thu 02/10/2014

The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, BBC Two | TV reviews, news & interviews

The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, BBC Two

Laurence Rees's new Nazi doc finds just enough new angles to keep things interesting

Hitler, an A-grade loser with a national appeal as incomprehensible now as it was disastrous then

So, another programme about Hitler and the Nazis. They mock the Brits all over Europe for our obsession with this subject. During the summer, I worked on a project with Italian associates who found this intense interest roundly bemusing. They subscribed particularly to the old joke that to create the British market’s most successful ever book, it would need to include cats certainly but, most of all, Nazis. So is there anything left for historical writer and documentary maker Laurence Rees to say in his new three-part series?

The answer is, “A little, yes”. Having created the gripping The Nazis: A Warning From, History 15 years ago, and Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution in 2005, if anyone's the man for the job, it is he. The ground has been well raked over but then the subject is always fertile, an archetypal example, without parallel, of societal folly and ultimate wrongness on the grandest scale.

By the end of the first episode its protagonist has gone from embittered failing Viennese art student to a national leader

Backed up by “historical consultant” Professor Sir Ian Kershaw, possibly the world’s leading authority on the Nazis, Rees sets out his case that this weird, awkward, dysfunctional man developed “a level of charismatic attraction that is almost without parallel in history”. By this Rees doesn’t mean that Hitler hypnotized the German people in a Marvel comic-style cosmic episode, but that Hitler’s own strange foibles of character melded disastrously with the circumstances of the times and the deep-rooted needs and desires of the German people. Then, once his profile reached a tipping point with his public, Hitler was expert in building it into a national cult until eventually, as is made clear from footage of the Deutsche Christen movement parading through Münster with Nazi flags featuring crucifixes, it reached a messianic pitch.

What’s relentlessly striking is what a freak Hitler was, even taken in the context of militaristic post-Bismarck German society and the demented Bavarian-flavoured fashions of the time. He jerks and rants on podiums, shrieking like the worst sort of work-place bully, exhibiting melodramatic gestures that recall the more deranged excesses of silent cinema, as well as a twitchiness that’s all his own. “I destroyed all the other parties – they are all gone,” he shrieks in a hideous strangled gargle; he viley smears the Jewish people from the very start, and he repeatedly avoids stating any hard policy in favour of harsh theatrical vagueness. The results of all this unpleasantness include a pig-tailed schoolgirl collapsing tearful in his presence as if he were Paul McCartney circa 1963, parts of the German church proclaiming him “the embodiment of the eternal will of God”, and the previously dubious Josef Goebbels writing in his diary, “Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple.”

Such material is intercut with a few contemporary dissenting voices who saw him for the emotionally dead, dullard clunker he was, alongside the sinister rise of his infrastructure of terror. A quote from a Hitler Youth recalls that they were told that if their teachers hadn’t quite got with the new programme, they should feel free to “smack them in the mouth”.

By the end of the first episode of The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, its protagonist has gone from embittered failing Viennese art student to a national leader who could claim, unquestioned and with a straight face, that his government will last a thousand years. Such lunacy is still gob-smacking. We all know what’s coming but Rees throws in just enough revelatory fairy dust to keep us Brits returning for the next two.

Watch a brief trailer for The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler


Comments

Does anyone know who edited

Does anyone know who edited the documentary. I'd like to know I'm citing the programme in part of my University essay

Ridiculous production, with I

Ridiculous production, with I say is what you see visuals, and the most terrible use of music. Trying to do too many things, the documentary exhausts its budget on all points. Premise is interesting - but after having suffered through 1 1/2 episode of this, I believe the people behind this work forgot said premise: to hear the voices of the Germans, from the time, as they explain how they responded to Hitler's charisma. The reviewer here needs to hone his objectivity, by the way. Calling Hitler a clunker is a cheap attempt to discount the historical fact that the man came to run Europe for a while.

Ian Kershaw is an authority,

Ian Kershaw is an authority, not the world's leading authority. He's one of the most important people writing in English. But there is reams of German writing about Hitler, particularly about the question of 'charismatic leadership' and what it means, that they could have used without it becoming too heavy.

