The Siege of Leningrad: Hitler’s Army Invades the Russian Heartland (First Run Features, NR) & Führer Cult and Megalomania (First Run Features, NR)

The-Siege-of-Leningrad 75They make good use of their materials and provide a different angle on the war than you may be used to.

The-Siege-of-Leningrad 500

If you’re a World War II buff, you owe it to yourself to check out the work of Michael Kloft, who has made something of a specialty producing hour-long documentaries for German television (he also directed an episode of PBS series The American Experience on the Nuremberg Trials). Kloft’s documentaries tend to be pretty minimalist, with lots of archival footage and voice of God narration, but they make good use of their materials and provide a different angle on the war than you may be used to from American television.

I got hooked on Kloft documentaries with Television Under the Swastika, which told me something I didn’t know—namely, that Germany began television broadcasts in 1935 and provided extensive coverage of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which German citizens could watch in special viewing parlors. The very minimal nature of this documentary was part of its charm—as Joe Friday might say, it gives you just the facts and doesn’t aspire to any kind of attention-seeking artiness.

The stories told in The Siege of Leningrad and Führer Cult are more familiar, but the documentaries are still worth seeing. The story of The Siege of Leningrad begins in 1941, when the German armies reached the city and expected a surrender. Instead, they got resistance and began a siege that lasted over 800 days, until January 1944. The reality lived by the city’s inhabitants is so outside the typical American’s experience that it may seem to come from the Middle Ages, not the near past—over a million people died, and some of the city’s inhabitants became cannibals in a desperate attempt to survive. Kloft’s film draws on many eyewitness accounts to convey the magnitude of this historical event.

The Bavarian city of Nuremberg was chosen by Hitler as the site of political and military rallies for the Third Reich, in part because of historical associations dating back to the Holy Roman Empire (it was also a hotbed of anti-Semitism, which no doubt pleased der Führer as well). Führer Cult and Megalomania looks at how the city was transformed in the service of propaganda, with particular focus on the extensive preparations for the 1934 Nuremberg rally, filmed by Leni Riefenstahl for the remarkable propaganda film Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will).

There are no extras on either disc, and both come in a cardboard eco pack. | Sarah Boslaugh

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