Hitler's Hit Parade
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"Hitler's Hit Parade" is a documentary montage of
theater and home movies, archival footage, animated films, commercials and
political propaganda that depicts
In scene after scene free of voice-over, we see Hitler kissing babies, German youth doing calisthenics with Nazi emblems on their t-shirts, Mercedes-Benzes streaking up the autobahn, German versions of Busby Berkeley dance routines, etc. against a nonstop sound-track consisting of some of the most schmaltzy pop tunes ever recorded. All this material is woven together seamlessly with a minimum of irony even though the material cries out for the sort of italicizing found in a Michael Moore film. In the face of such obviously toxic material, a voice-over would probably prove redundant.
The general theme that emerges through the images is that of a society consumed with health, well-being and normalcy. Children are uniformly well-fed and robust looking. year old girl has her jaw width measured by a couple of Nazi doctors as if she were livestock. Everybody is prosperous and happy. They all adore Hitler, who comes across as an avuncular figure who would be tempted to tell Germans that they never had so good on every and any occasion.
Against this uniform fabric of optimism, vigor and physical beauty, you have the discordant Jew who is seen in one unflattering photograph after another. In an animated film, we see a beak-nosed Jew plucking the leaves from a tree in the forest out of spite. This imagery comes on the heels of another film excerpt that describes the German nation as a magnificent tree.
The documentary includes the war years, which are depicted graphically and musically as a struggle by the Volk to maintain their way of life despite the hardships. People can endure blackouts and rationing through the help of cheery tunes. Even when men come back from the Russian front missing a leg, they get back into sports and calisthenics with the help of an artificial limb. These images are eerily evocative of the "human interest" stories about American soldiers trying to make the best of things after getting their legs blown off in the Sunni triangle.
Although the German co-directors Oliver Axer
and Susanne Benze had German history in mind when
they made this unsettling film, it obviously resonates with the contemporary
The Republicans present themselves as "positive"
and "optimistic," while the Democrats are "negative" and
"pessimistic." Politicians like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and
George W. Bush demagogically evoke a corn-fed, bible-toting, apple-cheeked
Marxist cultural theory has tried to come to terms with kitsch of this sort ever since the 1930s. Wikipedia states the term originates from the German and Yiddish 'etwas verkitschen' (which has a similar meaning to "knock off" in English).
For Clement Greenberg, Hermann Broch,
and Theodor Adorno, the avant garde and kitsch were
opposites. Kitsch was perceived as an assault on culture. Adorno
developed many of these ideas when he was living in
Broch called kitsch "the evil within the value-system of art" and argued that kitsch involved trying to achieve "beauty" instead of "truth."
In his 1939 essay titled "Avant Garde and Kitsch," written for the Trotskyist Partisan Review, Clement Greenberg lumped Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia together when it came to the question of kitsch and mass society:
"Where today a political regime establishes an official
cultural policy, it is for the sake of demagogy. If kitsch is the official tendency
of culture in
In a few years, Greenberg would abandon socialism altogether
and enlist in the war against Communism using avant-garde art as a heavy
artillery weapon against the
In 1984, the Czech writer Milan Kundera
wrote about kitsch in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." According
to Wikipedia, he argued that kitsch functioned to
exclude everything that humans find difficult to come to terms with, offering
instead a sanitized view of the world in which "all answers are given in
advance and preclude any questions." Obviously he anticipated what would
be happening in the
"Hitler's Hit Parade" opens at the Film Forum in