Hitler: A Film from Germany
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|Hitler: A Film from Germany|
|Directed by||Hans-Jürgen Syberberg|
|Written by||Hans-Jürgen Syberberg|
|Produced by||Bernd Eichinger|
|Narrated by||Hans-Jürgen Syberberg|
|Edited by||Jutta Brandstaedter|
|Distributed by||Omni Zoetrope (US)|
Hitler: A Film from Germany (German: Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland), called Our Hitler in the US, is a 1977 experimental biographical film written, directed and narrated by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, and produced by Bernd Eichinger. An international co-production by West Germany, France and the United Kingdom, the film stars Heinz Schubert in a dual role, as Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. Along with Syberberg's characteristic and unusual motifs and style, it is also notable for its 442-minute running time.
Hitler: A Film from Germany has no clear plot or chronology. Instead, each part explores one particular topic.
- Part 1: Der Gral - Von der Weltesche bis zur Goethe-Eiche von Buchenwald (The Grail - From the Cosmic Ash-Tree to the Goethe Oak of Buchenwald) deals with Hitler's cult of personality in Nazi propaganda.
- Part 2: Ein deutscher Traum ... bis ans Ende der Welt (A German Dream ... Until the End of the World) focuses on how Nazi propaganda was associated with pre-Nazi German cultural, spiritual, and national heritage.
- Part 3: Das Ende eines Wintermärchens und der Endsieg des Fortschritts (The End of a Winter's Tale and the Final Victory of Progress) tells about the Holocaust and the ideology behind it, particularly from Himmler's point of view.
- Part 4: Wir Kinder der Hölle erinnern uns an das Zeitalter des Grals (We Children of Hell Recall the Age of the Grail) consists mostly of André Heller reading out scenes from the script that were not shot, climaxing in Heller talking to a Hitler puppet on how he completely destroyed Germany spiritually, combined with a satire on former Nazis who after the war made profits from the Nazi era by running a Nazi tourism and entertainment industry for foreigners.
Recurring plot devices
One particular plot device, especially for mocking post-war fascination and cliches about Hitler and Nazism, is endless recitals from the non-fictional autobiographies of people in direct contact with Hitler on his lifestyle, such as by Hitler's personal valet Heinz Linge (played by Hellmut Lange) and his adjutant Otto Günsche (played by Peter Kern), talking to the camera as if the spectator were a young person who intends to learn about Hitler, while these seemingly endless passages end with original radio broadcasts on German war casualties and lost battles. This plot device thus mocks both Hitler's affiliation with his own personality and his increasingly delusional state that made him more and more unable to competently lead a war the longer it lasted, as well as it mocks post-war German fascination with every little detail about historical Nazism and its people, indicating that this post-war fascination might be nothing but subconscious admiration that will once more lead Germany to repeat the same downfall as apparent in the radio broadcasts.
Himmler's personality is sometimes explored in a similar way by reciting the memories of such people as Himmler's personal astrologist (played by Peter Moland), or his masseur Felix Kersten (played by Martin Sperr), though not as extensively as in Hitler's case and not ending in such dramatic radio broadcasts.
Especially unusual is the portrayal of Himmler's personality. While Hitler is always impersonated by Heinz Schubert, Himmler's role is split into several actors, including Schubert among others, each indicating a different aspect of Himmler's personality, such as "the esoterical ideologue" (played by Rainer von Artenfels), dressed as an SS member, "the military leader" (leading a war for Nazism and Germany, against the Jews and other degenerate "un-German" influences; played by Helmut Lange as well), dressed as an ordinary Wehrmacht officer, or "Hitler's ideological adherent and loyal servant" (dressed in an SS uniform, also played by Peter Kern).
Narration and fictional characters
Some continuity is given to the film by Syberberg's narration and fictional characters. Syberberg's off-screen narration partly philosophizes on pre-war and post-war German fascination with Hitler and Nazism, while in the beginning he tells a mythologized tale about the shortcomings of the Weimar Republic and its downfall giving rise to the Third Reich. Later, the narration focuses on comparing Nazism to basically "inhumane" pornography, Stalinism and socialist East Germany. In order to draw parallels between Nazism and pornography, Syberberg also arranges quite graphic scenes, involving a realistic, life-sized reproduction of Joseph Goebbels's carbonized, dead body covered in his burned and melted flesh (as found and photographed by the Red Army), inflatable sex dolls, and dildos.
