Sunday, February 17, 2019


Yes.... It's true. At the age of 77 Bruno Ganz is dead.

Who was he you may ask? Well, if you've spent any time hanging around YouTube or political blogs in the last decade you'd recognise him (click the captions button).

Ganz gave what most people consider the most accurate and greatest portrayal of Adolf Hitler on screen, in the 2004 movie Downfall, which focuses on the final days of the Third Reich in the Berlin "Fuhrerbunker". You can watch it on Netflix at the moment.

The movie, as you'd expect, is grim. But for me this stems not from the portrayal of death and gore, of which there's not that much, but from the sheer matter-of-fact attitudes of the people in Hitler's orbit; the secretaries, orderlies and others. Horrible things are happening, and being made to happen by the people at the centre of power, yet around these events, memos are typed and discussions are held about families, children, food, and work, with fears of the future expressed in terms not so different from what you hear today!

Ganz worked for months to get the portrayal right. The scenes that are frighteningly accurate are where, with his trembling hand, Hitler goes to visit the boy soldiers about to be sent to their deaths in a hopeless fight against the Red Army as it invades Berlin. It's as if Peter Jackson colourised the original footage!

But the real mark of Ganz's acting ability is that he manages to portray Hitler in a way that does not simply cast him as evil and unlikeable, because that would not be believable. Even dictators have to charm and persuade some people, and with the right appeals, can persuade millions. It's knife-edge work, and so is Ganz's acting. After all, he has to make sure at the same time that the character is not too sympathetic, or he'd have been accused of being pro-Nazi. Ganz himself said that he felt about Hitler as one would of a rabid dog, sympathy - while killing the mad thing.
"I cannot claim to understand Hitler. Even the witnesses who had been in the bunker with him were not really able to describe the essence of the man. He had no pity, no compassion, no understanding of what the victims of war suffered."
I first saw Ganz three decades ago, when he played an angel in Wim Wenders' film Wings of Desire (a crap cover of the original German title, Der Himmel über Berlin), and he made an impression then. But it was Downfall that made him an international name and the movie cleared $US92m at box offices around the world when it was released, which is pretty good for a foreign language film. There were a few award nominations as well, but nothing big. The audiences and critics were left to praise the movie and Ganz.

Normally for such a film, that would have been that: something for Art House movie buffs to rent out occasionally over the next few decades. But this is the age of the Internet, and in particular the age of YouTube.

The most famous scene in the movie - the one above - was where Hitler loses the plot completely. He finds out that one of his generals, Steiner, has not carried out the counter-attack Hitler ordered and accuses Steiner of simply refusing the order. He goes on to accuse all the Wehrmacht generals of being cowards and having constantly betrayed and lied to him, and so forth. It's a terrifyingly awesome and yet pathetic meltdown.

And it was made for parody.

Not long after YouTube started up in 2005, people began taking this scene, adding in their own captions for whatever event they thought deserved such treatment, and then uploading it to YouTube. It took time to gather pace, but even by 2008 there were ones where Hitler finds out that Sarah Palin has been picked as VP candidate, or where he's Hillary Clinton exploding about losing the nomination to Obama. Sadly, neither seem to be there now, in the latter case possibly because it included one memorable line as Hillary rages about her staff losing her a certain win...
And having cunts for eyes!
Literally thousands of these turned up on YouTube, not just about politics, but appalling losses in sportsGamers pet hates, and obscure subjects (that one is where Hitler has Justin Bieber shot and killed). Eventually an entire channel was created for them. Many were as brutal as the quote above, with the one on Hitler finding out about Michael Jackson's death a particular fave:
"I fund the surgery to turn him white and this is how he repays me!"
Ganz himself was amused and mystified when finally asked about them. I don't think he really knew how to react. Sadly niether did the owners of the movie, who began issuing copyright infringment notices to take down the parodies. Eventually they realised their terrible mistake, as the flood continued anyway and many viewers found their way to the original film.

We all have our favourites, but these three are among mine. First up is - of course - Trump winning the 2016 election, with an unusual addition that forms the title of this post:

Next is Hitler finding out that Americans are calling each other Nazis

And finally
Downfall of Grammar
You guys are like some sort of grammer authorities or some kind of grammer.... strict police.... Oh what's the word I'm looking for here?
Of course, anybody who could speak German fluently probably could not watch one of these. I'd like to think that Bruno Ganz found that funny.


