Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

Into the Abyss (2011) – Werner Herzog (Dir.), Jason Burkett, Michael Perry

I was really hoping this film would be aliens at the bottom of the ocean. Turns out, it’s just people being dicks.

There is a gentleman in the world, by the name of Werner Herzog, who has thoughts on things. Many, many thoughts. Now, I don’t mean that any of these things are either coherent or fundamentally sensical. Nor are they particularly clear or penetrable by anybody other than the director himself. Still, he has them. Not content to remain tied down by the constraints of narrative structure and plot, he has recently bled into the world of documentary filmmaking. For some odd reason, only these films in his extensive filmography are available on Netflix. Therefore it’s all we have with which to deal.

This is the man who filmed a movie about a bunch of guys carrying a boat over a mountain range. This is a man who threatened his muse and leading man Klaus Kinsky at gunpoint while lost in the jungle filming Aguirra Wrath of God. This is a man who managed to out-crazy Nicolas Cage, a feat only ever attempted, and failed, by Tom Cruise. Nicolas Cage, you know, Ghost Rider. You know, that movie so insane they cast Nicolas Cage. You know, the guy so crazy he played Ghost… Wait. I got lost for a second.

One might call Herzog insane. I call him German.

Into the Abyss is the tale of two men in Texas who murdered a woman, her son and another man, in order to steal her Camero. One was sentenced to life-imprisoment, the other death. Herzog interviews the relatives of the victims, the men themselves and other people in the town. That’s about it. There is no voiceover, no title cards other than delineating, overly-dramatic, depressing-as-a-kitten-firing-squad segment shifts. It was one of the most chilling films I have ever witnessed. Why? I have no goddamned idea.

It’s driving me crazy.

“Well they are very frightening for me because their stupidity is so flat. You look into the eyes of a chicken and you lose yourself in a completely flat, frightening stupidity. They are all like a great metaphor for me… I kind of love chicken, but they frighten me more than any other animal.” Werner Herzog on Chickens.

Anyone who has seen of Herzog’s other work will know that he’s about as hands off Eliot Spitzer in a whorehouse. His fingerprints clutter almost every frame, pushing the audience towards thoughts and concepts. He interviews everyone, his voice clear and unmistakeable. Never on camera, he reverberates through the film like a specter, an omniscient skeletal overlord, some kind of anti-deity, infected with a voice so painfully German, it would make Hitler Youth uncomfortable. His questions range from the inane (“What did he look like? What do his hands look like?”) to the unquestionably deep and disturbing (“What did it feel like to be stabbed through the chest? Why do you think you find relief in another man’s death?”). At first, like Guy Maddin, you believe you’re being led through this thing, a goat on a leash, dragged down the corridor of enlightenment. You can choose to buck or walk. Or chew everything in your path, no matter whether or not it’s edible (not sure where this metaphor is going…). But, at second, it’s clear that Herzog isn’t interested in a didactic end. No solution is necessarily put forth, other than perhaps ‘corporal punishment should be abolished.’ That wasn’t even the point. Herzog is examining a single human narrative, a web of emotion and decaying humanity lost within this podunk town. He’s like an existential detective…who isn’t really looking for anything, just wandering around and assaulting people with a camera and German accent. He meanders through these people, a scary, Scandinavian version of that scene from Ghost… with less Whoopi Goldberg and more senseless violence.

What does he discover? I’m not entirely sure. Is it the tale of a town caked in violence and malice? Is it a population wallowing in their own, cripplingly impenetrable denial? Is it the story of two people believing that a car they knew they’d never be able to keep was of more value than the lives of three human beings? Is it the ritual of execution, its inane complexity and rigidness directly contradicting its brutal nature? You sit there, on the edge of your seat, your eyes drinking every sorrowful image, every Texan-twinged, deluded word trickling into your ears, waiting for Herzog to stand up and declare something, anything. And yet he doesn’t. On the one hand we have a man, Jason Burkett, who, having confessed to the crime and allowing his convicted father testify on his behalf, was allowed to live, talking into the camera using a close approximation of what could be construed as remorse. And on the other hand, we have Perry, a man whose psyche is so warped, it gives Moebius a run for his infinitely looping money. The man blathers on about being innocent, his conviction so concrete a jackhammer couldn’t break it, while charging into a tale about being attacked by monkeys in the Everglades. What the fuck?

