Apologies to all in confessing that Friday’s column won’t be up until 3 or 4 pm Pacific. Hooray for The Incredibles, a possible new potency acquired by Fahrenheit 9/11, first peeks at Alexander this weekend, new dialogue audio clips, etc.
After the Fall
I was goaded early this morning by a conservative woman friend. (Yes, there are righties in Beverly Hills — they just don’t announce themselves). I had initially provoked her in an e-mail yesterday, telling her to grim up for a Kerry win. Now she was calling back to gloat over the Bush win, which she said was driven by moral reasons on the part of right-thinking Americans.
This beautiful fascist blonde was puffed up like a toad about a near-surreal state of affairs. The Reds so despise the perceived elitism and morally jaded attitudes of the Blues, she was more or less saying, that they’ll cut off their nose to spite their face.
“One of the Republican Party’s major successes over the last few decades has been to persuade many of the working poor to vote for tax breaks for billionaires,” Nicholas Kristof says in a New York Times column published this morning.
The final outcome of the election was uncertain as Kristof wrote the piece, but “John Kerry’s supporters should be feeling wretched about the millions of farmers, factory workers and waitresses who ended up voting — utterly against their own interests — for Republican candidates,” Kristof added.
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The Red’s went for Bush for “moral reasons”? Am we all co-starring in a Twilight Zone episode? Is that Rod Serling standing off to the side of the sound stage, being cryptic and grinning and smoking an unfiltered cigarette?
Who were the pollsters talking to? And what about those exit polls we were all told about yesterday showing Kerry taking the election?
In his concession speech a minute or two ago (it’s now 11:19 am), Kerry just said, “America only moves forward.” I know he doesn’t believe that the election results has supported this statement. Tens of millions in this country, I’m sure, feel that the opposite has just kicked in.
I get it on one level. To be elected President these days you have to have at least a touch of that Andy-of-Mayberry quality, and Kerry was badly cast. Too tall, too rich, too much of an Easterner. He didn’t energize the youth vote. He turned out to be a taller Michael Dukakis. If Bill Clinton had been allowed to run, he would have won hands down.
I’m trying to keep myself from throwing up as I write this. I don’t want to succumb to negativity, but I despise Bubba Nation and the thinking that led to what happened last night. And yet I know that hate is futile and will get me nowhere, and that it’s time to turn the page.
“If people want to vote against their own best interests, it’s gonna come back and bite them in the ass,” a journalist friend, Lewis Beale, wrote me this morning. He said that while researching a just-published George Romero story in Toronto, “Every Canadian I spoke to thought a Dubya victory would prove that America was absolutely psychotic. Time Canada published a poll in which 56% of Canadians said the word would be `worse off’ if Bush won.”
If there’s any reason to think otherwise, I’d sure like to hear it. My spirits need a lift, as there’s obviously no comfort to be gotten from Ilsa of Beverly Hills.
Speaking of facism, Adolf Hitler is back. The Austrian corporal may not mean very much in terms of significant box-office, but he obviously still has the power to greenlight movies. Thematically he is still the gift that keeps on giving.
There was that four-hour CBS biopic, The Rise of Evil, that aired last year, plus that ’03 documentary called Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary. There was also Menno Meyjes’ Max (’02), a low-budgeter about a young and unsettled Hitler in old Vienna.
And now comes Downfall, a smart, vividly rendered, highly convincing ensemble drama — funded, filmed and performed by Germans — about the last few days of the Hitler regime, focusing yet again on spiritual and cultural collapse as the last of the loyal huddle in an underground bunker in Berlin.
This is nothing new for anyone with any mileage. There’s already been two respected, reasonably accomplished Hitler-in-the-bunker dramas — Hitler: The Last Ten Days (’73) with Alec Guiness in the lead role, and The Bunker (’81), a TV pic with Anthony Hopkins as Adolf.
But it’s been 20 years plus since the Hopkins film (which I never saw), and a couple of generations have grown up since. And Downfall has a certain cultural authority due to the fact it’s the the first German-funded film to tackle the subject head-on since G.W. Pabst’s Der letzte Akt (1956), which nobody has heard of, much less seen.
