January 11, 2007

How to make a comedy about Hitler.

I'm sure you could think of a lot of rules, but surely one of them is: Don't make Hitler sympathetic. Yes, perhaps in comedy, rules are there to be broken, and as soon as you come up with an important rule, someone's going to say, then that's the one we've got to break. You're betting on your own genius then. And most films are... bad:
The advance buzz about “Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler,” which opens [in Germany] Thursday, has been almost uniformly negative...

“Most of the jokes are flat, harmless or stale, and what’s particularly offensive is that Adolf Hitler, of all people, is given quite sympathetic character traits,” wrote Harald Peters in Welt am Sonntag.

Even Helge Schneider, the madcap German comedian and actor who portrays Hitler, has distanced himself from the film, saying in a radio interview here: “It didn’t thrill me. I just don’t find it funny.”

No doubt, some of the bad reaction is a matter of taste. “Mein Führer,” directed by a Jewish filmmaker, depicts Hitler in scenes that could be drawn from a movie by the Farrelly brothers — wetting his bed, playing with a toy battleship in the bath, padding around his office on all fours while barking like a dog and so on.

But the noisy national debate — over what is by all accounts a flawed film that the public has not yet seen — shows that Hitler remains an enduringly uncomfortable topic for many here.
"Uncomfortable"... "for many"...

19 comments:

Ron said...

other rules:

Maybe a little Richard III pathos in the bunker is too much...

Catskills Humor? Just. Don't. Go. There.

"Hah! Oliver will play me someday!" may be true, but not a lotta love there!

If he says, "I was in favor of the war before I was against it," just whistle right on by.

Don't go hip-hop. OG does not mean Original Gruppenfuehrer.

Having him read some Ezra Pound while holding the skull of Ernst Rohm will not score Brownshirtie Points with the Literary Crowd.

Remember: The Night of the Long Knives is not a Highlander sequel.

Also make sure to keep Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick away. Fuehrer's Bueller Is Way Off won't be a good Variety headline.

Hunter McDaniel said...

The best rendition of Hitler, in my view, was Bruno Ganz in "Downfall". Not a cartoon villian, not a buffoon, not misunderstood - but absolutely believable. It is chilling to watch.

Anonymous said...

There's a sketch from Mr Show from a few years back, in which Hitlers are cloned and distributed to Jewish families as reparations for the holocaust, in which the Hitlers are played sympathetically. The bit is brilliantly funny, however, and works completely. It seems like what people are actually mad about is that such a nontrivial convention break wasn't funny, and if you're going to break a solid convention, you have to make it really, really funny or you're squandering an opportunity.

I think people resent that but aren't really conscious of the layer of resentment in their rage.

Pogo said...

Monty Python had it right.

price said...

There's something to be said for ridiculing someone by making them look really pathetic. Like the Kim Jong-Il stuff in Team America. Unfortunately, this sounds nowhere near as clever.

Anonymous said...

Making Hitler funny is a perhaps unwise. But making "Hilter" funny is a different story!!!

Robert said...

This reminded me of a short sharp shock I had while watching the film version of "Angels in America". One of the main characters (name escapes me) refers to Roy Cohn as 'the Pole Star of human evil.' I chuckled reflexively, then it hit me - who could know the history of the XXth Century in any detail whatsoever and make that statement in any serious way?

Stalin and Mao each may have murdered millions more, but neither can match Hitler's iconic quality.

On a bizarre, digressive note, there was a parodistic edition of _Hellboy_ comic book stories (partially authored by Mike Mignola) which feature Hellboy, Jr., as an apprentice devil. He is assigned to torment a cantankerous meatbag with delusions of grandeur. Yup, cartoon Hitler in cartoon Hell. It was a l m o s t
funny. . .

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

Springtime for Hitler?

vbspurs said...

Original Gruppenfuehrer.

LOL!

On the topic of making Nazis and Hitler funny, WELL.

My German mother wouldn't allow me to watch reruns of Hogan's Heroes, because according to her, it made sheer evil into buffoonery.

I blogged about this comedy film apropos to a Christmas post where German shoppers complained some toy Santas were giving the "Hitlergru" gesture.

Yes, in Germany, it's still too soon, despite the great strides forward in coming to terms with their past, this past two years or so.

That Downfall the film was possible, as Hunter referred to, starring an actor the calibre of Bruno Ganz (long considered the best German-speaking actor, though he's Swiss) is a miracle.

Not that it was a sympathetic portrayal of Hitler, but you know, it just wouldn't have happened a mere decade ago.

Why? Because amongst other things, it's a very banal film. You learn, for example, that the last meal Hitler had on earth, was ravioli.

It's like Iraqi's one day, doing a film about Saddam Hussein, portraying the last meal he had on earth, which was reportedly, Burger King.

Cheers,
Victoria

Anonymous said...

I agree with Hunter McDaniel above. "Downfall" is a must-see movie. Bruno Ganz's performance is a marvel, as are those of most of the other cast members. The ensemble manages to convey the psychology, the mannerisms and a believable outward appearance of Hitler and his circle in those lurid last days. This is, of course, not a comic Hitler, but a human one—believable and chilling indeed.

My only criticism is that the movie suffers from a serious limitation on the number of extras. The Red Army looks like it was portrayed by about a dozen people, and the Germans had about eight. Much is done with tricky camera work and computer enhancement, but in the end we see a remarkably underpopulated World War II.

vbspurs said...

Original Gruppenfuehrer.

LOL!

On the topic of making Nazis and Hitler funny, WELL.

