This Russian explained to Hitler – does his film also help to understand Putin?
At first, many laughed. The documentary “Ordinary Fascism” explains the rise of an ideology that is being talked about again in relation to Italy and Russia. Curious detail: Hitler also had a problem with his hands, which he solved with a diamond.
Dhe fascism has never completely disappeared as a concept, but it also has booms in which one hears it more or less often. The word is booming at the moment. The Putin system in Russia, with its wars of aggression and racist contempt for non-Russians, is increasingly being interpreted by analysts as the current manifestation of fascism. The Ukrainians call the attackers “racists”, a portmanteau of “Russians” and “fascists”. And in Italy, a party that has at least fascism in its genes is seizing power. How fascist it still is in real terms is disputed.
Perhaps a classic film about the nature and emergence of that political current in the early 20th century will help with the analysis. “Ordinary Fascism” by Soviet director Mikhail Romm from 1965 is one of those works whose titles have become proverbial. He ironically refers to biological terminology. There is the common porpoise, common viper’s bugloss and common octopus. The sexologists Martin Dannecker and Reimut Reiche referred to both in 1974 with their epochal study “The Ordinary Homosexual”.
Romm’s film is an essay, the word documentary is too one-dimensional for that. The director cuts together recordings from Nazi propaganda films. A sarcastic comment is heard from the off. Sometimes it’s appropriately cruel cold, but often it’s very funny. For example, when Hindenburg gets lost in a military formation. Or when the creation of the Hitler “rhombus” is documented. The dictator liked to fold his hands protectively over his privates (perhaps subconsciously to protect his only remaining testicle), and his paladins aped him in doing so. The passages about Nazi art also strike an ironic tone, although even more intelligent contemporaries noticed that a certain similarity to monumental Soviet art was unmistakable.
Romm had nothing to do with this monumentality. He belonged to the generation of directors who brought Soviet cinema to a second late heyday in the 1960s. Unlike Mikhail Kalatosow with “I am Cuba” or the early Andrei Tarkovsky with “Iwan’s Childhood” or “Andrei Rublow”, Mikhail Romm didn’t work with planned sequences, i.e. very long shots without a cut. Instead, he went back to the montage technique that Sergej Eisenstein used to revolutionize cinema in the 1920s, i.e. quick cuts in which images – often large and close-ups – are compared to one another and commented on.
The film still opens up original perspectives for historical fascism today. However, this is hardly the way to get to the bottom of today’s fascism, which has undergone numerous metamorphoses in East and West.