Hitler’s Hollywood by Any Other Name

DATELINE: Singing in the Reich

Hitler on movie set

If  imitation is a sincere form of flattery, Hitler’s attempt to copy Hollywood movies is indeed a nasty compliment. Hitler’s Hollywood is a horrid misnomer.

During the years 1933 to 1945, there was a thriving movie business under the Nazis in Germany, run by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of notoriety.

Hitler loved movies—and his studios planned to give him an exact duplicate of the big boffo productions out of Hollywood.

If he couldn’t have Garbo, he had Ingrid Bergman in one movie before she cleared out of the Third Reich for Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

The Germans loved musicals with numbers more extravagant than the Busby Berkley movies. They were overlaid, however, with nasty digs at Jews at every turn in subtle fashion. Then, there were the outright anti-Semitic films.

There were about a 1000 movies made by the German state studio with their own star system: comedy, melodrama, and historic epics, but never science fiction or horror. In fact, the melodrama featured so much fantasy and nightmares to the Aryan heroes that they turned into horror pictures.

The Nazis never knew irony.

If there was a steady theme, it was the glorification of death for the Fatherland. Good Germans dying for their country was a common theme.

As the war proceeded and was undermining morale, the films started to be oriented for female audiences—and in glorious technicolor. But the wild extravagance was panic to keep the home audiences on target.

The version of the Titanic sinking was blamed on the Jewish financiers, and then was banned from showings in Germany itself by Goebbels.

The entire documentary is narrated in creepy fashion by Udo Keir—and is hypnotic, horrifying, and surprising.

Our Sons: Mothers Emeritus

DATELINE:  Reel History

 our sons

Back in 1991 when the AIDS epidemic was a death sentence, a spate of films emerged about the fear, anger, disgust, and regret, of the sickness and end of so many young gay men. The film is called Our Sons.

There was no hope of recovery or of living with control. When one character in this film is asked why he hasn’t been tested, he shrugs: there is nothing to be done one way or the other. It was a death sentence in a year or two. Knowing one’s fate made no difference.

Several brave actors chose to depict the crisis: in this film the sons are lovers, Hugh Grant and Zelkjo Ivanek. Their relationship covers the final weeks of the disease’s ravages.

There are no kisses and it is chaste to the point of being inoffensive. The young men are successful a jazz pianist and an architect, just to give everyone respectability.

The draw is the problem of their mothers, played by Julie Andrews and Ann-Margaret.  Both unhappy with gay sons, Julie Andrews must try to bring Ann-Margaret, a waitress from Arkansas, to San Diego to reconcile with her estranged son.

Two marvelous actresses jab and punch at each other as they try to deal with the plague of the age. Julie Andrews and Ann-Margaret are at the top of their careers here.

Interestingly, Hugh Grant is the son of Andrews (who is English, but Grant plays it with an American accent). Ann-Margaret whose hair is the same color as Andrews wears a blonde wig most of the time.

The film is a snapshot of a time when a generation of talent died without hope, before drug cocktails to prevent instant death. Yet, as an historic artifact, the film is compelling and powerful, even twenty years after it was topical and controversial.

 

 

 

 

 

Mummy Dearest

DATELINE:   Tut-Tut!

Mummy Dearest Karloff!

Of the Quartet of Classic Horror from the early 1930s, the fourth entry in the series is often relegated to the bottom tier. The Mummy follows the legendary Frankenstein, Dracula, and Invisible Man. But he is no also-ran.

Unfortunately for him, we learn in the first few minutes of the 1933 film that the mummy is actually a misnomer. He is not mummified at all, having been buried alive.

So much for false advertising.

Beyond that, we have a whale of a movie—not James Whale: the director was famous cinematographer Karl Freund in his first directing effort.

As star Lita Johann said, he was a nasty guy—to her. Exotic star Lita was married later to John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield to you). Whatever he did to her during their 23-days of filming, she is marvelous as the reincarnation of a Pharaoh’s daughter.

