(Hitler: A Film From Germany; Our Hitler)
West Germany, 1977
Director: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
Production: TMS Film (Munich), WDR (Cologne), BBC (London), INA (Paris), in color; running time: 400 minutes. Released 1977.
Executive producer: Harry Nap; screenplay: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg; photography: Dietrich Lohmann; editor: Jutta Brandstaedter; sound recordist: Heymo H. Heyder.
Cast: Heinz Schubert; André Heller; Harry Baer; Peter Kern; Hellmuth Lange; Rainer V. Artenfels; Peter Moland; Martin Sperr; J. Buzalsky; Peter Lühr; and others.
Awards: BFI Special Award, London Film Festival, 1977.
Syberberg, Hans-Jürgen, Hitler: Ein Film aus Deutschland , Hamburg, 1978.
Sontag, Susan, Under the Eye of Saturn , New York, 1980.
Syberberg, Hans-Jürgen, Die Freudlose Gesellschaft: Notizen aus dem letzen Jahr , Munich, 1981.
Corrigan, Timothy, New German Film: The Displaced Image , Austin, Texas, 1983.
Rentschler, Eric, West German Film in the Course of Time , New York, 1984.
Elsaesser, Thomas, New German Cinema: A History , London, 1989.
Pym, John, "Syberberg and the Tempter of Democracy," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1977.
Syberberg, Hans-Jürgen, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1977.
Robinson, David, in Times (London), 25 November 1977.
Variety (New York), 30 November 1977.
Andrews, Nigel, "Hitler as Entertainer," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1978.
Stimpson, Mansel, in Montage (London), Summer 1978.
Interview with Syberberg, in Cinématographe (Paris), June 1978.
Courant, Gérard, in Cinéma (Paris), July 1978.
Interview with Syberberg, in Ecran (Paris), July 1978.
Lajeunesse, Jacqueline, in Image et Son (Paris), August 1978.
"Special Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1978.
Oudart, Jean-Pierre, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1978.
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Sharrett, C., "Epiphany for Modernism: Anti-Illusionism and Theatrical Tradition in Syberberg's Our Hitler, " in Millenium (New York), Fall 1981-Winter 1982.
Chaput, L., in Séquences (Montreal), January 1982.
D'Andrea, R., in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), August-October 1982.
Erkkila, Betsy, "Hans-Jürgen Syberberg: An Interview," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), October 1982.
Piemme, J.-M., and others, in Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Spring 1983.
"On the Cinematic Photograph and the Possibility of Mourning in Hitler and Nostalgia, " in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 9, no. 1, 1987.
Socci, S., "Dal paradiso perduto all'inferno culturale ( Hitler )," in Castoro Cinema (Florence), September-October 1989.
Koshar, R., in American Historical Review , vol. 96, no. 4, 1991.
Santner, E.L, "The Problem with Hitler: Postwar German Aesthetics and the Legacy of Fascism," in New German Critique , vol. 57, Fall 1992.
"Az inas monologja," in Filmvilag (Budapest), no. 1, 1992.
Elsaesser, Thomas, "Filming Fascism," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 2, no. 5, September 1992.
Hammond, Wally, "Deutsch Courage," in Time Out (London), no. 1150, 2 September 1992.
Bacon, Henry, "Hitler—elokuva Saksasta," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 3, 1993.
Elsaesser, Thomas, "Istorija—vseogo liš' staryj fil'm?" in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 10, October 1994.
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Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's Hitler: A Film from Germany is the most controversial film produced in post-war Germany. The central thesis of the film propounds the notion that Hitler is within all of us. Syberberg attempts to illuminate the German soul and German myth—and as such recalls romanticism's themes and preoccupations. Moreover, in his seven hour film, Nazi Germany is depicted as a gargantuan spectacle in which Hitler becomes the ultimate showman-filmmaker; thus Syberberg does not only challenge what a film about Hitler should be like, but also raises important questions about cinematic representation in general.
Hitler and the previously published book about the film had so annoyed the German critical establishment that when a section was previewed at Cannes in 1977, the film was virtually boycotted by all the major German reviewers. In protest, Syberberg, who felt himself deliberately misunderstood, withdrew the film from the Berlin Film Festival and blocked its screening in his native land for a couple of years. The world premier was held at the London Film Festival in 1977 and Hitler was awarded the B.F.I.'s annual prize for "the most original and imaginative film of the year." Subsequently the film was on general release for several months in Paris and Cahiers du Cinema enthusiastically devoted a whole issue to Syberberg and his film. Susan Sontag acclaimed Hitler "one of the great works of art of the twentieth century."
Hitler , with two earlier films, Ludwig—Requiem for a Virgin King (1972) and Karl May—In Search of Paradise Lost (1974), forms a trilogy which meditates on German and European history and on the cinema itself. As in the two earlier films, a refined and innovative system of front projection is deployed. Syberberg perceives the idea of projection, in the symbolic sense, as the dominant idea governing the film: "We will show the world of Hitler in the form of projections, fantastic dreams, projections of the will that gave shape to these visions." Syberberg attempts nothing less than a counter-projection which takes the form of cinematic exorcism, to justify the necessary Trauerarbeit (the toil of mourning), i.e. to accept the guilt and loss, and also to register it as such and not to repress it.
Hitler is radically anti-realistic in style, relying on hyperbole, parody, stylization, and montage. Syberberg's aesthetic conception fuses such apparent oppositions as romanticism and modernism. The Wagnerian ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk is evoked through using his music and through the depiction of romantic yearnings and ecstasies— visions of renewal, paradise, and hell. Yet the Brechtian notion of epic theatre is also applicable in strategies of estrangement and distanciation. History is produced as a circus show where famous historical figures (e.g., Caligula and Napoleon) parade as Hitler. Against the background of huge projected slides (Hitler's chancellery and his house in Berchtesgarden), puppets (a toy-dog with Hitler's face), cut-out doubles, and dummies are used to portray the social imaginary of Nazi Germany. The film unfolds through a series of tableaux, endless monologues, direct address, and original sound-material.
Syberberg wants to draw parallels to cinema on different levels. He makes reference to Melies's A Trip to the Moon , Welles's Citizen Kane , and Lang's M (the final scene, where Peter Lorre defends his evil deeds because he can't help himself, is here reenacted by Peter Kern dressed as an SS officer). Cardboard figures from Caligari to Nosferatu punctuate the film, therefore linking them to the idea of Hitler being a subject for projection of the most evil desires in us. Moreover, Syberberg perceives the trend towards ever-increasing conformity in the developments of cinematic codes as a further basis for his comparison with facism. Thus Greed and its botching by MGM becomes an example, but he also examines Sergei Eisenstein's persecution under Stalin. The figures of Hitler and Himmler are shown to be merely representations and not embodiments, when delegating their roles to various actors, historical personalities, and marionettes. The condemnation of commercial cinema culminates in the polemical comparison between Auschwitz and McCarthy's Hollywood. In Syberberg's view it was not the actual physical presence of Hitler which historically mobilized the masses, but Hitler as representation and Nazism as spectacle. He is convinced of the vitality of the myth, which is why he wants to break its fascination through mechanisms of estrangement and montage.
And this is the crux of the controversial German reception of Hitler. It is not so much Syberberg's aesthetics per se , but the fear that his aestheticisation of politics might seduce the spectator since it is bordering on aestheticising Nazism. His "creative irrationality," many critics argue, leads to further mystification and connects too problematically to Nazi-mythology.