The Goebbels Experiment
Writer Hannah Ardent’s now famous description of Nazism, (composed during her coverage of Adolph Eichman’s trial) as “the banality of evil” could easily serve as an alternate title for this grimly fascinating portrait of Hitler’s chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. Using excerpts taken from the personal diaries of the party’s chief spokesman, directors Lutz Hachmeister and Michael Kloft have fashioned a portrait which debunks the supposed evil genius of the Fuhrer’s clique.
Drawing on journal entries from 1924 until his suicide in the spring of 1945, (along with an extraordinary level of period film footage) the directors chronicle the rise and fall of this vain popinjay from his days as a discontented student all the way to Hitler’s inner circle. As narrator Kenneth Branagh’s voice crisply intones Goebbels own words, the audience is taken through a brief history of the rise of National Socialism as seen through the eyes of one of its superstars. What emerges is not a picture of wicked brilliance, but rather one of toadying vanity and adolescent hero worship. Mouthing racist party cant in his private thoughts as though he was delivering philosophical insights, Goebbels reveals Goebbels to be no more significant than “Bull” Connor, Birmingham Alabama’s racist sheriff in the civil rights era of the 1960’s.
It’s also interesting to discover how petty Goebbels was; attacking other members of Hitler’s inner-circle with a level of vitriol that suggests a man of profound psychological insecurities. He reflects on his wife with icy distain and sees his children as accessories in his self-stylized portrait of Nordic perfection. Goebbels clearly excelled at self-delusion however; no wonder his control over Germany’s radio and film industries during the 30’s and early 40’s produced precisely the same type of cultural kitsch found in so many other aspects of Germany’s arts during the Nazi era.
This is the second notable documentary on The Third Reich to be released in the U. S. this year; in the spring the remarkable “WATERmarks” and now this de-mythologizing look at an intensely self-absorbed sycophant who rode the paranoia and latent racism of his countrymen to a seat of enormous power, suppressing dissent ruthlessly and playing the role of spin doctor for one of history’s premier obscenities.
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