BOOTLEG FILES 614: “The Hitler Videos” (viral video parodies based on the 2004 film “Downfall”).
LAST SEEN: They’re all over YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Hijacking copyrighted material for fun, although some argue this qualifies as fair use.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Nein!
If you’ve ever spent time on YouTube, there’s an excellent chance that you’ve stumbled over a series of videos featuring an uber-irritated Hitler confronting pop culture inanity. These videos have achieved the unlikely result of turning the most horrible person of the 20th century into the most outrageous buffoon of the 21st century.
The core of these videos is a 2004 German film called “Downfall” (“Der Untergang”), which details the last 10 days of Hitler’s life. “Downfall” offers an intense performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler, whose health and emotions fray as he realizes that he is doomed within his underground bunker as Soviet troops steamroll into Berlin. “Downfall” earned critical praise for its mature dissection of the end of the Third Reich, and the film was nominated for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar.
But there was absolutely nothing funny about “Downfall” – or, for that matter, its vicious inspiration. And despite the popularity of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” few people in the post-Holocaust era displayed the temerity of turning Hitler into a figure of fun.
All of that changed on August 10, 2006, when a YouTube user known only as DReaperF4 uploaded a spoof based on a climactic scene from “Downfall” when Hitler lashed out at his remaining aides upon realizing his fate is sealed by the advancing Red Army. Although the original German-language soundtrack was retained in the parody video, DReaperF4 added new subtitles that gave the impression of Hitler screaming in anger over the absence of new features in the demo version of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. This version was called “Sim Heil” and carried Spanish-language subtitles, and DReaperF4 offered an English-subtitled version of his parody video two weeks later.
Incredibly, this esoteric comic riff hit the funnybone of the YouTube crowd, and within a short time the site was overburdened with hundreds of videos that followed DReaperF4’s example of adding new and ridiculous subtitles to go against the “Downfall” Hitler’s aggravated behavior. Oliver Hirschbiegel, the director of “Downfall,” would later claim that he laughed out loud when viewing these parody videos, while the film’s star Bruno Ganz was more politely reserved in acknowledging their existence. But Constantin Film, the production company behind “Downfall,” did not find the videos amusing and, citing copyright violations, attempted to get the removed from YouTube. And while a number of these videos were removed, YouTube eventually took the viewpoint Electronic Frontier Foundation Board Chairman Brad Templeton that these videos fell into the realm of “fair use” and were not copyright violations. Templeton punctuated his point by having a video of Hitler yelling madly to have the Hitler parody videos removed.
No one knows how many of these videos are online, and new ones are constantly being created – one just-released video has Hitler bellowing over the independence movement in Catalonia, while another has Hitler bitterly reviewing the iPhone X. Not every video is a winner, and on a few occasions these videos created more mayhem than mirth: British Labour Party parliamentarian Tom Harris got in professional trouble in 2012 for his parody video mocking Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, while a Hong Kong court in 2013 ordered the U.S. investment firm Jefferies Group to pay $1.86 million an executive who was fired for sending out a newsletter that used a Hitler video to ridicule JPMorgan Chase & Co. chieftain Jamie Dimon.
Of course, everyone has their own favorite subjects for a Hitler temper tantrum, so allow me to share some of mine.
There are a trio of Three Stooges-related videos where Hitler loses what’s left of his mind: he exploded in fury over the inclusion of Snooki in the Farrelly Brothers’ feature based on the Three Stooges, he vented volcanic exasperation at receiving a new shipment of Stooges films that only include Shemp – imagine if he only got the Curly-Joe films! – and all Heil breaks loose in a brilliantly bizarre phone call where a hysterical Hitler vainly tries to remind the Stooge dictator Moe Hailstone that they are allies and not at war with each other.
As a guilty pleasure fan of the “Ancient Aliens” series, I can appreciate Hitler’s atomic-level astonishment at the program and his anger over the amazing pronouncements made by wild-haired Giorgio Tsoukalos on the role that extra-terrestrials supposedly played in human civilization. Incredibly, Hitler echoed an argument I’ve made frequently about why “Ancient Aliens” is on the History Channel when it is anything but historical.
As a Connecticut resident who gets his pocket picked by the United Illuminating electric utility, I can understand Hitler’s fury when he discovers his efforts to save money on power generation had zero impact due to Himmler’s volt-milking habits. “Goering just eats, he doesn’t use electricity,” laments Hitler while reading his bill. “Speer just draws building designs … But Himmler, he is so irresponsible.”
And as someone who cannot comprehend the stardom achieved by Jake Paul, I feel Hitler’s pain when he has to sit through the bleached-blonde idol’s pop ditty “It’s Everyday Bro.” “That was fucking awful!!!” Hitler screams. “How the hell did this fool become so popular and why does his crappy song have over 100 million views?”
Hitler is not the only wartime dictator who wants to be a viral video sensation. Several videos include Josef Stalin trying to muscle in on Hitler’s YouTube stardom. Even back then, it seems, the Russians were interfering with other countries’ fun.
The joke never grows stale, as several Facebook fan pages and a Wiki keep fans update on the latest Nazi shenanigans. The brilliance of this offering is based in the infinite number of directions where Hitler can go. As a result, this video series feels like a modern-day spin on “The Twilight Zone,” with Hitler permanently trapped below ground and bombarded with wickedly stupid situations that torture him for eternity. We get the last laugh over someone who never gave the world anything to laugh about.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
Listen to “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud, with new episodes every Monday.