Archive for Hitler

Herring and Hawing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 6, 2022 by dcairns

Back to THE GREAT DICTATOR.

Hynkel furiously tearing a strip out of Herring is funny. Tearing off his medals, later on, will be funnier still. Though Billy Gilbert’s Herring does not much resemble the real Goering in character, (he’s more like HIS GIRL FRIDAY’s Joe Pettibone) other than being a fat man, Goering loved his medals. Hitler knew this, and would invent special medals just to be able to reward Goering with them. Curiously, Hitler does not seem to have despised Goering for this pathetic love of meaningless ornaments, and still expected his Luftwaffe to win the war against Britain. Fortunately for us, Goering’s strategic thinking was outmoded, fixed by his experiences as a fighter ace in WWI.

Goering’s habit of dressing in green tights and makeup when at his hunting estate, a kind of Tyrolean Robin Hood drag (think Burt Lancaster in THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, but with the body of Billy Gilbert) is not reproduced here, for which we can be thankful.

Standard politician joke — Hynkel is given a baby to kiss (Monty Python Hitler joke: “Well I gave him my baby to kiss and he bit it on the head.”) and finds it unexpectedly moist. A gag Chaplin has reliably mined since I think at least EASY STREET. Beautifully played, though — we get the joke merely by the frozen position of his hand when he’s relieved of the baby (after it has relieved itself).

Then more model shots: entrusting gags to the SFX department requires faith and close oversight, but these are pretty safe: statues of the Venus de Milo and the Thinker zieg heiling. The Thinker would be even more admirable if it were simply allowed to pass by in the background, but Chaplin carefully cuts to a closer view (same footage used as rear projection plate, now presented as a shot in its own right) to make sure we notice.

Garbitsch, seen here as the brains of the outfit, encourages Hynkel to instigate more antisemitic violence, and Chaplin’s mention of the word “ghetto” motivates a cut to said place — quaintly provided with its own decorative sign.

MORE SOON

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Hitler

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2022 by dcairns

Something Chaplin never explains — Adenoid Hynkel does his speeches in Tomainian — a made-up Germanic tongue consisting of gibberish and little recognizable nonsenses like “wienerschnitzel mitt de lagerbeeren” — but reverts to English for casual conversations. Very occasionally he will revert to Tomainian in times of high emotion.

Also, he has a radio commentator, Herman Schtick, voiced by his OTHER brother-in-law, Wheeler Dryden, translating his speech. To whom? The English-speaking world, I guess. Which would explain the squeamish “His excellency has just referred to the Jewish people.”

Chaplin, in welcoming Dryden into his cinematic family, shows fine judgement. I’ve seen the guy on screen, in a short shown at Bologna, and he’s an intolerable ham. The kind of silent movie acting you thought was a myth. By keeping him off-camera, Chaplin gets the best out of him. He’s excellent as a prissy translator, although he’s probably copying Chaplin’s line readings.

Chaplin complained, sort of, that this film needed a lot of prep because of all the models and special effects. We’ve seen the toy plane with its miniature Chaplin and Reginald Gardiner, now we have the flat cityscape background and the infinite crowd, which is pretty impressive, even if only the front rows show any lifelike motion. Further back we have what may be cut-outs, photographic standees, perfectly matching the real people. And then smaller, brighter audience members who are probably a painting. The whole thing combined on a rear-projection screen for Chaplin to perform in front of.

There are three levels of joke going on. Possibly more. Dryden’s dry commentary is in comic contrast to Chaplin’s furious histrionics. Chaplin’s Hitlerian antics are an accurate parody of how AH appears to the non-German-speaker. And then there are the dumb jokes, like pouring a glass of water down the front of his jodhpurs.

The accurate aspect is strikingly so — Hitler was a raving maniac. It’s quite hard to see what his appeal was, but this is not merely linguistic or historic — it depends on whether fascistic stuff has any attratction to you. I read recently — where? — an account of Hitler’s rl schtick, portraying himself simultaneously as the strong hero who would raise Germany to supreme status, and as the poor victim of the world’s injustice. Some kind of “empathy boomerang” (B. Kite’s phrase) in operation — Hitler standing in for the audience, appropriating their grievances and reflecting them back and at the same time offering to revenge them. Quite reminiscent of a recent president’s stage persona, in fact.

The dumb jokes may be dumb but they serve a serious purpose — rupturing the Hitlerian effect to point up how ridiculous he is. If, as Mel Brooks claims, ridicule is more powerful than invective, would a film like this, made in Germany, have sunk the Nazis in 1932? I doubt it — there is no shortage of satire today and its targets flourish. The left dominates the world of satire and the right dominates the world. Woody Allen may be correct to argue in MANHATTAN that, in the case of Nazis, biting satire may be less effective than bricks and baseball bats.