My German mother wouldn't allow me to watch reruns of Hogan's Heroes, because according to her, it made sheer evil into buffoonery.

I blogged about this comedy film during Christmas, pointing to German shoppers complaints that some toy Santas were giving the "Hitlergru" gesture.

Yes, in Germany, a pure comedy film on Hitler it's still too soon, despite the great strides forward in coming to terms with their past, this past two years or so.

That Downfall the film was possible, as Hunter referred to, starring an actor the calibre of Bruno Ganz (long considered the best German-speaking actor, though he's Swiss) is a miracle.

Not that it was a sympathetic portrayal of Hitler, but you know, it just wouldn't have happened a mere decade ago.

Why? Because amongst other things, it's a very banal film.

You learn, for example, that the last meal Hitler had on earth, was ravioli.

It's like Iraqi's one day, doing a film about Saddam Hussein, portraying the last meal he had on earth, which was reportedly, Burger King.

I mean, sheah. I have ravioli and BK everyday.

Cheers,
Victoria

OddD said...

Ha! Yes, that Mr. Show sketch is brilliant. They have the Hitler clones doing mundane tasks, but I think one of them reverted to the old shouting-speech style--the talk show host Hitler?

Another good "sympathetic" Hitler bit comes from Matt and Trey. Here.

This segues into Satan singing "Christmas Time In Hell", where our poor little Fuhrer gets a "tannenbaum".

Forty_Two said...

Hitler's public speaking style seems to have fallen out of favor. My 11 year old apes it quite well.

MrBuddwing said...

I was thunder and struck, as the saying goes, to find out that British TV had attempted a sitcom about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun called "Heil Honey, I'm Home." Some nice person posted the pilot on YouTube. I tried (emphasis: tried) to watch it, and realized in the few minutes that I gave it that it wasn't a sitcom about Hitler per se, but rather an attempted spoof of vapid and tasteless American sitcoms. (For starters, this Hitler speaks with a comic Jewish accent - yuk yuk yuch.)

I thought the Monty Python group made the same point, and a lot more concisely, with their sketch "The Atilla the Hun Show" (the opening credits of which were an obvious takeoff on the short-lived and little-remembered "The Debbie Reynolds Show").

Anonymous said...

I mean, sheah. I have ravioli and BK everyday.

New menu items at Deposed Burger King!

and for one's pet?

Puppy Ceausescu!

boringmadedull said...

Silly me.

All that I can think of is Mel Brook's

"Springtime, for Hitler, and Germanyyyy"

Song from "The Producers".

The original movie was quite funny.

vbspurs said...

Puppy Ceausescu!

What has Schmoopsie done to deserve such a hunk of rotting flesh??

It's either Imelda Marcos approved Fromm's, or bust.

Cheers,
Victoria

Anonymous said...

Funny that Boring mentioned "The Producers". I think Dick Shawn's Hitler was so funny because the "flower child" actor he was playing - Lorenzo St. Dubois aka LSD - (who was playing AH) portrayed Hitler in an intentionally sympathetic way, IMO.

Eva: Don't you lieb me, Adolf?!
Hitler: Oh, I liebs ya, baby! I liebs ya!!!

Tibore said...

I remember catching part of Hitler: The Last Ten Days, where Sir Alec Guinness played the lead role. In the few scenes I watched, he played Hitler understated and reflective, which startled me. I remember thinking "This isn't Hitler", mostly because he chose not to chew the rug like other actors would in the role. But in spite of that, I remember being... well... taken by Guiness's performance. I damn well know Hitler was an evil man, but it was still electrifying to watch Alec Guiness play anything in his normal, relaxed way.

Then again, maybe I just missed the scenes where he was bouncing off the walls. Again, I wasn't able to watch the whole thing.

Anyway... for the record, I do agree with Peters: All too often, actors choose to imbue a villian with "sympathetic" or socially redemptive character traits, or go well overboard and suggest that the characters acts are worthy of condonement. How many interviews have you all heard where actor/actress says of the contravida "Oh, this character is not bad, just misunderstood", or that he's/she's not really evil? After which you see said misunderstood soul gleefully committing misdeeds or killing every innocent soul within reach? Look... there are cases where such justification is necessary, but there are many, many others where we just have to say "Look, this is a cartoonish villian. Let's dispense with the "misunderstood" crap, okay?" My whole point is that there's a difference in discovering an antagonist's motivations or trying to be multifaceted and complex in playing the character, and trying to portray acts eminating from such as sympathetic, redemptive, or worse yet, justified. That's pushing it a bit. Some villians are worthy of complex treatment, but openly making them sympathetic? Well... I don't know about that.

So then we come to Hitler. Not a cartoonish screen or stage villian, even though many have choosen to play him that way. And on top of that, an actual historical figure to reference. So, what of Guiness's portrayal of him? Was it "sympathetic" because of those non-spittle laced moments? Or was it an acknowledgement that - as far as we know - not every insane person froths at the mouth 24/7, and not every manically evil person displays that sort of behavior every waking moment? Was his portrayal sympathetic, or merely complex? I need to watch the movie all the way through to answer that question, but seeing Peters' statement in that article, and thinking about the "Last Ten Days" movie made me stop and think. Right: Hitler shouldn't be played sympathetic. It's ridiculous to try. But that also doesn't mean that he should be played as a raving lunatic in each and every scene. Sympathy, no, but complexities and nuance, sure. And in my case, I need to reevaluate what is simply a variation in tone and presentation, and what is truly an attempt at generating sympathy or justification for what is in the end just a vile character.