But it’s not just the two murderers. This is a pastiche of mental rabidity. A score of characters parade their way across the screen, from a man who has nonchalantly come close enough to death, you’d think he was a character in a Bergman film, to a woman who smuggles out a convict’s sperm to ‘artificially inseminate’ herself. What the fuck? Herzog paints the town as a veritable Silent Hill, a suburban, hickish existence of such mind-fuckery that you imagine it as the hell in which you wake after the Reckoning. It even comes equipped with its own immortals. A man describes how he was impaled under the arm with a one-foot philips head screwdriver. Not only did he survive, but the guy walked it the fuck off. To give you a little perspective, under the arm is where Aragorn specifically tells the Elves of Galadriel to stab the Uruk Hai. Did you even see those bastards? They’re like if every bully from high school drank Gremlin/Hulk juice. This guy survived something that would have killed them. Like a boss. He mentions that “a little blood came. And some puss. But I had to be at work in 30 minutes.” Blood is one thing. Puss? I see puss, you will see me shit myself. Who is this guy, Wolverine?

On his leading man, Klaus Kinski: “People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had a mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other’s murder.”

But he’s only the tip the iceberg. In a juxtaposition so insane it has to be true, Herzog interviews both Burkett, one of the murderers, and his wife. She discovered him while working on his case and fell madly in love with the man before even meeting him. As the world is crumbling around her, men sentenced to death, people stabbing one another, petty crime launched into the lap of thoughtless brutality, she talks about a rainbow appearing the moment she met Burkett. A rainbow. A rainbow? Was it soaked in the blood and tears of the innocent? Was it the collective hopelessness of a people driven mad, desperately trying to escape the masochistic boundaries of their pitiful lives by way of refracting light? Or just a rainbow? Either way, bitch is crazy. Now, that’s not a phrase I toss about willy nilly (unlike, for example, the word ‘willy’…tee hee). When she fell in love with a convicted, confessed murderer, that’s one thing. When she married him, though he wouldn’t be free for another forty years, that’s fine. When she smuggles out of jail a vial of his sperm to impregnate herself? Lady is riding the batshit-mobile to fucked-uptonville.

The insanity aside, there are normal humans at the fringe of this tale. Constantly we are met with the surviving sister/daughter of two of the victims, a woman so obliterated by the murders that her entire life has been held hostage. Throughout all of the heartbreak, she ended up there on the day Perry was executed, front and center. As he walked in the room she said ‘he was just a boy’. No monsters. No demons. No Satans taken to Earth. Simply a boy. As the lethal injection was administered, he forgave them for what they were going to do. He forgave them. When he finally passed, when his pulse was taken and the examiners called it, the victim said a “weight was lifted”. Because, sometimes “there are people who just don’t deserve to live.”

There are no demons. Only people. That’s a far more terrifying prospect. To be confronted with an otherish being, a fabrication of the imagination or a creature from nefarious beginnings and murderous ends, is to fight something unlike us. People is us. We are people. These boys simply took a logical leap that left three humans dead. They saw a car. They wanted the car. They killed three people and took the car. From a mathematical point of view, that makes shockingly simple sense. All that occurred was the natural extension of a primal urge. Is it that easy for the rest of us? For anyone?

Burkett’s wife, the queen of ‘Crazy Eyes’. Also, the prime minister of ‘Getting Yourself Pregnant with a Turkey Baster’.

