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SPOILER: The Nazis lose World War Two.
For my quids, Paul Joseph Goebbels was far and away the most interesting and complicated of the Nazi leaders. Goering and Himmler were motivated purely by self-interest; so was Speer, but he was also caught up in Hitler's cult of personality. Goebbels, on the other hand, was no mere stooge. He was an accomplished playwright and poet, who was committed to the National Socialist cause even before Hitler emerged as that cult's leader. In the diary which Goebbels kept from the 1920s until shortly before his death, he frequently questioned Hitler's leadership, and wondered if the movement was travelling the wrong way. (I'm astounded that Goebbels saved those diary entries after Hitler had consolidated his power.) Goebbels married a beauty queen, had six children off her, and juggled simultaneous affairs with multiple mistresses ... quite different from his boss Hitler, who was terrified of physical intimacy. If Goebbels had been the head Nazi, things might have ended very differently.
The simple but riveting film 'The Goebbels Experiment' is constructed round a brilliant idea. Silent newsreel footage depicting the rise of the Nazi movement, the Third Reich, its glorious zenith and then its inglorious downfall is shown on screen while Kenneth Branagh reads entries from Goebbels's diaries in chronological order, making no attempt to 'perform' the text as a dramatic role. Goebbels's chilling words speak for themselves.
For me, the most startling moment in this documentary occurred early on, when the Nazi party have successfully manipulated Germany's national election, becoming the duly-elected political force ruling Germany. When this happens, Goebbel openly exults (as did Hitler), saying that the last time he felt this excited was when the Kaiser declared war in 1914. I quite believe that Goebbels sincerely felt this way, but I was pulled up short by it ... because Germany's adventure of 1914 turned out to be a huge mistake, bankrupting the nation and destroying its national currency, as well as toppling the German royal family and humiliating the nation.
Did Goebbels never for one instant stop to think that the Nazi triumph in the national elections might turn out to be as much of a 'victory' as the Kaiser's war declaration ... in other words, an utter failure? Evidently not. We know what happened next. There are no surprises in 'The Goebbels Experiment', but this documentary is train-wreck fascinating, and I strongly recommend it. A full 10 out of 10.
This film basically has the narrator reading from Josef Goebbels diary from the early 20's through to his death in 1945. The film is bookended by the charring corpse of Goebbels, though the film reveals his dead daughters, since Goebbels had them poisoned rather than be captured. You learn a lot of things about Goebbels. He critiqued movies, panning The Battleship Potemkin for being too unsubtle in its propaganda (and obviously being inspired by it at the same time.) He thought Churchill was a better speaker than "that idiot Chamberlain". He was paranoid, often attacking then loving Hitler. You learn that Hitler's favorite men were not friends (Goebbels hates Goring, for example.) This is a must see for anyone interested in the goings-on in the inner sanctum of the Nazis.
As an history teacher, there was much that I took from this documentary- the rare footage and selected diary excerpts. However, it is far too broad in its focus; no discussion of the Depression except by 1931 and then, suddenly, Hitler becomes Chancellor. Not only does this approach prevent any understanding of the complex forces at work, but it risks giving the wrong impression of Nazi support. By November 1932 the Nazis had lost significant support (falling from 37% to 32%), and the party was in a state of bankruptcy due to Goebbels's propaganda machine. Historians argue that Hitler had peaked and, with the economy improving, he was about to enter the dustbin of history. In fact, he was suicidal. And so his being made chancellor was for him miraculous, and yet no indication is made of this- he simply becomes Chancellor without any explanation. I began questioning the point of the film, for it so simplified the situation that no indication of why Goebbels is considered a propaganda genius by many and is credited for Hitler's electoral successes. He is far more important than the film describes, but one ends up asking why he is the subject. Indeed, the development of the state in a totalitarian regime is not addressed, nor so many crucial events leading up to war that it doesn't bear reciting here, from foreign policy beginning with leaving the League of Nations, creation of the GESTAPO, rearmament and conscription to the Fall of France... incredible! Of course, Goebbels was not involved in foreign policy, but he was instrumental in devising the rationale. And to ignore the marching into the Rhineland to me was incomprehensible, considering this was Goebbels's very homeland. Some of the images have no commentary at all and so their significance too is lost. By the time 1943 comes around without the slightest reference to Stalingrad, I could only question what the point was that the producers had intended to make. An inordinate amount of time was given to the Venice biennial which only reiterates Goebbels's contempt for foreign films. This hardly constitutes an "experiment" and one finishes the film without any insight or awareness of the man and what he tried to revolutionise (to his mind). To me, the Goebbels experiment was radicalising the people which is only hinted here. It was he who initiated the book burnings. He who started the first Jewish boycott. He who launched Reichskristallnacht. So stale is the portrait in this film that his evil machinations and designs get lost in the times, and he comes across instead as sentimental and caught up in others' actions. My website shows his propaganda ministry then and now, as well as other remaining NSDAP architecture: www.tracesofevil.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Contains only mild spoilers, if at all)
I watch a lot of WW2 documentaries. Pretty much everything I can get my hands on. Literally over a hundred of them in my collection.
This has to be one of the best since it has some of the least bias of them all. Here you take sort of a trip through the eyes of Joseph Goebbels him self. One of the highest of Hitlers henchmen and the Nazi party. The entire narrative is spoken from Goebbels diary. So you get his point of view; how he saw him self, the war, Germany, Hitler, and so on.
Where this is great it's a problem with the majority of WW2 documentaries. It's an injustice to just demonize everyone and everything about the German side of WW2. Sure Hitler's Naziism was organized Evil, but the point is you have to see things as they are/were. View the facts and the full data of WW2 to understand how it came about and what transpired. Something everyone the world needs to understand. Less we let this dark history repeat it's self again.
This movie is not the best for new WW2 enthusiasts. It is probably better to watch some other documentaries (and, or, read) that cover who Goebbels was and the over all relation to Hitler and how events unfold over the war. It just sort of adds a lot to over all picture. This is not an epic chronology of the war. And although I found it very entertaining, it is not really an "entertainment" movie. It's more about enlightenment.
One of the neatest things I got out of it was how he looked at "propaganda". How he so zealously and purposely went about it. He went about it as a science and an art. It was not "brain washing", it was not about tricking people into believing something. It was about rallying the German people into a fervor to work and fight harder, to keep them in high spirits, and then on the outside to convince the world to join the Nazi cause. And yes too, those evil attempts to lure the Jewish population into believing the death camps where some sort of "Club Med" vacation - happy time - work place.
Furthermore how he saw films as an excellent propaganda vehicle and then he comments on how the Allies where bad at it in their own films. It dawned on me that yes maybe they are both "propaganda" but then one was more to inform in a democratic, fairly free thinking way, where the other (Goebbels) to more directly say "this is what is is", "this is what is happening", "think this". And how similar bad propaganda is happening today to push political views and so on..
If you are a WW2 history buff then you definitely want to see this film.
In the fascinating documentary, THE GOEBBELS EXPERIMENT, Kenneth Branagh elicits a dramatic reading from Goebbels's personal journal while the viewer watches vintage film and news clips from the era. Carefully crafted and diligently compiled, the film reveals Joseph Goebbels to be a very human, three dimensional character- equal parts loathsome, and possibly brilliant, yet clearly trapped in a doomed and misguided chapter of world history. Joseph Goebbels was arguably the highest ranking 'non-gangster' of National Socialism's inner circle. Although a virulent anti-semite, and certainly afflicted by megalomania, Goebbels did exhibit a certain degree of intellectualism which was noticeably absent from the rest of Hitler's ruling elite. All historically significant men, and unfortunately, Hitler was one such man, require a facilitator who can translate their fundamental message to the world at large. And, Joseph Goebbels became the perfect individual who aptly aided The Fuhrer to codify, clarify, and disseminate his demented political and social policies. Certainly Goebbels was on the wrong side of history, but this fine film examines his reasons and motivations quite admirably.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My complaints here concern the movie's pacing and the material at hand. While using archival film and letters lends the film a fresh and interesting perspective, too often the material selected to highlight simply isn't very interesting (such as when Goebbels complains about this or that ailment, &tc., or the ad nauseam footage of his small German hometown). Also, the movie crawls along in covering c. 1920-1939 and then steams through the war years. In sum, the film is little better than a History Channel documentary, with the exception that the filmmaker has a slightly greater sensibility than your average History Channel documentary editor and thus can more artfully arrange the details of Goebbels' life. Still, I found it wanting.
I was really hoping this film would give some real insight to the life
of a very complex and horrible person. Unfortunately, it is, for the
most part, a chronological retelling of events. It tells you little
about his early life, his switch from socialist to Nazi, next to
nothing about his joining and rise in the Nazi party, his reaction to
events like the Putsch, the Battle of Britain, Stalingrad, the
assassination attempt on Hitler. It gives no information about the
making of films like "the Eternal Jew" or any of the inner workings at
UFA studios. It does show his dislike of Reifenstahl and then,
subsequent fawning over her when giving an award, but the commentary is
I understand they wanted to limit it to his diary entries but they just aren't enough to give a full perspective on Goebbels. No mention is made of his families' and his deaths (portrayed so well in "Downfall") and nothing of his life in the bunker. Too many gaps, way too much left out. There are some interesting comments about his mistrust and jealousies with Himmler and Goering, but all stuff that has been well reported elsewhere. Some of the footage is interesting including pieces I haven't seen before, but really not much that is of an informal nature. If you're hoping to gain more perspective on why someone would do what he did, or even the inner workings of Nazi Germany, sadly you might as well skip this film.
Directed by Lutz Hachmeister and narrated by Kenneth Branagh, this is
such a direct and accessible series of insights into the psychopathy of
Hitler's propagandist. I found it amazing to see just how narcissistic
and arrogant this Goebbels really was and now naively he felt superior
to others, despite the very clear limitations of his intellect. It's as
if he had almost no interpersonal, nor intrapersonal intelligence
whatsoever. How tragic when we see, throughout history, these men who
think their grand schemes of globalism and corporate fascism, will
amount to anything more than social oppression, violence, and
Carl Jung often mentioned this "idée fixe" as basis of neurotic dysfunction, the disintegration of human morality and concern for "others as self" in the interest of egomaniac self-preoccupation. Goebbels was not only the architect of the Holocaust, he embodied the male, monomania of racial superiority that clearly was driven by his early failures in the banking industry and his rejection by childhood peers related to the deformity of his paralysed leg. How tragic that such weakness becomes so much self-hatred served upon millions of other, innocent people.
This film depicted a truth that felt like reportage. I found that it worked extremely well as my understanding of the subject was both deepened and broadened. The production quality was excellent.
This is a remarkable film. It consists of Kenneth Branaugh reading
Goebbels' diary. The video is mostly original Nazi footage of the
relevant events. Again and again I was astounded that they could find
matching video. Sometimes it consists of Goebbels addressing crowds in
German with subtitles. The quality of the film is superb, both in black
and white and colour. It often so good I wondered if I were watching a
recreation. I wish they were clear about this. Sometimes there is
modern day colour footage of places Goebbels mentions.
There is no commentary. You are seeing the world purely through the eyes of a peevish, vain little bigot. One thing that became clear from all the footage, the Nazis did not push their brutality on the Germans, millions of German enthusiastically welcomed it, ditto the war, ditto the pogroms. Goebbels committed suicide, and also killed his four young children. These quite adorable kids feature prominently in the film. It is quite a shock to see their corpses.
I always assumed that propagandists in war lied and claimed the war was going well no matter what. Goebbels, to my surprise, argued for telling the truth. Hearing the propaganda was just too insulting for the troops. Goebbels had delusions of grandeur. He seemed to think his propaganda movies were more important that armaments in deciding the outcome of a war.
The Nazis were even better than the Americans at getting people whipped up with enthusiasm for an unjust war. Everyone is familiar with the mandatory heil Hitler salute, which reinforced subjection to Hitler and made clear everyone else was giving obeisance. Hitler responded with a languorous over the shoulder salute. When orating, Goebbels would just start shaking his finger as if chastising an unusually naughty child, but he would keep going without a pause for minutes at a time with a very fast cadence. I suspect the intent was to trigger primal fear of parental disapproval. Sometimes he would just shake his hand the same way. He also did some motions that were languid, a bit like magician gestures. Perhaps these were for riveting attention.
The movie needs a clock to let you know the year being talked about and the major events that have just happened. Goebbels has quite a different idea of what is important from most of us, and leaves out huge events. This makes it hard to fit what you are watching into a bigger context.
This is a very interesting and surprisingly engaging film. Branagh reads excerpts from Goebbels' diary or translations of speeches while the film shows newsreel footage, scenes from propaganda films, and bits from theatrical movies. Sometimes the visual footage illustrates Goebbels's words; sometimes it provides an ironic juxtaposition. I have one important reservation. There is no real attempt to include even coverage of events during the period. Quite a few subjects are simply not mentioned. For example, there is no discussion of the German's defeat at Stalingrad, which must have been a gigantic problem for Goebbels as Propaganda Minister. Even more striking, there is very little discussion of Nazi treatment of the Jews. The film includes some early anti-Semitic quotations and a little footage of Kristallnacht, but nothing that I can recall about the Holocaust itself. Perhaps Goebbels' diaries don't include entries about these subjects, but the omission is striking.
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