guilty in the context of the state law? All these will be answered in a satisfying conclusion, and on the way a lot of doubt and question regarding the quote from Churchill.

Judgment at Nuremberg is directed by Stanley Kramer, written by Abby Mann. According to Wikipedia, this is currently one of the Top Ten courtroom dramas voted by the American Film Institute.