So many books to read, so little time.

Nazi Kitsch

with 9 comments

A.O. Scott:

Why do opportunistic, clever young novelists — I won’t name any names — gravitate toward magic-realist depictions of the decidedly unmagical reality of the Shoah? For the same reason that actors shave their heads and starve themselves, or preen and leer in jackboots and epaulets. For the same reason that filmmakers commission concrete barracks and instruct their cinematographers and lab technicians to filter out bright, saturated colors. To win prizes of course.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that even the Holocaust can be commodified. But not in the way a humorless Frankfurt School social critic (looking at you Adorno) might imagine. Every year, as Scott writes, we see an invasion of aggressively middlebrow films that turn the tragedy of World War II into a stage for showcasing the technical skills of actors and directors. None of these films, despite their dramatic pretensions, tell us anything new about Hitler, Auschwitz, or D-Day. They do, however, give Tom Cruise an opportunity to look fetching in a eyepatch.

I much prefer something loud and unapologetically crude such as The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare than an overwrought piece of Oscar bait. At least Where Eagles Dare makes no bones about its purpose–Clint Eastwood being a badass. You could change the setting and bad guys entirely (maybe Eastwood single-handedly supressing a zombie outbreak in New Jersey) and no one would care.


Written by Adam Elkus

November 24, 2008 at 6:00 am

Posted in Nonfiction

9 Responses

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  1. Where Eagles Dare is a great movie. The idea at its core was that fighting and beating the Germans was good, noble and necesary, and that being a traitor to that cause merited, without any question, immediate execution. And it meant that if you happened to have Clint Eastwood in your army, then by gosh, you put him where he kick gun down lots of Nazis. Where Eagles Dare is a morally healthy movie, not crippled by lots of faculty-lounge second-guessing about whether the Third Reich had to be hammered into the dirt or not, or whether the moral defects of the Democracies meant they should have had a more nuanced and complex and open-minded response to the challenge of evil which really lurks within us all, requiring the Allies to go to a supine and effeminate doom rather than send fleets of four-engine bombers to incinerate German cities full of German armaments factories, German trains to move troops to the front, and incidentally German women, children, old people and other minorities.

    Lexington Green

    November 25, 2008 at 4:35 pm

  2. AE

    Probably you are right. I say probably because I cannot waste time on the stuff you mention beyond glancing at the reviews so I defer to those who actually watch the stuff. The very thought of Cruise as Stauffenberg – eyepatch or not – makes me want to vomit. It is almost as bad as Brad whtsisname as Homeric hero.

    Antidote – Christopher Plummer in The Battle Of Britain, The Night Of the Generals (not a war film as such) and Triple Cross (with a fantastic supporting role for the dreadful Gerd Frobe).

    Col. von Ryan`s Express and A Bridge Too Far are good examples as well, although the latter lapses into peacenik pathos at the end.

    Action In the North Atlantic (with Bogart and Raymond Massey) is still on my shelf in its original cellophane wrapper. Seen it long ago on TV and saving the DVD for a bleak winter evening with nothing better to do.

    On a more sober and sombre note – The War In The Air by Edward Smithies (1990) and Jules Roy`s (
    La Vallée Heureuse give one a RAF Bomber Command perspective on the air war.


    November 25, 2008 at 9:33 pm

  3. AE,

    A true review of what seems from the trailers to be just as you described, a vehicle for Tom Cruise’s oscar chances. The last movie, or series to get even close to World War II reality was Band of Brother’s and that even strayed from the truth.

    Currently, Hanks/Speilberg are making War in the Pacific for HBO. It is to be based primarily on two memoirs of U.S. Marines: “With the Old Breed” by Eugene Sledge and “Helmet for My Pillow” by Robert Leckie. Let’s see if they stay close to the storylines which by the way, are two of the best memoirs to come out of the war.


    November 26, 2008 at 4:24 am

  4. Have to agree with Fabius on Von Ryan’s Express. That was a great movie – good acting, good score, good story. My other favourite is Guns of Navarone.


    November 26, 2008 at 5:35 am

  5. Cross of Iron, Army of Shadows, and Der Untergang are my favorite WWII films. Army of Shadows in particular de-glamorizes life in the French resistance.

    Adam Elkus

    November 26, 2008 at 5:55 am

  6. My Grandfather was a B-26 pilot in WW2, his favorite war movie was 12 O’clock High.

    He walked out of Memphis Belle in disgust.


    November 26, 2008 at 4:55 pm

  7. 12′ O Clock High is a good movie, never heard of Belle.

    Adam Elkus

    November 26, 2008 at 5:20 pm

  8. “But not in the way a humorless Frankfurt School social critic (looking at you Adorno) might imagine”

    Heh. Nice.


    January 8, 2009 at 4:04 am

  9. So I attempted subscribing to your RSS Feed, and it kicked back a “Illegal Action” error… Can you tell me if it’s me or your site?

    Jeffrey Dohmer

    December 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm

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