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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern Greek tragedy
I love this film, but anyone looking for a straightforward story of the rise of the Nazi's in Germany should stop reading now.

The story revolves around the Essenbecks, an all powerful family of German industrialists who murder (often each other) their way to the top of the new order. This is a fable, a cross between a Shakespearean play such as Macbeth or a...
Published on 5 Oct 2007 by L. A. Jeffery

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Damned Good or Damnable ?
It's now some thirty years since I first saw this and after some five viewings I'm as ambivalent about it now as I was then. On the one hand it is a rather clumsy allegorical parable about the underlying decadence that fed and fuelled fascism in the thirties (or at least that's how Visconti seems to perceive it)while on the other it comes across as a Faustian epic of...
Published on 10 April 2009 by Yeoman


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern Greek tragedy, 5 Oct 2007
By 
L. A. Jeffery "tonyandlulu" (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
I love this film, but anyone looking for a straightforward story of the rise of the Nazi's in Germany should stop reading now.

The story revolves around the Essenbecks, an all powerful family of German industrialists who murder (often each other) their way to the top of the new order. This is a fable, a cross between a Shakespearean play such as Macbeth or a Greek tragedy upon which this was undoubtedly based and there is enough murder, incest, sexual deviance and matricide to please any fans of those two styles. It is a wonderful macabre film, an often distasteful tormented fantasy that seeks to confront taboo subjects in a surreal and provoking way. Ok, there is a bit of hysteria but then there always is with Visconti and you just have to accept this in order to enjoy a wonderful, high camp masterly colourful ride. True to form it is also extremely anti-capitalist something nearly always at the heart of Visconti's work.

Helmut Berger in his first major role does well as the degenerate son, later performances would be better but given the fact that Visconti humiliated him time and time again in front of the entire cast and often reduced him to tears he gives a good account of a disturbed young man - he also looks fabulous and the camera loves him.

Ingrid Thulin that Bergman discovery is a lovely actress - radiant on screen she handles the role well giving it just the right whiff of depravity. All the other actors are good, Dirk Bogarde has a few scenes of hysteria towards the end which might make a few toes curl but after all, he's just following the wishes of his all powerful director. Costumes and settings are as always with Visconti scrupulously reproduced.

Having said all the above perhaps it's best to forget all the background and politics and messages and just sit back and let this brightly coloured dream wash over you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Near Miss, 2 July 2009
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
I don't think this film entirely comes off - though, given the talent involved, both in front of, and behind, the camera, there's no way it can be without interest.

Fellow reviewer Trevor Wilsmer has largely spoken my own thoughts on what's right and what's wrong here: I'll just add that this is not one of Dirk Bogarde's better performances, largely due to miscasting. Bogarde has too much senstivity to convince as the parvenu executive who rises, by plotting, to control the steel corporation (closely based on the real German steel firm Krupp's). That said, he's never less than watchable......More happily cast are Bergman favourite Ingrid Thulin as Bogarde's lover/wife and Helmut Berger, making his debut, as her decadent son.

One irritating factor about the film is the dubbing of most of the cast: I think only Bogarde and Berger escape, everyone else is clumsily lip-synched in a very obvious way. It's only a minor distraction, though.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evil triumphant, 8 Nov 2007
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
"You must realize that today in Germany anything can happen, even the improbable, and it's just the beginning, Frederick. Personal morals are dead. We are an elite society where everything is permissible. These are Hitler's words. My dear Frederick, even you should give them some thought."

