Our Hitler: A Film from Germany (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg / West Germany, 1977):
(Hitler: Ein Film aus Deutschland)

Mel Brooks got the ball rolling in The Producers, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg balloons the revue into a symphony. The concept is a mass cultural exorcism ("Primal scream therapy!"), the model is Kienholz -- Is Germany a procession of soundstages inside a snow globe, or is she the little cloaked girl wandering through them with strips of celluloid in her hair? A great showman, Syberberg presents four sweeping bonanzas of perorations, allusions, gags, mental states. From the Cosmic Ash-Tree to the Great Oak of Buchenwald is a puppet show hosted by Cabaret’s MC, with Der Führer’s sundry incarnations filling the fairgrounds: Hitler as Little Tramp, Napoleon, Hamlet, mesmerist, builder, destroyer, maniac, a smoke-spewing asshole, pooch, ventriloquist’s dummy. Mythology and history, caldrons and mannequins and mist, Lang the prophet and the witness (M, Mabuse). Part Two: A German Dream until the End of the World. Voices from the past (Goebbels, Churchill, Einstein, Stalin), voices from the present (Harry Baer, Heinz Schubert, Peter Kern). Wagner’s "blood utopias," the culmination of Germany’s high-strung romanticism, voluptuous guilt ("O felix culpa"). Hitler the cinephile, out of the grave in screen-filling filibuster: "Leonardo, Michelangelo, Beethoven... They weren’t agreeable! Well, maybe Mozart was, but he wasn’t to my taste." The End of a Winter’s Tale and the Final Victory of Progress surveys the Third Reich’s rotten Versailles and "the Jewish problem" as a litany of atrocities before flickering slideshows. Ruminative speeches, hysterical, evocative, daft, shocking, sleep-inducing. Hitler as wannabe auteur manipulating his own mise en scène, "Whoever controls film controls the future." Finally, the ruins and ghosts of We Children of Hell Remember the European Age, with its Friedrich landscapes and 8mm home movies. A country divided and haunted, business deals and memorials to cover up charred skeletons. "A German Disneyland on the holy mountain near Berchtesgaden." The sex doll’s mouth agape as camera obscura, the little girl’s celestial ascension to "Ode to Joy." Coppola understood it and promoted it as opera, Fassbinder spoofed it mercilessly in the Berlin Alexanderplatz epilogue. Cinematography by Dietrich Lohmann.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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