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Mon March 31, 2003
"Max" tries vainly to help us understand how a human being with art on his mind could become an unparalleled butcher.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
While Einstein was wowing the world with his immortal formula, Adolf Hitler in Menno Meyjes' "Max" creates his own:"Art + Politics = Power." Hubris begins here, in a fiction that tries to posit some foundation for Hitler's malignant genius in his artistic longings.
The film really belongs to the titular character (played suavely by John Cusack), who lost an arm for Germany in World War I, losing his dream of being a painter as well. He then becomes the humane purveyor of modern art, especially the Weimar Republic's Expressionism so popular and so menacing. A central irony comes when Max tells the young Hitler (played convincingly by Noah Taylor), "If you were to put some of the energy into your art that you do your speaking, you might have something going." The energy is his anti-Semitism, unstoppable even by art.
Perhaps Hitler is never scarier than when he associates himself with creativity and inventiveness, as he says to Max: "I realized something that all you hoity-toity types missed drinking your coffees and smoking your cigarettes with your mistresses. The way to reinvent art is not to make it political--that's far too small a step. Politics is the new art. Yes, Rothman, my whole life has been a detour to this moment. I am the new artist! I am the new avant-garde!"
"Max" tries vainly to help us understand how a human being with art on his mind could become an unparalleled butcher. In the end, the horror is inscrutable. If only Max could have prevailed in swaying him from his successful speeches for the Nationalist Socialist Party: "I told him his insane fucking ideas are holding him back as an artist."
And Hitler never became an artist. Nor did Conrad's Kurtz either in "The Heart of Darkness." His postscript to his essay on bringing light to the jungle said, "Exterminate all the brutes."
Hitler and Kurtz remain enigmas, despite the uneven efforts of "Apocalypse Now" and "Max."
John DeSando vice-chairs the board of The Film Council of Greater Columbus and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.
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