Swastika (1973)

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Released 12-Jul-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Introduction
Introduction-Historian
Film Factoids-Swastika Revisited
Featurette-Manipulation And Nazi Properganda, Colour Film In Nazi Germa
Featurette-Picturing The Myth Of Leni Reifenstahl-Audio Only
Trailer-Blockhouse, South, 90 Degrees South
Trailer-The History Of Australian Cinema
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 95:35
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Philippe Mora
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Lutz Becker
Philippe Mora
Eva Braun
Adolf Hitler
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Swastika is perhaps the most controversial documentary about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis ever. Unlike the multitude of other documentaries about Hitler which concentrate on his ruthless rise to power, his anti-Semitism and his relentless pursuit of German supremacy that dragged the world into the most widespread and destructive war in history, this documentary shows Hitler the man; a human being like the rest of us who can show compassion, sadness and joy. In fact, there are times in this film that you can almost think that Hitler was actually a nice guy.

    Released in 1973 and using Nazi propaganda footage as well as rare colour home movies made by Hitler's fiancé, Eva Braun, Swastika is an attempt by Philippe Mora and Lutz Becker to understand how a regime so corrupt and twisted could have had such overwhelming support by an entire nation. While it doesn't completely explain this; it is a question that will probably never be fully answered; it does succeed in showing a side to Germany and the Nazi Party that is often overlooked and so gives us some insight into the great deception that was played on the German people. What Mora and Becker show us is Hitler and the senior Nazis as they were presented to the German people at that time. The nefarious actions of this evil regime, so well known to us in hindsight, are nowhere to be seen, and what we are presented with is a man who is charismatic, often charming and is rebuilding the wealth and national pride of a country torn apart by the reparations imposed at the end of the Great War.

    It is not in the scope of this review to provide a history lesson, and it is not in the scope of this documentary to give a full account of history. It is assumed that the viewer is familiar with the basic history of the 1933-1445 era, and that the major players of this period are reasonably familiar. If you lack this background knowledge then this documentary will not be for you. If you are familiar, and interested, in World War II and its causes then this is intriguing and compelling viewing which adds an extra dimension to your understanding of this period of history.

    What made this film so controversial is the portrayal of the human side of Hitler. Because of the legacy he left the world, we often de-humanise him. It is easier to think of Hitler and his henchmen as something other than human to help us cope with the inhumanity that this regime unleashed, so when confronted with images of a man who could be tender, charming, grieving and even silly, it lies at odds with our pre-conceptions. Of course these traits are precisely what made him so successful in his dominance of German politics in the 1930's, but showing them again some 40 years later when the world had de-humanised him was highly controversial. This controversy was heightened by the lack of any narrative soundtrack. The film clips used are left to stand alone with their original sound with only subtitles being added for those of us who do not speak German. This leaves the audience to make their own decisions about what is presented. Unlike most documentaries that explain the events and draw conclusions for you, Swastika leaves all the thinking up to the viewer.

    The darker side of the Nazi regime is not completely ignored by the film-makers. The opening aerial shots of pre-war Berlin in all its architectural splendour are juxtaposed vividly with the post-war closing scenes showing a similar aerial view of the now razed and ravished city that became Hitler's legacy and the scenes of bodies being bulldozed into massed graves at Belsen concentration camp - both disturbing and compelling to watch - put a perspective on the Nazi era that contrasts vividly with the propaganda the German public was served up during this time.

    When Swastika was released Mora and Lutz were accused of being pro-Nazi and the film was often banned, to the extent that it was almost lost. Fortunately we can now view this brilliant documentary at our leisure. Far from being a pro-Nazi piece of propaganda, it stands as a warning to us as to how people can  be manipulated and deceived by clever oration and marketing. There is a quote at the start of this film that sums up the film-makers' intent: "If the human features of Hitler are lacking in the image of him that is passed on to posterity, if he is dehumanised and shown only as a devil, any future Hitler may not be recognised, simply because he is a human being."

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Transfer Quality

Video

    What we are viewing here is a documentary made over 40 years ago using film footage that was up to 40 years old at that time, so the video quality is not going to be reference standard.

