Sunday, February 20, 2011

Triumph Of The Will

I finally got the opportunity (and took it) to watch the old Nazi film, "Triumph of the Will." I saw a documentary about Leni Riefenstahl 12-15 years ago, so I knew about the film from then. But it's always been one thing or another that kept me from getting it. But seeing it on Netflix as a streaming selection simplified it, so I wouldn't have to actually buy my own copy and have it on the shelf forever.

In case you don't know about this movie, it documents the Nazis' 1934 Party Congress, a big get-together they had. They had just taken total power in Germany in 1933, so this is close to the beginning of them. And it definitely seems to record that they had total power by this time.

When I was watching it, I was also thinking of my parents, since my dad was born in '33 and mom in '34. I could picture them back here in the States, little babies, at that point oblivious to Hitler and his madness, but of course they would soon enough have his negative influence in their lives growing up.

Meanwhile, back in Germany ... The movie is usually praised for a bunch of technical reasons, all the super camera angles and interesting film perspectives the director got. She seemed to have carte blanche, since she was personally taken on by Hitler to do the film and he was the dictator at the time. There are indeed some great shots, like when the Nazis are packed in there thicker than jam and Hitler's up at the podium talking. There's some great symmetry.

To me, though, mostly it's a very sad film, because of the craziness of Hitler and the Nazis. And if I'm actually there, I'm definitely seeing it as an essentially hopeless situation, because you figure once these guys get entrenched, there's nothing that's going to get rid of them. So there's swastikas and militaristic bullshit everywhere. Even the labor corps are marching around with their shovels over their backs like guns.

I'm currently reading a book on "The Coming of the Third Reich," by Evans. It's got some extensively boring sections, although of course it's important history detailing the personalities, groups, and stats before Hitler took power. It's boring to me, because I can't remember that. But it definitely lays out the case that the time and circumstances were right for Hitler in Germany, although it wasn't all foreordained. But he and the others took advantage of the circumstances and so there they ended up.

On the positive side, in the film when Hitler's rhapsodizing about the Nazis being in power for thousands of years, it's nice to know in hindsight that they've got about another 11 years. It's still unbelievable to me that the world was somehow able to get rid of Hitler in a few short years, when the guy had an army, navy, air force, etc. By contrast, it's taken us forever with Iraq and Afghanistan, and the folks over there had nothing, comparatively speaking.

One of the most famous things about Nazi Germany is their straight armed salute. You keep watching it, as I did, and it becomes farcical. You'd think a few thousand years of jutting our arm out at every whip stitch, Germany's going to have the strongest right arms in the world! Fortunately they were defeated and so spared the horrendousness of big arms that would make them tip over. It was a crazy looking custom! But they all did it with such earnestness, with Hitler leading the way. By the way, the guy was no bundle of laughs. What a sourpuss.

The whole thing is a big praise fest for him. A couple of times the speakers, of course being a bunch of suck ups, say, "Germany is Hitler, Hitler is Germany."

For the most part, the film is fascinating. It wouldn't bear repeated viewings. There are some boring bits, as in the continuous parades and marching bands. But it holds your interest because you realize this was all true. A nation really did give itself over to this monstrosity and his henchmen.

There would be some cautionary tales in it for us today. By and large, just looking around, people still seem to be easily led and quickly deceived. I'm thinking of the whole Fox News mentality, where you have (otherwise) intelligent people parroting talking points and believing lies. My mom used to say things about us having the truth and not letting the things of Hitler ever happen again. But you can see the Germans weren't people so different from us as to be alien. The same psychology they had is in the rest of us. Just look how the Tea Party movement is so easily swayed by corporate interests, and they think they're just doing the good work of common folk!

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