Hitler: A Film from Germany
title: Hitler - ein Film aus Deutschland
title: Our Hitler
) is a 1978 experimental film
directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
, produced by Bernd Eichinger
, and co-produced by the BBC
. It starred Heinz Schubert
, who played both Adolf Hitler
and Heinrich Himmler
. Along with Syberberg's characteristic and unusual motifs and style, the film is also notable for its 442 minute running time.
Rather than following a conventional plot, the film consists mostly of monologues spoken by actors in historical World War Two
-era costumes, on elaborate rubble-strewn soundstages in front of rear projections
, supported by original WWII audio recordings of speeches and radio broadcasts, both German and allied, and by music by German and Austrian composers Wagner
The monologues are recitals of historical sources, partly on the personalities and lifestyles of Hitler, Himmler, and other high-ranking Nazis, partly their original own words. The rear projections show historical photos of prominent Nazis, propaganda posters, photos and films from Hitler's Berghof mountain retreat and its surrounding areas in the Alps, WWII warfare and from liberated concentration camps.
The actors don't just stand there while they recite, but either walk a long way straight towards the camera as they do so, or walk around in the sets, walking "from picture to picture" as indicated by the rear projections behind them. In the second case, the rear projections often mimic an actual three-dimensional area they stride across, such as Hitler's Berghof and its surrounding vicinities, or a change of rear projected scenery corresponds with a change in their monologue's topics.
Hitler: A Film from Germany
has no clear plot or chronology. Instead, each part explores one particular topic.
- Part 1: Der Gral (The Grail) deals with Hitler's cult of personality in Nazi propaganda.
- Part 2: Ein deutscher Traum (A German Dream) focuses on the pre-Nazi German cultural, spiritual, and national heritage that Nazi propaganda related to.
- Part 3: Das Ende eines Wintermärchens (The End of a Winter's Tale) tells about the Holocaust and the ideology behind it, particularly from Himmler's point of view.
- Part 4: Wir Kinder der Hölle (We Children of Hell) consists mostly of André Heller reading out scenes from the script that were not shot, climaxing in Heller talking to a Hitler puppet on how he completely destroyed Germany spiritually, combined with a satire on former Nazis who after the war made profits from the Nazi era by running a Nazi tourism and entertainment industry for foreigners.
Recurring plot devices
One particular plot device, especially for mocking post-war fascination and clichees about Hitler and Nazism, is endless recitals from the non-fictitious autobiographies of people in direct contact with Hitler on his lifestyle, such as by Hitler's personal valet Heinz Linge
(played by Hellmut_Lange
) and his adjutant Otto Günsche
(played by Peter_Kern
), talking to the camera as if the spectator would be a young person that intends to learn about Hitler, while these seemingly endless passages end with original radio broadcasts on German war casualties and lost battles. This plot device thus mocks both Hitler's affiliation with his own personality and his increasingly delusionary state that made him more and more unable to accurately lead a war the longer it lasted, as well as it mocks post-war German fascination with every little detail about historical Nazism and its personage, indicating that this post-war fascination might be nothing but subconscious admiration that will once more lead Germany to repeat the same downfall as apparent in the radio broadcasts.
Himmler's personality is sometimes explored in a similar way by reciting the memories of such people as Himmler's personal astrologist (played by Peter Moland), or his masseuse Felix Kersten (played by Martin_Sperr), though not as extensively as in Hitler's case and not ending in such dramatic radio broadcasts.
Especially unusual is the portrayal of Himmler's personality. While Hitler is always impersonated by Heinz Schubert, Himmler's role is split into several actors, including Schubert among others, each indicating a different purported aspect about Himmler's personality, such as "the esoterical ideologue" (played by Rainer von Artenfels), dressed as an SS member, "the military leader" (leading a war for Nazism and Germany, against the Jews and other degenerated, "un-German" influences; played by Helmut Lange as well), dressed like an ordinary Wehrmacht officer, or "Hitler's ideological adherent and loyal servant" (dressed in an SS uniform, played by Peter Kern as well).