Visconti's tale of evil triumphant, The Damned is much better than it's given credit for. Beginning with a birthday party on the night of the burning of the Reichstag, the first of the Nazis many excuses for a little internal and external housekeeping, and using the fall of an aristocratic family of German industrialists who think they can control the Nazi Party for their own advantage to mirror the vicious power struggle between the SS and the SA as the Party corrupts and then destroys those who help it to power, it's certainly sensational - incest, child abuse, rape, murder, transvestism, homosexuality and, in the brutal recreation of the Night of Long Knives, mass murder are all on the menu. Nor are there any really sympathetic characters in this nest of vipers: even Umberto Orsini's sole voice of protest is raised too late to do any good in a family where no-one opposes and no-one stands together as one by one they meet their doom at each others' hands. Even those who actively plot to steal power - Ingrid Thulin's Lady MacBeth figure and Dirk Bogarde's executive desperate to marry into the family and become the heir apparent only to gradually realise that he has accepted a ruthless logic he can never get away from - become victims of their own internecine machinations. Their wedding becomes a macabre union between two of the walking dead, the reception a soulless affair filled with hookers and hangers on that stands as the complete antithesis of the lavish ballroom scene in The Leopard. In this atmosphere of moral decay and corruption, only the emptiest and most amoral can thrive in the form of Helmut Berger's disturbed paedophile, because he alone among them has no delusions of mastery or even thinking for himself: as long as his desires are fed, he's only too happy to be told what to think and what to do. Throughout, Helmut Griem's Mephistophelean SS puppet master never coerces or forces, he merely facilitates as they bring about their own destruction.

A few anachronisms aside, it's a chilling précis of how the ruling class - and by association the German population at large - willingly sold their souls and brought about their own destruction under Hitler, and Warners' DVD offers a good widescreen transfer of the uncut version that restores the extended build-up to the Night of Long Knives cut from the English-language prints, although only in subtitled German. Along with the trailer (which, along with the poster image of Helmut Berger dragged up as Marlene Dietrich, shows just how clueless the studio were how to market the film), the only other extra is a brief promotional featurette about the making of the film from 1969.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore, 12 Aug 2005
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
The Damned is a long, overblown, spectacular, strange and decadent film. Despite all that, it's very watchable, mainly because of the sheer, majestic beauty of the way it has been filmed. It's hard not to admire the painterly, perfectly composed images, despite the bizarre content of the plot, which centres around the downfall of a family of German industrialists under the Nazis. One scene in particular, when we watch soldiers crossing a scenic lake to bring death and destruction to a party on the shore, combines beauty and impending doom in a very memorable way.
The Damned is a far better film than the more famous Death in Venice because it does in fact have a plot, a sense of drama, and one or two performances which are not completely overdone and hysterical (Helmut Berger excepted).
The DVD print is excellent and this film is a recommended curio for anyone into oddities and good old-fashioned decadence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Power Struggle, 2 Sep 2011
By 
C McGhee (Hutchinson, Ks.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
This is a show that would lead you to believe it was based on the Krupp family. They supplied the heavy armor (tanks & guns) for Germany for many years. The family in the movie is named, the Essenbecks. The Krupp family lived in Essen, Germany so the link becomes believable.

The Nazi's are in power at the time of this picture & have subdued the country of Germany. Hitler is no longer in need of the SA, his brown shirts, who bullied the German population into submission. He is ready to court the Armed Forces now as he needs them to make war outside Germany & further the spread of National Socialism. The professional soldiers despise the SA as perverts & drunks & have told Hitler it is either them or the SA. He can't have both.

The story is actually two fold in that there is a power struggle inside the Essenbeck family for control of the steelworks. The patriarch of the family has only the good of the buisness in mind & will deal with the devil (Hitler) since he must, but he despises Hitler both as a man & a politician. You can imagine the Nazi reaction to that.

His daughter-in-law plays the self-interested, manipulating & most power hungry member of the family. She mars everything she touches including her son, who has no interest in the company or positions inside the family. His mother has seen to that with lip stick & stockings & garter belts as he grew up. She has set her eye on the most popular manager in the family buisness, reeling him in like a fish on a hook.

Her brother who is the current Vice President of the company is only in the way, He is a vocal Nazi hater & slated for action by both his sister & the Nazi's. The brother's wife & family are only toys to be disposed of in his sister's eye.

There is a contender for the position of Vice President, a cousin, He is a member of the SA & since the patriarch has decide to 'do buisness' with the Nazi's his stock is high. He's only another target for our Femme Fatale & Hitler who is through with the SA.

Martin is the son of the daughter-in-law here & a more messed up kid you couldn't want to find. Confused, perverted & lost in any connotation you can imagine. Hating what he is & apparently helpless to do anything about it. A large portion of the film is contained in finding out what this vessel of confusion will be filled with.

