"Dear Uncle Adolf" is an hour long documentary with an absolutely brilliant premise. Digging into a vast warehouse of correspondence to Adolf Hitler, the filmmakers have attempted to recreate history through the common man. Using personal letters and official communiques read by actors over archival film footage, the movie had the potential to be both insightful and powerful. What was Hitler's allure? How did he hold a nation in thrall? The individual letters range from congratulatory, to reverential, to pleading and showcase both acceptance of and/or confusion to what was happening in the land. It's a killer idea to create a historical narrative from such a conceit, one that I thought would be revelatory. And yet, the idea (for me, at least) was somehow more effective than its execution.
If I'm being honest with myself, I probably should have ranked this at three stars on my personal rating scale. It's an ambitious film that falls short of its promise. I just can't get over how strongly I feel about the historical perspective to be achieved from referencing these ordinary letters. But, in truth, the movie wants to cover too much material in too short a timeframe. The film wants to highlight the tumultuous era between 1932 and 1945 and depict the evolution of the public attitude about Hitler during those years. That is a HUGE goal. The selection of letters, therefore, becomes instrumental to the film's success--but also something of an arbitrary narrative construct that is being devised solely by the film creators. Early choices had an effective randomness that really struck a balanced feel of idolatry and confusion by ordinary citizens. However, as the film tries to march us through the years--it relies more heavily on official documents which compromise the intimacy of the project.
Undeniably fascinating, the movie works best if you have a pre-existing knowledge base of the history in question. It is then easier to contextualize the letters and see the forward progress that the editors wish you to perceive. For me, though, it seemed a bit forced. To get through thirteen years of changing public mood in one hour is simply too daunting and impossible a task. A great idea for a film (or indeed a full scale documentary series), "Dear Uncle Adolf" is an interesting and important experience--but, ultimately, one that promises more than it can deliver. Check it out, if only for a slightly different historical perspective. KGHarris, 8/11.