    All the footage is in the original 1.33: aspect ratio and most of this documentary is in Black and White. Contrast is variable, but generally shows the short-comings of film in the era. It is not sharp and has a poor gray scale leading to washed out highlights and poor shadow detail. Colour, where used, is from 16mm home camera stock when this technology was in its infancy. Accordingly colour is not well saturated giving a washed out look on many occasions as well as poor highlight and shadow detail.

    Film artefacts are present throughout. Scratches, dust and water damage are all present and it is clear that no restoration has been attempted on the film stock. This is not a complaint, however, and is actually a good decision. A full restoration would make this documentary too clean - too pristine - and would reduce its impact by losing an authentic look. The scratches and other imperfections add to the impact of the documentary by making us constantly aware that we are watching history, not fiction.

    In all, while the film shows all the artefacts we usually criticise when discussing video quality, they are there because they need to be. The overall transfer is of good quality given the source material, and my comments above are more a statement of fact than a criticism.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Audio is variable in its quality. This is because there are two sources of audio.

    First is the actual audio from the film of the era. Newsreel footage and propaganda film from the era maintains the original soundtrack that displays, like the video, all the inherent shortcomings of the era. Hiss is ever-present and the bandwidth of the sound is clearly limited. Aside from this the sound is very good considering the age of the footage.

    The second source is the audio accompanying the home movies. Home movies of that era were silent, so Mora and Lutz employed lip readers and actors to determine what was said and over-dub the actual words of the subjects. The discussions are surprisingly banal, and the quality has obviously been kept low to match the archival audio of other scenes.

    Like the video, while there are huge shortcomings in the audio quality, these are not flaws but are in keeping with the antiquity of the original source and a full restoration would be detrimental to the documentary.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A number of quality extras are included that add to your understanding and appreciation of this landmark documentary.

Historian's Introduction (1:49)
    Professor Jonathan Petropoulos talks about his use of the film while teaching history at Harvard University in the 1980's and the impact it had on his students.

Swastika Revisited (30:05)
    The production team of Sandy Lieberson, David Puttnam, Philippe Mora and Lutz Becker discuss the making of Swastika and the controversy that surrounded it. A very interesting insight into the documentary. The story of the discovery of the rare home movies and the battle for their rights is intriguing.

Manipulation And Nazi Propaganda (12:05)
    A brief look at how film, newsreels and documentaries were used in the pre-war era and how the Nazis were able to manipulate them to control public opinion.

Colour Film In Nazi Germany (1:51)
    A very short discussion on colour film technology in Germany during this period.

Puncturing The Myth Of Leni Riefenstahl (5:51)
    Philippe Mora and Lutz Becker examine the work of this famed Nazi propaganda film-maker. While Leni Riefenstahl has been generally accredited with being revolutionary in film-making, Mora and Becker have a different opinion. This is an audio only extra.

Umbrella Trailers
    A collection of trailers for other Umbrella documentaries. Blockhouse (3:02), South - Sir Earnest Shackleton's Heroic Expedition To The Antarctic (3:24), 90 Degrees South  (3:35), History Of Australian Cinema (1:40).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This is a Region 0 release so there is no difference between the Region 1 and Region 4 version.

Summary

    Compelling, disturbing and original, this documentary is a must-see for anyone who has an interest in or is studying World War II or the era surrounding it. It shows there is a complexity to even the most evil of people that is often overlooked as we try to pigeon-hole historical figures according to their legacy and stands as a warning to us now showing how easily a population can be manipulated to see only the positives and be blinded to reality until it is too late.

    A documentary to cause you to think with some intelligent extras. Audio and video have a lot of faults, but they are excusable in this context.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Glen Randall (If you're really bored, you can read my bio)
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-1200Y, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-42PV500A 42" HD Plasma. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596
SpeakersRichter Wizard fronts, Richter Lynx centre, Richter Hydra rears, Velodyne CT-100 sub-woofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Region 1 release? - kingbippy REPLY POSTED