The Nazi, Captain Aschenbach, he is of the SS & has been assigned as the liason between Hitler & the Essenbeck Industrialists. His desire is to put in place the most amenable to Nazi control President of Essenbeck Industries. This is really his story, the manipulations perpetrated through the Essenbeck family in-fighting, follow his master plan, not the desires of any family member. His plan as to who should control Essenbeck Industries is brought about with a satanic reliance on the desire for power which he knows how to implant & which he knows is his to offer. Whoever is willing to follow the lead of Hitler & the Nazi ideal will be his choice. A twisted look into the power plays that were Nazi Germany just prior to WW-II.

Loads of perversion in this one & if nudity bothers you then skip this. It is a powerful tale & is told in a very bold & in your face manner. No whitewash for the Nazi regime or the Essenbeck family. Historical events occur here, you hear of the burning of the Reichstag. The Night of the Long Knives takes place on film here. That's the night the SA was removed from power & it is shown in a historically correct manner. The sets & costuming are marvelous as is the hairdressing which appears so period perfect. There is not one weak performance from a stellar cast. The spoken language is English but the accents are foreign so turn on the English subtitles. It helps to keep you current on what is happening, in which plot, on screen at the time. A convoluted treat. 5 Amazon Stars
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Damned Good or Damnable ?, 10 April 2009
By 
Yeoman (Dorset. U.K.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
It's now some thirty years since I first saw this and after some five viewings I'm as ambivalent about it now as I was then. On the one hand it is a rather clumsy allegorical parable about the underlying decadence that fed and fuelled fascism in the thirties (or at least that's how Visconti seems to perceive it)while on the other it comes across as a Faustian epic of internecine and familial corruption. The acting is a very mixed bag and personally I find the villainous Helmut Berger rather arch and wooden. Bogarde is miscast at best but is more likely just having a monumentally bad day at the office. Ingrid Thulin is truly fine throughout and I wonder how much of her performance inluenced Hirschbiegel's direction of Juliane Kohler as Eva Braun in 'Downfall'. Moot point maybe, but the scenes of the final hours of both characters are incredibly similar. Anway, that's as maybe. What the film does offer is one set piece that haunts in it's mastery and shows just what a visionary teller of tales Visconti could be - namely the culling of the S.A on the Night of the Long knives. The whole scene is assembled with craft and then executed with clinical vitriol and remains as fresh and vivid today as when I first saw it.
Final analysis...as a film it tries far too hard to shock and at times becomes a parody of itself. It is fantastical, it is gripping and it does draw you in but it remains an 'if only' movie, far from the epic masterpiece it sometimes purports to be.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It leaves you thoughtfull, 13 Jun 2004
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
Very good film, shows a lot of brilliant actors and lightens some of the areas nobody else does. Visconti does it very well and makes it go beyond the borders. Also historical facts are shown in down to earht way. If you are after something to think about and see also some parrallels with today - this is a right choice. I wouldn`t call it entertainment,it`s more historical detective with social and political undertext.
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2.0 out of 5 stars The Night Porter, 31 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
The first hour was entertaining enough. Well paced, a story unfolding, rich colours, expensive sets, good acting. Then it became lacklustre, dull. The Night Porter is a far superior Italian made film also with Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Twilight of the Gods - Visions of Decay in German Society, 11 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
Luchino Visconti's 1969 The Damned (titled in Europe Götterdämmerung, and more correctly translated into English as, `Twilight of the Gods') is the first part of an unofficial `German trilogy', the other two parts being Death in Venice (1971) and Ludwig (1972). All three films are usually assessed as examinations of the decadence that German culture fell into starting with the rise of nationalist thinking in the 1840s, and finishing with its fall in the Nazi period a century later. Visconti stated it was his aim to examine a sick society and he does so through the depiction of three eras. The first (Ludwig) takes in the period 1864 through to 1886 in which King Ludwig II of Bavaria's reign is depicted as having been poisoned by a mixture of incestuous in-breeding resulting in madness, and the acceptance of the dangerous ideas of the composer Richard Wagner. The second (Death in Venice) pinpoints 1911 in the setting of a Thomas Mann novella which depicts the decadent fin-de-siècle era of an aristocratic Europe about to slide into the oblivion of World War One with the emergence of a new haute bourgeoisie and new national identities which rose from the wreckage of ruined empires (especially from Austria-Hungary). The Third (The Damned) focuses on 1933-34 and depicts the rise of National Socialism, the nadir of all social evil and the abyss arguably into which 19th century German nationalism had been leading the country all along.

