Speer Goes To Hollywood (35th Israel Film Fest)

Did you know a lot of Nazis have IMDB entries? Literal, classic Nazis, not these Ukrainians or Trump supporters I’m always hearing about. Like, Adolf Hitler has many entries as “Self” and “Archive Footage” and, okay, writer (for Mein Kampf), but also “commissioned by…” for Triumph of the Will and “worst boy” for Airplane! My favorite would be the “Thanks” credits: for Blubberella (Uwe Boll, you scamp!) and a much milder acknowledgement from the great Downfall.

Tangentially, are people actually watching Downfall? I love the Hitler memes (and am very sorry Bruno Ganz didn’t) but that’s a damn good movie and Ganz is just wonderful.

Albert Speer, an architect who became Hitler’s war minister and boosted the slave labor quotient, also has some IMDB entries. On Triumph of the Will, e.g., he was the production designer. He served a similar role on Leni Riefenstahl’s first propaganda film, Victory of the Faith. These from the ’30s.

He also was the author of an Emmy-Winning 1982 TV miniseries, Inside the Third Reich.

Wait, what?

Gettin' away with it.

Speer at Nuremberg.

This documentary details how Speer, one of the few big Nazis to escape capital punishment at Nuremberg, set out to rehabilitate his reputation, to the extent where he had Hollywood player Andrew Birkin (The Name of the RosePerfume) out at his house thrashing out an essentially heroic biopic that would—after his death and much amelioration—become Inside the Third Reich.

It’s a fascinating little tale, and as noted by other reviewers, it is important to realize that the tapes you hear while listening to this are recreations. The filmmakers declare these were strict reproductions and done for clarity’s sake, since the old tapes are badly degraded, and to be honest the content is sufficient to make any points needed without dramatic enhancement.

Speer, clearly, is looking for historical salvation. He’s either savvy enough (or completely unsavvy, I guess) to cop to a lot of things. He pressed internees into slave labor. He had a broad picture of the war effort. He was Hitler’s right-hand man in a lot of ways. A lot of times he’ll say, “I don’t think I heard that, but I wouldn’t have objected to it, if I had.”

But he didn’t know about the Holocaust.

Did people know? Didn’t people know? That’s often the Big Question that comes up in these sorts of things. Everybody had more-or-less the same facts, I think. For some people that was sufficient to “know” but for others, I think, they told themselves if they never looked, they’d never “know” and they therefore were not responsible.

But with Speer, the Herculean effort it would take to “not know” even in this specious sense strains credulity. His story has him leaving right at the time the Jew-exterminating was being discussed, every time, over and over. If this kind of not knowing is excusable in some contexts, it certainly wouldn’t be here.

A little self-referential...

Speer reading Speer.

In fact, the impression I got from him, over-and-over, was that he didn’t care. He says as much in multiple places. He wanted to build things. Jews (et al) were not his concern. This seems no less monstrous to me.

Birkin’s also an interesting player in the drama that unfolds. It’s an exciting history and would be red meat to any writer wanting to tackle the most difficult of subjects. But the two discuss, frequently, that they’re mythologizing Speer for the sake of drama. Speer of course knows that will serve to reclaim him but Birkin’s creative drive seems to be blinding him to the implications. At a couple of points, he calls Carol Reed (The Third ManOliver!) who keeps pointing out the dangers of eliding the very real facts of Speer’s case.

And they’re both right, really: The better story, dramatically, is of a man who finds himself caught up in a massive evil and is at a loss as to what to do; the actual story, apparently, is that Speer went along with it and either didn’t care or downright engineered it.

Eventually, sanity prevailed and the movie was never made. The miniseries incorporated some less self-serving material and presented probably a fairer picture than Speer’s memoir.

To paraphrase Uwe Boll in Blubberella: Thanks, Hitler, for making all these great movies possible! (I guess?)

This was the first film we saw as part of the 35th Israel Film Festival which came early this year (probably due to being canceled last year).

Together again!

Speer and Birkin

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