The Goebbels Experiment lets the Nazi propaganda mastermind behind Hitler talk directly to you, as actor Kenneth Branagh reads pages of the diary he kept without interruption from 1924 to 1945. Images of Goebbels charred corpse serve as cinematic bookcases at both the beginning and the end of the film.
Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945) was a symbol of Germany’s Nazi regime and a twentieth-century icon of maniacal cruelty. His name has been synonymous with cynical, unscrupulous, and at times successful, propaganda. The life of Goebbels is far more complicated and disturbing than labels like "genius of spin" or "Reich Liar-General" would suggest. This documentary exposes how Goebbels continually "restaged" and reinvented himself – from his early days as a radical "popular socialist" to his tragic end. Goebbels presented Nazi propaganda as the model for the rest of the world, calling it the "background music" to government policy. He appeared in Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), giving a moving speech at Nuremberg. Later, we learn via his diary that he disliked Reifenstahl and her propaganda films.
Goebbels often critiqued movies, panning Eisentein’s Bolshevik cinema for being too unsubtle in its propaganda (and obviously being inspired by it at the same time.) At one point we see a large contingent of Nazi officers gather at Rome’s Cinecitta for a small film festival. Goebbels claimed that the Italians made bad films. Moreover, he thought Churchill was a better speaker than "that idiot Chamberlain." Goebbels was paranoid, often attacking then loving Hitler. You learn that Hitler's favorite men were not friends (Goebbels hated Goring, for example.) The making of the Veit Harlan’s pro-Nazi party film, Kolberg (1945) is illustrated with color footage from the film.
The film lets Goebbels speak for himself through the diaries he kept, as never before seen historical footage from German archives traces the life of the second most powerful man of the Third Reich, detailing his initial attraction to the Nazi party and his adoration of Hitler. The result is a fascinating psycho-gram of a man who careened extravagantly between self-pity, wild extermination fantasies, and political excesses. Goebbels was a physically slight man who had a club foot and looked particularly gaunt, even when speaking in public in his shiny Gestapo black leather jacket.
Written by Lutz Hachmeister and Michael Kloft and directed by Hachmeister, this documentary is a must see for anyone interested in the Nazi propaganda machine and its stubborn unraveling. First Run Features released the film in US theatres on August 12th.