Possibly for commercial reasons (or perhaps he wasn't thinking in terms of a trilogy at first), Visconti tackles these eras in reverse order and The Damned was released in 1969 to near universal acclaim. It was lauded for being the first serious examination of fascism in the cinema. Since then its reputation has suffered along with that of its director with critics favoring the more obviously modernist leanings of Fellini and Antonioni over the old fashioned operatic melodrama of Visconti. In my view Visconti's films are long over-due reassessment and along with excellent books like Geoffrey Nowell Smith's Luchino Visconti (2003, 3rd ed.) and Henry Bacon's Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay (1998), beautiful releases such as this Warner DVD will hopefully lead to a change. The digitally re-mastered picture (aspect ratio 1.85:1 Widescreen) is very sharp with definition beautifully rendered. It's a huge improvement on the old VHS I once owned and should be snapped up while it's still cheap (I bought mine for under a fiver). Two snags which might bother some: One, the sound is 1.0 Mono which is rather restrictive. This isn't as damaging as the same treatment meted out to Death in Venice as Maurice Jarre's music is nowhere near as important or as pervasive as Mahler's is in that film. Two, there are no decent extras. The short Visconti profile is just a pro-mo with no critical analysis. This film needs an intelligent documentary and/or commentary to really do it justice. The political events depicted in the film are somewhat complex as are the cultural references which Visconti makes throughout. A commentary would make the film more accessible for wider audiences. I shouldn't crumble though as we have one of Visconti's key films available cheaply and looking fabulous.

Before I examine the film in more detail, I want to make a few observations about Visconti which we should bear in mind. First, Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (to give him his full name) was an aristocrat, born into a rich Milanese family in 1906. He bred racehorses before he went into films. Second, he was a communist, a card-carrying member of the Italian Communist Party for a number of years. These two things mean that in his films he depicts history and society basically in terms of class struggle. His characters are representations of their class as much as (often more than) they are characters in themselves. His communism (based more on Gramsci and Lukacs than Marx) puts him at loggerheads with the upper landed classes. Being an aristocrat himself, he can't help but feel sympathy for that which he is espousing to criticize. Bondanella, Nowell-Smith and Bacon all acknowledge this is a constant aesthetic that runs throughout his films and one which makes for an intriguing dialectic. Third, he was bi-sexual. Most people see him as just homosexual, but we shouldn't forget he had a traumatic love affair when he was young in which his planned marriage was stopped by his wife-to-be's parents because his job (as a racehorse trainer!) was considered too low. He re-visited these emotions in Ludwig with the depiction of the King's fatal infatuation with his cousin, Elizabeth, Empress of Austria. We should note though that part of his fascination with decadence should be seen through the prism of his real-life homosexual love affair with Helmut Berger. This started in The Damned, developed through Ludwig and finished with Conversation Piece (1974), and his visual aesthetic throughout could no doubt be described as `gay', though there is nothing as overt in any of these films as the scenes you might find for example, in the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Derek Jarman.