One of the men interviewed used to be in charge of the execution protocol for the State of Texas. He describes, in detail, the agonizingly specific and intricate dealings with an inmate’s final days. It’s a job. It’s a process. The same thing, day in, day out. The mass production of legalized human murder. It wasn’t until he put under his only ever woman, her final words ‘Thank you’ following him every step of the way, that he finally lost the stomach for the work.

As the film leaves, having successfully hollowed out your chest cavity, spraying your innards across the bedroom floor, examining each and every piece that makes you you and declaring a resounding ‘whatever’ before turning and fucking off, there is a final thought. The guard in charge of murdering the inmates mentions you must ‘live your dash’. Every tombstone has two pieces of information, a date of birth and a date of death. That dash between the two is it. Your life. The entire thing. Life isn’t short, as Dwight Schrute would say, it’s the longest thing you do. And there it is, reduced to a measly piece of second-hand punctuation. It doesn’t even have the reverence to be something complex like an ampersand or an interobang. Just a line, curved on both ends (depending on the font), and nothing more. That’s it.

I don’t know why Werner Herzog took an interest in these peoples’ stories. I don’t know why he made this film. I don’t know why any of it is the way that it is. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe he’s German. Maybe he just knows the punchline to some joke I just haven’t gotten far enough to get. One day I’ll get it. Maybe.


by Andrew Mooney

My Winnipeg (2007) – Guy Maddin (Dir.), Anne Savage

First, before you do anything, watch this:

You might be asking yourself, “What just happened?” You might be asking yourself, “Wait, seriously, what the fuck just happened?” You might also be asking yourself, “Wait, guys, stop, stop…wait…WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” And you would be right.

Winnipeg, Land of Dead Dreams

Guy Maddin is a Director (with a capital ‘D’). It’s not that he’s pretentious. It’s not that his films are almost impenetrable on a level of perplexing lunacy that’s positively Lynch-ian . It’s not that he’s a bad person. It’s that he is fucking crazy. When you watch other films by ‘Directors’ (looking at you, Von Trier) you sit back and just accept that these guys know what they’re doing and that they’re smarter than you and that there is no way you will get it so shut up and watch, you uneducated, whorish heathen. But that isn’t true with Mr. Maddin. His films are so blissfully bat-shit that one cannot help but fall into the oceanic quagmire of his rattled psyche. You hit the waters with a crash, your every inch soaking in nonsensical purity, before being knocked about by wave upon wave of sexually-confusing-melodramatic-nightmare/dream-worthy imagery. This isn’t Maddin masturbating into your eye (like some people I know…Von Trier.) , this is a man inviting you inside his head for an hour and twenty minutes.

How do you feel once you’ve escaped? Violated. A little into it. Utterly, utterly, painfully, beautifully confused. Let’s get to it then. This movie exists because the Documentary Channel thought it was a good idea to ask this guy to make something. And he did. Oh, he fucking made something. On the surface, it’s the story of Guy Maddin growing up in Winnipeg, Canada. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Canada or met a Canadian, but, in general, they are made of lollipop dreams. They have managed, as a country, to create a persona so infallible that the world thinks they’re the niceness equivalent of the second coming of Jesus.

Not according to Guy Maddin. Sheeeeeeeeit.

This film, well, it’s a psycho-analytic fever-dream of a thing, twisting and curving through the murky past of Maddin’s bizarrely abusive relationship with his mother, a brief foray into his adolescent homosexual experiences (the dude is straight…I know, right?), and an existentially metaphorical waltz through a city once golden and now crumbled into purgatorial hellscape. Here are a few items that you will witness during the truncated length of this film: he reenacts sections of his life with actors standing in for his mother and siblings (though he insists it’s his actual mother. Eesh). He exhumes his dead father and puts him under the rug in the living room because it ‘makes mother feel more comfortable’. Horses freeze in a river, populating the ice with shattered grimaces held in place for the entirety of the winter, real-life, stomach-churning ice sculptures. A map of a river repeatedly overlaid with a vagina. Ledge Man! A television show about a boy trying to commit suicide every episode and his mother convincing him not to. A gay bison stampede through a theme park. And so, so much more!