But what kind of currents can A. Hitler be expected to stir among U.S. audiences? And especially within the Academy?
This is obviously one question facing Downfall‘s producer and screenwriter Bernd Eichinger, who’s also the head of the Los Angeles-based Constantin Film.
Using the perspective of Junge, the young woman who worked for Hitler from ’42 until the end and whose recollections were the entire focus of the Blind Spot doc, is one thing that sets Downfall apart. (An excerpt from the respected ’03 documentary is used at the end of Downfall.)
Directed with workmanlike efficiency by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Downfall is based on “Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich,” a book by Joachim Fest, and the memoir “Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary” by Traudl Junge (the Blind Spot subject) and Melissa Mueller.
The result is an exceptional historical piece. It’s all about detail, detail and more detail — not so much a Hitler character study as a Guernica-sized, pointillist portrait of the last remnants of Nazi culture collapsing into itself.
Plus it has an extremely feisty and snarly (if not entirely unfamiliar) Hitler portrayal by Bruno Ganz, along with a supporting cast that delivers one memorable drill-bit moment after another.
I don’t know where to start in praising them all, but the stand-outs include Alexandra Maria Lara (as Traudl Junge), Corinna Harfouch (as Maga Goebbels, the wife of the famed Nazi propaganda minister), Ulrich Matthes (as Goebbels), Thomas Kretchmann (as a morally dissolute soldier), Heino Ferch (as Albert Speer), Juliane Koehler (as Eva Braun), Michael Mendl (as a tough German general), Goetz Otto (as Hitler’s personal adjutant) and Donevan Gunia (as a Hitler youth dodging Russian bullets).
Downfall was favorably reviewed several weeks ago out of the Toronto Film Festival. Variety’s Derek Elley called it “classy upscale fare” and “a cumulatively powerful Goetterdammerung.” And it has done well commercially since opening in Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland in mid September.
And yet Downfall appears to have a problem in Los Angeles. There doesn’t seem to be enough of a receptive mood among the early-viewing industry crowd, which will have something to say about whether Downfall has any kind of shot at being nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Downfall hasn’t yet found a U.S. distributor, which surely says something about the mood out there.
On Tuesday I wrote that Eichinger hadn’t hired a savvy, plugged-in public relations veteran (someone like Fredel Pogodin or Nancy Willen, say) to rep Downfall with the Academy’s foreign branch and, less importantly, the Hollywood Foreign Press, which hands out the Golden Globe Awards. But today (Thursday, 11.4) I was told by publicist Anna Gross that Karen Fried (formerly of Rogers and Cowan, the Angelotti Company) is being brought in to handle this.
And there’s an idea out there — pretty much groundless, if you ask me — that the film portrays Hitler with too much sympathy.
Derek Elley said that Downfall “will undoubtedly raise discussion in some quarters for its coolly objective, humanistic approach.” I echoed this view myself in my 10.22 column. I had been told that the film depicts Hitler in a way “that may seem overly sympathetic (i.e., too vulnerably human) to industry mainstreamers, which, if true, means it’s toast.”
I’ve seen Downfall and it isn’t toast. It deserves respect and allegiance. And it doesn’t soft-pedal the venality of Adolf Hitler in the slightest.
Gnomish and bent-over, Ganz’s Hitler is a raging misanthrope who sometimes screams about being betrayed or poorly served, is sometimes in denial about his troops’ ability to resist advancing Russian troops, and sometimes wants to pull the proverbial temple down on his (and everyone else’s) head.
Most of the story is about the last ten days of Hitler’s life, from his 56th birthday on 4.20.45 to his suicide on 4.30.45. But a lot of fascinating stuff happens all through the film that doesn’t concern Hitler, and there’s almost an entire act lasting about 40 minutes that unfolds after he and Eva Braun are gone.
There’s a devastating sequence in which Goebbels’ wife Magda poisons their six children before she and her husband commit suicide by pistol.
You’re led to assume that Lara’s Traudl Junge will be a key character, since the film begins with her being landing the Hitler secretary job in 1942. And the film does stay in touch with her, but it pays attention to so many other characters as well.
I don’t know what else to add, except to reiterate that Downfall is in no way a Hitler-coddling thing, or even a slightly oblique one.