The Tashlinesque cartoon gag of the microphone bending back from Hynkel’s fury may be a stretch — like the rotating artillery shell it doesn’t belong to the same kind of comic logic as the rest of the film. Though it anticipates the role animation would play in America’s propaganda war against Hitler.

Two supporting characters are introduced: Herring and Garbitsch. The names are Strangelovian/Carry On film silliness. The performances are opposites. The great Billy Gilbert, bringing a new flavour of the vaudevillian to Chaplin’s cinema, plays Herring as a fat buffoon. Which was an aspect of the real Herman Goering. We can thank Goering’s incompetence for allowing us to win the Battle of Britain. But he wasn’t a TOTAL idiot. The ample frontage decorated with medals on every available space is accurate — Hitler knew Goering loved his trinkets. But he would never have humiliated him as Hynkel does to Herring.

Garbitsch, played by Henry Daniell, is deadly serious. As a Goebbels parody, the performance is downright restrained. Chaplin totally gets the cult-like aspect of the Nazi Party. Typically in a cult the leader is somewhat crazy, believing his own bullshit, but his immediate underlings are just gangsters. They’re able to manipulate the leader so that profitable choices are made. Garbitsch, though, is like Goebbels in that he’s 100% a true believer. He may sometimes be surprised by his Fooey’s behaviour but he never allows himself to question his sanity.

OK, I’m wrong about the crowd — when they zieg heil, or the Tomainian equivalent, a large number of them raise their arms, including all the ones I thought were cut-outs. The ones in the far distance just sort of shimmer. Apparently — I recall reading this but don’t recall where — distant crowds were produced by laying popcorn or some such granular substance on a vibrating platform to make a shimmering effect.

Chaplin, we’re told by one of his assistants, genuinely admired Hitler’s performance style. And obviously it was a gift of a part to him.

The pratfall isn’t exactly the end of the scene, but it’s the end of the YouTube clip and the end of Hynkel’s public performance. A suitably deflating gag. Why have Chaplin play Hitler if you don’t have him fall down.

Famously, Hitler, a movie buff (Henry Hathaway’s LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER was his favourite) got hold of a print of THE GREAT DICTATOR and ran it. Twice. His reaction, however, was not recorded. “I’d give anything to know what he thought of it,” said Chaplin.

Less famously, Churchill, also a movie enthusiast (“Hess or no Hess, I’m going to see the Marx Brothers,”), ran the film also. From Erik Larson’s history The Splendid and the Vile: Late the next night, exhausted, Churchill mistimed his landing on a chair and fell between it and an ottoman, wedging himself with his rear on the floor and his feet in the air. Colville [a secretary and secret diarist] witnessed the moment. “Having no false dignity,” Colville wrote, “he treated it as a complete joke and repeated several times, ‘A real Charlie Chaplin!'”

A Hard’ Day’s Reich

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2015 by dcairns

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A very  weird thing. In A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, Paul McCartney is filmed with a camera hung from a rope from the stage roof, so that the camera can circle him 360, more or less smoothly — it’s basically a hand-held shot, but the rope adds a degree of stability. And this is a shot invented by Leni Riefenstahl for TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.

In the opening credits, one could reach for some connection between the waving hand gliding across the screaming fans, with the way Riefenstahl films Hitler’s outstretched salute from a moving vehicle, a disembodied hand flying over the heads of the volk.

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The fab four’s departure by helicopter at the end, by this logic, reads like an inversion of TRIUMPH’s opening, in which the Fuehrer descends from the skies.

I’m sure there was another connection which struck me but I can’t recall it. I don’t remember a speeded-up sequence of the Fuehrer mucking about in a field. Though John Lennon does attempt some garbled German in the bath (“Heinrich! Headphones! Help!”)

I don’t think too much should be made of any of this. Since Lester and his team were making a conscientious effort to keep their film as light as possible, cribbing from Leni doesn’t seem an appropriate technique. She may be many things, but light isn’t one. And I think the (slight) similarities are not much to do with David Bowie’s theory (“This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide!”) that there’s something dark and fascistic in rock. See Peter Watkin’s PRIVILEGE, which clones the floating hand shot exactly and pointedly, for that view.

Lester’s approach was to try to be useful — it’s all practical problem-solving, according to him: it’s just because his mind works differently from anyone else’s, his solutions are not those many others would choose. Riefenstahl said that her job was to make Hitler look good, though she denied this had any political meaning (!) — Lester was hired to make the Beatles look good. How can we make a single person performing seem dynamic and interesting when they are stationary> The moving camera is a way of tricking the eye into looking at something for longer than it would normally be satisfied to do.

Right — announcement time — let’s do THE KNACK Film Club on Friday 7th. If you’re able to get the film watched before then, or if you’ve seen it and have strong memories of it, we can all have A Heated Debate on that day. I’ll try to serve up some mini-observations along the way and suggest some possible points of discussion.