Nazi Titanic: Revealed

Hollyoaks: The Third Reich

If you’re going to make a documentary about a legendary film that never quite got made, you would think that you might concentrate on something really interesting and absorbing: such as Kubrick’s lifelong attempt to make an epic about Napoleon, Gilliam heroically failing at Don Quixote, or the insane version of Dune that Alejandro Jodorowsky nearly got off the ground in the 70’s involving HR Giger, Pink Floyd and Salvador Dali.

But no, not the enquiring minds at Channel 5:  they want to reveal that the Nazis had previously made a propaganda laced version of achingly dull epic Titanic, the eventual 1997 film of which inspired a pithy review (which I’m afraid I can’t accurately quote or source) which read something like “It sinks. There, I’ve saved you three hours of your life which I myself can never get back”.
But then, British popular culture has a weird, deep and abiding obsession with anything that has the word ‘Nazi’ slapped on it – let’s blame The Daily Mail for that, seems fair on a number of levels.

Anyhow, as has been fairly well detailed before, racist vampire Joseph Goebbels liked the idea of using the emotive power of theatrical cinema to get people thinking his way. The last Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds pretty much explained this in a haphazard, post-modern war flick with at least two really good scenes set in basements.

Channel 5 on the other hand break out the standard dumbed-down documentary template, including the following:

•    Boringly didactic interviews with experts in various expert-looking locales
•    Dramatic re-enactments which have the bland visual sheen of Hollyoaks: The Third Reich
•    A sincere and serious narrator (Russell Boulter) who says Naahtszee like some kind of west country history professor
•    The Piano Moods Volume 5 CD programmed to its most sensitive tracks

The main thrust of the doc is that Goebbels believed that a film about the sinking of the Titanic could turn opinion against the British, making everyone that the Germans had already annexed eager to invade the evil country responsible for the heinous crime of recklessly trying to make a ship go a bit too fast.

As is pointed out this endeavour was a more-or-less doomed from the start – the Allies were putting out the likes of Casablanca and Went The Day Well?, films which did a better job in the propaganda stakes by making the enemy look really horrible – rather than painting them as vaguely irresponsible boat owners.

With the Nazi version of Titanic something a lame duck, the film was canned and the director ended up dead in a prison cell after he was grassed up by the screenwriter for slagging the regime (most screenwriters watching were probably cheering at this).

Thankfully, the programme spent its last few minutes telling the far more interesting and disturbing story of how the Nazis used the cruise liner featured in the unreleased film in a macabre plot to kill thousands of prisoners in a cover up of the genocidal purges that they had been conducting.

So all in all, Revealed: Nazi Titanic was a series of missed opportunities; firstly the opportunity to choose a more worthwhile subject, secondly the makers chose to focus on a less interesting aspect of the story and thirdly, they decided to make a really bland, by-the-numbers, dull as ditch-water documentary out of something with such a thoroughly mental title.

Some other famous films that the Nazi party could have made:

Carry on Oberbefehlsleiter! – The bawdy adventures of Colonel Hans Weiner involving endless mishaps with his overly large helmet and his saucy military secretary Private Holga Grossen Busten.

The Blues Brothers – Exactly the same, except they don’t run the Illinois Nazis off the bridge, instead a spontaneous Wagner-based song and dance sequence ensues.

Minority Report – Gripping police procedural about a man called Klaus who reports on minorities.

Birth of a Nation – Actually, No – they didn’t need to bother re-making that.

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About Jim Morton
Scruffy cultural dilettante and hopeless, wannabe filmmaker. Sole proprietor of the Leamington Underground Cinema.

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