‘The Goebbels Experiment’


“July 15, 1935, Saturday: Lazed around, chatting with the Führer.” So went a typical relaxing weekend in the life of Joseph Goebbels, as recorded in his personal diary, which forms the text of Lutz Hachmeister’s documentary. Proceeding chronologically from 1924 up to Goebbels’s death at the end of World War II, The Goebbels Experiment sets the entries to briskly edited archival footage, taken mostly from the period. The master propagandist comes across here as a brooding, insecure megalomaniac—or at times, a bitchy member of a particularly malevolent high school clique, an effect enhanced by some of narrator Kenneth Branagh’s English line readings. The filmmakers aren’t wholly off base in banking on the inherent interest of the primary-source material—Goebbels’s frequent invectives against Jews retain the power to disturb and there are some lines that you don’t hear every day (“Goering really is a nice chap”). Some of the most revealing bits find Goebbels playing film critic, but despite an early clip from Eisenstein’s Ten Days That Shook the World (Goebbels’s take: “Too explicitly propagandistic. Less would have been more effective”), the filmmakers largely take Goebbels’s injunction against “aestheticizing experimentation” to heart, eschewing dialectical montage and allowing the clips to merely illustrate the diary entries. One can only imagine what Eisenstein might have done with this material.

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