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Swastika (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

January 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

For those who are interested in older historical footage  of Germany especially the Nazification of the German population, will find “Swastika” to be a surprising and possibly disturbing documentary.

Images courtesy of © 2011 Sanford Leberson, Philippe Mora and Luiz Becker. All rights reserved.

DVD TITLE: Swastika

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1974

DURATION: 95 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, German with English Subtitles, Color & BW

COMPANY: Kino International

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: December 29, 2011

Directed by Philippe Mora

Written by Lutz Becker, Philippe Mora

Producer: Sanford Lieberson, David Puttnam

Edited by Andrew Patterson

Starring:

Adolf Hitler

Eva Braun

Galeazzo Ciano

Albert Einstein

Josef Goebbels

Hermann Goring

Heinrich Himmler

Benito Mussolini

Jesse Owens

Joachim von Ribbentrop

Swastika is the most controversial documentary about Hitler ever made. Utilizing intimate color home movie footage shot by Eva Braun, it presents the private life of a dictator, going on picnics and joking with friends, displaying an affable face to the man labeled as the Devil incarnate by history. The film interweaves rare propaganda films, which presented Hitler as he wanted to be seen, consoling war widows and frolicking with young children. Director Philippe Mora combines these materials together to form an unintentional autobiography of Hitler’s rise and fall, from the formation of the Nazi state through the end of WWII. Mora lets the images speak for themselves, leading to misinterpretations and its bans in Germany and Israel. But it is one of the most fearsome anti-Nazi films ever made. As the opening credits state, “If Hitler is dehumanized and shown only as a devil, any future Hitler may not be recognized, simply because he is a human being.”

“If Hitler is dehumanized and shown only as a devil, any future Hitler may not be recognized, simply because he is a human being.” – Intro to Swastika

Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer of Germany and the dictator who will be remembered as the evil devil incarnate of modern history which led to the death of eleven million people.

Through many staged videos shot during the 1930′s, the images that people have seen of Hitler was the military leader who would transformer the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich, a single-party dictatorship which was based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism (National Socialism which incorporated biological racism and antisemitism).

But what many people have a difficult time understanding is how can millions of people follow such an evil man?  How can they look up to this person who preached hatred?

Fastforward decades after World War II and the death of Adolf Hitler and his bride, Eva Braun (in April 1945, as the Red Army closed in on Berlin, Eva killed herself by biting into a cyanide capsule while Hitler shot himself in the head with a pistol).

Philippe Mora and Lutz Becker had wondered about how can people follow someone like Hitler?  What kind of research material is available?  And through their research, what was found were the home videos of Adolf Hitler captured by Eva Braun.  Never touched or viewed by the American military who confiscated it.  So, this is 16 mm footage that has never been seen since they were in the possession of the Hitlers until 1973.

Both Mora and Lutz found eight hours of home videos showcasing video taken by Eva Braun but also footage that no one has ever seen of Adolf Hitler before.  Away from the staged military propaganda films, Mora and Becker assembled the footage along with other historical footage to show how people of Germany fell for Hitler and why they followed him.  The power of propaganda film could help ignite the nation to back a leader, which many soldiers vowed to God to follow Hitler and his ideology.

And thus “Swastika” was created.  A controversial documentary featuring banal home videos but showcasing a side of the evil leader among his family and friends and inter-weaved with propaganda footage as we see Hitler with Eva Braun, with children, dogs and being shown as a compassionate and beloved leader.

For the film, the audio-less footage which was overdubbed (but verified by those who were featured in the film and also by German lip readers) by actors and featured music, and while the film received a tumultuous reception at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 (to put it bluntly, a fist fight among the audience had taken place), the film was also banned in Germany for 37 years until 2010 in worries that the humanistic footage of Hitler may inspire Neo-Nazi’s, nor did they want footage to be shown of a time when Germans absolute adored their “charismatic” leader.

The film had been used as educational tools for universities as a way of understanding Nazism but also to engage viewers of why the documentary was deemed as controversial.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Swastika” is presented in 1:33 Full Frame and in color and black and white.  As expected from a documentary featuring older footage, footage was restored back in 1973 but the fact that Eva Braun’s video were not tampered with, the quality was very good considering the age of the film.  According to Lutz Becker, the film was shot using American 16mm color stock, Ektachrome.

For the most part, picture quality is very good for archived and historical footage and the editing of putting together Eva Braun’s home video along with propaganda and Nazi film were done well, although some may find the home videos quite banal as they are old home videos.

As for audio, while the audio was dubbed by actors utilizing research by German lipreaders to people who were featured in the film, it gives you an idea of what types of conversations were being discussed on the home video.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Swastika” comes with the following special features:

  • Introduction from Jonathan Petropoulos - (1:58) Jonathan Petropoulos talks about how he used “Swastika” as a teaching tool and asking the students of why this documentary was so controversial.
  • Filmmakers Discussion – (30:05) Producers Sanford Lieberson, David Puttnam, director/writer Philippe Mora and writer Lutz Becker talk about the making of “Swastika”.
  • Manipulation and Nazi Propaganda – (12:12) Producers Sanford Lieberson, David Puttnam, director/writer Philippe Mora and writer Lutz Becker talk about the propaganda documentaries at that time.
  • Interview with Albert Speer and Lutz Becker – (14:43) In 1937, Lutz Becker was interviewed by the BBC about how he had access of Eva Braun’s films and how sound was incorporated into this film.  And a discussion with Albert Speer, former photographer for Hitler on knowing Hitler and Braun.
  • Color Film in Nazi Germany – (1:59) A special feature on the use of color in the films by Nazi Germany.
  • Puncturing the Myth of Leni Riefenstahl – (5:53) Lutz Becker talks about actress and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, who was known for a being a filmmaker for Hitler work but the discussion relates to how Riefenstahl may been given attribution of being a director of films that were not done by her but also showing how amoral she was with her footage taken in the concentration camps.
  • Trailers – The theatrical trailer to “Swastika” and also other titles available from Kino.