Okay, there’s one device in this movie that tries to vaguely humanize the guy. It shows us that Hitler loved his dog, a German Shepherd named Blondi. And yet just before he kills himself Hitler gives orders for Blondi to be given poison, and we see this happen and we hear the poor dog cry out just as the poison is being put in her mouth. So the hint of that regular-guy, dog-loving thing is pretty much cancelled out.
Prick Up Your Ears
Here are three dialogue clips. Listen to `em all and try to identify, but you can’t just say the movie title – you have to identify the actors too. They’re all fairly easy, if you’re any kind of movie buff.
Clip #1 is, I think, fairly legendary and rooted in the lore of yesteryear nocturnal Manhattan, Clip #2 is pretty hard to miss if you’re a fan of intelligent thrillers, and Clip #3 should also be easy to spot (and I’m not gonna say why).
Harder and harder clips will follow in the weeks to come. Send in your answers quickly and include a JPEG photo, and I’ll post the winner in the column as soon as he/she is known.
I’m being told that I was too harsh last night in condemning the 18 to 29 year olds for their weak turnout, which, according to MSNBC, amounted to the same percentage of youths who voted in 2000. But the fact is that voting levels yesterday were higher across the board, including the 18 to 29 group, so it was all proportional.
So okay, I over-reacted. But obviously the youth vote still wasn’t high enough. They could have changed things and they didn’t, and the slackers know who they are.
“Before you deride an entire age group as `scumbags,’ you may want to look at your statistics. Even though the 18-29 voting group represented 17% of the electorate, as it did in 2000, the fact is that many, many many more voters in that age group came out to vote this time, but so did older voters so the percentages did not change. It also appears that the voters in the 18-29 age range voted much more convincingly Democratic than they did in 2000.
“Apparently the large numbers of older voters who came out in 2004 but not 2000 were able to offset those Democratic votes. You may want to point your ire at these older voters, but that would not fit in with your pattern of deluded but cranky nostalgia for the survivors of the 60s and 70s.” — Marc Reiner, New York, N.Y.
Wells to Reiner: I don’t have any particular nostalgia for the `60s and `70s, although I’m a huge fans of ’70s movies. Especially ’70s crime movies. Which reminds me: Charley Varrick is showing this Saturday at the American Cinematheque.
“Okay, yes — fuck Red America and its President. But take it easy on the kids. 17% is a decent turnout from any 10-year demographic slice. And if the percentages held from 2000 it means 20% more of them did get out.
“If you’re looking for a goat this morning I’ll offer Bin Laden. That egomaniac’s sudden appearance on Friday spooked the sheep enough to carry the day for Bush.
“But it’s a hard morning. I’ve never been more proud to be an Illinoisan; I wish I could say the same about being an American.” — Joe Greenia, Chicago.
“One reason why that youth vote number is so low (at least for the lower half of the demographic) is that most people of that age are out at college. Often, that means they are a good distance from their polling place and don’t go to the polls. If they vote, it is via absentee ballot, which that poll wouldn’t account for. Neither me, nor my wife voted in ’92, when we were in college.
“Stronger arguments can be made that Kerry failed because just saying that you are not Bush isn’t good enough for a lot of people. Also, having a personality of a stump doesn’t help. Whether we like it or not, how personable a candidate is is more important than how intelligent he is.” — Jason Birzer.
“The under-29 crowd voted in the same numbers as it did before. However, since more people voted in this election than in the last election that statistic represents a larger number of people. So there were in fact more under 29’s who voted this time than last time, just not enough to insure a Kerry victory. It might be a good thing that a lot of them didn’t show up, since not all young people are Democrats.
“Still, if you want to be pissed at someone, be mad at the kids at Ohio State University. If they had all gone and voted in Ohio rather than sending in absentee ballots in their home states, the state might have swung blue.” — Bradley G. Sims.
“I would save my venom for people like Michael Moore. Fahrenheit 9/11 cost….what? About as much as an average episode of Friends? It made over $100 million in the theaters and became the biggest selling DVD of 2004. And yet Moore continually refused to let it get a free showing prior to the election. He would only permit pay-per-view or pay webcasts. It shows where his priorities truly lie.
