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Tony Grist

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Downfall [Dec. 6th, 2005|04:50 pm]
Tony Grist
I watched part of the new German movie about the death of Hitler last night. It taught me that Hitler was a very bad man and more than a little bonkers in the nut. An hour and a half passed and he still hadn't chowed down on the cyanide capsule so I did some research and discovered there was another hour and a half to go. Good grief. I was feeling so tired it hurt (though this wasn't Hitler's fault) so I switched off and went to bed.

It's been said this film shows the Germans finally coming to terms with the Adolf Hitler experience. O, no it doesn't. What it does is load everything onto Hitler. He's this apelike loony, shambling around, twitching uncontrollably, throwing tantrums and tossing his sweaty locks, while all the other nazis- big or little- exchange embarrassed looks behind his back and react to events in ways that are variously courageous, noble, compassionate, sensible, stoical or- at worst- tragically misguided. Himmler is politically savvy, Goebbels is admirably loyal and as for Speer- well, Speer is a hero. So the moral of the story is we Germans are a thoroughly decent lot and the Third Reich was all down to one gibbering troll who somehow, unaccountably became our leader.

Please Miss, it wasn't me; it was him!
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dadi
2005-12-06 09:58 am (UTC)
Yeah. Germans are great in taking all the merit for themselves and give all the blame to somebody else...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 04:04 am (UTC)
I guess it's something that Germans are beginning to make movies about the nazi era- but there's still a hell of a long way to go.
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[User Picture]From: frankepi
2005-12-06 10:19 am (UTC)
i've heard similar things about Downfall and the ways its relationship to history and responsibility are problematic. interestingly, in contrast to your reaction, some people said it humanized Hitler way too much by making him so vulnerable and somehow less responsible for his atrocities.

Bruno Ganz has a great repuation as a theatre actor, though, and i've heard he's remarkable in the film as well.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 04:07 am (UTC)
I think it's time we went the whole hog and humanized Hitler entirely. So long as we go on portraying him as a monster we remain in denial about the fearful things he reveals to us about our shared human nature.

I thought Ganz was extremely theatrical. His performance reminded me of nothing so much as the rock and roll Hitler in the Producers.

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[User Picture]From: frankepi
2005-12-08 04:15 pm (UTC)
given my field, i'm not sure i approve of the word "theatrical" used disparagingly....

but i understand what you mean ;-)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-09 05:01 am (UTC)
I've always been fascinated by the difference between what works on stage and what works on screen.

Laurence Olivier was probably the greatest stage actor of the last century, but I don't think he ever quite got the hang of acting for the cinema. He swings between theatricality and (having understood that screen acting demands stillness) an underplaying so extreme it becomes mannered and draws attention to itself. Watching him on screen you never forget you're watching a great actor giving a masterclass in technique.

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From: philtration
2005-12-13 12:47 am (UTC)
I saw "Downfall" and thought that it was very good. I feel that Hitler should be shown as a human being because that is what he was. A man and nothing more. One of us who rose to great power and then to even greater madness.
For some reason I have had people ask me if I am embarrassed or ashamed about my German ancestry even though my family came to America over 260 years ago and fought in WWI and WWII. Dumb.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-13 03:21 am (UTC)
I'd have liked to have seen more of Hitler's famous charm. There was nothing in Ganz's performance to explain why all these people had been held in thrall by this man for so many years.

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From: philtration
2005-12-15 03:10 am (UTC)
You are correct about that but I just took it as the last moments before the end. By that time most of the country was focused on bigger issues than their love for Hitler. Like surviving or the coming revenge that they feared from the Russians. I believe that telling why they were so devoted to Hitler would be another story set in 1939.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2005-12-06 10:24 am (UTC)
I've always wondered how someone like that - someone as you describe him - could possibly have hypnotized so many people into doing what was done at that time. I..well, I can't really explain what I mean. There is certainly a case for 'mob mentality'...but how could he have convinced people that books should be burned, that there was a 'perfect' specimen of humanity (and one he did not fit) and that anyone who was different was bad, and should be killed?

Oh, wait a minute....
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 04:08 am (UTC)
Hitler had something. I don't know quite what it was.

But I've been watching clips of Saddam Hussein on trial- and he has it too.
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[User Picture]From: pickwick
2005-12-07 07:34 am (UTC)
I saw a programme earlier this year interviewing the woman who was Hitler's secretary for years and was with him in the bunker, and it was much more honest about yes, he could be charming and interested in people and was good with children; of course he wasn't evil incarnate, or people wouldn't have followed him so devotedly.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 08:14 am (UTC)
Exactly.

A drama that highlighted his positive qualities would be far more challenging and grown-up.

Yes, you can be good with children AND a mass murderer.
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[User Picture]From: glitzfrau
2005-12-06 10:30 am (UTC)
I cannot agree more; this was the reception that the film got among critics in Germany, and I find it astonishing that the English-speaking world finds it "moving", "powerful", &c. Who cares if it shows "Hitler the man"? Who needs a scenery-chewing performance in a grand nineteenth-century style? The film explains nothing about Naziism, and exculpates far too many people.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 04:14 am (UTC)
I think Ganz is simply terrible. His performance reminds me of nothing so much as the loony rock and roll Hitler of The Producers. There's nothing in it that explains why all these fine, upstanding, heroic Germans ever found him the least bit attractive.
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2005-12-06 11:25 am (UTC)
I quite like the film, but that's mainly because I like Traudl Junge so much for having said that she didn't feel there was anything she could do about it and then she realised what people like the Scholls had done and that there was actually a German resistance (albeit tiny and of little consequence, not unlike the Danish one during the German occupation...), and that, she has mentioned in an interview, demonstrated that all the "unparteiliche Mitglieder" were, in some sense or other, guilty of the atrocities. So while the film might not say so, the woman that it's about actually did. That doesn't really help your average viewer, though...

