If you have never heard about Albert Speer, this documentary is a great introduction to his life. He grew up in a bourgeois family and studied architecture and eventually became a confidant of Hitler. He not only had a vision of how Berlin should look like as the capital of the Third Reich, but he designed the concentration camps as well. For his professional activities, he disposed of a labor force of twelve million people. At the end of the war, he was arrested and brought to the Nuremberg trial. There, Speer was very lucky. He was condemned to twenty years in prison, whereas many other big names among the Nazis were hanged. Speer spent the next twenty years in Spandau Prison, where he wrote two memoirs. Prisoners were actually not allowed to write memoirs, so Speer wrote his on napkins and toilet paper. One was called Inside the Third Reich. And once it was published, it became an instant bestseller. Little did people suspect that the book was part of the Speer Myth, a web of lies that made Speer look like the “good Nazi”. He didn’t deny that he had been so close to Hitler, but he claimed that he had not been aware of the terrible fate of the Jews.
Paramount quickly became interested in a movie adaptation of Inside the Third Reich and appointed writer Andrew Birkin to get a screenplay ready, with the help of Speer. Luckily for us, Birkin recorded more than forty hours of him working with Speer himself. It’s these recordings that form the base of director Vanessa Lapa’s documentary. Too bad that she didn’t use the original voices of Birkin and Speer, but rather used voice actors. She did the same in her documentary about Heinrich Himmler, The Decent One. The problem is that the voice actor impersonating Speer speaks English with a very heavy accent. Not only is it difficult to understand what he’s saying, but it also makes the documentary less authentic. We also never get to hear Birkin’s side of the story. Why did he accept this task? And why does he never confront Speer with the many contradictions he makes.
What you get to hear is not the truth but Speer’s version of reality; he keeps denying his responsibilities! It is clear that Speer’s movie plans were ambitious, to say the least. He didn’t want a documentary, he wanted a drama of high quality. For the role of Hitler, he had Donald Pleasance in mind. Given the fact that Speer was still working on his own myth, the idea of a documentary now sounds ludicrous. It is unclear whether Lapa had access to Birkin’s screenplay or not. It would have been interesting to confront some historians with it and ask for their honest opinion. That would have given this documentary a more than necessary counter-voice.
After Speer’s unexpected death in 1971, Paramount dropped the whole project. A TV movie was eventually made, but Birkin’s screenplay was not used for this. The most chilling part of the film is when you see Speer exchanging pleasantries with other top Nazis at the Nuremberg trial as if they were all at a cozy tea party, whereas in reality most were executed a short time later. Speer Goes to Hollywood is intriguing as a portrait of Speer by the man himself; however, in my view, Lapa could have been a lot more critical with the words of such a pathological liar.
Suppose, however, that Paramount hadn’t abandoned this project, what kind of a movie would have been the result? How would the public have reacted? What kind of a review would I have written?
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