“However, I doubt if Moore is doing an Oskar Schindler right now, agonizing over what more he could have done to change he election. Now he gets four more years of profitable bitching.” — Rich Swank.
“I wrote to you last week in a very optimistic way about the youth vote, but clearly my fellow young Americans fucked me. We did show up in record numbers (seeing as how the voter turnout was extraordinary and my demographic maintained the same % of voters as we did in 2000), but it wasn’t enough. If only a dense atmosphere of apathy didn’t surround the beautiful havens of passionate and informed democracy, like my university.
“As for myself I was there at the Connecticut polls at 5:45 AM with Kerry propaganda to represent my age group, but apparently I didn’t represent them accurately. Thanks for your clear perspective on the whole thing and I can’t wait to commiserate or celebrate with you in ’08. Until then let’s hope the movies are good.” — David Ehrlich, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
“I woke up very early this morning with a sense of hope. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, there was a silent coup just waiting to bre and boil over. But as I sit awake at 3:10 AM CST, I’m left wondering, what happened?
“How is it that Bush stands such a great chance of winning? How is it that this man that really does represent so many bad causes has such a strong base of support? How is it that a country that makes Fahrenheit 9/11 the highest-grossing documentary of all time, something that really does show that there is a strong part of the country dissatisfied with our current leadership, let the film’s subject stick around?
“How is that possible? How did this happen? And wwho knows what will come next? Where will we send our war on terror next? How many more will die in Iraq? How many Americans will suffer at home through Bush economic policies, education policies, and civil rights violations? Four more years. How anyone could be so irresponsible to not vote is beyond me.
“I will wake up in roughly five hours to attend classes for the day. The world I wake up in will remain unchanged. And I will feel sick to my stomach. To Bush supporters, congrats. I applaud your passion and your desire to see this man remain in office. You have your beliefs and you stuck by them all the way to the end. To Kerry supporters, we tried. To the undecided that chose not to vote, thanks.
“I’m angry. I’m opinionated. I’m trying to remain calm. But if the young voters didn’t quite show up in the droves that people expected them to, I wonder how they will feel if the draft is reinstated. I’m just wondering what the hell happened.” — Andy, Vermillion, South Dakota.
“Come on Jeff — split the country? Is it really that bad? Do you really feel so harmed and disillusioned and assaulted by this regime that you feel the country should be split in two? This is just getting ridiculous.
“I know people care for what they believe in, but the madness that has taken place over this past election cannot go much further. I am probably considered the enemy by you. I am in that 18-29 group that didn’t vote but would have voted for Bush. Its not that I really like Bush — it√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s that it√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s a choice between what I felt was the lesser of two evils. I find that Kerry seemed to be a weak person with follower qualities written all over him. The democrats shot themselves in the foot with having someone as mediocre as Kerry as their choice.
“My generation will not be remembered as the Generation of Shame because we chose not to vote in this, anyone closely related to your thoughts should be. I just find it to be a horrible travesty to consider splitting the country over this, or that this election needs to be as divisive for the general public as it is shown to be by people of your stripe. I have many friends who are hard-line blue like you, and guess what, we are still friends. We may have differences but we stick through them. You need to learn that this is not the end of the world.” — David Harper.
√¢‚Ç¨≈ìIn regards to your comments that all 29-and-unders are a Generation of Shame and that it is their fault for yesterday’s election, go fuck yourself. Last election it was all Nader’s fault, and now it is young people√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s. Maybe Democrats should think about creating a stronger, clearer message, and stop looking for scapegoats when they lose elections. Your comments reek of sore losing. By the way, these comments are coming from a Shame Generation 22 year old Kerry Voter.√¢‚Ç¨¬ù — Dan Morfesis.
“If you ask me, the American people let us down. The whole world, I mean. We were
expecting a change. Americans should be aware that their Presidential election affects every other country, and they should be able to see beyond their fears. They should carry the title of ‘strongest nation in the world’ with more dignity. Instead of starting wars all over the world to help us all to be ‘free,’ they could simply avoid wars…or better yet, avoid the President who seems so eager to start them. That would be much more helpful.” — Alexandro Aldrete, Monterrey, Mexico.