The last thing I want to point out is Visconti's close concern with literature and the stage. He directed more plays on the stage than he did films and was a very successful opera director as well. He famously made Maria Callas a star at La Scala, Milan. If they are not book adaptations, his films are saturated with literary references - not only to novelists and playwrights, but to composers, political thinkers and philosophers as well. Hegel, Wagner and Nietzsche form a trio who tread heavily through the German trilogy. Visconti loves long continuous scenes which deploy artful dialogue which is often lifted from literary/philosophical sources and the various arias, duets and ensemble scenes play out as if they are drama on stage, if not full-blown opera. His films aren't as long as some have said (only Ludwig breaks the 3 hour mark), but they certainly `feel' long, deploying as they do restrained editing techniques which may well tax audiences raised on the machine-gun cutting style of regular Hollywood film practice. Rather than cut, Visconti deploys pans and (especially) zooms to develop his scenes. Even when he's depicting modern events, Visconti's world is fundamentally 19th century and while in the heyday of modernist cinema in the 60s his films may have looked old-fashioned, half a century on his films now seem revelatory, indeed more modern than much Godard, Fellini and Antonioni. I don't deny these directors' greatness, but perhaps it is now their turn to seem `old fashioned' and for the `old leopard' Visconti to step forward and have his time in the sun.

The action of The Damned focuses precisely on the time period February 27, 1933 (the day of the Reichstag fire) through to August 19, 1934, the date of the plebiscite decreeing Hitler absolute Führer of Germany after the death of President Hindenburg. The script (written by Visconti together with Enrico Medioli and Nicola Badalucco) makes the Essenbeck family steelworks business and home a metaphor for Germany, with the people living and working within it representing the social strata which made up the Weimar Republic of the inter-war years. This was a time of considerable socio-economic and political confusion where a huge vacuum existed at the centre of the power structure. It was the defeat of World War I, the following Treaty of Versailles and then later the years of the Great Depression which crippled any chance of democracy ever succeeding. That left room for Hitler to exploit the situation for his own gain. Three generations live within the Essenbeck household (within Germany). At the peak is Baron Joachim von Essenbeck (Albrecht Schönhals) who represents the old Junker aristocratic tradition discredited by the Great War in which he fought. He no doubt feels betrayed by `the stab in the back' collapse of the home front which led to Germany's defeat, but unlike the lower social strata he remains opposed to Hitler (this parallels strongly with Gustav Krupp whose family was the real life counterpart for the Essenbecks). His dislike is tempered however, by the fact that he increasingly has to do business with the far right in order to save the family business. His class brokered the Weimar Republic represented in the Essenbeck household by Herbert Thallman (Umberto Orsini), the vice president of the firm and a liberal who tries to run the business fairly, but who can't cope with the rise of the extreme right which is represented by Joachim's second son, Baron Konstantine von Essenbeck. Konstantine holds a position high up in the SA, the stormtroopers having been created by Hitler to `clean up' Germany during the 20s. Like everyone else in the household, he is ambitious and has designs on the business for making armaments which he intends to give to his SA. It was a conflict between the SA and the regular army which led to a social crisis in 1934 which Hitler seized on as a pretext to launch the infamous `Night of the Long Knives' (3 days and nights in fact, but condensed into one in the film) to kill off all his political opponents and replace the SA with his own `personal bodyguard', the SS. Also in the household is Baroness Sophie von Essenbeck (Ingrid Thulin), widow of Joachim's first born killed in World War One. She represents the displaced remnant of the Junker tradition accustomed to power and privilege, but having to rely on a family outsider, the steelworks employee Friedrich Bruckmann (Dirk Bogarde) to maintain her social position.

Also in the Essenbeck household is the third generation consisting of the children. Thallman's wife (Charlotte Rampling) and their children represent the victims of the failure of the Weimar Republic. Thallman ends up in exile, his children in Dachau concentration camp and his wife dead. Konstantine's son Günther von Essenbeck (Renaud Verley) represents `the good German' who initially desires to maintain culture (he is a university student who plays the cello) and is close to Thallman. He detests his father and can't stand what he sees happening to his family (to Germany), but when the people he trusts (Joachim, the Thallmans and then his father) are gradually removed, innocence turns into hate and he becomes perfect raw material for the Nazis to mold. It is in Günther's corruption that the film most clearly charts the corruption of Germany itself. The corruption is achieved by the exploitation of sick remnants of the old Junker tradition as encapsulated by Sophie and especially her son Martin von Essenbeck (Helmut Berger). He is a sick, perverted bi-sexual pederast who in the course of the film sexually assaults one of Thallman's children, forces a young Jewess to hang herself and finally rapes his mother, forcing her into catatonia. It is in Martin that Visconti most personifies his analysis of the evil within German society, a society rendered mortally sick as a consequence.

