Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The Weimar Blog.

I didn’t do justice to “Hitler: The Rise of Evil” last night because Morpheus was standing over my shoulder while I was writing, and there’s no fighting that fuzzy feeling for very long.

On the whole, it was an interesting production, for a number of reasons. First because of the actor that portrayed Hitler, Robert Carlyle, who is best known as one of the blokes in “The Full Monty,” which only goes to show his range. His interpretation of Hitler is a remarkable mix of obsessiveness, amorality, guile, stand-offishness, charm, mendacity, ruthlessness, perverseness, and blistering anger — all characteristics generally associated with the man.

As the story goes along, it also does a decent job of illustrating how he rose to power, within the context of Weimar Germany, without spending a long time having the characters explain what was going on, though the anti-Hitler newspaperman character did some of that. It helps, of course, to have read about the period, but it wouldn’t be absolutely necessary to appreciate the drama.

A short look around some of the items published about this movie shows that there was a certain amount of hubbub among the yammering classes in anticipation of it. There was even talk that it’s a vehicle for criticizing the current U.S. administration, a sort of veiled warning about concentration of power in the administration. Perhaps some of the movie’s executives thought so — this from the Boston Globe:

“Ed Gernon, an executive producer [of the movie], lost his job last month after telling TV Guide that the social climate in Germany during Hitler's rise was similar to that in the United States as it headed into war with Iraq…. CBS distanced itself from the remarks.”

Television networks can be counted upon to be chicken-hearted, of course, but still I think Mr. Gernon was peddling a facile parallel. To put it concisely, and in the right language, Die USA ist nicht Weimar.

In the movie, during Hitler’s speech to parliament after the Reichstag Fire, when he demanded dictatorial power, the word “terrorism” was used more than once to justify the move; but that was about as close as things got to making allusions to contemporary events. Mostly, I didn’t get the sense that the movie was much of a veiled criticism of George W. Bush or anyone else besides the Nazis, and the members of the Reichstag and the German elite who so spinelessly caved in to them. Generally speaking, the story’s message is hardly new, but it’s a good one to repeat: the dictatorial concentration of power is bad. I can think of a lot of places that still need that lesson.

One other thing I liked was simply the fact that it took Hitler’s rise as its subject. Hitler simply didn’t spring fully dressed from Hindenburg’s head, ranting against the Jews and starting wars and committing mass murder; but that’s the impression we have, with our hindsight. Hindsight sometimes obscures as much as it reveals.

It wasn’t a flawless production. Julianna what’s-her-name, the actress from “ER,” did a reasonably good job as a wealthy woman who helps Hitler in his rise — including preventing him from shooting himself (in a scene that smacked of fictional enhancement) after the Beer Hall Putsch. But a lot of people helped Hitler. Why focus on this person? Because television demands pretty faces.

I don’t know if this movie got good ratings, but if so there’s always the possibility of sequels. Not more Hitler, since the sequel to his rise to power was war and genocide, but other dictators. “Il Duce & His Fascist Friends,” perhaps — certainly the sex scenes would be better than Hitler’s, who, after all, wasn’t known for his romantic attachments.

Stalin could provide some good material, too. Maybe something along the lines of “Survivor: The Great Purge,” with advertising tag lines such as: “It’s 1936 and only one of these old bolshies is going to avoid the gulag — who will it be?” Mao is more problematic, but perhaps Lucy Liu can be cast as Madame Mao in a mini-series based on the Long March.


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