The Documentary Blog presents Five Films. An ongoing feature in which we recommend five documentaries based on similar themes or topics.
With Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-scalping WWII film Inglourious Basterds hitting theatres this week, I thought it might be fun to throw up a list of documentary films focusing on everybody’s favourite movie villains: the Nazi’s. Upon further reflection, I realized that ‘fun’ might not be the appropriate term. I recently did a similar list over at Film Junk (“Nazis. I hate these guys.”: 15 WWII Movies Worth Watching Before You See Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.) and focused on a lot of fun, espionage filled, action packed war films and had a blast doing so. However, in the non-fiction world, real life Nazi’s couldn’t be further from the wacky Lost Ark hunting, face melting, broadway singing variety. They’re much more…depressing. Either way, it still makes for quite the mind blowing history lesson. A big thanks goes out to First Run Features for supplying me with a great selection of relevant films to help me out with this list. For anyone interested, head over to their website and check out their vast library of docs dealing with this very subject.
“When you have to do the time, don’t regret the crime.” This is one of many ridiculous statements made by members of the gloriously idiotic American white supremacy movement featured in Blood in the Face; a film as darkly hilarious as it is infuriating. The film features a series of interviews — some of which are conducted by a young Michael Moore — with some of the trashiest anti-semites I’ve seen since Geraldo’s glory days. I would accuse the film of shooting fish in a barrel if it wasn’t so entertaining to witness. The film is directed by Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty (Atomic Cafe) and James Ridgeway (based off of his novel of the same name) and features some great stock footage of their own promotional videos that are straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit. The film has a very dark sense of humour and sheds some light on a small but terrifyingly dumb group of radicals that are more capable of organizing a tailgate party than a race war.
One of the most controversial ‘classics’ of all time, Triumph of the Will is a terrifying document of the Nazi parties early rise to power and Hitler’s influence over his people. The film documents the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg and constantly walks the fine line between non-fiction and propaganda filmmaking. Leni Riefenstahl has been applauded for the techniques employed throughout the film, but the fact that the film was commissioned by the Third Reich had left a bad taste in the mouths of even those who praise her work.
A double bill of Triumph of the Will and Alain Resnais’ ‘Night and Fog’ could possibly result in one of the greatest and most depressing representations of cause and effect ever captured on film. The grand spectacle of the Nuremberg rally is replaced by the ghostly remains of Nazi concentration camps. Resnais’ use of graphic stock footage in connection with the post-war imagery is both a reminder and a warning of what too much power can lead to. A haunting film in both its construction and its content.
As bat-shit crazy as they were, you have to admit the Nazi party definitely had a handle on aesthetics. Hitler, an artist in his own right, oversaw the look and presentation of the Third Reich, which obviously played a key role in their influence over the people of Germany and their staying power in modern popular culture. Director Peter Cohen explores the ‘Nazi philosophy of beauty through violence’ in his film The Architecture of Doom, an informative yet somewhat dry look at the Nazi aesthetic. Cohen’s filmmaking style is comparable to a slightly less glossy Ken Burns’, relying on collages of stock footage and still photography accompanied by some somewhat austere narration. The information presented is quite dense and the film itself isn’t particularly cinematic or ‘entertaining’, but I don’t think that’s really the goal. It’s a history lesson on Hitler’s obsession with art and how it influenced his regime. One particularly interesting section deals with the Nazi propaganda films of the era, as overseen by Joseph Goebbels. A very interesting perspective on the Nazi party.
Possibly the creepiest doc of the bunch, Homo Sapiens 1900 looks at the Nazi Party’s quest to create the ultimate race of Aryan soldiers through the practice of Eugenics. Another densely informative film by The Architecture of Doom director Peter Cohen. We learn about the history of eugenics and what role it played in Hitler’s ultimate plan for world domination. Again, Cohen doesn’t quite give us a particularly cinematic experience with his use of narration and stock footage, but rather focuses on pure information. This is a truly disturbing history lesson.