I have watched the first two

I have watched the first two parts of this series with growing alarm. As a trained historian myself I am prepared to overlook the over-simplification of the narrative - but Sir Ian Kershaw did himself no favours by associating himself with such dumbed-down pap for the masses - but I draw a line at the use of German classical music to underpin that narrative. Guilt by association is the obvious conclusion that less literate viewers will have drawn from the endless succession of snatches of Beethoven, Mozart and even Handel (yes, his Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was there in the programme aired on 19 November). Beethoven famously scratched through the name of Napoleon, dedicatee of his Eroica, on learning what a tyrant he had become. But for Laurence Rees this music was misused to underscore the heroic intentions of the Nazis. How sick is that? Why couldn't he have stuck to Wagner? But the greatest obscenity of all was using Mahler's first symphony as background to the events of the Reichskristallnacht in November 1938. What did the music of this Jewish composer, who died 27 years before these Nazi outrages and whose music was in any case never performed during the Third Reich, have to do with these scenes of dehumanisation? Shame on the whole production team!

I thought it made a nice

I thought it made a nice change *not* to hear any Wagner in a Hitler documentary. If any cliche has been done to death in Nazi documentaries it's the Twilight of the Gods/ "Hitler's favourite composer" one.

I think we might be crediting

I think we might be crediting the makers of this programme with a depth of musical knowledge that is unwarranted. I suspect that chosing music that they felt was fitting to the mood and from a list of composers that vaguely qualify as German / Austrian was the extent of their deliberations. Whether they even knew that Mahler was Jewish or that Handel might virtually be considered a British composer given the proportion of his life he spent over here is open to question. I suppose there's no getting away from the inevitable inclusions of Wagner, although I suspect that even bigoted Wagner might have found the Nazis crude and distasteful had he been contemporaneous to the events. I'd love to know what the piece of music is that is being used frequently throughout th series, with its insistent but unhurried sinister dissonant chords, a bit liked an orchestral reimagining of an alarm. I love it in a spine-tingling sort of way.

this is a good series wish it

this is a good series wish it was in german so i could read your comments on how they need to dumb it down more....like make it in english?

I've now watched the 1st and

I've now watched the 1st and 2nd programmes and I have found it interesting. There is quite a bit of repetition and I guess it is dumbed down a bit, but it has got my attention. I think I would class this as an introduction / overview to the political life of Adolf Hitler and I would be interested in reading more...... Perhaps that wad the purpose of the programme ??

The script is to amateurishly

The script is to amateurishly written, and the music and picture editing are so ridiculous, that I started thinking it was some kind of spoof. But no, apparently it really is that bad.

I agree. Why do I get the

I agree. Why do I get the feeling this programme was made on the cheap?

Commentary, graphics and

Commentary, graphics and style apart, worth just have pointed out that charisma (at roots of all cults including religious ones) is a two-way process, and that Hitler may have been mad but had the brains to take advantage of every chance for a step up he was given. It is what is implied, however simplistcic that counts. How this example can be used to explain others. In Hitler's case he simply stuck to his insane ideas and they were met by people needs. Although plenty of people have called Hilter a psychopath, they're not often said it was the needs of the people who allowed the idiot to succeed. Of course Weimar was a mess. It was ripe for all sorts of extremists to crawl out of the wood work. The film itself reprises the political polarisation. In other cases, the cult leader adapts to the needs. of the suckers he was trying to con. L Ron, worked up his bilge to a peak form humbler failed beginnings. if the aspiring cult leader's ideas don't take on he's intelligent - he adapts or re-group. God, for example, didn't speak distinctly when he said the world would end in 1918. I listened again and he said 2018. So relax. The mono-God who speaks to one individual who then passes on the world is the classic cult method. You either believe he is in on-to-one communication or not. You can't half believe. He's is P2P and the stuff is encrypted and he's the only one with the key. God's got the other one.He can explain what it all means. Often what happens is that the cult leader works it all up into an unintelligible glup which he then get you to pay him to explain. One thinks of certain French philosophers and cultural thinkers in this regard as well. They have been know to say the very unintelligibility is a sign of it's intellectual rigour or wisdom. Yet again, since you have no idea what it's about, he's the one to explain, Or not, He may want to create a mysterium.

Another anti-German rant. And

Another anti-German rant. And a poorly made one at that. Can't they get someone to pronounce German words correctly as commentator? Nothing new here and the pseudo-psychological interpretation of Hitler's charisma was just plain puerile. I shall not be wasting my time on parts 2 & 3. And yes, there is a hidden agenda: it's to ensure we all keep being reminded of the "Final Solution".

