The Goebbels Experiment

  • 2004
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Lutz Hachmeister's and Michael Kloft's documentary about Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would be funny if it weren't so horrifying. Constructed from newsreels, home movies and German feature films of the '30s and '40s, this visual collage of familiar and unfamiliar images is juxtaposed with excerpts from the diaries Goebbels kept from 1924 until his suicide...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Lutz Hachmeister's and Michael Kloft's documentary about Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would be funny if it weren't so horrifying. Constructed from newsreels, home movies and German feature films of the '30s and '40s, this visual collage of familiar and unfamiliar images is juxtaposed with excerpts from the diaries Goebbels kept from 1924 until his suicide in 1945, read by Kenneth Branagh. The film doesn't really cast Goebbels in a new light. His virulent anti-Semitism, professional paranoia, opportunism and savvy political maneuvering are all present and familiar. But it's hard to reconcile the hatemongering image of one of the architects of the Third Reich's horrors with this stream of petty bitchiness, worthy of a particularly self-involved teenager. SS head Heinrich Himmler hates him. His foot hurts (Goebbels was born with a clubfoot). Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl is a manipulative crybaby. He doesn't have any friends. The petit bourgeois neighbors in his hometown of Rheydt gossip about his sainted mother (not that he has much use for religion, but he holds his mother in high regard). He can't get a date, and spiteful rumormongers say he's queer. Even the juvenile vacillating between adoration and loathing is there: At first Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering is a morphine addict; then they go on a trip to Paris and he's a nice chap; then he's a fop prancing around in an inappropriate silver uniform and the Reich crumbles. Goebbels' devoted wife, Magda, and Der Fuehrer himself, who commanded Goebbels' loyalty to the bitter end, are held up to his impossible standards and regularly found wanting. What's absent from this spiteful, ridiculously melodramatic recitation of grudges and enthusiasms is any sign of either the eloquent orator considered second only to Adolf Hitler himself or the brilliant strategist who wrote the book on perverting public opinion through media manipulation. But there's lots of movie criticism: The Italians have no gift for filmmaking; Czech films are grubby; TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD (1928) is too overtly propagandistic, though he admits that the Bolsheviks know a thing or two about propaganda, which is more than he can say for the English, whose newsreels are "miserably and amateurishly made." Hannah Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil" has been worked to death, but in the face of Goebbels' whining enumeration of personal slights and grandiose pronouncements, it's impossible to get out of your head. (In English and German, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Lutz Hachmeister's and Michael Kloft's documentary about Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would be funny if it weren't so horrifying. Constructed from newsreels, home movies and German feature films of the '30s and '40s, this visual collage of familiar an… (more)

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