That shit actually happened. Canada is a place of death and frozen horses. And bacon that’s actually ham. Hellish.

This is a ‘documentary’ and yet there is absolutely no way to check any of these facts against reality. According to Mr. Maddin, Winnipeg has a civic law prohibiting the destruction of signage, thus the creation of the world’s largest graveyard of discarded signs. Fake Nazis invaded the city during WWII as a test to see what would actually happen if the fuhrer made it across the pond. The town has an epidemic of sleepwalkers. What do you make of this? Do you sit there, declaring what’s bullshit and what’s not? Do you call the man on his shenanigans? Or do you sit back and allow the insanity to take hold, to seep through your every pore and infect you with the oddity of pure sense. Not an ounce of this picture is coherent and yet you never question. Once the claws are in, you let it drag you along, smacking your head against the sidewalks of ‘irrationality’ and ‘Oedipal complexes’. It’s as though you’re sitting next to a good friend, showing you his/her art film. Every time you ask a question, such as ‘Did you have to dissect a pig anus? And did you have to do it to a soundtrack of the Backstreet Boys?’ they yell ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP AND WATCH’. And you do. You do shut the fuck up. And you do watch.

And I haven’t even scratched the fucking surface. His style, for whatever reason, harkens back to the melodramatic noirs of the late thirties and forties. Maddin’s voiceover is a mixture of Werner-Herzogian hilarity, peppered with misplaced metaphors and thoughts so deep, you’d need James Cameron to excavate the bottom. (Side note movie idea: James Cameron as a ‘thought diver’. He uses an Inception-like submarine to dive into your darkest dreams and nightmares…and once he gets there he calls you a ‘pussy’ and makes a billion dollars. How? Don’t ask. He’s James Fucking Cameron.) And between the eyeball-battering flashes of disconnected flotsam and jetsam, Maddin breaks in with title cards screaming subtext through your entire body. There’s no time to process or argue, you just have to wait, thinking, “Wait…wait… did that just say boobs? Guys…why did it say boobs? Guys…?”

Here are a few of my favorite title cards:

“Breast milk!”



“The Marchpast of Flesh.”

“The Corridor of Thighs!”



This is an actual title card. The piece de resistance.

It’s as though those art students, who create six-hour performance pieces of them exfoliating their scrotums while pouring cat urine into a hollowed out doll-head and repeating ‘IRAQ, IRAQ, IRAQ,’ are slowly digested by the world at large, sucking out the creative juices that bring about such acts of bold artistic bullshit and funneling it down into a well of the collective-consciousness, an emotional runoff, a cesspit of retarded passion. As they hide their tattoos, grow back the half of their head they shaved and begin wearing clothes that weren’t found in a dumpster, their aesthetic aspirations die a quiet death. Does that energy dissipate? Or concentrate into a mix of such hellish oddity that it would make the Marquis De Sade blush. If that does indeed exist, then Maddin is the guy who found it and jumped the fuck in. He’s if those people made full-length films. Every second is an assault on the sense and the logic of reality.

All that said, this was, by far and away, my favorite viewing experience thus far. As he turned Winnipeg into the ideal of Beckettian nonexistence, I gobbled up every second. And I had no fucking clue what was happening. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in years. But we need that. We need that jump in the tracks to off-set the train of normality, sending it careening into the uncharted woods of pure possibility, killing all 350 passengers of conformity and…alright, that metaphor got weird. Point is: we need the crazy. We don’t need too much. We don’t need it all the time. But we need it, a palette cleanser for the artistic soul, a catharsis of such inexplicable queerness, it forces you to question everything in your life…until you realize that you just watched a movie. You take a breath. You eat another Twizzler and turn on The Big Bang Theory. The cycle begins again.

