Judge Ian Visser isn't afraid to be controversial: he thinks Nazis are scumbags.
How did the most unremarkable of men become the most terrible of tyrants?
At the beginning of this 21st century, Adolf Hitler and his rise to power stands as one of the most written-about and studied events in modern history. The decades since the end of World War II have been awash of studies about the tyrant; typing "Hitler" into Amazon's search engine will return more than 2,500 titles in the books section alone. Today there is no shortage of articles, documentaries, films, and investigations into the dictator and his plans for expanding Germany's rule across Europe and the world.
Because of this avalanche of modern material, it's difficult to imagine that in the years between 1952 and 1973 there was no major biography of Hitler written. In 1973, historian Joachim Fest published the first in more than twenty years, and the first to be offered to the public by a German author. Fest's book came at a time when younger Germans were confronting the legacy of Nazi rule, and the tome caused an uproar in a nation that was already re-evaluating its role in WWII and the Holocaust.
Based on his book and released in 1977, Hitler: A Career uses color and black and white footage of rallies, speeches, propaganda films, and photographs to chronicle the rise of Hitler from rabble-rouser to ruler. A review of individual campaigns or battles is not provided; Hitler: A Career is more concerned with examining the "how" surrounding Hitler than the "what." Focusing on the path taken to power, the film investigates Hitler's adoption of propaganda tools, his appeal to a defeated population, his policies of German expansion, and his ultimate goal of establishing Germania, an Aryan homeland built to rival history's greatest empires.
As writer and co-director of Hitler: A Career, Fest takes the position that Hitler was not merely an insane egomaniac who managed to claw his way to power in a crumbling post-WWI Germany. Rather, Fest argues that he was a calculating politician who was able to appeal to those elements of Germany society who would serve his quest for power. A manipulator of the highest order, Hitler learned how to motivate a nation eager for a return to its former glory, and presented to audiences not his own message, but rather a carefully-constructed philosophy which would rally the necessary supporters to his flag.
Fest's other significant point is that the accepted explanation of how Hitler found the opportunity for assuming control (a crumbling economy) overlooks the role of the upper and middle classes of Germany. Fearing the chaos and change wracking their post-war nation, the masses propelled the dictator to power as a reaction to his invocation of a mythical, romanticized idea of Germany that existed—if only as a collective fantasy—prior to the twentieth century. While it was true that Hitler never won any legitimate election, Fest has long-argued that his assumption of power would have been impossible if not for the willingness of the population to support both Hitler and his party. Fest further suggests that the majority of the German people knew of Hitler's intentions from the earliest days, but ignored his actions even after the terrible realities of the Holocaust and other crimes came to light.
Fest ultimately attributes Hitler's downfall to his assumption of the mantle of supreme leader. Hitler's control over all matters political, social, and military would result in a number of unsound strategic decisions (chiefly the invasion of Russia) that likely would not have been made by experienced and professional officers. As the subsequent losses against Russia and the Allies mounted, Hitler was unable to rally the demoralized German people and soldiers who had for years followed his every word as gospel.
The length of the documentary allows for the inclusion of a great deal of footage which is well-matched to the topics being addressed. I'm not an active scholar of this type of material, so I cannot say how much of it would be considered "fresh" today, but there is a wide variety of film taken from events occurring in Germany during Hitler's ascension. The footage of the infamous Nazi rallies, with their carefully planned and coordinated activities, still echoes as an example of how powerfully imagery and propaganda can motivate people to pledge allegiance to whomever may be delivering the appealing message.
On the technical side, the video image is acceptable given the age of the documentary and the decades-old footage it incorporates. The audio is solid; the English narration is clear and well-delivered, and the background audio (largely marshal music and crowd reactions) does not overwhelm it. The only extras on the disk are three trailers for similar documentaries released by First Run Features, and a gallery of fifteen war-time photos, of which no context or dates are provided.
Although an approachable and accessible documentary, the impact that Hitler: A Career once had is now blunted with the passing of the subsequent decades. Cable networks such as Civilization and History Television run WWII documentaries on a regular basis, and films such as the recent Downfall are well-received by audiences not born until years after the war ended. While not as controversial or revealing as it may have once been, Hitler: A Career remains a well-constructed and insightful effort chronicling the rise of the world's most notorious dictator from failed artist to Fuhrer.
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