The Gleiwitz Case – DVD; Gerhard Klein (1961)

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This DVD marks the reappearance of a bold and unique film about fascism that, strangely, re-emerges when the world is caught in the midst of a new kind of doublespeak and deception not completely alien to the Nazi program. The Gleiwitz Case is a fictionalized account of the Nazi plan to initiate the war against Poland by manufacturing a false incident designed to make the Poles appear as aggressors.

The script plays fast and loose with conventional structure, allowing for some latitude in editing as well. Conceived of as a quasi-docu-drama, it opens with a heavy-handed marching band score that weighs down the first scenes, though the whole story is wrapped very tightly to fit into the 71-minute running time. Many a shot is carefully framed into a complex, almost Hitchcockian tableau, placing the viewer into a position visually at odds with the more typically stark images of war and thoughtless brutality.

The opening moments resonate with our political landscape. Screening historical footage of the Nazi hierarchy frolicking and clowning like school boys before the recess bell rings, the scenes are just more of the disturbingly banal pre-WWII Nazi footage we’ve all seen before, until Hermann Goring appears front and center in a crowd and accepts a Bavarian stein as a gift from an adoring little German girl. The symbolic complicity between the figure of power and his adoring subject reminds us that this ultimate cult of evil set the world ablaze not so long ago. Indeed, there is something frightening about the parallels between the blind folly of the German masses following the Third Reich into an epic humanitarian disaster and America's silent compliance with its administration's wars and domestic espionage, fought without regard to international consensus, its constitution, or its citizen's rights.

It's works like this that turn our attention to the dictators who, under the guise of public “support”, have done so much damage. Although Bush’s support may be on the wane for good, his administration’s crimes and misdeeds cannot so easily fade away. And it doesn’t erase the charge that many of us today can be just as easily boondoggled as those “idiot” masses of Germany in the last century. As a piece of rehabilitated art, this film has been likened to Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. As a statement about the world around us, it stands as a bellwether warning that a “democracy” can be won by apparently simple, mundane acts of manipulation and duplicity.