Celebrity culture is almost always full of observations of reinvention, but few public figures have surpassed the stunt That Albert Speer was able to pull off, starting with his release from Spandau cage in 1966, where he had served his 20-year cage judgement for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The former minister of armament and war production of the Third Reich, barely in his twenties, when he was included in Hitler’s inner circle, came out of cage, determined to paint his soul cleanly, to redefine himself in the narrative of national socialism and the Holocaust as the good Nazi who would have done something other than hitler., etc.
As a fluent speaker of French, German and English, who was in excellent mental and body health during his stay in Paris, and as a man of acute intelligence, he was up to the task. His first book, Inside The Third Reich, published in 1970, immediately became a bestseller. This documentary by Vanessa Lapa, consisting exclusively of archival documents and surprisingly recorded conversations, begins with television documentaries from that time where Speer talks about the answers to the book — which he personally receives in the mail and sometimes personally by curious visitors. He answers every letter, he says, and welcomes curious travelers as guests. He owes it to the world and his conscience, he explains. Partly because of his fault: “I will never get rid of it.”
How much guilt was he carrying, how real was he? And how much did he know at the time when Hitler was carrying out his atrocities? Speer himself answered these questions differently at different times. And when he flew to Los Angeles for a series of shoots with screenwriter Andrew Birkin, a one-time protégé of Stanley Kubrick (and Jane Birkin’s brother, and yes, in the photos here you see the family resemblance), Speer’s relentless coverage sometimes surpassed Him.
Birkin’s recordings of his conversations with Speer – and of his conversations with filmmaker Carol Reed, who, even though she’s just shot a Movie with Anthony Quinn as a Native American, sounds a bit tipsy and constantly warns Birkin against being seduced by Speer — form the backbone of this revealing documentary. If you were lucky enough to see Marcel Ophuls’ groundbreaking, though rarely shown, 1976 documentary “The Memory of Justice,” you saw how slippery and occasional glib Speer, who died in 1981, could be.
In the society of Birkin, Whom he considers an artistic collaborator — his project is supposed to be a fictional biopic of Speer, based on the rehabilitated Nazi’s own stories — Speer is not monitored. The two men agreed early on: “they must not represent the Third Reich as a Cecil B. de Mille show.”It is no small irony that Speer created such a spectacle in real life with his design of the Cathedral of Light at Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies. When asked about his own attitude toward Jews in the 1930s, when his boss was stepping up his strikes on German Jews, Speer shrugged. Well, they were clearly rich, they got away with money loans, many of them were illegal immigrants, and the richest had very new tastes and characteristics. “But again, I can’t say,” Speer points out, “that it was an anti-Semitic sentiment. It was a feeling of disgust.”
For all these things – and there are a lot of them – “Speer Goes to Hollywood” shows a reluctant Birkin opposing Speer. He is clearly connected with this doomed project (a TV mini-series based on Speer’s memoirs and created many years after, without the participation of Birkin and after Speer’s passed away) and does not want to blow it up. And he doesn’t want to give up on the “bon Nazi” narrative Speer is trying to sell, though it’s clear over time that Birkin isn’t buying it. Indeed, as his questions about Speer get sharper, Speer’s lines and trails suggest Speer knows he’s fallen into some kind of trap here.
It’s a fascinating and relevant story, but an important aspect of its telling gives me a serious break. There is an audio section in which Birkin Speer tells that Paramount, the Studio that pays for these Research and writing sessions, is frustrated that in a script of more than 200 pages at that time, few of them have anything to do with The Holocaust. And Speer says: “This is your problem,” strongly emphasizing the “you,” which gives the impression that Speer can not be bothered. This is an obviously cursed moment among many cursed moments. Only, there is a problem here: the conversations between Birkin and Speer, and Birkin and Reed, are not tape recordings of Bikin.
On the contrary, director Vanessa Lapa hired voice actors to speak the words of the real players. In a statement from the filmmaker, which I received after receiving questions from the publicists of the film, the director said indirectly against the wording of my question, in which I called the conversations “recreated”: “nothing is recreated. Everything from the tapes is taken over. [Bold was sent in the email to the author.] This means 100% true to the original. Every breath, every laugh, every Pause, every Intonation.”The reasoning is that the audio quality of the 50-year-old cassettes, even after a lot of technical work, was too bad to use. That said, I think the viewer should be aware of this from the beginning, rather than having to discover it in the fine print of the final credit. Given the importance of these intonations, I would like to have more than just the director’s speech so that they are accurately reproduced. But it’s just me.