Reviews

Hitler: A Career

Gavin Williamson

The intent of Hitler: A Career, isn’t to cast the notorious demigod to the flames, but to shed light on the ways an image is made, an ideology forged, and a populous swayed to avert its gaze from otherwise unthinkable acts.


Hitler: A Career

Director: Christian Herrendoerfer
Display Artist: Joachim C. Fest, Christian Herrendoerfer
Distributor: First Run
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1977
US DVD Release Date: 2007-11-20

Six years, 50 million dead, scores of cities demolished, and the course of modern history tragically and indelibly scarred, the aftershocks of World War II are deservingly well-trodden. As a result, Hitler: A Career veers away from the now typical reconstruction narrative, and instead intently focuses on the perverse evolution of Adolf Hitler’s fetishisticly fascistic ego in order to probe the biographical and cosmological impetus that not only allowed these crimes against humanity to take place, but also to question why we let them occur and why we must never let them happen again.

Surprisingly, the film, compiled in a traditional documentary style with voice-over narration and historically contemporary archival footage, is remarkably objective. Rather than a contemptuously dismissive critique of Hitler as merely insane – which he undoubtedly was – Hitler: A Career meditates on the details surrounding the particular socio-political climate in which Hitler attained and defiled his unparalleled political power.

In fact, much of the footage is taken from Hitler’s speeches and appearances at prominent public political rallies, the precise sites where Hitler manufactured and refined his pontific mythos. He was well ahead of his time in his understanding of the media as an image-making machine. Not only did he hire a series of photographers to document the various rallies where he spoke, but he also reviewed them and compared them with those of the military and political leaders he admired. The result was the production of images and gestures that were almost as powerful at the leader himself.

Hitler so effectively masterminded the look of power that his actual political ascent was almost a fait accompli. Moreover, the prolific distribution of his visage yielded a virtual omnipresence that allowed him to be 'present' at many venues simultaneously.

While other leaders and figureheads spoke weekly, Hitler appeared in public up to ten times per day in his formative political years. When he was not present, his signifier was. Photos, press, propaganda, and swastikas overran the public, saturating their consciousness to an unprecedented degree. Even his physical gestures became synonymous with unwavering strength and were magnified by the media to an iconic stature. His riding crop impressed a militaristic dexterity, his mustache a philosophical sophistication, and his calculated oratory a sense of commitment and urgency.

He did not win public approval solely through what he said, but rather, how he said it. His messages were often convoluted, if not outright contradictory, but in the light of his calculated and authoritative pose, this was secondary. He cast himself as one of 'the people', concerned with the same problems as his subjects, affected by the same social malaise, and this is exactly what Germany needed to hear after the humiliating defeat and castrating demilitarization instituted by The Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. As a result of his carefully crafted look of compassionate omnipresence – what director Joachim C. Fest terms “an impression of dynamism” – Hitler was able to cajole support and to terrorize potential dissonance.

The intent of Hitler: A Career, isn’t to cast the notorious demigod to the flames, but to shed light on the ways an image is made, an ideology forged, and a populous swayed to avert its gaze from otherwise unthinkable acts. The DVD extras point to this also with a series of archival images that allow you to focus in on the fetishistic degrees of control with which Hitler crafted his image.

Ironically, this deconstruction of the catastrophic potential of media spin has its own resonance with several contemporary world leaders. The ways in which media is produced, disseminated, reconstituted, and consumed has become an increasingly dissected topic, but is none the less still compellingly relevant. Photographs and media images can lie, and there are some unsettling similarities in the ways in which the media has been manipulated and spun into unrepresentative political narratives.

Hitler: A Career directors Fest and Christian Herrendoerfer close their documentary with a word of warning, urging future generations to never let these actions be repeated, and to never let themselves be so fooled by the spin, again.

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