So the Essenbeck family represents the sick Germany with everyone floundering for power, but no one really strong enough to take absolute control. Enter SS officer Aschenbach (Helmut Griem), Sophie's distant cousin. It has been said that he represents the infamous SS Chief of the Reich Security Head Office Reinhard Heydrich, but I would go further than that and say he is Hitler himself. His sleek blond Aryan looks make him Hitler's alter ego as he exploits the power vacuum existing at the center of the Essenbeck household (Germany) completely to his own advantage. If this were a Fritz Lang film we would be talking about Aschenbach being the director's döppelganger in the way that he takes control of the narrative and controls all the events that transpire. We first see him in the car with Friedrich on the way to Joachim's birthday party. He hints at a huge event about to take place that night (the Reichstag fire later blamed on a Dutch Communist, but almost certainly arranged by the Nazis just before a planned election) and pushes Friedrich to remove Joachim and seize power himself. This achieved, later on Aschenbach also pushes him to take further command of the family business (the running of Germany) and remove Konstantine, which again he does, both of them symbolically present as Konstantine is gunned down in the `Night of the Long Knives'. Aschenbach wants complete control of the steelworks (Germany) and so with Friedrich's usefulness now over, he turns to Martin who is still the head of the business if only by family name. Aschenbach fills Martin with delusions of grandeur and pushes him to destroy the remnants of the old Junker tradition (his mother) and her opportunistic social climber lover, Friedrich. The film finishes with the steelworks and the family home completely under Aschenbach's control (Martin is totally in his hands) and his last act is to whisk `innocent' Günther away for socio-political re-education strictly along SS guidelines. In this way Visconti depicts how Nazism took a firm grip on German society through the actions of one very astute and ruthless individual.

So much, so soap-operatic one might say, and it's true the film has been attacked for that. However, the various members of the Essenbeck family are given exactly the right characteristics to paint a convincing portrait of Germany at this time. What's more, the philosophical framework of the narrative is very strong and makes Visconti's social analysis deeply persuasive. The power vacuum existing in the Weimar Republic cried out for someone, a `special man' to step forward and take leadership. This call for leadership is stated in three ways during the film. The first two are stated through the words Aschenbach uses to push Friedrich into action. Firstly, as the two men are about to enter the room late for Joachim's birthday party (and with a Bach cello suite playing in the background), Aschenbach tells Friedrich, `personal morals are dead. We are in an elite society where everything is permissible'. He credits the words to Hitler, and though it sounds exactly like the kind of thing Hitler would have said, I am unable to locate the exact source for this. It does however sound very close to what Dostoyevsky writes (echoing Nietzsche) in The Brothers Karamazov: `If there is no God - then everything is permitted.' The sentiment tallies with Nietzsche's idea of the will to power dictating the vital power Man needs to assert leadership and take control of the world. Nietszche says, `do you want a name for this world? A solution for all its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men? - This world is the will to power - and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power - and nothing besides!' In the world of Weimar Republic Germany, the man with the strongest will to power will triumph. Aschenbach fuels Friedrich's ambition with inflammatory words, but of course the man with the greatest will to power is himself - Hitler's alter-ego.

