HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD (2017) – Documentary Retroview

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Filmmaker Rudiger Suchsland’s Hitler’s Hollywood is a compilation documentary that uses clips from films produced during the Nazi regime to show how the movies were used to indoctrinate the masses and influence their behavior. Subtitled German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933-45, the film is more analysis than homage, presenting a fascinating profile of the Nazi period of German history that creates positive stereotypes and presents mythic illusions about current and historic events. At present, as the influence of media on public policy and social behaviour is being closely scrutinized, there are valuable lessons to be learned from Hitler’s Hollywood.

During the Nazi regime, more than 1,000 films were produced, including 500 comedies and musicals and some 300 melodramas, adventures and mysteries. All production was overseen by Hitler’s busy and prolific chief propagandist Josef Goebbels, who also produced the newsreels shown in theaters along with the feature films.

Most of the films excerpted in Hitler’s Hollywood were not widely shown internationally at the time of their release, and many of them had long ago been archived and all but forgotten in Germany. The films’ production values are high and highly stylized, often with elements that reflect Hollywood production during the same years. Some of the German directors and stars are well known for their work during the Weimar period before the Nazi regime and/or after its collapse and the end of World War II. Several emigrated to Hollywood, where they had successful careers that influenced American moviemaking.

In general, the Nazi productions are cinematically appealing, replete with spectacle, ceremony and grandeur. They are elaborate and expensive. They extol the values and virtues approved by and for Nazis and sympathizers. Leading characters range from Aryan youth who excel at athletics to loyal women who long to be good wives, and to soldiers with unwavering patriotic zeal. There are usually scenes with masses of people choreographed to move in synchronized steps or gestures — beautiful women exercise to develop perfect bodies, young men goosestep off to war in columns, medieval peasants mimic the erratic gestures of a sort of demented pied piper — that suggest that conformity is inherent in human nature and that it has its benefits.

Voice over narration by Udo Kier sets the context for each of the film clips, describing the social and political intent underlying the stories, the symbolic nature of the characters and their behavior, and intended social impact. The narration often points out the changes in style and genre as movies reflected the fortunes of the regime from the time of Hitler’s rise to power through the various phases of World War II and until the last days of Nazi rule.

The theme and point of view of Hitler’s Hollywood are unique. With its fascinating developmental arc, the film delivers a complete and well-conceived treatise about how the Nazis used movies to influence the masses and how movie production reflected public mood and the zeitgeist during the Nazi regime. It provokes thought about how movies produced today have similar impact on our social expectations and behavior. There are some valuable lessons to be had.

Also of Interest:

Documentaries about the Holocaust and World War II
A Film Unfinished — Documentary Review

Film Details:

Title: Hitler’s Hollywood
Director: Rudiger Suchsland
U.S. Theatrical Release Date: April 11, 2018
Running Time: 105 mins.
Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
Country: Germany
Filming Locations: Various, through archival footage
Language: English and German with English subtitles
Distributor: Kino Lorber

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