Narration and fictitious characters
Some continuity is given to the film by Syberberg's narration and fictitious characters. Syberberg's offstage narration partly philosophizes on pre-war and post-war German fascination with Hitler and Nazism, while in the beginning he tells a mythologized tale about the shortcomings of the Weimar Republic
and its downfall giving rise to the Third Reich. Later, the narration focuses on comparing Nazism to basically "inhumane" pornography, Stalinism
and socialist East Germany
. In order to draw parallels between Nazism and pornography, Syberberg also arranges quite graphic scenes, involving a realistic, life-sized reproduction of Goebbels's
carbonized, dead body covered in his burned and melted flesh (as found and photographed by the Red Army
, see photos:
), inflatable sex dolls, and dildos (as the credits indicate that "some" scenes were shot in 1977 while most of the film was shot in 1980, it is noteworthy that 1977 was the last year before Goebbels's body, being in the possession of the Red Army and remaining in an East-German Soviet military basis along with the bodies of Hitler, Goebbels's wife and Goebbels's children, was actually burned to ashes by KGB
officers as ordered by Brezhnev
A mythologized portrayal of Democracy and Germany is impersonated by Syberberg's young daughter, Amelie Syberberg, holding a puppet and walking around in mystical sets to Syberberg's narration, also appearing later in the film. It is not clear which of the two—Syberberg's daughter and her puppet—is Democracy and which of them is Germany.
The film's first part 30-minute intro is separated into two 15-minute acts, the first being Syberberg's mythologized narration of the end of the Weimar Republic, the second half being Schubert impersonating a circus announcer within an actual circus set announcing "the great, magnificient" Hitler ("the German Napoleon") in ad-speech and show-biz jargon, while also outlining that the purpose of the film is not only being "the Big Hitler Show" but also a film on Germany and German mentality in general, about "the Hitler within us all" and "Auschwitz as an ideological battle of racial warfare."
A similar role as the circus announcer is later introduced when a freak show compere (played by Rainer von Artenfels as well) enters the film within a prop set of a cabinet of curiosities, demonstrating various oddity objects and Nazi relics, such as the Spear of Destiny ("as owned by Thomas the Apostle, Saint Maurice, Constantine the Great, Charlemagne, Otto I, Henry IV, Frederick I Barbarossa, the Habsburg dynasty...and then Hitler!") and the philosopher's stone both found by Himmler's SS, Himmler's Germanic Urpferd (purported evolutionary ancestor to the modern horse), and Hitler's semen in a phial. This compere then also introduces the various supporting characters, each introducing themselves in third person after he has announced them.
Among them is also Ellerkamp (played by Harry_Baer), a fictitious SS-member, later a post-war projectionist and film producer, and The Cosmologist (played by Peter_Lühr). The Cosmologist is partly based on Hans Hörbiger, creator of the Welteislehre, but the Cosmologist is portrayed as still being alive during Hitler's reign and after WWII, and looks more like Leonardo da Vinci or Socrates than Hörbiger.
Props, set design, and visual style
The film's surreal visual style was developed by Henri Langlois
, using props and set designs from the Cinémathèque Française
that had originally been used for a film called Der Film - Die Musik der Zukunft
("Film: Music of the future").
As the film was co-produced by the BBC, it was also released in an English version. While all of the monologues spoken by the actors are subtitled in the English version, Heller's translated offstage narration is spoken by a native BBC narrator. Due to the BBC's co-production, the German language used in the film, including the original WWII radio broadcasts and authentic speeches, receives a more sophisticated translation than in many Anglo-American documentaries on Nazi Germany. One advantage of the English version is that every time a new character is introduced or an original recording is heard, it is initiated in the subtitles by the character's name or the speaker's name, while the German version lacks such identifications.
In 2003, Syberberg made full-length copies of both the German and the English version of the film available online on his website (see external links below).
In 2007, the film was released on DVD in the United States as Our Hitler.
Cast and crew
Cast: Heinz Schubert
, Rainer von Artenfels, Martin_Sperr
, Peter Moland, Johannes Buzalski, Alfred_Edel
, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Amelie Syberberg, Peter_Lühr
Producer: Bernd Eichinger
Film Editing: Jutta Brandstaedter
Production Design: Hans Gailling
Costume Design: Barbara Gailling, Brigitte Kuehlenthal
The film was a considerable influence on, among others, the critic Susan Sontag
and the philosopher Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe
. It provided the underlying metaphor for James Chapman's
1993 novel about AIDS
, Our Plague: A Film from New York
Sequences from Hitler: A Film from Germany feature in the film The Ister (2004).