As for Karloff, what can you say? He is so tall in his scenes, we think he was wearing lifts under his rakish robes. He looks like a bag of fragile bones, as the mummy-come-to-life.  His face is dustier and has more riles than a Moon crater as he plays Im-Ho-Tep (not to be confused with IHOP).

The biggest special effect is Karloff’s eyes, which is impressive indeed.

Scenes of a second unit, or stock footage, of Egypt, surely gives us a sense of the pre-Howard Carter King Tut world. And, audiences in the 1930s knew what a mummy’s curse was, which is played to the hilt.

The climactic scene is when the Mummy relates his unfortunate murder by the Pharaoh’s men. Juicy and grotesque horror!

As a love story, this is thriller covers 3700 years and incantations about the dead, which transcend undying love.

What a treat.

 

 

Alas, Poor Yorick and Poor Shakespeare

DATELINE:  Heads, You Lose!

cursed

Shakespeare’s Tomb is a marvelous documentary that deals with the case of the headless Bard of Avon.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, they were graverobbers who wanted the heads of famous people and in Yorick fashion, they took the skulls from older graves. Phrenologists were also collectors who were interested in having a genius skull in their study. You could so easily read the bumps in the cranium.

You may be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon—not the more protected Westminster Abbey.

You may also be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon, as if he had an inkling that someone would want his head on a silver tray.

One of the most fascinating documentaries in a long time takes the opportunity of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death to examine his strange burial—and possible vandalism of his resting place in the late 1790s.

It may well be they took the graverobbers took a wrong turn, and grasped the head of Ann Hathaway, in a shroud only three feet deep, next to Shakespeare.

For unknown reasons, this purloined skull was dumped at another church where it has rested without a body in a charnel spot.

Forensic experts studied the discovery and concluded that it belonged to a woman. The documentary makes little of that wrong head, but she was the right age to be Shakespeare’s late wife who is buried next to him next to him in a shallow grave.

Apparently, Holy Trinity Church tried to cover up the problem by putting a new stone over Shakespeare’s dug  up grave and not telling anyone. Ground penetrating radar allows the film crew to examine Shakespeare’s grave without opening it.

Good detective work and charming hosts of the show make this little hour-long documentary is brilliant and worthy of your attention.

 

Perfectly Human Diet, Not a Fad

Perfect Diet, Not a Fad

diet

Though we have been taken with recent scientific study of human health through diet, we were unprepared for the superbly thorough documentary by C.J. Hunt.

A media journalist who suffered from debilitating heart conditions at a young age, the director and writer of this expert examination of paleodietic information may be dropping the final word on fad diets.

In short, the film is a history of diets after a 19th century fat man decided he needed to find out why he was morbidly obese (5’5” and 300 pounds). Blame it on the Industrial Revolution.

It appears that changes in the human diet began fairly recently in the epoch of evolution. One scientist uses the football field analogy to great impact. Homo Erectus was at the end of the field and working one’s way up to today, you find that in the inch before the goal, we humans began to eat grains.

Hmm. Meat eating appears to have, by all agreement, caused brainpower. That caveman diet of bone marrow and sweetbread was far removed from Wheaties.

It seems the modern diet is shrinking the brain pan. You can hardly call a return to paleo-eating as the latest fad. Blame your misinformed government on telling you to avoid fats and eat more carbs.

Nearly every health-conscious scientist agrees that vegetarianism is too exclusive. You need only avoid sugar, carbs, processed food, and salt. Nobody under 2 needs a glass of milk every day. We are victims of economic diet plans—marketing for money-makers.

A walk through the supermarket with a dietary scientist and doctor is an argument against browsing.

C.J. Hunt has provided one of the most illuminating and intriguing of insights into health and food. He puts politics, religion, and nutrition, on the list of hopeless argument. He already knows he is preaching to an empty choir.

