Great Dictation: Norman Kleeblatt on Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary. (Film)

By Kleeblatt, Norman | Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Great Dictation: Norman Kleeblatt on Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary. (Film)


Kleeblatt, Norman, Artforum International


AS I SLID INTO MY SEAT at Alice Tully Hall for the New York Film Festival screening of Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, I noticed the auditorium was only one-third occupied. A man behind me remarked, "I guess this isn't a big seller." I wondered why anyone would expect that a documentary about an unknown Nazi factotum like Traudl Junge would sell out. Who wants to know about the intricacies and intimacies of Adolf Hitler's daily schedule? Who cares what this heinous criminal ate for dinner, how he related to his girlfriend, or to his dog? More to the point, who could bear to witness this naive, amoral functionary who served Hitler as stenographer, typist, file clerk?

By the time the presenters of the film shuffled onto the stage, the theater was packed. Any doubts as to the public's curiosity about the confessions of Hitler's secretary were dispelled. Perhaps some of the attraction to this striking, if rather straightforward, documentary hinges on the reputation--the sheer bravura--of the Austrian artist, actor, producer, and impresario Andre Heller, who conceived and directed Blind Spot with documentary filmmaker Othmar Schmiderer. But one suspects that the heightened level of interest in this film is related to the recent eruption of new approaches to work about Hitler, Nazi perpetrators, and the aesthetics and culture of the Third Reich. That the New York Review of Books would give its critique of Joachim Fest's recent biography of Albert Speer the jocular title "Hitler's Pal" is one barometer of the postwar generations' historical and emotional remove from the Nazi era. Another is the fact that a serious scholar, Frederic Spotts, would devote a book-length study to fa scist aesthetics in his Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Overlook, 2003). Last year, three exhibitions--"Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics, and Hitler's Early Years in Vienna, 1906-1913" (Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA, 2002), "Memoire des Camps" (Hotel de Sully, Paris, 2001), and "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art" (The Jewish Museum, New York, 2002)--drew on this distance, and they elicited negative reactions. These and the harsh criticisms in response to both a planned CBS miniseries about Hitler's formative years and a BBC program about Hitler the struggling artist reveal a still-staunch resistance to investigating areas of this history where moral operatives are neither black nor white. By the time this essay is published, we'll likely have seen strong reactions to Max, a fiction film about a Jewish art dealer (John Cusack) who befriends and encourages the young artist Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor). Likewise the voyeuristic situations projected in earlier film and literature, such as Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's Our Hitler (1977) (in which, coincidentally, Andre Heller plays a leading role) or George Steiner's novel The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. (1981), are morally convoluted and purposefully ambiguous. Heller takes no such liberties with Blind Spot.

Interest in individuals like Traudl Junge is part of the renewed attention to ordinary types involved in the dreadful drama of Nazi history. In this sense, Blind Spot relates to a recently televised History Channel documentary comprising interviews with Germans who attended Nazi military school. The current spotlight on these small-time perpetrators emerges after several decades of intensive focus on the Holocaust victims, for which Steven Spielberg's ongoing oral history project, Survivors of the Shoah (1994-), serves as a paradigm. …

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