The second call for a special leader is stated by Aschenbach at the end of the meeting in the factory between members of the army and the SA where Friedrich is taken to task for late payments to the Nazi heirachy. Friedrich cites Konstantine as an excuse for blocking the payment to which Aschenbach suggests getting rid of Konstantine, quoting Hegel: `The state cannot but crush the innocent flower if the flower obstructs its path'. Hegel of course was a very important figure in the history of philosophy and in the evolution of German nationalism. His main idea was that the State is the highest form Man can aspire to. The perfect state represents absolutely the self-interests of individuals fulfilling what he termed the purposes of the Weltgeist (the world spirit). He saw history as being propelled mainly by the Volksgeist (the people spirit), the role of certain `world-historical figures' (he cited Caesar and Napoleon as examples) being to seize the initiative to make the state a platform for new and higher purposes which extend the liberty of individuals by giving a new dimension to their lives - the Weltgeist transcending the Volksgeist. Hegel has a lot to answer for in terms of forming one of the principles of National Socialism (the State as the ultimate expression of the individual) which has Aschenbach misquoting what Hegel actually wrote: `A World-historical individual is not so unwise as to indulge a variety of wishes to divide his regards. He is devoted to the One Aim, regardless of all else. It is even possible that such men may treat other great, even sacred interests, inconsiderately; conduct which is indeed obnoxious to moral reprehension. But so mighty a form must trample down many an innocent flower - crush to pieces many an object in its path.' Through the character of Ashenbach Visconti is saying that not only did the Nazis hijack Nietzsche and Hegel for their own uses (the misquote), but that actually the ideas of these philosophers explain the sickness of German society and its exploitation by one `world-historical figure' in a personality cult. This is exactly what Aschenbach achieves in the film and what Hitler achieved in real life.

The sickness of German society is most obviously explored in the third call for leadership. This time it is not Aschenbach who provides it, but Martin. We should pay careful attention to Joachim's birthday party and Martin's performance in drag, impersonating Marlene Dietrich from the iconic film about Weimar-era German, Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930). The song he sings is `Kinder, heut abend, da such ich mir was aus' (Children, tonight, I look for someone real) and contains the following lines:

`Children, tonight, I look for someone real,
A he-man, the right kind for me!
Children, the young are a pain in the neck!
The real man, the right kind for me.
One whose heart still glows with thoughts of love,
one whose eyes shoot out passionate fire!
In short, one who's willing to love and be held,
the real thing, and not a fraud!'

The meaning is sexual of course, but Martin later quotes the same lines to Joachim at the end of his birthday party when he has pronounced Konstantine (the Nazi SA) the new head of the family firm at the expense of Thallman (the liberal democrat). Martin is challenging the old Junker to find a special man. In the context of the film this could be a Nietzschean Superman, a Hegelian `world-historical figure' or simply a virile man with a big knob. This scene is important for it determines the mise-en-scène that Visconti selects for his film. On a white sheet behind Martin on stage is projected a kaleidoscope of colors - red, blue, green and purple with a white spotlight. These colors are all deployed throughout the film in a series of scenes where colored lighting is deployed and even colored filters are placed over the lenses of Pasqualino De Santis' and Armando Nannuzi's cameras. Green is deployed when Martin announces Friedrich head of the company over Konstantine. Red is adopted for the `Night of the Long Knives' massacre, and blue is deployed for Martin's rape of his mother. Then there is the decidedly camp feel to many of the sequences, mostly (but not all) concerning Martin. The massacre is a particularly decadent sequence with SA stormtroopers dressed in nylons and wigs leading a homosexual debauch. Most pointed perhaps is the rendition of Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde by a man in tights and suspenders. Visconti's operatic technique is at its most exaggerated in this film with the cameras panning, dollying and zooming to highlight the grotesquery of the nasty goings-on all rendered with the trappings of a nightclub cabaret. As a communist, fascism was abhorrent to Visconti and he shows the decadent evil Germany sank to during the Nazi years in no uncertain terms. I said earlier that Visconti often sympathizes with his objects of attack, but that charge could hardly be leveled at this film as the `noble' philosophy of Hegel and Nietzsche are sublimated within the decadence of Weimar cabaret and Martin's sexual perversity to produce a deeply disturbing picture of Nazism as a personality cult preying on the basest instincts of those who are most vulnerable.

Hegel, Nietzsche and Robert Liebmann (lyricist of The Blue Angel songs) are three of the cultural ingredients that define Visconti's idea of Nazism. The intellectual spine becomes even stiffer and more complex as the film develops. This is made very clear in the opening birthday party sequence which is modeled on the opening part of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks (a novel about another family's decline). Shakespeare also looms large with Sophie playing the Lady egging on Friedrich's weak Macbeth. Above all there is Richard Wagner and all the names behind him (Feuerbach, Proudhon, Fichte, Bakunin and other `Left Hegelians') that were also involved in the development of German nationalism in the 1840s. The film's German title is Götterdämmerung, the title of Wagner's last Ring opera which charts how the `innocent' figures from legend (Siegfried and Brünnhilde) are crushed by the cynical and despicably evil world of Man - the House of the Gibichungs. Exchange the Gibichungs for the Essenbecks where Aschenbach plays Hagen to Friedrich's Gunther and Sophie's Gutrune as the `innocent' Junker aristocratic tradition is brought toppling down by society's inner evil.

