History is written by the Oscar winners in our time, which makes the responsibilities of serious historical scholarship never more important. Despite its realist pretensions – it looks as real as life – film is a dreamy, poetic medium, too often prone to simplicity, conspiracy theory, sucking up to the Zeitgeist – and, above all, not letting messy facts spoil a ripping story.
Hitler won no Oscars, and he lost the war he started – a historical loser, in the end – but he was the first grandmaster of using the then-new, mesmerising art form to control the historical and political narrative. Aided by his Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels (oh for the days of honest job descriptions) his control was total, and omnipresent: twenty million Germans saw the first of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nuremberg rally films; the number only rose with those that followed. ‘Films could change the world,’ Hitler told her, and dreamt of ‘films made of the finest metal’ that would last ‘a thousand years’.