Judge Daryl Loomis loves collecting letters from his adoring fans.
"A German woman's dream: to see the Führer, just once. Just once to stand close to him. Just once to gaze into those eyes, those eyes they call a prophet's. You hold the hearts of an entire people in your hands, and anyone who sees you pass by, they are envied by those who stand by. I, too, may never catch a glimpse, but with every greeting, it's your name I call. Heil Hitler: it's almost like offering a prayer, the raised hand asking for your blessing. May God bless you and protect you. Heil Hitler! That is my prayer for you."—Gertrud Sprinik, Berlin
In the early 1930s, the Germans really dug Adolf Hitler. As chancellor of Germany, he helped them out of the immense depression caused by WWI and gave them a sense of national pride again. Of course, his mass-murder intentions hadn't quite become clear yet, but his hatred of Jews and other marginalized groups was already well known and, by and large, the citizens were pretty okay with this, as well. Hitler had a cult of personality surrounding him that was unmatched during the 20th Century and the people went to great trouble to show him their love. Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Führer describes one aspect of this: the strange letters that were sent in floods to the dictator.
Dear Uncle Adolf is an interesting documentary, if not an altogether successful one. I was aware that Germans and like-minded individuals of other nations wrote letters to Hitler, but I had no idea that some ten thousand would arrive each year of his reign. After the declassification of a Soviet archive, the mass of these letters came out and show the true extent of his influence on the zeitgeist of the German people. From exaltations of his infinite virtues to offers of child bearing to pleas of mercy for loved ones, these letter run the gambit of emotions, but are all reverential to their leader. Director Michael Kloft (Television under the Swastika) presents the documentary in the style of Ken Burns, with the letters read by actors over relevant archival footage.
The letters are fascinating, and the footage is great, but for some time I was confused as to the aim of the documentary. If it was only to describe the crazed loyalty the Germans had for their leader, then it's ineffective because everybody already knows that. It seemed like a collection of letters combined with a collection of footage, which left me underwhelmed. Over time, though, I started to see Kloft's angle. Told chronologically, the letters begin as pure adulation and German nationalism. Over the hour-long documentary, though, the sentiment changes until, finally, those who once looked on Hitler as a god now are baffled by his insanity and what he's done to Germany's standing in the world. It's a subtle message, but Dear Uncle Adolf is an oral history of Hitler's changing image amongst the German people. It's a muted story, but I wound up feeling positive about the film, overall.
The DVD for Dear Uncle Adolf comes from First Run Features and is an average disc for a documentary. Because it is comprised entirely of archival footage, the image results are very mixed, but generally positive. The color reels look a little worse than the black and white, but it's all fairly clean for sixty year old newsreels. The sound does what it needs to, with clear noise-free monologues and incidental music. No extras, though, making this a marginal purchase recommendation.
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