Our Hitler--A Film from Germany
At the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
In November 1977, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg unveiled the last section of his monumental trilogy on Germany in the last 100 years: the World Premiere of Our Hitler--A Film from Germany took place at the London Film Festival. A few months later the British Film Institute awarded Syberberg's 7-hour-9-minute, 4-part epic its annual prize for “Best Film of the Year.”
Dwarfing in size and sheer imaginative power its two still very fine predecessors - Ludwig II (1972) and Karl May (1974) - Our Hitler--A Film from Germany went on to become the film event of 1978 in France, where it ran for more than six months in a Paris Cinema, and gained overwhelming critical praise, not only from the standard film critics but from such intellectual luminaries as Michel Foucault and Susan Sontag.
After withholding Hitler from German distribution for more than a year - due to his displeasure at the “destructive attitude” of the German press towards his previous films - Syberberg began, in late 1978, to show Hitler in various German cities: after bringing Hitler to Israel in early 1979, Syberberg presented Hitler for the first time in America at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition in March. Following its FILMEX Premiere, Kevin Thomas wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
“Hitler is awesomely ambitious: an attempt to present the megalomaniacal vision of Der Fuehrer as the embodiment of German mythology, arts and culture. In short, Syberberg has attempted to reveal the Hitler in everyone. The film unfolds in a series of baroque, sometimes deliberately kitschy and occasionally darkly humorous tableaux and vignettes in which Hitler is identified with such figures from the cinema as Chaplin's Great Dictator, Dr. Caligari and Peter Lorre's child-murderer in Fritz Lang's M, as well as Punch (with Eva Braun as Judy), Napoleon and even Wagner's ghost. Indeed, the only time Hitler is seen in lifelike fashion is when an actor with a strong resemblance to him is seen emerging from Wagner's grave, ranting and raving and wearing a Roman toga.
“Much of the film's text is derived from historical sources and is spoken by various actors in various guises standing before front projections of blowups of stills of Berchtesgaden and the Chancellory and of archival footage.
“On the sound track Beethoven, Wagner, Mozart, Haydn and the like are interspersed with pop music of the era, Nazi marches, snatches of American radio serials and, most important, broadcasts charting the course of Hitler's 12-year reign. Financed by British, German and French television at a cost of roughly $500,000, Hitler, which has much English narration and excellent subtitles, was shot by Syberberg in Munich's Bavaria Studios in 20 days - after something like four years' preparation.
“For all its incredible length, Hitler never bores and has been proclaimed by Susan Sontag as ‘one of the great works of art of the 20th century and one of the greatest films ever made.'”
On March 26, Syberberg presented Hitler at PFA. One of those who viewed Hitler at that time was Francis Coppola, who recognized in Syberberg's epic synthesis of music, philosophy, drama and poetry, in his boldly innovative use of front-projection techniques, and in his ambition to confront the most disturbing political questions of the 20th century, an achievement of Wagnerian dimensions - a work which, in Coppola's words, made all films being made today seem either trivial or “obsolete.” Given the reluctance of New York distributors to take on a seven-hour film, Coppola agreed to distribute Hitler himself.
Our showings - on July 21 and July 28 - are test screenings for the eventual national distribution of Hitler, which will be released initially in a series of event-performance showcases in large-capacity cultural auditoriums.
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