Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Hitler Hitler Hitler

We’re used to American movies giving us catchphrases and iconic scenes, from “Here’s looking at you, kid” through “Make my day,” to just about every shot of “Star Wars.” I can’t think of any scene from a foreign film that has so entered the zeitgeist as the now-famous scene in “Downfall” where Hitler chews out his senior staff for their incompetence. On YouTube, it’s so widely parodied that I’m sure it’s going to be with us for quite a while.

Here’s the latest version I’ve seen, and it couldn’t be any timelier. (Good parody requires timeliness. Great satire demands timelessness. It’s the difference between last week’s “Saturday Night Live” and “A Modest Proposal.”)

This is the first one I noted; it’s the (now-famous) “Torchwood” parody of the (now-famous) scene in “Downfall.” Note: if you haven’t seen the “Torchwood” Season 2 finale yet and you don’t want it ruined for you, don’t watch this. (Valorie, this means you.)

Next, here’s Hitler complaining about Windows Vista.

Here’s Hitler pitching a fit when he gets the Red Rings of Death on his Xbox. (In other words, the hard drive is kablooey and the system won’t boot.) I’ve seen this particular Hitlerian outburst myself in our house: It was my response when I wanted to play “Marvel Ultimate Alliance.”

Here’s one where Hitler gets banned from World of Warcraft because of his poor behavior.

I could go on and on — there seems to be an endless supply of these on YouTube, and no, I’m not going to watch them all either.

I have to admire the skill behind these. It’s not merely a matter of taking the video and coming up with a new pretext for the scene and then dropping in your new dialogue. To do it well also requires understanding how to write dialogue for this pre-existing scene that will match both the running time of the words coming out of the actors’ mouths, and also the expressions and body language they’re showing. Woody Allen did this in “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” and at some point in the 90’s I saw a stage show were some gifted improv actors provided new dialogue for a not particularly good movie. But now we have a stampede of these built around one clip. So while I admire the skill in adapting the situation and modulating it to fit the actors, there’s nothing clever about the imitators. The first one, yes, was insanely clever (and I think that was the “Torchwood” one); great concept, done well. The imitators are to that what the magazines “Cracked” and “Sick” and “Crazy” were to “Mad.” By the mid 1970’s, the field of parody magazine ripoffs became so exhausted that one of the last launches was entitled simply “Parody,” all the other synonyms for “Mad” having been used. I think we’re at that point with Hitler in “Downfall.”

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