And you, obviously, don't

And you, obviously, don't wish to be reminded of the Final Solution. Next you'll be implying the Final Solution is 'merely' anti German propaganda.

Seem to be quite a lot of

Seem to be quite a lot of commentators here (or a little clique) desparately unhappy that a programme honing in on an aspect of Hitler's rise to power should be shown to the masses because 'there's nothing new here' and it's 'so badly done'. It seems to me they 'doth protest too much'. Another agenda perhaps.

No hidden agenda on my part,

No hidden agenda on my part, just disappointed in a poorly produced documentary that promises a lot and delivers nothing. I have no other response as you seem to be speaking criptically. Would you care to expand on what you mean by 'Another agenda perhaps'.

The quality of the script and

The quality of the script and commentary for this programme is abysmal. Given that Rees has been involved in two high quality series in this area, it beggars belief that it could have been written and spoken with such amateurishness. I had to stop watching because I frankly couldn't bear listening any more.

I am in complete agreement

I am in complete agreement Bob. There was some fantastic new footage, but the terrible commentary was too much and I too had to switch it off. He was speaking as if it was for 5 year olds, too much repetition too.

Agree with all comments.

Agree with all comments. Sixth form doc, graphics very sad. What's going on at the BBC to churn this out? Could have been a very good doc: how did this loser make it, go from screaming in the street to Nuremberg? We will never know from this

I watched the first episode

I watched the first episode last night and was frankly appalled that this program was put to air. Rees has shown the ability to create fantastic documentaries in the past, I'm particularly thinking of 'The Nazis: A Warning from History'. However the narration in this new series lacked gravitas, the cliched graphics and poor, and pointless dramatic scenes, fail to add to the central argument. I found the first episode rushed, glossing over some of the most formative years of Hitler's personality. His childhood wasn't touched upon and his years in Vienna were barely mentioned. I won't be watching any more of the series as there are better documentaries and books out there that deal with Hitler's personality and charisma.

I agree with the other

I agree with the other comments that this was a very disappointing documentary. I was expecting much more of a high brow in-depth analysis not a dumbed down rehash of every Hitler documentary that has ever been shown on channel 5. As mentioned before, the graphics were embarrasing as was the voice over. Compared to Rees' previous work this was awful.

I quite agree with the

I quite agree with the previous comments, this was a superficial and immature documentary. We all know what Hitler did was evil, the purpose of historical enquiry, however, is not to make simplistic judgements but to try to understand events and the personalities that shaped them. Using phrases such as "emotionally dead, dullard clunker" and "freak" is highly inappropriate too; you serve to undermine the genuine moral horror people feel about the Nazis by using playground taunts. The historian should rise above this sort of thing. I also object to every second of a documentary having to be filled with thunderous incidental music and distracting visual effects. We could have had twice the information without all the gimmicry. On the plus side there was plenty of fascinating footage, and hopefully the rather simplistic style may draw in some younger viewers who would otherwise be gawping at some soul destroying rot on BBC3.

I completely agree with the

I completely agree with the above about the visual effects. Its like powerpoint gone mad!

A thoroughly disappointing

A thoroughly disappointing effort. Spurious style over hackneyed substance. Having it narrated by someone who sounds like the voice of The Apprentice lent it a superficial tone and the overall presentation was not of the standard I would expect of prime time BBC2. The World War One montage was particulary laughable. When this ultimately gets repeated on a loop on the Yesterday channel I think I may be forced to leave the country.

Having watched Rees' previous

Having watched Rees' previous series I could scarcely believe this was written and produced by the same man. Dumbed-down script, appallingly edited, gimmicky and at times simply laughable (the African animals over excerpts from Mein Kampf.) The over-use of the words 'charisma' and 'charismatic' felt as if I were watching one of those shows where they tediously summarise the previous content on return from an ad break. All this was missing was one of those 'Coming Up Later' teases every now and then to completely transform it into cheap light entertainment. A shocking waste of a good concept and fascinating archive. Was the exec producer on this from Strictly Come Dancing ?

Dreadful, dumbed-down new

Dreadful, dumbed-down new series: "Adolf Hitler - worst baddy ever in the entire history of the world" would be an alternative title. I'm intrigued as to who it's aimed at. Play-school "students"? The BBC crisis is deeper than we thought. Review equally disappointing.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Use to create page breaks.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters