“Speer Goes to Hollywood” Tells Nazi’s Attempt to Reinvent Cinema

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Was Nazi official and staunch Adolf Hitler Albert Speer the subject of the gripping and often frightening documentary “Speer Goes to Hollywood”, “Recording History or Recording Its History”? So asks the director of the film, Vanessa Lapa, from Speer’s long interview in 1971 with screenwriter Andrew Birkin, around the audio tapes of which she has masterfully structured this revealing portrait.

As reported here, Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and, two years later, began working as the chief architect to then-Chancellor Hitler, later adding Berlin’s Inspector General of Buildings to his post. In 1942, der Führer appointed Speer Minister of Armaments and War Production, overseeing the creation and distribution of arms and ammunition for use by the Nazi armed forces.

During these years, Speer needed manpower – a lot – to accomplish his lofty construction and ammunition purposes; its projects were largely staffed with slaves, much of which ultimately came from Nazi concentration camps. In 1944 he had under him an incredible 14 million workers, a third of whom believed to be dead in hellish conditions. Speer called Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews “a waste of work for us.” Which guy.

Despite being responsible for countless deaths, during the postwar Nuremberg trials Speer somehow spared the gallows (unlike many of his colleagues and subordinates) and sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes of war and crimes against humanity. Was it his deceptive testimony, his gentlemanly charisma, a shrewd talent for self-preservation, or just luck that helped him escape a worst-case scenario? It was an astonishing result for a man who told the Tribunal that if Hitler had had friends it would have been Speer.

But there was something distinctly Teflonian about Speer that would continue until the publication in 1969 of his memoir “Inside the Third Reich”, in which he posed as “the good Nazi” who knew little or nothing about the monstrous acts that had taken place around him. The book effectively whitewashed its role in the Holocaust and became a worldwide bestseller.

This is where Hollywood and Birkin, a protégé of Stanley kubrick (and brother of actress Jane Birkin). (Unlike the title of the document, “Hollywood” went to Speer.)

The result was 40 hours of recorded conversations, although their deteriorated quality, nearly 50 years old, forced Lapa to hire actors Anno Köehler and Jeremy Portnoi to effectively re-record the voices of Speer and Birkin, respectively. She cut the edited audio into a compelling narrative and paired it with a stunning assemblage of archival visuals from before, during and well after WWII.

The film features a surprising – and surprisingly vivid – number of rare clips of Hitler and his most notorious lieutenants (including Speer) in action, compelling footage from the Nuremberg judgments and poignant shots of the extermination camps. . A glimpse of a specially made iron cabinet used to torture Russian civilian workers will not be easily forgotten.

But it’s Speer’s clearly anti-Semitic conversations with Birkin as he recounts his war story to the writer – or rather the story he wants the screenwriter to tell – that form the unsettling knot of the film as we watch. how easily history can be manipulated and erased. (The film is nothing if not disturbingly topical.)

Worse is that the open and relaxed Speer seems on some level to persuade Birkin of his self-taught truths – or at least the validity of using them in the script – despite obvious contradictions and illusions (and director Carol’s objections Reed of “Oliver!” Celebrity, with whom Birkin chats by phone).

Lapa, who co-wrote the documentary with Joëlle Alexis, may not explain how or why the “Third Reich” film was ultimately never produced, but it was clearly a poorly conceived project from the start. . Unlike Lapa’s lively and vital film, which has a lot to say and says it well.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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