As a person who has severe phobias of being trapped in my Connecticut hometown, I can absolutely relate to the train that just never leaves the station, the over-riding frustration that translate directly into crushing inaction. It’s hard to encapsulate the emotions we have towards the places we grew up. These nurturing spaces transform into a malevolent specter, a symbol of comfort that becomes smothering. It’s a pillow that you know you can lay your head when the world gets rough, an eternal safe space…and yet, when you fall back and feel the warmth of slipping between sheets that you’ve felt a thousand times before…you remember that you’re falling back, not forward. You get tired. You tell yourself 5 more minutes. Ten, twenty…

Home. It’s deadly.

A day passes. And another. And another. Maybe a year. You look at the clock and rub your eyes. Most of your young life is gone. And all you’ve done is catch up with sleep.

by Andrew Mooney

Bill Cunningham New York (2010) – Richard Press (Dir.), Bill Cunningham (duh)

This movie makes me want a bike. Not that I’d ride it. I just want one. Gimme.

Alright, so I’ve broken down and created a new category of viewing situation. This isn’t a relapse. I’m not slipping into my old ways of watching Independence Day every time I can’t think of anything else to do (I will not go quietly into the night, Mr. President. Never.) This is a new part of the game. It came to my aggravated attention that Netflix changes movie availability. I mean, am I surprised? Bastards. Therefore, movies harshly recommended by friends, or those that are required viewing need to be watched now or never (see what I did there? I went to college!). After an extremely forceful suggestion from my friend and work-buddy Christin, Ryan and I flicked this bad boy onto the streaming mecca that is the Flix of Net.

Now, I’ve never been a fashion person. I’m white. I’m male. I’m straight (shocking, I am aware). Thus, my predisposition for well-tailored clothing isn’t genetically probable. I spent all of high-school looking like a Backstreet Boy, then a copper-top battery, later upgrading to ‘fancy homeless person chic’ in college. It wasn’t until I began my hilariously fish-out-of-water talents towards the hair industry did I begin to see the light…and learn anything about the fine, ancient, mind-boggling art of ‘color coordination’. I’m still fairly terrible at it…but at least I’m told occasionally I dress well. The issue had always been one of apathy. I didn’t care. Fashion was for people with money. Fashion was for ladies and, as some of my relatives would put it, ‘the gays’ (God love the Brits). I’ve always been a man of words, putting them on the page, shifting them about with nerdish glee and twisting phrases like a lad ripping apart ants on the playground. Visual aesthetics have always been lost on me. During my ‘fucking idiot’ period, reaching its indelible peak during freshman year of Oberlin, I would love to lay down statements, laced with bovine fecal matter, such as, “Modern art isn’t art.” I wish I had a time machine. I’d go back and slap the shit out of myself. (And I’d also go back and insert myself inconspicuously into scenes of Jurassic Park containing Laura Dern. Don’t ask why. I don’t judge what you’d do with a time machine. Jerk.)

Bill “You Wish I Were Your Grandfather” Cunningham

Alright, that’s the lengthy and, most likely, unnecessary preamble. Let’s cut the foreplay and whip out…the movie. So, there’s this guy, Bill Cunningham. He’s 83. He did live in a rent-controlled artist studio in Carnegie Hall until he was evicted. He only has about 3 outfits. He has no kitchen, no bathroom because, as he says, “Who needs all those rooms to clean?”. His bed is plywood held up by books. He owns nothing but a camera, a Scwhinn bike and about ten thousand filing cabinets. And he is one of the most respected names in fashion journalism. No fucking joke. This guy, right here, is the definition of artistic badass. If he were a warrior of art, he’d be John McClane strapped to Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrapped in a big ball of Alexander the Great and sprinkled with a dash of Death Star.