 

 

 

 

 

The Business of an American Home

 DATELINE:  Wright House, Wrong Address

American home

Let’s face it: the city of Kankakee, Illinois, needs all the help its Chamber of Commerce can provide.

Enter director/writer Thomas Desch.  He has put together a fascinating centerpiece for reviving the city: its greatest single tourist and artistic point is the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed at the turn of the 20th century.

An American Home has an unwieldy and ridiculous subtitle Frank Lloyd Wright’s B. Harley Bradley House, but don’t be daunted. You have here architectural history and how it is personally tied to the fates of real people who try to live and work within a building’s architecture.

Wright was a genius and his first example of the Prairie Home was in Illinois where the well-to-do young Bradley’s commissioned a house, stable, and accompanying residence for their family. Perhaps some places are benighted and cursed.

As amazing and beautiful as the house was—and now is again—it had a hard journey over 100 years. And, so did the cursed owners.

With its stunning stained glass, lead-lined windows, largely sold at auction, and its furniture and tables bought for exorbitant prices by celebs like Barbra Streisand over the years, the Wright house has been decimated.

The owners have variously committed suicide and been kidnapped and murdered (one during renovation of the structure).

Yet,generous patrons have thrown millions of bucks into refurbishing the Yesteryear Restaurant of 50 years (bankrupt in the 1980s) and fallen into disrepair, to save it from demolishing.

Its stable was an afterthought that was saved only by large protests. You may be shocked to learn 20% of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs have been destroyed.

So, we have no issue with the Kankakee people who are proud of the most impressive building and home of their city. Interesting history and biography.

 

 

 

Bayer Laid Bare: Aspirin’s History

DATELINE: History’s Big Headache

Eichengrun 1900 Arthur Eichengrun, circa 1900.

Who might have thought there was a political scandal behind the invention of aspirin? It was created by a group of chemists in Germany in 1897 for a company named Faben.

Since then, aspirin has become the “wonder drug” of the 20th century, and today its usage and importance continues to grow, lately taking on curative effects for heart disease and cancer.

Not all is rosy. The documentary A Bitter Pill presents us with the ugly story of how a major drug and pharmaceutical company joined hands with the Nazis and Hitler to blackball a Jewish scientist, largely responsible for creating aspirin. Their strategy works until today.

Arthur Eichengrun was Faben’s most important chemist and he oversaw a group of young workers, but the German company fell into the propaganda hands of Hitler. The big lie took hold and Eichengrun was erased and deleted from all records. He was not even allowed into a museum where aspirin was touted as a great “German” invention.

Worse yet, though Eichengrun invented many other important chemical effects, he never complained about being ignored over his work on aspirin. Then, the Nazis came to power and arrested him.

There in a concentration camp, he was recognized as an important German and given “preferred” treatment. He survived but had to swallow the bitter pill that others took credit for his work.

Faben executives were put on trial as Nazi collaborators and found guilty. It was not much solace to Eichengrun who survived life in a Nazi death camp where everyone around him died. Faben turned itself into Bayer aspirin—and went on to make billions of dollars around the world.

Today the crypto-Nazis running Bayer in Germany still refuse to acknowledge the creator of the aspirin. As many in America have learned, the big lie may survive them all: there was no Holocaust, and aspirin was created by a non-Jewish scientist.

You may feel some outrage over this, and then again, you may be a Trump supporter where the crypto-Nazi policies today are still at work. Those types hate this movie.

 

 

 

Damnable Damrell’s Fire

DATELINE: Great Boston Fire

 Boston's Great Fire 1872 Fire.

Boston nearly burned to the ground one year after the Great Chicago Fire. Damrell’s Fire is an extraordinary documentary, partly for the realistic animation and non-sensational approach to the subject matter. It succinctly presents the issues, the problems, the solutions, in a fast-moving 50 minutes.

No movie was made about the Boston conflagration because Chief John S. Damrell, despite opposition from political Brahmins, saved the city from calamity in 1872.

