Happy Yom HaShoah, and God bless fair use copyright laws.
Making light of Hitler (and one’s pop culture enemies) through the reappropriation of clips from the 2004 film Downfall has been raised to an art form on YouTube over the last several years. I recently got the chance to sit down with its most prolific artists. He talks parody takedowns, what makes for a funny internet meme, and, of course, Hitler.
If you think you’ve got what it takes to take Hitler down a peg yourself, you may want to visit Make Your Own Hitler Video to try your hand. But first hear some tips from an expert below.
Who are you?
I like to keep my real identity a mystery. I’m based in the U.K., and I make all the parodies myself sometimes using suggestions people make, and a few parodies I have made have subtitles by other people. I’m studying Computer Science at University. I’m 24.
Were you the first to create a Downfall parody or just the most prolific?
I was not the first to make a parody, but I’m the most prolific. I will soon have made over 300 parodies.
Do you think Downfall is a good movie? Or is it over-the-top kitsch? Or is it kinda besides the point?
I think Downfall is a good movie. It has great acting and the best portrayal of Hitler I have ever seen.
Why is the scene so versatile?
I think why the bunker scene and the other used scenes are so versatile is because a lot of them have Hitler being informed, which is easy to change into some other subject. With everything being spoken in German, and if you don’t understand German, then it’s very easy to believe that what the subtitles say is what is really being said. I think the reason why they are so effective is Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Hitler is amazing and comical, and the many scenes that have him ranting just seem to work so well when commenting about such a wide variety of cultural happenings.
Who do you imagine to be your audience?
I image my audience are people who are fans of Downfall parodies. I have also found out with YouTube Insight that people of all ages view my parodies with the majority being male with my parodies being the most popular in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada.
What are the biggest aesthetic/narrative challenges?
The most difficult moments to translate can be anything really when I generally can’t think of something funny to put in the subtitles. When that occurs I work on another parody and go back to it later. The most fun moments to translate are always the moments when Hitler really gets mad and even the parts when he argues with his officers. The biggest challenges I face when making a parody is first what the parody is going to be about. Next I decide what scene or scenes I want to use for the parody then I decide what the title of the parody is going to be. In MS Word I do all the work with the subtitles before actually putting them into the parody. With the subtitles I always usually start from the beginning of the scene to the end, and I’m careful not to put anything that might be too rude and I don’t use any extreme offensive language.
Why do you think these moments are so much fun for you?
I think the reason why is it’s a really good film to make a meme is it’s in a foreign language, the way that Hitler really goes mad and his over-the-top reaction to any bad news, which is comical. I think what it is tapping into is a trend to make fun of Hitler and I really think people enjoy seeing him suffer when things are going wrong all the time and the antics of Fegelein which has become quite a popular ongoing story.
Anything interesting to say about the distributor who has tried their hardest to have the vid removed from the Internet?
I can understand that Constantin feels that the parodies infringe copyright and of course there may be parodies that may have subjects that they feel are controversial. Although the parodies have helped increase awareness of the film and even myself would never have seen the film if it hadn’t been for parodies.
Why are people so obsessed with Hitler?
I think why people are obsessed with Hitler is probably to do with trying to understand why he did what he did. We want to know everything about him and what defined him. We want to make him human and at the same time a monster. It’s sort of like how we want to know people’s reasons for everything. I think the parodies have increased people’s obsession with Hitler.