He takes photos. That’s it. They’re not prepped; there is no studio, no set up. Candid. People on the street in New York, in Paris, just wandering around. He sees something, he takes a picture. And that is all he does. He barely eats. I’m not even sure he sleeps. He simply takes photos of anything he likes. No less. No more. He doesn’t give a shit about celebrity or fame or manners or whatever. If it’s ‘boring’, you’re out of the club, bucko. Good luck next year when you’re not such a bland, cookie-cutter douchebag, crowding the streets of our cities, spreading cultural excrement in a way to build your own insatiable self-esteem…

Sorry, not sure where that one came from.

Iris “George Burns” Apfel

Thus, in New York, there is a man, a superhero if you will, wandering the streets in a blue windbreaker, snipping and snapping people leaping over puddles and snuck in snow drifts, documenting every inch of current fashion. An old man, who, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think was a misplaced trainspotter and/or peeping Tom, trolling for young flesh to add to his scrapbook of pre-faceless victims. But he’s not. The second you hear him talk, you realize this guy is the result of dipping Mr. Rogers in fairy-batter and baking in an oven set to ‘Adorable’ degrees. He’s probably the only person on planet earth, who could stand on a corner in Soho, taking photos of people’s butts and escape without a stiletto heel burying in his spleen.

Within minutes, I was convinced Mr. Cunningham was no mere mortal. His artistic passion is so uncompromisingly beautiful that he disregards romantic relationships, base needs, social standing etc. He does whatever he wants. He tore up checks from Conde Naste because, “if they give you money, they own you.” He is an artistic aesthete I’ve never experienced in my life. He’s described by fashionistas and titans of the fashion industry as ‘the most important man in the world’. And yet, he’s this 90lb bag of bones and pixie-dust jam who doesn’t even stop hiding in the sidelines and snapping shots at his own awards show. No, he is not a man. He’s a demigod, a nymph displaced from the ancient forest to the urban millennium, drifting about civilization, observing and yet never disrupting. He does not review. He does not analyze. He simply watches. When told to differentiate street fashion as ‘in’ or ‘out’ he returned with the agonizingly egalitarian, and bewitchingly brilliant “if they’re wearing it, it’s ‘in’. Everything is ‘in'” (paraphrase, sorry). In no way does he create trends. He’s a cultural scientist of such blissful objectivity that he can simply observe. He does not partake in the slightest, never accepting so much as a glass of water at events and sporting a duct-taped poncho when it rains because, “why buy a new one? It’ll just rip in the same places.”

‘Inspiring’ isn’t the word for Bill Cunningham, nor would he care for it. It’s something else. This man is living proof that artistic ideals never need to be compromised. When I complain about how my work may not allow me enough time and energy for my writing, I’m incorrect. I’m giving in. I’m allowing what is as essential to me as respiration fall by the wayside because of petty things such as ‘nice food’ and ‘belongings’ and ‘relationships’. If committing word to the page, be it electronic or otherwise, is the delicious addiction I believe it to be, nothing will get in my way to get my fix.

The movie as a whole is endlessly enjoyable. Not only does Bill “Teddy Bear Made Out of Gumdrop Dreams” Cunningham brighten every frame, but he has collected such a gallery of fascinating characters that you can only marvel at the eccentricity on display. From the 98 year-old Editta Sherman, who refused eviction from Carnegie Hall as well, declaring the film-crew uncivilized for not bringing coffee, yelling at them for filming one of her pictures of Andy Warhol and displaying one of her Cunningham original berets, to the former ambassador of Nepal modeling his collection of polky-dot, plaid, striped, furniture-stolen, manic-panic clashes of chromatic brilliance, pieces that would make a blind man declare, “That suit is loud as hell.” We have a man who refuses to you let you see his face as he changes hats (and they are fucking fabulous, of course). We have Iris Apfel, whose plate-sized spectacles and peacock-murdered attire manage, somehow, to overshadow her fun-house decorated apartment, rounded out subtly with a stuffed parrot looking directly into the camera (It’s disconcerting. I was uncomfortable). But, still, for those morsels of insanity shaved down into human form, none of his muses can measure up to the enigmatic nature of this movie’s subject.