It is fascinating to note that German nationalism in the 1840s when Wagner was writing the libretto for his Ring operas was left wing, not right wing. Germany had not yet been formed and revolutionary thought was aimed at `uniting' the various Germanic states rather than `expanding' Germany across other countries. This means that Hegel and the ideas of the Left Hegelians that followed fed much more importantly into the thinking of Karl Marx (the most important of the Hegelians) than into the right wing of the time which was concerned more with preserving the status quo of aristocratic-based society and the imperial system it promulgated. It was the sickness of German society wrought by the collapse of this status quo through World War One and the Weimar period that transmuted nationalism into a concern of the right wing. Therefore, although Left Hegelian ideas were important ingredients of Nazism and belong appropriately to the picture Visconti gives us in the film, the ideas are twisted, used and abused by Hitler to suite his purposes. This use and abuse of intellectual ideas is perfectly rendered by Visconti by his decision to shoot the film in a deliberately camp fashion. The lurid mise-en-scène then perfectly reflects the way nationalism has been twisted to Nazi ends. It is worth contrasting this with Visconti's depiction of nationalism in The Leopard (1963). Set in 1848 and depicting part of the Risorgimento happening in Italy which united Italian states together as one country the forces of nationalism are depicted as a necessary inconvenience the landed classes have to endure if things are to remain as they are. In that film the title character, the Prince of Salina supports the nationalist cause, but Visconti sympathizes absolutely with his subject and the nationalist cause he embraces. This is because nationalism at this time was a left wing cause necessitating the entirely fair and just enfranchisement of a broader section of the population. The nationalism evinced by the Nazis is a twisting of the original concept and one way of reading The Damned would be to see it as a parody of The Leopard. The distortion of the mise-en-scène in the later film mirrors exactly the distortion of nationalism the Nazi's rise to power involved. It is worth studying The Damned closely for it is an extraordinary compendium of cultural references which truly work in depicting the decadent nature of Visconti's subject - the sickness within German society.

I hope that I have shown that The Damned is a serious dissection of German society in the early 30s. The rise of fascism is presented as an endgame which a century of nationalist thinking had unwittingly led in to. For me Visconti triumphantly succeeds in depicting a very complex topic. The sheer nastiness of the decadence combined with the deliberately lurid visual mise-en-scène may make it a difficult film to watch. The English dialog which Warner Brothers obliged Visconti to use certainly doesn't help matters. The over-dubbing is horrendous (exaggerated as it is by the large number of close-ups), while the script comes across as spoken subtitles rather than real believable speech. These criticisms aside though, few films are as ambitious, or as thoroughly erudite. This film deserves to be closely studied for the insights it gives into German history, cinematic discussions of fascism (the film links Rossellini's Rome Open City (1945) and Germany Year Zero (1947) with Pasolini's notorious Saló (1975) in its connection between fascism and sexual perversity), and into Visconti's film method itself, which achieves a new level of accomplishment here. Many of the ensemble scenes work brilliantly (especially Joachim's funeral and the `Night of the Long Knives' massacre), but it's the suffocating decadence of the various scenes played out inside the Essenbeck home which stay longest in the memory. The performances are all deeply committed (especially Thulin and Berger) while the great director himself never loses grip on a film which could easily have veered wildly out of control. It's a film unlike any other and for my money a definite must-buy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Visconti - films, 27 July 2013
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This review is from: The Damned [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
Finally I have the opportunity to see films directed by Visconti, which you cannot buy in Germany.
It's good to see the young Maria Schell, Jean Marais and Marcello Mastorianni together ion one movie.
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The Damned [DVD] [1969]
The Damned [DVD] [1969] by Luchino Visconti (DVD - 2004)
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