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From the Studio
In this powerfully original film, director Hans-Jürgen Syberberg creates an epic nightmare that ruminates on Adolf Hitler and the effect he continues to wield over Germany. In a series of 22 tableaux set on a soundstage, Syberberg makes use of puppets, props, a thundering Wagnerian soundtrack, and rear-screen projection to evoke Nazi Germany, the origins of the Third Reich, and the disturbing aftermath that followed. Neither a feature film nor a conventional documentary, OUR HITLER is a seven-and-a-half-hour fever dream on coming to terms with Nazism. Originally distributed by Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, this controversial film was hailed by Coppola as a work that made all other films of the time trivial or obsolete.
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In 1977, Syberberg made a statement during an interview: "I think in five to ten years, the filmmaking business will shift from the way of the movie theater to the house. People will watch films like they listen to records - on cassettes on a big wall". The timescale and medium may be wrong, but he was right about the trend.
At more than seven hours, 'Our Hitler' is an ideal example of a film which is virtually unwatchable in a theater setting, but perfect for the home environment, where the action can be paused and restarted at will, and spread over several evenings, if necessary.
Syberberg's style is unmistakeable, combining front-projected images, stage props, tableaux and puppets, overlaid with Wagner's music and long monologues. Daunting? Not at all. The key to appreciating this wonderful film is to pace your viewing. Think more in terms of atmosphere rather than action, content rather than plot. A knowledge of German history and culture is useful, but not essential. Just sit back and allow the film to to enter your mind.
The twin DVD set includes the four parts of the film, plus fragments of a documentary produced when the film was first shown in New York. The documentary is derived from a badly-deteriorated VHS copy, and is riddled with sound dropouts and tracking errors, but is still fascinating. The package also includes a fifty-page guide to the film (which is handy for those of us who can't recognize Thomas Mann when we see him). The booklet includes reviews by Susan Sontag and Anton Kaes.
The film itself is available in the English or German versions. The chosen language determines the language of the subtitles and some of the voiceovers.
I saw this film many years ago, on British television. I've been looking for it ever since. It's marvellous that it should be available on DVD at last. The other two films in this trilogy ('Ludwig - Requiem für einen jungfräulichen König' and 'Karl May') have just been released on DVD in Germany. I hope these titles will soon be available in the U.S.
The film is absolutely mesmerizing. This film has been unavailable for many, many years, and this is the first time it's been offered on home video. The director, Hans Jurgen Syberberg, had posted the film on his website, but watching it on a TV or projected is the best way to see it. The film is operatic, theatrical, mind bending, sad, haunting, angry, depressing, and just about everything else you can think of. The 4th part is a little boring (the first 30 minutes of part four is one long monologue), but after this monologue is concluded, the film takes off again to a stunning conclusion.
Never does the film feel padded. Like in Wagner's great operas (Wagner figures prominently here), a film like this needs to be long to tell its story, and that should be respected. The actors throughout the film give excellent performances, and the film is one of the most thought provoking films that I've seen in recent memory.
It is interesting to note that this film, despite its mammoth length, cost a mere $500,000 dollars and only took 20 days to shoot (even though the pre-production period was longer than most films). The DVD has an excellent booklet with many essays on the film, but the most (and justifiably) famous essay is the one written by the great, late Susan Sontag, who championed this film and who should be congratulated for her insight and dedication to this filmic masterpiece.
Hitler was one of us.
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