Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 12, 2021 9:24 am 
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HISTORICAL PHOTO OF ADOLF HITLER FROM THE MEANING OF HITLER

A film about der Führer seeks a new glimpse of relevance and danger

British anti-Semmite and Holocaust denier David Irving is featured taking a group of supporters on an impromptu tour of the Treblinka concentration camp site in the documentary, The Meaning of Hitler. It's likely Irving, now 82, hasn't been followed around even this briefly in any recent documentary, but this is a sign of how explorative this film is in its synthesis of history and psychology as it reviews the lasting legacy of the Third Reich's Fuhrer. It finds troubling new echoes in the alt-right and Donald Trump. Touring around behind the windscreen of a telling Mercedes Bentz symbol, the filmmakers visit many sites, following an exploratory road-movie format. They look at an example of Hitler's watercolor painting preserved in Virginia. They take a look at the building in Braunau in present-day Austria where Hitler was born and the visit the Vienna e Academy of Fine Arts that rejected him. They take a tour of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide, intermixed with film clips of dramas about that event. They hear Martin Amis say a knowledge of Hitler is necessary to be a modern thinking person.

They take their title from a 1978 book by German journalist Sebastian Haffner (Raimund Pretzel). They talk to historians and to anti-Semitism Deborah Lipstadt, who once suied David Irving for libel. (They also film relevant comments from Yehuda Bauer, Saul Friedlander, Winfried Nerdinger, Francine Prose, Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, Klaus Theweleit, and Jan T. Gross.) They find some who remember the rise of Naziism. They consult with a psychiatrist, a sociologist, a forensic biologist, an archaeologist, a pair of Nazi hunters and a "microphone guru." The latter shows us the early crystal microphone, known as the the 'Hitlerflasche' or 'Hitler Bottle' the Neumann CMV3, whose ability to convey not just the sound but the emotion of HItler's oratory is deemed a part of his power. This was a new kind of mike unlike the carbon chip ones. Those required the speaker to be within an inch and not to budge to be heard. This one let Hitler to be much less constrained, to move around and gesticulate. The film clips in this segment linking Hitler's rallies with the Beatles' appearance at Shay stadium is troubling, to say the least. HItler's oratorical sill is paralleled with Trump's claimed eloquence on Twitter.

It could all come back. The film shows us how Germany's recent admission of massive numbers of immigrants has turned sour and fueled nativism and racist patriotism. Such people can always reach back to the thirties and forties for inspiration, from a time when a man who, as Haffner says in the titular book, had no occupation and do friends and couldn't even get into a trade school, would become a terror to all the world.

The film is self-reflective, and calls attention to its simple craftsmanship by having an old-fashioned clap-board into to every new sequence. The effort is to wake us up to this familiar theme and be open to new perceptions. If you respond to its inquests, are inspired by its perceptions and odd facts, that could happen. But the prevalence of elderly talking heads may put you off: it undercuts the filmmakers' intention of being formally inventive. And some of its points are glib. Such is novelist Francine Prose's dismissal of Leni Riefenstahl's striking propaganda films for the Third Reich as mere kitsch. The trouble is, they're very good.

The film's last word goes to talking head Yehuda Bauer, who is 95 ("I'm still working") who sums it up: "The Nazi ideas were ideas that were acted out by people that were absolutely normal."

The Meaning of Hitler, 92 mins., debuted at DOC NYC Nov. 2020; also shown at Amsterdam, at Sofia Mar. 2021. Release (IFC Films) Aug. 13, 2021.

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RIGHT WING DEMONSTRATION IN EASTERN GERMANY FROM THE MEANING OF HITLER

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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