He has been called a demon.  A murderer.  And his name will be forever linked to hatred and evil… Adolf Hitler.

There is no forgiving a man who led to massive atrocities and the deaths of millions but it’s important to remember that he is also human and that one human can inspire a country to do horrific things.  How is this possible?  How can this even happen?

As a person who loves watching documentaries especially to see a city and lifestyle of a time period that is no more, I am also fascinated by watching footage of propaganda films that have been used to fool a country and disguising the truth of their people.

“Swastika” is rather intriguing in a historical sense because in other footage,  the most vile person of this century, Adolf Hitler, typically shown as a dictator, shown during his speeches but mostly as a military leader.  But with “Swastika” and the home video footage shot by Eva Braun, we see a side of Hitler that no one has seen before.

We see footage of a man discussing hunting of a bore with his colleagues, the discussion with his colleagues (such as Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels) of the young children that look up to him as a hero, the dictator out walking his dogs and of course, his time with his Nazi soldiers and also with his mistress Eva Braun, as she stretches and has fun in the water with her dog.  Shots taken at Hitler’s Bavarian mountain retreat in Berghof in Obersalzberg.

But by no means was “Swastika” trying to show the good-side of Hitler.  The film was banned from Germany for 37-years in fear that the documentary’s humanistic approach may make Hitler look like a good guy than an demon.  In fact, because of the home videos of Hitler…people were so uncomfortable at Cannes that a fight broke out in the audience.    It’s a controversial film but this is an anti-Nazi film that shows how a nation was fooled by Hitler’s grasp on the city.  The control that the Third Reich had in instilling this belief in men, women and children.  But a film that shows that evil tyrants are human and it’s important to show how a human can lead a country to do terrible things.

It’s important to also note that the director, Philippe Mora is Jewish and when he took on the goal to make Swastika a film, it was during a time he wanted to document the making of Albert Speer’s (a photographer for Adolf Hitler and friend of Eva Braun) book about the Third Reich.

Also interesting is how the film came about.  According to various news sources, including an interview with Australia publication, “The Age”, Mora began to become interested in the project when he saw a photo of Eva Braun in a book and she was holding a 16 mm camera.  Lutz Becker then tried to find out more information and talked to an army officer who was part of the raiding party at Berghof and was told that “a pile of cans” had been taken away.  Becker contacted the Pentagon and it was revealed that a bunch of film cans were found in Eva Braun’s bedroom and when they received permission to look at it, there were eight hours of footage with only a fraction being used for “Swastika”, footage featuring Adolf Hitler.  And the footage featured Hitler with Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Heydrich, Eva and her sisters and Hitler’s dog Blondi.

But the question that has been raging since 1973 when it comes to “Swastika” was will this documentary humanize Adolf Hitler or will people see the anti-Nazi message of this film.

It’s one thing to have seen footage of similar situations in North Korea with the late Kim Jong-il and seeing his near rock-star presence to his countrymen, the tight grasp the country has on what their people can see on television and seeing their propaganda films that reinforce their belief in their leader, their country and their goal to have this Aryan utopia.

“Swastika” shows us along with the home video footage these other historical footage of how thousands of people were enchanted by Hitler, women going so far to jump barriers to see him.

To see y0ung German soldiers making an oath to God that they will follow their leader, to see child soldiers fighting each other and then are back to marching.  To see these young women sing in glee to their leader and to see even American Olympic champion Jesse Owens smiling to the camera and talking about how great the German people are and actually praising the treatment he received during the 12th Summer Olympics in Berlin.

But when you look at the history of dictators, they all have similarity in the fact that they controlled communication and people saw their leader as charismatic and wonderful.  And while the film does showcase Germans being wooed by their leader, we are also given that image of what their had lead them to do as we see images of dead Jewish people, nearly skeletal as they are being bulldozed and buried.

The German people were so ignorant of what was going on around them that they were continually fed the good news about their leader and the Third Reich. One story that Philippe Mora had told was of a sculptor who worked with Hitler and when he saw the documentary, he felt everything featured in “Swastika” was factual until the part of the Jews being bulldozed and insisted that the video footage was constructed by Hollywood.

As for the DVD release of “Swastika”, viewers are treated with an insightful filmmakers discussion plus discussion about the manipulation of the people and the power of Nazi propaganda, classic interviews with Lutz Becker and also Albert Speer, the use of color film in Nazi Germany and also conversation of the amorality of filmmaker/actress Leni Riefenstahl who worked with Hitler.

Overall, “Swastika” is an intriguing documentary especially with the home video footage of Hitler/Braun which I have never seen before and many others haven’t.  But as far as the argument goes and the worries about whether or not this documentary will humanize Hitler, my feeling is that it’s all subjective on the viewer.  This film is obviously an anti-Nazi film when watched from beginning to end but it’s also a film that easily shows us that the worst in humanity can be disguised through propaganda and how many people believed in it.

For those who are interested in older historical footage  of Germany especially the Nazification of the German population, will find “Swastika” to be a surprising and possibly disturbing documentary.

 

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