“You might as well talk about his similarities with Trump, ”notes author Martin Amis at the start of The meaning of Hitler, before saying that these parallels include a desire to undermine state institutions in order to magnify its preeminent position of power, a fanatic interest in habitual and strategic cleanliness and dishonesty. For Amis, it was the last of these qualities that played a central role in Hitler’s rise, because “He was a head of state who was not afraid to lie. There is nothing wrong with lying. It’s great at first, because it seems for a while that anything is possible.
After four long years of the Trump presidency, such notions will seem too familiar to viewers of The meaning of Hitler, and directors Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker return to Trump regularly – through music videos and sound bites – to demonstrate the depressing connections between the 1930s-1940s and 2020s. Much more than a critique of Trump, however, the The duo’s documentary (premiered online at DOC NYC November 11-19) is a quest to understand the 20th century’s most notorious monster as both a person and an idea that continues to flourish across the world, be it at party gatherings in Poland or tiki torch marches through Charlottesville, Virginia. According to Epperlein and Tucker, Hitler’s specter remains as pervasive and dangerous as ever. And so, understanding man and myth is crucial to understanding our modern condition.
The meaning of Hitler recognizes the difficulty inherent in this process. Inspired by Sebastian Haffner’s 1978 bestseller of the same name – to the point of being structured around the chapters of this tome, full of narrated readings of his prose – the film is an avant-garde account with the possible impossibility of grasp the totality of who Hitler was and what he meant, and it starts with director Epperlein openly confessing that she wondered whether or not she should make the film after realizing that tackling Hitler meant sorting through meaning of the story itself. Giving a literal voice to the doubts and fears of its creators, the critical review that follows is a collage-like non-fiction essay meant to revisit yesterday as a way to fight today’s control – and, in doing so, to learn something valuable that might prevent our ancestors’ sins from being repeated.
Indicating transitions to new places with the sight of a clapperboard being struck, depicting literal pages from Haffner’s book, and throwing certain key phrases onto the screen in giant howling text, The meaning of Hitler is a fundamentally self-aware business. Such an approach makes her feel like a personal inquiry, and that impression grows as she gracefully passes between various points of interest. A montage of famous film portrayals of the dictator, for example, reinforces Epperlein’s thoughts on how we are instinctively drawn to Hitler’s personality, which then leads to novelist Francine Prose’s commentary on the most Nazi film. all-time famous: Leni Riefenstahl Triumph of the will, a work of “performance art” which, she says, is marked by a “glorious pageantry” which, once you know its context, “moves your flesh”. These opinions, in turn, relate directly to author and professor Saul Friedländer’s belief that “the Nazis felt they were playing in a great historical play for the future, for history. And then people will remember it for centuries and centuries to come. This is the Wagnerian meaning of it.
“The Nazis felt they were playing in a great historical play for the future, for history. And then people will remember it for centuries and centuries to come.“
Although the monuments of the Third Reich were destroyed after the war, Epperlein notes that their images remain, each a haunting homage to their fascist philosophy, which begs the question: is it possible to make a film about Hitler without contributing to ” the expansion of the Nazi Cinematic Universe? ” The meaning of Hitler suggests that the answer is yes, via a mixture of curiosity, confrontation and self-reflection. Conversing with writers, historians and academics, stopping at Hitler’s childhood home and old hangouts (often via POV shots spied through a Mercedes hood ornament ), and using archival footage and new interviews to address Haffner’s ideas on Hitler’s education and his famous oratory skills, he indulges in daring formal invention, he analytically searches for a unifying theory on his subject.
The meaning of Hitler suspects that such an endeavor may be in vain, because, as Professor Deborah Lipstadt succinctly states, it is impossible “to rationally explain irrational sentiment”. This is more true of Hitler’s reasons for wanting to exterminate the Jews. But it concerns, more broadly, his murderous megalomania, as well as the legions of white supremacists who continue to celebrate him as a great man and deny the Holocaust, such as British writer David Irving, who saw joining a guided tour some notable points in Hitler’s life. Irving is an unrepentant moron whom a court once officially called a “neo-Nazi polemicist.” And he shows his true colors when, without realizing that his microphone is on, he laughs at the 900,000 Jews murdered in the Treblinka concentration camp as “poor guys” who perished from exhaustion because they didn’t. had never done manual labor in their life; instead, he says they were only good at “writing receipts.”
While Irving is the most loathsome character featured in The meaning of Hitler, he barely dominates the proceedings, as Epperlein and Tucker deftly vacillate between visiting past atrocities (like the now-erased Sobibor death camp), reflected in contemporary neo-Nazi ugliness (including quick snippets from streaming video of the 2019 Halle synagogue shooting massacre), and contemplating the underlying individual and social forces that led to Hitler’s rise. These include the technological development of the valve microphone, which one expert said was essential in helping Hitler forge a powerful and symbiotic connection with his audience – and the fact that Hitler could hear himself through the speakers. during these speeches created, in fact, a reinforcing feedback loop. Cleverly, Epperlein and Tucker associate this phenomenon with Trump and Twitter, highlighting how history repeats itself over and over again, albeit in slightly updated forms.
In times like these The meaning of Hitler proves a chilling investigation into our present reality, as well as a warning that, if we are not vigilant, our future could end up looking a lot like our past.
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