Damrell was a man from the people. His father and grandfather were firefighters—and he was not rich, nor a member of the aristocracy of the Athens of America.

He was merely a man who studied fire science and applied pragmatic strategies to a firestorm. He argued against using gunpowder to blow up buildings, noting that it made for more kindling and swifter moving flames.

For years he warned the city of Boston that its water pipes were too narrow, and there was not enough energy to reach upper stories. He railed against building codes and mansard roofs. Yet, the City snobs thought they already had the best fire department in the nation.

It took idiocy of politicians, yet again, to wake the country up to the reasons the urban areas were becoming tinderboxes.

Boston put him under the microscope after the fire, only reluctantly acknowledging his hands-on insights were years ahead of assorted commissioners who were political hacks.

Damrell did not win accolades easily. His resignation was eventually forced by powerful enemies, though he best recommendations were adopted.

Boston’s Great Fire deserves one of the best documentaries and receives it.

 

 

 

Is Anybody Out There?

DATELINE:  Phone Home!

SETI@home No Robots Need Apply!

When we ask if anybody is out there, it sounds as if we are wondering whether anybody actually reads these blogs. Some may say that our outreach indicates there is no intelligent life behind the message.

The question and answer is somewhat bigger. A documentary about intelligent life in the universe raises some traditional questions about whether we humans are alone in the universe, and it runs through the SETI organization for the most part.

In case you have been hiding from ET, SETI is the acronym for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It sounds like an oxymoron, not an acronym.

We don’t even have intelligent life in college faculties, let alone the entire planet.

The hour-long recap of info deals with the Drake Formula and the Fermi Paradox. One tells us how many intelligent planets there could be in the Milky Way (only a fraction of the universe), and the Fermi pessimism stated that all intelligent life forms have come and gone by now. We are indeed all alone.

If there is one point of interest from the doc, it is that there is something out there called SETI@home, which is a means that all of us, everyday idiots, can scan the skies for a phone call from ALF.

In 2010 Stephen Hawking warned against trying to reach out and touch an alien. SETI dismisses that idea.

We noticed on the application form that robots are not allowed to join SETI@home.

We prefer not to have furry aliens living in our garage, or mind-controlling our children, but it would break up the monotony of daily existence for the vast majority of intelligence-challenged humans.

You should watch this little science kindergarten show-and-tell because education has to start somewhere.

 

 

Experience’s Billy the Kid

DATELINE: Westworld for Real

when billy

When PBS tackles Billy the Kid (a moniker if ever there was), you have something tantamount to Fox News covering Donald Trump. Yes, Americans have a thing for serial killers and serial idiots.

You probably can find a gulf of differences between Trump and Bonney, but they are under the skin self-styled self-important American icons. One was rich and one was poor, but both saw themselves as Robin Hood. They took what they wanted.

For the second season premiere of American Experience, the show decided to do a one-hour special on the Kid. This is a distinct disadvantage in a visual age when there is but one recognized photo of Billy. We see it ad nauseum.

Don’t look for clips from your favorite Billy movie because this is a real history documentary. They eschew Audie Murphy, Emilio Estevez, and Robert Taylor, all of whom epitomized what the experts talk about in movies made a generation or two ago.

And, the show trots out the usual so-called experts on the West, all of whom now see Billy as a kindred spirit to the mistreated Mexicans and Navaho. Yes, he is a civil rights champion.

Billy picked up Spanish language quickly. He had a good ear, but the rest of his face was wanting. However, these experts show us the face of an ugly adolescent and call him “handsome.” You know you are not in Kansas, but in Lincoln County.

The episode also sets the Range War as a version of the War of the Roses: you have Irish immigrants versus British aristocrats with a hired army of mercenaries, including Billy fighting against his own Irish roots.

The legend escaped, but the boy was gunned down in a notorious bedroom shooting. No one mentions whether he was sleeping with a girlfriend, or boyfriend. He was a cop killer with bad press. Like Trump, he decided what law enforcement he approved and called his media following biased.

