When the good old democracy
of the twentieth century got on in years,
it sent messengers in all directions
to find the reason for misery in the world.
When the messengers came back,
they came to know from East and West,
North and South, from all computers
–the incorruptible, as they say–
that democracy itself, good and old,
was the cause of all misery in the twentieth century.
Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977)
Part One: The Grail
This week I was only able to get to Michael Riedel’s Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway, which I reviewed here.
I’ve been toying with the idea of revisiting a few of the enthusiasms (Foreman, Barker) that led me to begin this blog more than ten years ago, and a quick look on YouTube turned one of them up. Next year, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s eight-hour Hitler: A Film from Germany will celebrate its 40th birthday; I first saw the film upon its US release in 1980. At the time, and even now, I consider it one of the great films of the twentieth century and one of the great films about the twentieth century. It’s an intimate chamber play with grandiose Romantic ambitions, and though I found it extremely powerful on the big screen of the Walnut Street Theater in 1980, it may play even better on television or on the small screen of the computer monitor. It pulls together, at one and the same time, the growth of mass communication (especially film), fascism, Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin, and of course the title character in an essayistic, mammoth contemplation of history and cruelty. As Susan Sontag described it in an essay about the film:
Syberberg assumes importance both for his art (the art of the twentieth century: film) and for his subject (the subject of the twentieth century: Hitler). The assumptions are familiar, crude, plausible. But they hardly prepare us for the scale and virtuosity with which he conjures up the ultimate subjects: hell, paradise lost, the apocalypse, the last days of mankind. Leavening romantic grandiosity with modernist ironies, Syberberg offers a spectacle about spectacle: evoking “the big show”called history in a variety of dramatic modes—fairy tale, circus, morality play, allegorical pageant, magic ceremony, philosophical dialogue, Totentanz—with an imaginary cast of tens of millions and, as protagonist, the Devil himself.
A few years ago, the Facets company released a DVD of the film, but it is now out-of-print. Below, however, is the first part — titled “The Grail” — of Hitler: A Film from Germany, thanks to YouTube. Try it; 15 minutes, I think, and you’ll want to see the other seven-and-three-quarters hours.