Hitler’s Hit Parade (review)

It’s a neverending springtime for Hitler and Germany in this ironic and mesmerizing 76-minute distillation of the self-delusion of an entire nation. German documentarians Oliver Axer and Susanne Benze have gathered together startling counterpoints to the images of the era we’re used to seeing: instead of dismal, grainy, colorless footage of goose-stepping stormtroopers and flag-waving Aryans, they present clips from home movies, commercials, cartoons, and other little-seen period sources, some in jaunty full color, with a soundtrack of chipper, upbeat music of the era. The filmmakers offer no narration — how they string their material together is commentary enough. Here we have pseudo-propagandic montages of happy athletic Germans (under the chapter title “Health! Strength Is Joy!”), and country lasses picking grapes and feeding chickens (“A Country in Bloom”). Fresh-faced Boy Scouts plant swastika flags and fantasize about Hitler as a romantic crooner swoons, “You walk through all my dreams / so near and yet so far.” The original material is chilling in its cheerfulness; Axer and Benze’s take on it is flintily bitter (“Millions Travel ‘German Rail’!” for celebratory imagery of the modern German train system that was elsewhere being put to evil uses unseen here), a subversion of propaganda that becomes a revealing self-portrait of a Nazi Germany with a wild misconception of itself… or wildly desperate to pretend it was something it wasn’t. And if there’s something to be found here to serve as a reminder that how a nation — say, the U.S. in the early 21st century — sees itself is not always how the rest of the world sees it, so much the better.

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