A mythologized portrayal of Democracy and Germany is personified by Syberberg's young daughter, Amelie Syberberg, holding a puppet and walking around in mystical sets to Syberberg's narration, also appearing later in the film. It is not clear which of the two—Syberberg's daughter or her puppet—is Democracy and which of them is Germany.
The film's first part 30-minute intro is separated into two 15-minute acts, the first being Syberberg's mythologized narration of the end of the Weimar Republic, the second half being Schubert impersonating a circus announcer within an actual circus set announcing "the great, magnificent" Hitler ("the German Napoleon") in ad-speech and show-biz jargon, while also outlining that the purpose of the film is not only being "the Big Hitler Show" but also a film on Germany and German mentality in general, about "the Hitler within us all" and "Auschwitz as an ideological battle of racial warfare."
A similar role as the circus announcer is later introduced when a freak show compère (also played by Rainer von Artenfels) enters the film within a prop set of a cabinet of curiosities, demonstrating various oddities and Nazi relics, such as the Spear of Destiny ("as owned by Thomas the Apostle, Saint Maurice, Constantine the Great, Charlemagne, Otto I, Henry IV, Frederick I Barbarossa, the Habsburg dynasty...and then Hitler!") and the philosopher's stone, both found by Himmler's SS, Himmler's Germanic Urpferd (purported evolutionary ancestor to the modern horse), and Hitler's semen in a phial. The compère then also introduces the various supporting characters, each introducing themselves in third person after he has announced them.
Among them is also Ellerkamp (played by Harry Baer), a fictional SS-member, later a post-war projectionist and film producer, and the Cosmologist (played by Peter Lühr). The Cosmologist is partly based on Hanns Hörbiger, creator of the Welteislehre, but he is portrayed as still being alive during Hitler's reign and after World War II, and looks more like Leonardo da Vinci or Socrates than Hörbiger.
Props, set design, and visual style
The film's surreal visual style was developed by Henri Langlois, using props and set designs from the Cinémathèque Française that had originally been used for a film called Der Film - Die Musik der Zukunft ("Film: Music of the future"). It has also been noted that the film's visual style and set design are strongly inspired by Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, musical excerpts from which are frequently used in the film's soundtrack.
The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.
The film was a considerable influence on, among others, the critic Susan Sontag and the philosopher Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe; Sontag called it "one of the 20th century’s greatest works of art". It provided the underlying metaphor for James Chapman's 1993 novel about AIDS, Our Plague: A Film from New York.
Sequences from Hitler: A Film from Germany are featured in the film The Ister (2004), which includes extensive interview of Syberberg.
As the film was co-produced by the BBC, it was also released in an English version. While all of the monologues spoken by the actors are subtitled in the English version, Heller's translated offstage narration is spoken by a BBC narrator. Due to the BBC's co-production, the German language used in the film, including the original World War II radio broadcasts and authentic speeches, receives a more sophisticated translation than in many US and British documentaries on Nazi Germany. One advantage of the English over the German version is that whenever a new character is introduced or an original recording is heard, the character's or speaker's name is displayed.
- ^ "Hitler : A Film from Germany". Cinéma du réel. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
- ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hitler: A Film from Germany". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
- ^ Reimer, R.C.; Reimer, C.J. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Holocaust Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. xx. ISBN 978-0810867567.
- Anton Kaes. From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0674324565.
- Susan Sontag. Eye of the Storm. In The New York Review of Books, Volume XXVII, Number 2, 21 February 1980, pp. 36–43; reprinted as "Syberberg's Hitler" in Under the Sign of Saturn. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980, pp. 137–165. ISBN 978-0863160523.
- 1977 films
- 1970s avant-garde and experimental films
- West German films
- 1970s German-language films
- 1970s English-language films
- 1970s French-language films
- 1970s Russian-language films
- Films directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
- Films about Adolf Hitler
- German avant-garde and experimental films
- German drama films
- 1977 drama films
- Films about Nazi Germany
- Non-narrative films
- American Zoetrope films
- 1977 multilingual films
- German multilingual films
- French multilingual films
- British multilingual films
- 1970s German films