Editta “I’m a Legend. And Get Me a Coffee, You Bastards.” Sherman

Mr. Cunningham is an example of a curious cultural phenomenon. His fervor and unbreakable dedication to his work is not simply trapped in the world of fashion. In every walk of life there are maniacs of a similar sort, people who have crafted something seemingly minor into an art form. Look at plumbing. I guarantee there are people who care so deeply about controlling the path of water in an industrial environment that they have made it their life work. Every aspect of our society has an obsessive, unrelenting and unyielding, whittling their field down from the basic to the infinitely artful. For Cunningham, it’s what people wear. For Isaac Newton, it was calculus. For Bill Gates, its computing. They are the web of passion, coursing through every fiber of civilization, holding the whole thing together for the rest of us. The blood pumping away under the surface.

I witness it and, in vain, wish I could be one of them. I’m not. I’m just an asshole with computer who enjoys the sound of keystrokes. And that’s fine. I love being an asshole…(there should be a better way of saying that). For all the work I put into my craft, I’m still human. I am no demigod or genius. I go home at night and hang out with roommates. I have relationships. My addiction can subside without stimulation, allowing me just slivers of temporal briefness to live in the moment. For all the undying respect I have for greats such as Bill Cunningham, I would never wish to be part of the club.

There was a moment, near the end, when Bill was asked if he’d ever had a relationship. He laughed, of course, and said ‘no.’ He was then asked why he goes to church every Sunday. He fell silent and looked down at his hands. For far too long. Press, the documentarian, told him he didn’t have to answer…yet Bill had shut down. As though a kill switch had been flicked. For all his smiles and sweetness, for all his charm and gregarious nature, he was still impenetrable. There was no way into his psyche. We are simply allowed to witness. He only let’s us observe.

There’s no way into a mind such as that. Perhaps, it’s best if we simply leave it, an undiscovered country. Perhaps, under the surface, there’s nothing we would wish to see. I’m okay with that. I think.

Yep. Nazis. Everywhere.

by Andrew Mooney

Triumph of the Will (1935) – Leni Riefenstahl (Dir.), Adolf Hitler

So, funny story. After Melancholia, I devised my system of complete randomness to select the next movie on the docket. My roommate and I spent over an hour combing Netflix for available films from famous directors, Oscar Winners of years past and, of course, from various countries in Eastern Europe that may or may not still exist. Dozens of films dropped into the pot, running the gamut of genre, style and nation of origin. Finally, when the grand moment came to choose, Alex stuck his hand in and removed this wonderful piece of Nazi history. We both laughed. We both cried. It was human drama.

If you were not aware, Triumph of the Will is the restored version of a propaganda film/documentary/Nazi-boner-fest taken from footage of the 1934 Nuremberg rallies. It is edited…barely. There is little-to-no commentary. Just footage. Footage of Nazis. And flags. And soldiers. And more soldiers. And more soldiers. And Hitler. And Goebbels. And the rest of that goofy gang of genocidal maniacs. The only reason I even included this bad boy on the list was simply for historical perspective, the same reasoning for Birth of a Nation’s inclusion. By no means is the subject matter laudable. Don’t get me wrong, Nazi’s…I hate these guys. However, it was on the list and so we had to watch. Rules is rules.

It’s difficult to sum up the movie…in that it’s incredibly easy. It’s just Nazis. Marching. Smiling. Waving. Zeig Heiling (all the fucking time). Talking. Yelling. Hitting things. Racing cars. Giving piggyback rides…while shirtless…with young boys.

Okay, I’ve heard some jokes in my time, but nobody had ever actually explained to me that Nazi Germany was so damn gay. The homoeroticism of the German military at that time was so overbearing, I half-expected them to break into song and dance. There is a fifteen minute segment of soldiers getting ready for the rally. They cut and styled each other’s hair (extremely fashionably, I might add), they washed each other, they wrestled, they climbed on each other, they wrestled more. The whole thing was reeking with tension. This prelude was only one wiener schnitzel away from spontaneous Third Reich blow jobs. Alas, none occurred.



