Ordinary Fascism is composed primarily of Nazi archival material, and the film archives what few others have: it appears fresh and provokes reflection.
Painstaking research was conducted over the course of two years by a thirteen-member team. They examined Russian, Polish and East German photo archives and two million metres of Nazi-era films, including Goebbels's personal archive, which had been brought to Moscow by the Red Army.
These efforts yielded a large number of documents that still engage the viewer nearly forty years later: the film of the making of a special edition of Mein Kampf that was supposed to last the thousand years of the Reich, the shot of Hitler in a car appearing to float above a crowd, the photographs of Hitler practicing oratory in front of a mirror. Taken by Hitler's personal cameraman, they make him appear a poor trainee actor. Here, as in much of the film, the voice-over reveals the source of the document.
Frequently, Ordinary Fascism exploits the power of film as record and exhorts the viewer to bear witness to or remember the last photographs of those shortly to die in concentration camps, of the last anti-Nazi demonstrators, or of the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto. Here the film's use of still photographs often shot with a slow zoom is particularly striking. Voice-over is also used to particular effect when a series of truly shocking photos of Nazi atrocities are shown: severed heads, hanged bodies, and German soldiers performing hangings. The narrator reveals that these photos were kept as personal mementos in soldiers' breast pockets, along with photographs of loved ones.
The film's basic rhetorical strategy is contrast. The brutal actions perpetrated by the Nazis are juxtaposed with innocence, the universal human experience, or the ordinary humanity of the agents of Nazism. Although at times it is the narrator who reveals this link, more frequently it is the editing that sharply juxtaposes innocence or humanity with Nazism. An example occurs at the beginning of the film: children's drawings of their mothers, and hidden camera shots of mothers and children, are followed by a photograph of a mother and child being shot by a German soldier. The voice-over, spoken and composed by Mikhail Romm himself, is instrumental in creating and emphasizing these contrasts.
For example, in one scene a concentration camp guard is humanized by discussion of his family, friends, and work—but his work is illustrated by a heap of emaciated corpses. However, the narration is by no means limited to such dark irony. It also displays a wide repertoire of intonations, from lyrical to sarcastic, creating the sense that the narrator is engaging personally both with the material and with the spectator.
While attempting to persuade, it is doing so not in the impersonal manner of traditional Soviet documentaries and newsreels, but in an intimate, interpersonal manner well suited to the film's humanist perspective. The film's structure enables it to draw contrasts with particular effect. Rather than organize the material chronologically, Romm created sixteen chapters that break up the material analytically into a number of themes, each of which is meant to consider an aspect of Nazism, including Nazi art, Nazi culture, Nazi education, Hitler, Europe in the 1930s, and the German Opposition to Nazism.
The film's Soviet bias is apparent in its treatment, in the last chapter, of West Germany as accommodating and of the U.S. Marines as influenced by Nazism. The Soviet perspective is also evident in the relatively oblique treatment of anti-Semitism, in the failure to consider the Soviet role in the rise of Nazism, and in the consideration of World War II exclusively with regard to Russia and Eastern Europe.
Yet for all its characteristically Soviet touches, Romm's analysis of Nazism is not necessarily what might be expected of a Soviet director. Essentially, he argues that Nazism—via education, militarization, spectacle, and a cult of the leader—causes individuals to abdicate personal responsibility for their actions, turning them into unthinking agents of collective destruction incapable of questioning their leaders. Romm consider this individual ethical responsibility no less important in the Soviet Union, as is clear from his 1962 film Nine Days of the Year, and it is this message, and the possibilities for extrapolating it to the Soviet experience, that made Ordinary Fascism so meaningful for domestic audiences.
In the USSR, it was considered the most significant documentary film of its time and one of the defining cinematic events of 1960s de-Stalinization. Although Ordinary Fascism was accorded the Golden Dove at the Leipzig festival of documentary film in 1966, its potentially explosive message, and Romm's reputation for being increasingly outspoken, led to its being handled with circumspection by the Brezhnev administration. It was not shown on Soviet television, as had originally been planned.
Ordinary Fascism stands as a monument to the ideal of documentary film as record of history. — Reviewed by Jeremy Hicks, "Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, 3 Volume Set" (2005), pp. 1019-1021
Reviewer: packattack87 - - March 27, 2021 Subject: huh?
This is an absolutely extraordinary film, but I can't help but scratch my head at this little line from the description on the page:
"...in the failure to consider the Soviet role in the rise of Nazism..."
Surely the author of this line must've meant to type "Western Capital" where they accidentally typed "Soviet". Nazism was the shock force of Western (US/UK/France) Capital in its quest to destroy the Soviet Union, which it had failed to do 20 years earlier in the War of Intervention. Nazism would not have ever attained power without the assistance of German and American industrialists, and it could not have waged war so ferociously and for so long on the peoples of Eastern Europe/USSR without the assistance of Ford, GM, Standard Oil, IBM, etc.
The Soviet Union had nothing to do with the rise of Nazism. The Soviet Union crushed Nazism, only to see it revived after the war by the US and NATO.