The short bio dismisses much in an effort to stay on target. Their target was out of range before this so-called documentary started.

Dr. William Russo is author of the historical fiction, When Billy the Kid Met Ben Hur, which examines the Kid’s relationship to Governor Lew Wallace.

 

 

 

 

Not Touched by an Angel: Dr. John E. Mack

DATELINE: Taken by Space Aliens

touched

A dozen years ago a little documentary was released by Laurel Chiten. She took on the work of psychiatrist John Mack, formerly of Harvard Medical School.

He was the doctor who started to examine alien abduction as psychological condition.  And, he found that it was not pathological in any way except after the fact. Touched is a short film about the work of the pioneering psychiatrist, made a dozen years ago.

Mack was dismissed by Harvard, of course, a place that had experts and professors examining angels, demons, and devils, but drew the line at space aliens. It seems Mack refused to throw his patients under the bus and claim they were koo-koo birds. The situation is related to sleep paralysis, a pathological condition worth consideration.

The documentary looks at a handful of cases, two in depth: a man and a woman who said the paralyzing visits began in their early years and continued through young adulthood.

A corresponding psychologist in Brazil also allowed several of her patients to explain their situations.

They all insist that a light of some sort burrowed into their heads and made them pliable to your classic little gray men or insect-like creatures that used them for breeding purposes, against their wills.

They describe involuntary capture, painful testing, and physical abuse by the extra-terrestrials. However, we aren’t really sure who or what these creatures may be.

You have a large segment of the populace with disturbing experiences, which some scientists would like to dismiss as the hallucination of sexually abused children.

Mack took a more sympathetic approach and came to appreciate the suffering and normality of the victims, apart from being singled out by some larger, more powerful force.

Intriguing even years after the fact, Mack is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and important medical figure on the periphery of the entire extra-terrestrial debate.

 

 

 

Unsolved History: Reel History & Massacres

 DATELINE:  Crockett & Crispus

Massacre Boston Massacre

The old muckraker TV documentary series used highest technology to examine traditional history stories. For three seasons it provided some gems of research, original and incisive.

In the first season, Unsolved History tackled two major icons of American history:  Davy Crockett and Crispus Attucks on separate shows. You could not go against political correctness more than to try to tarnish the reputations of these legends.

Crockett died at the Alamo, and Attucks was killed in the Boston Massacre. One fought to the end, and one led the American Revolution. Unsolved History said, “Not so fast.”

Each contributed to building the American character of hero. And, Unsolved History questioned the notion that Crockett did not fight to the end but was executed like a criminal by General Santa Ana. Attucks, a former slave, did not lead the unarmed protestors against the British and was not the first man killed in the American Revolution, but a background figure.

The controversies, as always, were always hosted by resident historian Daniel A. Martinez, on the spot, glossing the facts.

Testing a Mexican officer’s manuscript as witness to the end of the Alamo and using satellite imagery to verify the Mexican army’s route to the Alamo, you had an interesting use of science.

In Boston, they re-created the acoustic noise of gunfire in a riot with studio sound systems and fired replica British muskets at melons to determine bullet damage. Paul Revere’s famous print is quite inaccurate.

In both cases, you had an unpopular notion that the Mexicans and British were not completely the bad guys but acted as people under duress.

Host Martinez goes a long way to suggest the heroes are not lessened by determining a different angle to their stories. And, it is fascinating business to see how science changes the past.

 

 

 

 

70 Years After Roswell

DATELINE: Happy Anniversary, Aliens70 years later Major Coverup of What Exactly?

You might shrug this off as just another rehash documentary, with the usual gaggle of conspiracy theorists. Nick Redfern is most notable of the experts here.

Yes, it may be low key and low budget, but the film is straight-forward and wants to cover aspects of the notorious UFO crash that started the phenomenon that has grown into Ancient Aliens and extra-terrestrials as a cottage industry.

A fresh look with basic honesty is always refreshing, and you will have it here.

