The Decent One (2014)

*. I think we’re all familiar with the stories about the psychopathic serial killer who lives next door. The neighbours, when interviewed will say he always seemed like a nice guy, perhaps not perfectly normal but just a bit odd in some ways. You would have never guessed . . .
*. The Decent One (Der Anständige) is basically a historical variation on this theme, being an epistolary biography of SS commander Heinrich Himmler and his family. It consists entirely of passages from a recently discovered trove of letters and diaries written by Himmler and his wife and daughter. They depict a thoroughly conventional bourgeois marriage (complete with mistress on the side). Himmler even insisted the letters be numbered. He was that kind of person.
*. The juxtaposition being made is between the private and the public Himmler, and you’re left to decide for yourself what the connection is between the two. A few years earler Peter Longerich had published a massive biography of Himmler whose basic conclusion was that the man had been absorbed into the uniform, suggesting an erasure of the line between public and private life. So that’s one way to go.
*. I don’t think Longerich had seen the letters used here but I don’t think it would have made much difference. Himmler doesn’t seem to have been that hard to figure out. In most ways he was a conventional prig. Even his affair is dull, expressed in the conventional language of romance. Meanwhile, I find men (and I know several) who call their wives “mother” or “mummy” to be, if I may be judgmental, weird.
*. What I came away with was a portrayal not so much of the banality of evil but the banality of the kind of life that provided the soil for that evil. Himmler the monster wasn’t the product of poverty or abuse, but of a solid middle-class upbringing. “Decency” was part of the class code. What it meant was keeping up appearances. So having a mistress, or running a death camp, was fine as long as you didn’t talk about it.
*. Apparently director Vanessa Lapa’s addition of sound effects to go with the silent film footage upset some people. It’s a subject that comes up in a lot of reviews. I didn’t know this had become such a bugbear for people who watch documentaries. I’d thought such a universal practice was pretty much taken for granted these days. Peter Jackson, for example, does it in They Shall Not Grow Old. What I find even more surprising in this is that I actually consider myself to be a purist in these matters and none of it bothers me.
*. Well, if such liberties upset you then consider yourself warned. I didn’t mind the sound, or anything much about the production. I didn’t, however, find The Decent One to be a revelation of anything, if there was anything much there to be revealed.

36 thoughts on “The Decent One (2014)

      1. fragglerocking

        Not yet, still doing the sitting in bed reading and having tea and coffee thing. It’s brunch not breakfast today. Also I already mooted Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t you read that?

      2. fragglerocking

        Don’t diss the Booky he’ll drive us into the Bermuda Triangle and we’ll never be seen again. I don’t really do crumpets, no caramelised onions in them you see.

    1. Alex Good

      This is definitely not vacation viewing. Pretty grim stuff. Worth checking out though.
      The new Puritanism when it comes to not making any changes to documentary footage is weird. Especially when it’s just cosmetic touches.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I love those BBC nature docs, but always assumed they’d added a lot of the sound. The only time I got a little miffed at them was when they showed that they’d actually built a kind of diorama thing to make it look like it was something they found out in the wild. But I think they only did that once. Usually they’re pretty good about stuff like that, plus they include those “making of” bits at the end of each episode so you can see how they did it.

      2. tensecondsfromnow

        The images were recovered with cameras and no sound was recorded. The original source material was there. Don’t people realise how many things are done to archive to get them onto our screens?

      3. Alex Good Post author

        No, I don’t think many people know how much goes into post-production with regard to sound even in feature films. Or, for that matter, how songs are basically put together out of a pile of different tracks in recording studios. It’s a complicated process.

      4. Alex Good Post author

        No one person has actually completed a quiz. Nor has one been finished by the collective minds of the Internet. The prize, should this ever be achieved, would be unparalleled bragging rights.

      5. Alex Good Post author

        *sigh* Bragging without actual achievement is only an empty boast. I’m thinking it’s time to have one of my graduate-level quizzes next.

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