What did I take away from this racially pure, 2-hour monstrosity? Well, mainly…Hitler never had anyone tell him he had a cowlick on the back of his head. This is confusing to me. It was incredibly silly. Couldn’t he tell something was amiss back there? His Third Reich petroleum pomade wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain? That one, rogue piece of hair flicked and flailed its way through speech after speech, flagrantly ignoring the rules of proper styling. When I posed the question to my roommate,  “Why didn’t anyone tell him it was there?” his response was: “Because he’s fucking Hitler.” Lawyered.

Along with that, whenever people saluted the Fuhrer, he returned with an extremely limp-wristed wave. I found this disconcerting in its femininity. But, then again, he is Hitler…so everything should be disconcerting.

In all seriousness, there were some morsels of intrigue. Firstly, none of the language used was harsh. In general, he never mongered fear; he never specified enemies and threats. Hitler only spoke of making the Fatherland (or Motherland, I wasn’t entirely clear with the German genders) healthy and strong again. Of course, this may have been skewed by the decidedly minimalist subtitles. There were several lengths of time where a heavy-set member of the Reichstag was babbling on and the bottom revealed none of the mysteries he held. Also, I counted only one reference to ‘racial purity’. Shocking, I know.

It's great to be a homosexual. Just don't try killing all the gays. Please.

It’s fine to be a homosexual. We support you. Just don’t try killing all the gays. Please.

In this day and age, any time people have a strong opinion about anything, in any direction, they are frequently labeled as being a ‘Nazi’. Much like when I finally read the book 1984, this movie helped me realize how absurd and bullshit-laden their gross hyperboles actually were. Nazism isn’t simply an extreme point of view. It’s an extreme way of life. Nuremberg doesn’t show a band of chaotic, infuriated hate-mongers. It shows a machine, well-oiled and efficient. Ready for way. They had a single goal. America? When was the last time we were united by anything? A protest sprouts every twenty minutes, be it about the War in Afghanistan, Obamacare, Wall Street, the FDA or a protest to peoples’ right to protest. We’re immobilized by our ability to disagree with the government, the state and ourselves. Of course, the road to totalitarianism is slippery when wet…but with the Internet at our side, free speech has a long way to go before its death.

Also, we’re lazy. Points of view are fine if you do anything about it. These guys did. If you see Nuremberg, they built what can only be described as a Nazi Circus Maximus just for this rally. When was the last time something like that was done in the States? I’ll answer. It was for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. For sports. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any Nazis in America…there are. What I’m saying is that no totalitarian position could take hold and turn us into a genocidal nation. We don’t care enough. This kind of movement takes almost everyone. The only way to get a unified response from our people as a whole would be to turn off the Internet. Even then, there’d be an old couple in Boca Raton saying, “Marty, I was hoping to get one of those Internets. Now they’re all gone!”

Interesting factoid: Triumph of the Will was directed by a lady. I was extremely surprised. I’ve found no end to my frustration that there aren’t more prominent female filmmakers in the 20th century. According to The Economist (by way of Wikipedia) Leni Riefenstahl was the most prominent. I don’t know how I feel about that. Sad? After the war, she was understandably blacklisted and never worked again. Yes, she was a close member of the Nazi party…but she was also an incredibly talented artist. Either way, the film is an amazing achievement even if it is unwatchable by anybody other than members of the National Socialist Party.

Final thought: it is extremely disconcerting to witness people being excited to see Hitler. I was emotionally bewildered.

This confuses me on every level.

This confuses me on every level.

Again, this is a film I would never watch again. Ever. Ever. I don’t even recommend it to you. It’s painful. And Nazi. However, if you’re interested in seeing a piece of propaganda, check it out.