The Meaning of Hitler
by Hope Madden
At a time in history where fascism, neo-Nazism, nationalism, antisemitism and white supremacy flourish out in the open, it seems natural that our collective conscious directs its attention to the rise of the Nazi party.
And at the same time, doesn’t one more documentary about Hitler just add to his legend?
Filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace) grapple with that conundrum in their latest, The Meaning of Hitler.
Their primary aim is to look at how it happened in the first place to see how it might be stopped this go-round without romanticizing Hitler himself. But that had a lot to do with how he became the cult of personality he was, and why he continues to fascinate entitled, angry people.
“The Nazi ideals were acted out by people who were absolutely normal.”
Historian Yehuda Bauer, a 95-year-old who knows firsthand, shares this insight. And while much of what Epperlein and Tucker cover feels well-worn, this one bit of information gives the film upsetting relevance.
That’s why it’s happening again. Hitler was little more than a spoiled, profoundly selfish, childish man who wanted what he wanted. What he wanted was evil, but he found that an awful lot of people were OK with that as long as they believed they would also be allowed to take whatever it is they wanted.
That sounds familiar, but thankfully the film’s main point is not simply to draw obvious parallels with another vane and repugnant manchild. Their central problem is how to expose a fascist’s need to be mythologized without mythologizing the fascist.
They find freshness and relevance, partly in the transparency of their thought processes. It’s often as though we’re privy to the actual construction of the film: images of Epperlein in the scene with a clapboard or boom mic, the sound of Tucker asking the subject a question.
Part of what makes this approach work is the way it deconstructs the propaganda that Hitler used to pretend he was more than a failed artist and spoiled child. Inviting us behind the curtain, Epperlein and Tucker puncture the gaudy theatricality that makes weak men look like something they’re not.
These filmmakers are making a documentary about Hitler specifically to point out that it’s time we end our fascination with fascism.