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Review: Hitler's Hollywood

There’s a brilliant moment in Bob Fosse’s adaptation of Cabaret that’s always stuck with me: our heroes are attending a picnic on a bright, sunny day when a fair-haired young man suddenly stands up and begins singing (in an impossibly angelic voice) about fighting for a better tomorrow. As the rest of the crowd joins in, the camera zooms out… revealing the boy’s Hitler Youth uniform.

And thus, the escapist fantasy is shattered by cold, sobering reality.

Such chilling contradictions permeate Hitler’s Hollywood, a documentary that stitches together excerpts from movies produced under the Third Reich’s supervision and old newsreel footage into a compelling meditation on the nature of propaganda. The haunting narration (provided by Udo Kier) frequently refers to the films of this era as “dream machines” and “opiates for the masses”; the spectacular musicals, screwball comedies, and lavish costume dramas represent seductive promises of an idyllic life under the “benevolent rule” of the Nazis, which consequently encourages viewers to accept the “necessary sacrifice” of submitting to totalitarianism.

Fritz Hippler (who actually makes a brief appearance here) famously wrote about the power of cinema as a weapon, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see that philosophy put into practice; the framing, blocking, and editing in the works of Joseph Goebbels and his collaborators—or should we call them accomplices?—reduce the human subjects to mere cogs in Germany’s war effort. It’s a real treat for film history fanatics such as myself—and an effective warning against allowing the government to control the content of art and entertainment.

[Originally written April 11, 2018.]

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