Review: ‘Hitler’s Hollywood’ Unearths the Cinema of the Third Reich

Publié le par Ben Kenigsberg

Review: ‘Hitler’s Hollywood’ Unearths the Cinema of the Third Reich

Hitler's Hollywood Directed by Rüdiger Suchsland Documentary 1h 45m

A scene from the documentary “Hitler's Hollywood.”

A scene from the documentary “Hitler's Hollywood.”

If Joseph Goebbels strived to create a Nazi cinema that matched Hollywood’s, then what of the results?

“Hitler’s Hollywood,” an essay film that uses clips to explore the aesthetics, attitudes and messages of German cinema from 1933 to 1945, has some answers — and begins by acknowledging the perilousness of the terrain. “We barely know these films, but there is no reason to look away,” says the narrator, the character actor Udo Kier. The movie recommends a look “that focuses on the details and disregards the surface message without losing sight of it.”

The study of this period of filmmaking is hardly new, and the director, Rüdiger Suchsland, quotes influential theorists like Siegfried Kracauer, Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag. (“From Caligari to Hitler,” Mr. Kracauer’s landmark analysis of Weimar-era cinema as a reflection of national attitudes, served as a basis for a previous documentary by Mr. Suchsland.)

What “Hitler’s Hollywood” offers are the movies themselves. To see them today is to encounter an alternate universe of studio filmmaking that was itself designed to present an alternate universe, in which every death was happy and even escapist musicals emphasized the fascist ideal of total synchronization. The documentary shows how the industry had its own imitation of Sherlock Holmes and a 1930s precursor to “Lawrence of Arabia,” and found analogues for stars and directors like Marlene Dietrich and Ernst Lubitsch, who had departed Germany.

Perhaps more troublingly for cinephiles, in the 1930s the state-controlled film industry also provided a training ground for Douglas Sirk — whose first American production, the terrific anti-Nazi film “Hitler’s Madman,” goes unacknowledged here — and Ingrid Bergman, who starred in one film in Germany. The documentary describes her role in “Casablanca” as “a sort of atonement.”

Not all the insights are equally persuasive, but some of the strongest focus on cinematic technique — how wipes and cross-fades “created an unrealistic atmosphere in which everything became relative.” And if Weimar cinema provided a psychological X-ray of the German populace, as Mr. Kracauer argued, then Mr. Suchsland posits Veit Harlan’s mega-production “Kolberg,” released in 1945, as a kitschy mirror for the crashing and burning of the Nazis’ ambitions.

Is it immoral to watch this material? Part of what’s alarming about “Hitler’s Hollywood” is that it’s easier to be seduced by these comedies and melodramas, at least in excerpts, than it is to endure Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” today. The most charged implication of “Hitler’s Hollywood” is that artistry enabled the Third Reich.

Hitler’s Hollywood Not rated. In English and German, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

Publié dans Articles de Presse

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