Sunday, December 18, 2011

Downfall post mortem

We're back in different cities but Tracy and I decided the banter format was too good to stop so we chatted today via Google chat. A little more controlled in that we took turns instead of talking over each other but, hopefully, still fun nonetheless.

Tracy:  Ready! Achtung, baby!
Natalie:  Ha!
Super! Merry Christmas, we have Nazis
Tracy:  Hee. It was quite harrowing, I thought.
Natalie:  Me, too. Sort of--this was my second viewing except I didn't pay a lot of attention during the first. J wanted to see it and I was in the room and looked up enough to see what was happening. So I'd seen the really harrowing parts already without paying attention. I don't know that paying attention added much . . .
Tracy:  I learned a lot. I didn't know much about the final days of the war in Berlin. And I liked it. Well, "liked" it, but I think it was another case of this movie coinciding with research interests I have--I'm interested in how communities/countries commemorate really awful things they've done, and I think this move was part of that ongoing project for Germany.
Natalie:  I was interested to see how it all ended for the bad guys--and this was the first film to depict Hitler as a fully-formed character rather than a caricature so that's hugely important--but, once again, I was daunted by the length of the film. Just a tad shorter and I might have been full in.
Tracy:  It was like the movie was trying to replicate AH's schizoid self. It was so strange and jarring to see what was going on in the bunker (the champagne, the suicides) and what was happening on the streets right above their heads. It made it long--I think they should have cut that one boy's story. I could have done without that. I liked the doctor bit, though. Also think it's interesting how they made AH a character--could have gone with Voldemort-esque embodiment of evil, but instead made him a shriveled, sick (body and mind) man. That's better and worse, somehow.
Natalie:  Absolutely. If they'd made AH a sort of stereotypical madman for the whole film, I would have lost interest immediately. That he has weaknesses beyond being absolutely out of his mind made him an actual person in a way I don't think any other piece of art has--I don't know about histories, non-fiction, etc. The bookends with Traudl made me want to watch the documentary the director made first, though. I loved her line about realizing being young wasn't an excuse, that one could have found things out.
Tracy:  Yes! I wasn't on board with that framing device until that moment. I thought we were only going to get this marginalized perspective--what she saw--but then we saw things she didn't witness, and I was like "why did we focus on her at all?" But it was huge payoff at the end.
I also learned that if freaking Goebbels is looking at you like you're out of your mind, you're seriously in trouble.
Natalie:  Ha! If Goebbels is the warning device, I think you're seriously in trouble, anyway. I can't find the name of that documentary which is going to drive me insane. But, do you think making Hitler a person instead of just a wacko made an impact? Because, the only thing that has made the rounds that I've seen from the film is the meme where he's freaking the fuck out; just being a wacko.
So, that seems to be the immediate cultural impact at least.
Tracy:  I agree. I think that's the only thing people have taken away from it. To me, it seems a bit like whistling through the graveyard. It's even scarier, to me, that he was just a person, and that people are capable of this unspeakable evil--anyone is. So if we just look at the wacko, we don't have to think about that part. And also, that people are capable of falling under a charismatic person's sway to the extent that they will EXECUTE THEIR CHILDREN.
Natalie:  Yes! The two scenes with the kids being given drugs are chilling. And to see her swat away her husband as she has to drop to the floor after she's killed them was a glimpse at her maternal instinct but two seconds later, she's straight backed and getting ready to be shot by her husband for the cause. And, I agree, him being a person and having the capacity to be nice to people makes the atrocities that much harder to handle. If he's not a boogie-man, someone else could be just like him. The documentary is Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, not by the same director which is why I couldn't find it. On my queue now . . . so I'll wonder why it's there when I haven't watched it in a year.
Tracy:  Hehehehe. We'll have to do a follow-up post. Two questions that I wanted to hear your thoughts on:
1) This reminded me of the "good Nazi" movie phenomenon, particularly Viggo's "Good." Do you think it was handled well? Thinking of the doctor here.
2) Do you think the U.S. has a movie that similarly confronts our past in a way as unblinking? Where's our slavery movie, in other words?
Natalie:  1. I've not seen "Good" so I don't know about that. I think this movie did a just fine job of presenting "good Nazis" and trying to delve into why they might have been involved with the movement (back to Traudl's comment there) and how they might be good people caught up in a bad situation or good people in other ways but with this one flaw (that is huge). If any more had been done, I don't know that audiences would have swallowed it. It would have been too much a fairy tale. We're already trying to show a monster as a human being who is kind enough to start dictation over when the new secretary can't keep up.
2. No.
We like to blink. A lot. As in, close our eyes and wait until we can just make the bad guy a monster under the bed and be done with it.
Tracy:  Hah! Yeah, I agree. "Good" is more about the birth of the party, so it might not have worked as well anyway. I just find it constantly interesting that Berlin has kept some of its city in rubble so its citizens never forget, and all we've got is "Glory" and "Beloved" and some freaking plaques. So do you think it's 1001 worthy?
Natalie:  Absolutely. Even with more current events, we clean up the mess and make sure to move on in a happy, shiny fashion. Ground Zero for a glaring example. That also ties back to your question--we don't have a film with a "good" terrorist, particularly a "good" Muslim terrorist. We don't have a film with a Muslim terrorist as a main character. DeLillo was slammed for having a 9/11 terrorist as a main character in Falling Man and whosit didn't get far with his terrorist book either--Amis? Can't remember. People get beyond angry when the bad guy might be human here. Is it 1001 worthy? Sure. Because it's important to understand that these aren't Disney villains. We're not dealing with Maleficent who will stay on the celluloid. Some poor woman could birth another Hitler and, for the whole repeat history cliche, we need to face the humanity of evil in our world(s). Would I recommend anyone watch it? Probably not unless that person was really interested in the subject matter. Or I had a captive audience of students.
Tracy:  First of all--you're absolutely right about the way we "commemorate" in this country. Was it Updike who tried to have a terrorist main character? And I think Amis did too, yes. And remember how Maher basically lost his show when he dared parse the word "brave"? And I think it's 1001 worthy for sure. Not only does it tell you stuff, I think it's pretty successful cinematically. I loved how claustrophobic it felt--and I think the book talks about the interesting ways AH is framed. It also seemed to make an argument about how if your cult of personality dude is insane and suicidal, your overall culture becomes insane and suicidal too.
 Tracy:  There were a freaking LOT of suicides.
Natalie:  Yes--Updike was who I was thinking of but Amis did it, too. Maher had a good point. We've talked about the word "hero" before and the problems with how it's used. We could advance quite a bit (in a lot of ways) if we (as a country, not me and you) could complicate our language about good and bad. The soldier is not always a hero and the terrorist is not always evil; both could be called brave in certain ways. We make fighting wars very black and white when they're not at all. And the country does the same thing with any sort of "villain" from terrorists to Michael Jackson's doctor. But, yes yes and yes to your 1001 reasons.
There WERE a lot of suicides. Traudl was one of the only actually brave ones to try to get out.
Tracy:  I've got 1001 reasons and the bitch ain't one.
Natalie:  Ha!
Tracy:  Couldn't resist--so we're on board with Downfall. Next . . . Sombre! More death and doom!
Natalie:  So, Sombre was on the old list so we'll see if we think it should have been axed
Tracy:  So to speak!
Natalie:  J

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