RosscoWlg said...

I'm with Hitler on this one...

I know how the poor guy feels...all I'm trying to do is make a point and all you guys do is jump on my grammar!!!

Ive even got the finger shake....jeepers Ill be a dictator next.

Wiggo...waiting for his grammar to citicised

Kimbo said...

The temptation to demonise Hitler as the worst example of psychotic evil is so great. It’s almost a case of “if you don’t you are an apologist...or worse!”

This from Andrew Roberts is one of the best assessments as to what made Hitler tick,

...and it seems so obvious: Hitler was a Nazi. As Roberts points out, Hitler was not “mad”, other than near the end when the pressure got too much and like Ludendorff in 1918 (and Stalin just after the launch of Operation Barbarossa for that matter too) he had that nervous breakdown which Ganz portrays so well. Instead he worked within the framework of a worldview that was consistent and had its own logic. Ganz’s genius was in portraying Hitler as he was in the bunker - fully human, going through the stress of having everything, including his life’s work and ideological faith crumble down around his ears.

And as per “the banality of evil” observation” made at the Adolf Eichmann trial, those around him go about doing what they do. In some cases trying to escape, or, as in the case of the Goebbels parents, killing their own children before committing suicide. As you do...

You wonder how people were so evil that they readily manned the apparatus of the Final Solution, and then you read the accounts of those who observed them on arrest and at trial -ordinary otherwise nondescripts, very ambitious and willing to please but not necessarily that bright. I once had a supervisor at work who ticked all those boxes, amoral as hell, whom I assessed could easily have worked in a death camp. They aren’t necessarily that uncommon. Well done to Bruno Ganz for putting a human, dare I say “sympathetic” face on the originator of Nazism. Demons are easy to exorcise, but real people like you and me are a bit harder to write off.

David said...

Wiggo...waiting for his grammar to citicised (sic)

Wiggles, the cartoon character we can't root, shoot, or electrocute, unable to distinguish between grammar and spelling.

All tip and no iceberg.

Tom Hunter said...

“the banality of evil”
Yes, as I was writing that section on the ordinary people around Hitler, working the machinery, Arendt's phrase sprang to mind, but I've always thought it was such self-deceiving bullshit. And she actually wrote that after observing Eichmann at his trial in Israel in 1960.

It never seemed to occur to her that Eichmann was playing dumb, playing it down, in one last effort to escape justice. Such tactics are actually standard training for Spec Ops nowadays, as Bravo Three Zero showed. Be quiet, dumb, dull, ignorant, listless - and you have a chance at lulling your enemies.

Eichmann was a fanatic, and an intelligent, diligent one at that. Arendt must have never actually met a sociopath,

Psycho Milt said...

Of course, anybody who could speak German fluently probably could not watch one of these.

Yes, I speak fluent German and it just doesn't work. I did watch one (English football team's performance in the Premier League fails to satisfy Hitler), but it doesn't work if you can tell what everyone's actually saying.

Mind you, between the Austrian accent and the ranting I can hardly ever make out anything the real Hitler said in videos I've seen of his speeches.

Kimbo said...

Yes, even though it would be an anachronism as she was hanged in 1946, “the banality of evil” is likely a more accurate description of the likes of Irma Grese:

Eichmann was indeed a clever man. Taught himself Hebrew so he could better understand the mind of his quarry. To that end, and speaking of good/chilling movies that portray the Nazis and Final Solution well, this is a brilliant movie on the Wannsee Conference:

Stanley Tucci as Eichmann, Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich, and also with Colin Firth.

Like the movie, the real conference itself only took about 90 minutes. Most disturbingly good scene was this, where Firth, playing Wilhelm Stuckhart, one of the drafters of the Nuremberg laws is arguing, unsuccessfully that you can’t go killing these half-Aryans, not because it is immoral, but because it is illegal/bureaucratically problematic:

Kimbo said...

Sorry, Grese was hanged at the end of 1945, surprisingly some 10 months before the death penalties were carried out on those found guilty at the first round of Nuremberg trials.

Speaking of which, I wonder to what extent Julius Streicher

...was hanged because, while he never murdered anyone as such or participated directly in the Final Solution (although I get the point that his puerile rantings in Der Sturmer created the general social and political conditions that made it possible)

...he was such a loathsome person. Dragged to the gallows screaming, “Purimfest 1946!”, and spraying spittle at the hangman, “The Bolsheviks will hang you too!” What a guy...

Compare with Albert Speer who, by any measure compared to those who did hang as a result of that trial (including his deputy, Fritz Saukel!), escaped the noose. Speer was genuinely repentant and/or smart enough (ya payed yer money and ya takes yer pick) to realise the prosecutors needed the political and legal prize of a top Nazi to do a mea culpa, so he provided it. And lived for another 15 years after his release from prison in 1966.

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

Kimbo....I have a very good friend whose mother was Albert Pierrepont's translator and personal assistant during his time in Germany..he hanged Grese and Kramer, the Belsen Commandant, at Hamelin castle along with over 200 others in several visits over a year.

My friends mother was a German national working for the British administration and married her British Army Major husband after she and a group of women were rescued by him from an American "rape Gang". His jeep was stopped in the street by a distraught woman and he was taken to house where the gang was operating up one side of the street. He merely commandeered the house and declared it British army property.

As she said to me after a couple of sherry's "The Russians were worse, at least the Americans didn't kick you when they were finished"

I might point out that the rapist's were never frontline combat troops always the administrative tail.

Kimbo said...

Arendt's phrase sprang to mind, but I've always thought it was such self-deceiving bullshit...Arendt must have never actually met a sociopath

I wasn't aware of Arendt's background, but your comments caused me to go on a bit of a google/wiki search, and look what I found:

Arendt arrived at Marburg that fall in the middle of an intellectual revolution led by the young Heidegger, of whom she was in awe, describing him as "the hidden king [who] reigned in the realm of thinking"...

Uh, huh. Young impressionable acolyte falls for "People's Poet" just like Rik of the Young One's always planned. How very saucy, sorry, I mean intellectual. Tell me more.

Her encounter with Heidegger represented a dramatic departure from the past. He was handsome, a genius, romantic and taught that thinking and "aliveness" were but one.

Yeah, yeah. Come on over and help me study, I have a very collection. ;) And sure enough...

The 17-year-old Arendt then began a long and problematic romantic relationship with the 35-year-old Heidegger

Problematic? Ohhh we all know what that means, don't we?

, who was married with two young sons.

No, not anything as tediously bourgeoise as violating the tenets of conservative sexual mores. Hell, that would be a core requisite for any decent philosophy student. It's gotta be something really bad, like a ideological error/heresy and/or bad association. Like this:

Arendt later faced criticism for this because of Heidegger's support for the Nazi Party after being elected rector at the University of Freiburg in 1933.

So she had an affair with a proto-Nazi, and not just any proto-Nazi but the Protestant theologian/philosopher who gave subsequently gave 'em the imprimatur of orthodoxy. Seems Arendt couldn't even pick a Nazi when she was sleeping with one. ;)

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

T. Hunter......why it's hard to find clips is that they were taken down because of copyright not because of political interference as you suggest.

Why do your otherwise excellent posts always contain a segment ridiculing Clinton/Obama/ renewables etc.?????. You might be more even handed and throw in a couple of lines about the orange porker and his maladministration.

Tom Hunter said...

why it's hard to find clips is that they were taken down because of copyright not because of political interference as you suggest.
EH 1.0 ?
I can't see where I made that inference in the paragraph referring to Palin and Hllary parodies of 2008: I did imply that the crudity of at least one line in the Clinton parody may have been a reason, but that hardly seems political. And of course I made a specific reference to the copyright takedown issue several paragraphs later, which I assume caught up those, among many others.

... always contain a segment ridiculing Clinton/Obama/ renewables...
EH 1.1 ? I've re-read the piece and I'm damned if I can locate what the hell you are on about. Perhaps you can point to the specific sentence.

"Son, what we have here is a failure to communicate."

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

"or where he's Hillary Clinton exploding about losing the nomination to Obama. Sadly, neither seem to be there now, in the latter case possibly because it included one memorable line as Hillary rages about her staff losing her a certain win...
And having cunts for eyes."

Mmmm.............. no more comments from me on this subject.