Just explains why I have a subjective liking for anything to do with Die Traudl. And to me, the interview sequences with her are really what's most gripping about the film, even if that interview film that was made with her was actually much more gripping than any fictional representation of the history might be. (Because Der Untergang is a work of fiction, even if inspired by real events...)
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From: ex_kharin447
2005-12-06 11:48 am (UTC)
Hmm. My understanding is that the film is somewhat misleading on this score:

http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,4120,1453984,00.html

"In fact they have reworked the evidence and omitted crucial information. Traudl Junge appears in the film's opening scene in 1942 as a fresh-faced and apolitical 22-year-old who is engaged by Hitler because she comes from his beloved Munich. The audience never learns that her background was saturated in Nazism.

Her father was a fanatical nationalist who fought in the rightwing Freikorps in the early 1920s. For participating in Hitler's abortive putsch in 1923 he earned the Nazi "Blood Order" medal. Although he was estranged from Traudl for many years, they were reunited in 1936, by which time he was security director in an armaments factory and held SS officer rank.

Traudl herself enrolled in the Nazi League of German Girls in 1935, and in 1938 joined the elite Faith and Beauty organisation. Its mission was "to bring young women up to pass on the National Socialist philosophy of life". She was an activist in other Nazi organisations too. Although she did not formally join the Nazi party until 1944, by the time she started working for Hitler she had impeccable ideological and political credentials.

Perhaps to maintain her image as a virginal witness, the film passes over her 1943 marriage to Hans Junge, who joined the SS-Leibstandarte, Hitler's personal guard, in 1933, and served as Hitler's orderly for three years. He was killed fighting with the Waffen-SS in Normandy in 1944. So when her eyes widen while Hitler rants about "international Jewry" it can hardly be out of surprise at his lethal rhetoric. Her reaction is as unlikely as the sight of Albert Speer, in another scene, shifting uncomfortably when Hitler congratulates himself on having cleansed Germany of the "Jewish poison". "
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2005-12-06 12:28 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm not claiming that Traudl Junge was as naive as the film portrayed her to be. I knew she had impeccable Nazional-Socialistischer credentials (my instinct tells me that most people had in the Führer bunker, but I might be mistaken. Merely guesswork on my part.) and that no doubt she was brought up with the rabid anti-semitism of the Third Reich, so I'm in no way claiming her as a saint, nor saying that the film is a subjective representation of her life during those days. What endears her to me is one sentence she once said in an interview, and whether honest, faked, repressed or whatever it was, it was a very real sort of representation of the German guilt. I've tried googling for it, but can't find it anywhere, I'm affraid. And I must say, googling her is not exactly bringing out anything else that might count in her favour as a lot of it seems to be centred around a personal (not even a national) claim to ignorance and innocense.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 04:23 am (UTC)
As a work of fiction it's compelling enough- though way too long. And there was lots that I liked- the portrayal of Eva Braun for instance. But Ganz's Hitler was just terrible. I guess it's good that someone had a stab at subject, but I don't think it's a success.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-12-06 11:53 am (UTC)
Well said. Hitler, Jung has said, was actually an empty shell who was an oracle of the people, spewing out the venom of the collective of that day. He was mad, but was also a shaman of a sort--the darkest sort--a medium, even.

It has also been said that Goebbels's house is haunted, that he even tortured his dogs.

If there were ever a case for possession by evil, Nazi Germany is it.

OTOH, watching both the saints and the sinners acting out in New Orleans this year has been most instructive--how thin is our social veneer, and how quickly we learn whether we are saint or sinner, and how easily overtaken by the archetype of the moment.
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2005-12-06 03:40 pm (UTC)
I remember Bruno Ganz saying he could not get the the heart of Hitler because he did not have one.

My real feeling towards him watching this was utter contempt - this so called superman took the easy way out.

To be fair though I think it would be difficult to do anything in the film. I think in part it was Germany trying to come to terms with itself - having been the bad guys for so long I think Downfall was in part an attempt to try and get to grips with the madness that seized the country and work past it. And indeed it is a pity that the spectre of Nazism meant that Germany as a country was not able to work through its grief and anguish because of the burden of guilt.

I will be profoundly glad when the last of that generation has died.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 05:02 am (UTC)
I think Ganz's line about Hitler not having a heart is a cop-out.

Something or other made him tick. There was a prog on the other day about how the Allies commissioned a psychological profile of Hitler during the war. The shrinks came up with stuff about how Hitler was brutalized by his father and adored his mother, how he compensated for an extreme sense of worthlessness by developing an idea of himself as superhuman.

There's material there for an actor to work with.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 04:55 am (UTC)
Goebbels was a nasty, silly little squit.

I wouldn't like to spend the night in his old house.

I think Jung is right. Hitler was profoundly connected to the German people. This film seems to want to deny it
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[User Picture]From: seaslug_of_doom
2005-12-06 05:22 pm (UTC)
He's this apelike loony, shambling around, twitching uncontrollably, throwing tantrums and tossing his sweaty locks, while all the other nazis- big or little- exchange embarrassed looks behind his back
Hmm, now of which current world leaders does this put me in mind. That was the clumsiest sentence I've ever written.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-12-07 05:03 am (UTC)
Hmmm.... I wonder.....
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