Click here to return to the main site.

Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Hitler's Hollywood (2017)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £12.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: E
Release Date: 05 November 2018

‘Watching old movies is a means of exploring one’s past.’ Siegfried Kracauer

In Der Mann der Sherlock Holmes War, (1937) directed by Karl Hartl, we see a Sherlock Holmes story wherein Watson prepares to bathe while singing to Holmes in the next room. Holmes jovially sings back and the mood is bumptious, light-hearted and, yes, fruity. Holmes and Watson as gay companions wouldn’t make it to the screen again until Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). That the 1937 Hartl movie would send up a British shibboleth this way should be no shock. The two countries were already engaged in a covert war serious enough to take casualties and require President Franklyn Roosevelt quit vacationing at Campobello, his seaside retreat in British Colombia the year before – due to security concerns. Secret memos between Churchill and Roosevelt show the rising trajectory of tension. What better fun then for German film to send up Britain’s greatest detective as a toff?

This exemplary study of the cinema produced under Hitler’s reign begins with the Kracauer quote and remains true to its thesis throughout. Why watch old movies? To explore one’s past, the Geist of nationhood past, ethnocentricity past, propaganda past, socio-economic politics past, aesthetic invention past. But in the conceit of contemporaneity it is inevitably demanded why explore the past? Because the surface of the past has a curious trick of Mobius-flipping into our today. And some of these films are the best exercises in cinematic art the world has seen in its hundred and twenty years of watching movies.

Director Rüdiger Suchsland’s 2017 masterwork Hitler's Hollywood (over a thousand films produced from 1933-1945) examines this cinematic sitz im leben with exciting lucidity. The precursor era, German cinema before Hitler, Weimar Republic cinema, 1918-1933, is treated in Suchsland’s 2014 docu-epic, From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses. Thus, in this DVD case one gets a two-fisted assault on the ennui of now: memories and dreams, art and reflection, guilt and horror. And the key to over a century of film history with artistic forms practiced in cinema up to this minute. Only one case in point for that last assertion. See Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) and try to make a case she isn’t raiding, lovingly raiding, Murnau and Wiene to beautiful effect. Caligari lives. With his roomy Nosferatu in the basement. In Fresno, California no less, the executive producer is Elijah Wood. And she’s Iranian.
Eureka Entertainment’s razor sharp remastering is breath-taking. In the decades before digital tech the copies of these films were… well, you took what you got and with your imagination charitably imagined what it looked liked like when it was new. No more. These (Weimar) films stride into the centre stage of our respect without a bit of begging. Here are towering talents like Lang, Murnau, Pabst, Lubitsch, Wilder but also Hitler era names wiped from history, like, of course, Riefenstahl, but also Heinz Ruhmann, Viet Harlan, Helmet Käutner and actors like Ilse Werner, Kristina Söderbaum, Emil Jannings and Hans Albers.

Death and desire do a continuous tango through the films of The Third Reich. But these films have been and are a fecund source for all filmmakers. They create an artificially perfect world with massive crowd scenes marked by geometric conformity and what Kracauer calls ‘the ornament of the masses’— something we see on daily news reports shot like Riefenstahl or Lubitsch (or almost) because they knew the best angles and compositions. Is propaganda an art form? Joseph Goebbels thought so and he produced more than a thousand films and may have a right to weigh in for the discussion.
In the dulcet tones of Udo Kier’s narration we hear key phrases like ‘a glamorous mis en scene of death’ but his final verdict is the best, summing up Kracauer to lockstep perfection: ‘There was never a zero hour for German cinema. What does cinema know that we don’t?

These DVDs deserve a permanent place on your treasure shelf. They will affect your dreams.


John Huff

Buy this item online

Each of the store links below opens in a new window, allowing you to compare the price of this product from various online stores.

Blu-ray & DVD