Adolf Hitler's past as a frustrated artist is well known, but in this compilation documentary THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM writer-editor-director-producer Peter Cohen posits that the Third Reich itself was an expression of its Fuhrer's creative demiurge.
As narrated by Bruno Ganz, the esthetic ideal of the former watercolorist was to be played out in a novel medium--the masses of Central Europe. (And Cohen reminds us that it was not only Hitler who had artistic pretensions: Goebbels had an unpublished novel and play, besides a Ph.D. and Hitler
Youth leader Baldur von Sirach was considered at least a minor poet.) Maintaining an avid participation in the artistic elements of his revolution, Hitler helped design Nazi regalia, fed basic design ideas to architect Albert Speer, and presided over the annual exhibit of German art in Munich
until the war interfered with his hobby. The art that was approved was detailed representational works of the ideally Aryan: heroic soldiers with just a touch of requisite dust; happy peasant families grouped around hearty meals, and young or dignified blondes in the appropriate Nazi uniform
(storm trooper, SS, labor service or Nazi party).
To highlight this official art, an exhibit of "degenerate" art was staged concurrently with an equally large sign proclaiming free admission. Labelled "cultural Bolshevism" by the Nazis, the expressionist and dadaist paintings, sketches and sculptures were openly compared with photographs of
patients with Down's syndrome and other congenital disorders to prove in the Nazi pseudo-scientific way that the proscribed art was diseased.
Their new esthetic was not limited to canvas and marble, the Nazis boasted in a short film that chronicled the supplanting of dirty factories and slums with tidy workshops and model towns, with houses looking oddly like steep-roofed peasant farmhouses. Hitler's obsession with rebuilding German
cities dates back to his teenage years in Linz and continued to his last months. He had Speer draft plans for a new Berlin, to be renamed Germania, that would dwarf Rome and Paris with gargantuan buildings along neoclassical lines.
Having banned degenerate art and laid the foundation for a new Germany, the Nazis began to take their eugenic doctrines deadly seriously. They warned of the menace of the congenitally deformed in short documentaries with Nazified physicians and a clinical veneer, and Cohen states that 45 percent
of the doctor population joined the Party, viewing themselves as "racial soldiers." Those soldiers were thrown into action when the war started; military necessity was their rationale.
While political enemies were imprisoned, tortured and killed from the first days of Nazi rule, the T-4 euthanasia program was aimed at Germans afflicted with long-term disorders that could be termed incurable, whose lives were deemed unworthy of continuation. SS doctors used the war as an excuse
to move these patients from hospitals to innocuous-sounding clinics where, as is revealed by even a brief examination of remaining paperwork, they were gassed. This business was conducted on German soil in middle-sized towns, and when increasingly alarming news leaked out, for instance, that the
war wounded might get similar "special treatment," the T-4 program aroused a storm of public dismay and clerical protest. Chastened, the SS learned several lessons from the euthanasia program, trained key personnel and evolved a medical metaphor for mass murder.
The decision at the infamous Wannsee conference to eliminate all the Jews in occupied territory is seen in THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM as Hitler's reaction to defeat. To justify this measure a film like DER EWIGE JUDE/THE ETERNAL JEW compares the future victims to rats, a source of disease and
disorder, and footage of a Polish ghetto is used to hammer the point home.
SS physicians met every train coming to the extermination camps to separate those for immediate death from those slated for a slower death from hard labor. The key weapon for the "racial soldiers" was an industrial insecticide we see featured in a short documentary, ZYKLON-B, that was found far
more efficient than old-fashioned firing squads or carbon monoxide. That the man who presided over the Wannsee meeting was Reinhard Heydrich completed the circle of Nazi esthetics, since Heydrich was a tall, athletic blonde who was a champion fencer, an accomplished violinist, spoke several
languages, came from a solidly middle-class family and was a decorated combat flier as well as Himmler's second-in-command.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM is an excellent and compelling synthesis of several key concepts about the Third Reich; it is also a splendid example of the classic compilation documentary, using Nazi source material, including some rarely seen footage, to make its argument.
The medical metaphor is grimly accurate since most SS men were eager to rationalize their deeds and hatreds with a scientific screen. And the passion behind that hatred was oddly artistic, beyond reason and normal politics. The dream of a racially pure Europe under German leadership has romantic
origins and the personalities behind the Nazi Party, Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels, were sophisticated in the use of symbols, graphics and mass spectacles. Cohen's emphasis, however, blinds him to the more traditional antecedents of Nazism, the racist writers and politicians in imperial Austria who
helped mold Hitler's youthful environment. Hitler had written in 1923 of the possible mass murder of Jews, while the start of its implementation came before the real Allied victories at Stalingrad, El Alamein and Kursk, so the suggestion that the "final solution" was a reaction to defeat is highly
That the plan was conducted despite the beleagured army's crying need for resources is true enough, after all esthetics always outweighed the practical in the Fuhrer's mind. Oddly, THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM does not stress an irony revealed by the paintings and sketches done by the artists
assigned to follow the combat units. As the troops had to face withdrawls and defeats, they began to resemble the distorted faces condemned as degenerate a decade earlier.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: Adolf Hitler's past as a frustrated artist is well known, but in this compilation documentary THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM writer-editor-director-producer Peter Cohen posits that the Third Reich itself was an expression of its Fuhrer's creative demiurge. As… (more)