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Houston Filmmakers and Actors: Hitler's Hit Parade

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Hitler's Hit Parade


CCW Film 2003

'Hitler's Hit Parade,' a new German documentary, presents a collage of popular culture from Nazi Germany."


January 5, 2005
MOVIE REVIEW | 'HITLER'S HIT PARADE'
It's the Nazi Era, but It Looks So Familiar
By A. O. SCOTT


The images in "Hitler's Hit Parade," a German documentary opening today at Film Forum, seem to come from an eerily recognizable pop-culture parallel universe, whose creepiest aspect may be its blithe normalcy. As singers croon through lush ballads and peppy dance numbers, we see images of long-stemmed chorines and frolicking lovers, some in satiny black-and-white, others in grainy home-movie color.

If these archival clips from the 1930's and 40's were American, parts of this film, directed by Oliver Axer and Suzanne Benze, might be mistaken for the latest installment in the "That's Entertainment" franchise. They depict a swirling, by now slightly quaint world of cinematic fantasy, interspersed with some images of sunlit reality, mostly smiling children and their sturdy parents. The lyrics are full of noble sentiment, if occasionally touched by an inkling of longing or romantic disappointment.

But of course, as the film's title makes clear, these ditties and scenes come not from Hollywood but from Nazi Germany, and they are arranged to emphasize the dark irony that such wholesome blandness and suave sophistication could be part of the self-image of radical evil. Not that Nazi popular culture was all benign pictures and pretty songs. We see plenty of Hitler salutes, grotesquely anti-Semitic children's cartoons, death camp inmates and the bloodied corpses of German soldiers on the battlefield. These sights give some of the songs - like a mournful lovers' ballad called "The Last Tram" - an unwarranted, almost ugly poignancy.

"Hitler's Hit Parade," despite its jaunty title, is structured to make the most of that uncanny, haunted feeling. There is no voice-over, no explanation - only the songs themselves, which are announced with stylized onscreen titles. This can be a bit frustrating to your sense of historical curiosity. I found myself wondering who wrote these songs, who sang them and who those ghostly movie stars were. The brief song credits at the end were not very satisfying in this regard, and the absence of chronological or contextual cues makes the film's short running time drag more than it should.

Documenting the production of Nazi popular culture - its film studios and record distributors, as well as the artists who disgraced themselves in its service - is not what the filmmakers set out to do. Instead, they have gathered some of the products of the German culture industry into a monstrous and fascinating installation - a collage that illustrates Hannah Arendt's famous diagnosis of the banality of evil and reveals facets of it that have been forgotten as the living memory of the Nazi era has faded. We recall Hitler's Reich as an unparalleled historical catastrophe, but "Hitler's Hit Parade" suggests that for its citizens, its moral distortions were as ordinary as a trip to the local cinema or a popular song on the radio.

'Hitler's Hit Parade'


Opens today in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Oliver Axer and Susanne Benze; edited by Mechthild Bruns; produced by C. Cay Wesnigk. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, South Village. Running time: 76 minutes. This film is not rated.

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