Sunday, April 3, 2016

What's in a name? Matthew Ogens tries to find out with his documentary, MEET THE HITLERS

Yes, as you might suspect, there are a number of folk throughout the world who possess the last name Hitler (or Hittler, as one of these is spelled, the inclusion of which is probably due to its owner being a young woman and the only female with that name who is included in this documentary). MEET THE HITLERS is the work of  filmmaker Matthew Ogens, who, a few years back, gave us the more interesting doc, Confessions of a Superhero. The idea for the film began when the filmmaker was introduced to someone with this infamous last name and began to wonder what it might be like to go through life carrying that particular moniker. As we see throughout this only fitfully lively doc, that name does appear to change things.

Mr. Ogens, shown at left, introduces us to a half dozen or more Hitler-named people who hail from all around the world: USA to Ecuador, Austria, Britain and Germany, and he gets them to spill (some of) the beans about what it was like to grow up with that "special" name. The answers are pretty much what you'd expect: It wasn't easy, but (trying to turn that lemon into lemonade) challenges can be good you. The folk interviewed range from that young lady with the extra "t" (who tells us, Awww, it wasn't so bad).... an older man in Germany who believes himself to be the only surviving blood relation of Hitler and has grown up and become a complete loner throughout his life because of this. We feel sadness for the guy, but then, when he is told by our filmmaker that there are surviving relatives in the USA, he doesn't want to hear it. Clearly, he's sees himself as special and wants to keep it that way.

We visit grave sites and homes and even follow a British journalist who wants to track down those surviving Hitler family members here in the USA. They've changed their names and, very expectedly, want nothing to do with the journalist -- who behaves in any case like a number-one asshole, spreading their new name to bar patrons in their town in hopes that someone will know them. The film's final segment has a Holocaust survivor quietly level the silly journalist with his statement about how he feels, having now learned that Hitler 's relatives live nearby him.

The oddest of these Hitlers (would-be variety) is a neo-Nazi American idiot named Heath Campbell (above) who has named his son Adolf Hitler Campbell and tries to get a birthday cake made for the boy in a local bakery. This leads to having his son taken away from both him and his wife, an ongoing lawsuit, and a whole lot more. (This section might have made an fascinating movie all on its own, but instead seems an intrusion into the story of actual people named Hitler. Still, it is more interesting than much else we see in this documentary.)

The problem with Meet the Hitlers is that we learn almost nothing we wouldn't have known or couldn't figure out before watching the movie. Consequently the film quickly begins to drag. And all the bouncing back and forth between the various characters begins to seem like mere vamping -- including the sections that go into the art and career of a guy who makes, collects and displays Hitler memorabilia (below) to call attention to the horrible career of the German dictator. (This guy does offer up a grand quotation he says comes via Voltaire.)

If you're a sucker for all things Hitler, then by all means give this doc a shot. You could do much better however, regarding this theme of "naming" by watching the glorious French comedy, What's In a Name?, which is available now via Netflix streaming.  Meanwhile, Meet the Hitlers -- from Virgil Films and running just 84 minutes -- hits the street this coming Tuesday, April 5, on DVD and Digital HD -- for rental or purchase.

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