The Anatomy of a Nazi film.

March 8th, 2009 by Timo Vuorensola

There are certain regulations you need to take in consideration when thinking about making a Nazi film. Just heed these instructions, and you’ll be holding an Oscar in your hands in no time!

swastikaSwastika Flag
Swastika (the tilted one) is definitively the most effective symbol of the 20th century, and sells DVDs almost like helicopters and explosions in the front cover. You just can’t do a Nazi film without it. How about a closeup shot of a red canvas fluttering slowly in the wind, then slowly tilting up to reveal the white circle, and eventually the swastika in the middle? At least two films last year opened with the exactly same shot (Valkyrie and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). A filmmaker should be aware of the fact that this is the ultimate Nazi film cliché you won’t be able to avoid, and most likely any new use of it you think you can come up with has already been seen a thousand times. So don’t worry too much about it, just get it out there – the people will love it anyway. Just remember not to overuse it, there’s still hundreds of Nazi films coming up, so we can’t ruin the effect from them, now can we?

Black Leather Boots
What is a Nazi without the boots? You know, the shiny, tall boots that bang rhythmically on the wooden floor when the main evil officer is introduced for the first time? Not to mention the endless rows of marching boots, or the tip of the boot that crushes the filter-less cigarette into the asphalt of the airfield. The boots are just as important as the cowboy boots in a western, or the high heels in a good fetish porno film, and everybody knows what they look like, so you can’t get away with something that’s quite close. The boots of a Nazi officer are a sexual symbol of power, strength and manly ego, just like a male erection to a porno film, so pay a lot of attention to the shoes you pick.

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Uniforms
A common misconception of the Nazi uniforms is that they were designed by Hugo Boss – they were not. Hugo Boss factory did produce, with the kind help of the forced labor, the black SS uniforms & some other models, but the original designs were done by SS-Oberführer Prof. Dr. Karl Diebitsch and graphic designer Walter Heck. Another common misconception of the original Nazi uniforms is that they actually look cool and sexy -they don’t. One of the biggest reasons are the colours – we are used to the gray or black uniforms on the soldiers, but a big let-down for me was the fact that the uniforms were actually mostly darkish green – a colour I hate anyway (always when I try to buy something in gray or black, I only find it in this color, dunno why) – or some other stupid shit like brown, yellow or even had a pink collar in some cases. So be careful when picking your Nazi troops – SS is the best and most certain pick, since they had the all-black uniforms that go well with the black boots and the red Swastika armband. They even had a frigging dagger and a skull on their hat, which reminds me of this little comedy piece I found from the Internets:

The Colours
To continue on the topic of colors – A good Nazi film is known from it’s palette: washed-out brown, green and gray. There needs to be some kind of a plug-in for After Effects called Nazificator that just desaturates everything by 35% (except red, which it boosts 50%), and it’s one of the basic tools introduced to the young film students in the film schools. I haven’t been into any, so I wouldn’t know.

Tom Cruise, the funny little chap with an eye patch, presenting here the color palette of a good Nazi film.

Fatzi – The Mandatory Fat Nazi
Remember Hermann Göring, the fat fuck who killed himself in the jail just before he would’ve been hanged. He was the manifestation of all the Nazi decadency – a debauchee who loved orgies, wore an all-white uniform, and was terribly intelligent in the worst possible manner. Fatzi is one of the mandatory characters that just need to be in any self-respecting Nazi film, maybe introduced in a dinner scene with a lot of close-ups of his greasy lips, laughing and sweating like a pig. He’s a wonderful character, one you can dump all of the darkest clichés on, and get away with.

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The Language
Now here’s a tricky issue. You know, the Nazis used to speak German, which was also played quite an important role during their regime. But as we know, the Americans hate to read, so you can’t just put the Nazis speaking their original language in a film (you’d have to – god forbid! – use subtitles) and expect it to sell in the English-speaking world. So you either need to come up with a “clever” solution or accept the sales losses – and we know which option the producer or the studio usually picks. This means that we, the Europeans, need to suffer either the American-English, or even worse, the fake German accents that portrays their language. But if you go with the German language, you’ll find another surprising problem quite soon: German is actually a very delicate, beautiful and soft language – quite unlike the stereotypical “jawohl Horst ich komme” -porn-German that’s stuck somewhere in the back of our heads when we think about the Nazi lingo. So whatever you pick, you’re doomed anyway.

Controversial Theme
Nazis are bad, we know that, thanks to the hundreds and hundreds of films and books that have been banging this into our heads for half a century now – and there’s nobody disagreeing with it. But today, the trick about doing a Nazi film is to have a story with an angle to it. Maybe it’s about a good nazi, or about kids in the Nazi era, or claiming that Hitler was actually a human being . When creating a story for your Nazi film that’ll meet the needs of the oh-so-jaded and critical modern audience, the best way is to pick a theme from any family/general audience film, like kids, or love, or friendship, and just change the characters – or one character – into Nazis – and boom, you have an Oscar nominee in the making.

The Jew brat and the Nazi brat in The Boy in the Striped Pyjama

Hitler
Hitler is a major don’t in any good Nazi flick – although exception proves the rule. We’ve had Robert Carlyle, Ian McKellen and Liam Neeson playing Hitler, among hundreds of others, but when Bruno Ganz came out with his portrayal in Der Untergang in 2004, it was just like all the work by these hundreds of other great actors was made obsolete, and everything after that will be compared to Ganz’s role. So unless you know exactly what you are doing – which you don’t – forget Hitler. He’s the most interesting, the most well-known figure of our times, and you just can’t put some second-hand actor portraying him and put him going apeshit somewhere in the background.

Zombie Room will continue to explore the Nazi topic with one more entry, coming up tomorrow – the Top 10 Nazi Films! So stay tuned!

- Timo.

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8 Responses to “The Anatomy of a Nazi film.”

  1. Scion says:

    Smith and Jones made clever sketch about cliché nazi characters:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RJQlbQ5JoE

  2. Oh… the Nazi Generals sketch! Thanks, Scion, I’ve been looking for that one to show the rest of the team. Why, this is like a primer for the Iron Sky cast! 8P

  3. falconer says:

    I hope all this will end up in Iron Sky (except for Hitler).

  4. Joona says:

    ROTFLMAOLOLOLOL!

    Ahum, excuse me. Gotta go and shoot a nazi… film.

  5. Andy says:

    Stumbled upon this, and am huge fan of the genre – when is this coming out?

  6. TweekJones says:

    Hey man I really excited about Ironsky. Oddly enough as I was looking up nazi uniforms for a possible VERY low budget probably c movie project I found this blog.Its odd because I have known about your film for some time and can’t wait!
    Anyway I got a question for you…
    Is there a cheaper way to replicate the costumes or am I forced to buying $700 authentic costumes from Italy?
    Of course I am going to use SS uniforms if I can,if I make the film of course :), not only because there the best looking as you rightly pointed out but also because my film concept is based on a true story concerning a very special unit in the ss.
    Anyway I really look reward to your response and again your AWESOME movie IRONSKY!

  7. Bill says:

    The Hitler sketch.Fantastic! Never laughed so much. Well Done!