And, still we found it illuminating despite being shown that all-so-familiar newspaper headlines about the flying disc recovered by the military that was retracted within a day.

The documentary analysis takes each chunk of the story in hand. A few explanations may surprise: not the tales of witnesses being threatened, but that some of the early participants, including one military officer, started the Roswell UFO Museum.

Of all the startling bits, we were most bowled over by the fact that the producers were not allowed to fly over the crash site with a drone by the military. Seventy years later, they don’t want you to see a 30-foot gash in the ground.

The other eye-opener was the notion that the government actually had disabled “volunteers” on a craft that crashed, and they wanted to hide the human guinea pig concept.

Also, people became ill in Lincoln County shortly after the crash, which was considered cholera, but might have been radiation poison.

The 45-minute film is worth every moment of your attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westworld 2.5: Crichton Bites Nolan

Michigan J. Frog That’s Show Biz!

Michael Crichton’s Futureworld’s troubles come back to Nolan’s Westworld 2.5.

Has Westworld begun to self-destruct? Season 2.5 is beginning to look like it’s a parody of itself, at worst. We half expect James Brolin and Peter Fonda, from the original two movies, to show up.

Creative genius Jonathan Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy seem to be giving the fans exactly what they want, but not exactly the way they want it. We have been treated to two worlds that were never in the Michael Critchon original:  Raj World and now Shogun World. It seems much ado about nothing much.

The series has become a satire on TV writers, as the one character who allegedly has written all the programmed dialogue of the robots complains that it was too much work trying to keep with up 300 story-lines.

So, he cheated. The characters of Westworld are now in Japan, and the idea of meeting your double who speaks exactly the same words, but this time in Japanese, has an unsettling effect on the robots.

You’d think a multi-billion dollar operation like Westworld would have hired more writers. Heaven knows we find the Internet is filled with them, all giving Jonathan Nolan more exegesis of his plots than at a symposium on Moby Dick.

The latest episode seems almost as if Toshiro Mifune is giving Yul Brynner pointers on the Magnificent Samurai Seven.

We feel as if there is far less going on this season, and we are already half-way to the end. What kind of cliff-hanger is in the offing?

We know that some humans are trying to restore the park(s) and save Delos Corporation some money by saving any “hosts” worthy of the name.

If there was a revelation here, we suppose it was the sex lives of robots are not much different than real people as Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, perpetually virginal in their robot roles, doff the union suits.

Yes, Mr. Nolan, 300 story-lines are too much for one writer.

 

Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille Found & Lost

DATELINE:  Sphinx Knows

 Sphinx nose

It may sound like something from John Waters, but this documentary marks a failed 30-year attempt to find the buried Egyptian city built by DeMille for his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.

In 1982 young Peter Branson was inspired to go out into the desert, like some prophet without honor to locate the giant city with its dozens of sphinxes. No one told him it was a foolhardy endeavor.

Intermixed with the story of how Cecil B. DeMille single-handedly made the genre of the Hollywood epic, the film shows how little Hollywood knows of its own history. Its title is The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.

Time and again, over three failed archeological digs, the studios would not fund this project to dig up what is under ten feet of sand in Guadalupe, California.

When done with his expensive movie, DeMille buried the city to prevent rival studios from using it for knock-off movies.

DeMille nearly broke Paramount and Adolph Zukor with his silent version with a cast of thousands, endlessly wrecked chariots, and technicolor scenes.

When he tried to remake the Charlton Heston-Yul Brynner version in 1955, he met nearly as much resistance as the documentary filmmakers who think they wasted time and money spinning their wheels in the sand.

Of course, the importance of the film is how it collects the memories and images of those silent film extras and production crew as they slowly went on to a production of their own deaths.

In that way, Peter Branson may have lost his fellow producer, his original archeologist to the terrible political idiocy of the Santa Barbara County bureaucrats, but he saved a special part of Hollywood history.

This film is a testament and a gospel for movie aficionados.