Sunday, April 18, 2010

BBC story on Hitler "Downfall" parodies

A climactic scene in the excellent German film Downfall, about Hitler's final days in his bunker at the end of WWII in Europe, has been parodied countless times on YouTube. I would link to a bunch of those parodies here, but they constantly get taken down for copyright infringement (which doesn't make sense to me, as parodies are okay under copyright law). Actually, the parodies are what led me to watch the film itself (also on YouTube), and it is really excellent, top to bottom. Here's the BBC story;

The rise, rise and rise of the Downfall Hitler parody
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Five years ago Downfall's release saw the German film acclaimed for its portrayal of Hitler's last days. But since then it has become almost as famous for a wave of internet parodies of its climactic scene.

Hitler is angry.

Very angry indeed. Angry enough to order all but his most senior generals out of the room so he can vent his rage.

# Coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, and roughly meaning the cultural equivalent of a gene
# He described: "A unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation... Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches."
# Internet meme: An idea that spreads through the internet, or the spread of that idea

He is angry because Cristiano Ronaldo has been sold to Real Madrid. Or because the ending of Watchmen has been changed. Or that Hillary Clinton has lost the Democratic presidential nomination. Or that Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift at an awards show.

It's become one of the best known "internet memes" around, a comic construct that has spread inexorably on YouTube and other platforms like a cultural version of Japanese knotweed.

In the original movie, the climax for many viewers might be the moment in the bunker when Hitler is told of the failure of General Felix Steiner to gather enough troops for an attack to ward off the Soviet advance on Berlin.

“ It is by word of mouth, or word of tweet ”
Bill Thompson On the spread of the Downfall parody meme

In this three-minute, 50 second scene, Hitler, played by Bruno Ganz, plunges between frothing vitriol and terrifying suppressed emotion as he confronts his top generals. The rest of the staff, standing in the corridor outside, listen rapt to the exchange.

But the parody makers have taken this clip, put it through a programme like Movie Maker or iMovie, and added their own subtitles, synced as closely as possible to the audio.

In some parodies, Hitler is being the public figure that is lampooned - Hitler becomes Hillary Clinton losing the nomination, or BBC chief Mark Thompson having to face Jeremy Paxman. But in many of the parodies, Hitler is simply reacting to events, the relegation of Sheffield Utd or Usain Bolt breaking the 100m record.

It is not an obvious subject for humour. Yet for millions of internet users there is something hilarious about this scene being turned on its head.

There is no clear explanation why this category of parody should have proved such a hardy internet meme, says technology writer Bill Thompson.

"It was just lucky. There is no particular reason why Downfall should have taken off."

YouTube launch

Every day in bedrooms all over the world there are bedroom comedians dreaming of creating something that will spread like wildfire. Most of their work goes unregarded, but to Thompson, they are the inheritors of the punk ethos.

"Maybe Downfall was in the right place at the right time. It coincided with the launch of YouTube.

# Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live: 4,260,975
# Hitler finds out Kanye West Disses Taylor Swift: 1,067,024
# Usain Bolt Breaks 100m World Record: 1,096,241
# Ronaldo leaves Utd: 1,439,671
# Hitler Finds Out Sarah Palin Resigns: 497,903
Stats taken on 13 April. Source: YouTube

"Once it becomes successful it is unstoppable. It is by word of mouth, or word of tweet. The internet does what it was designed to do. It enables two-way communication."

Read the full story HERE.

And speaking of fair use for parodies...

Hitler, as "Downfall producer" orders a DMCA takedown from Brad Templeton on Vimeo.

and a parody of the parody...

And a World Cup update:

And now, an April 2011 update for Rebecca Black's "Friday" song:


Sean O said...

See also, the original Hitler Downfall meta-parody: 'Hitler Is A Meme'

Kevin said...


Anonymous said...

Most of these Parodies are not Funny - trying to hard to be fact I have seen only one that truly is:
It's almost as if someone is using this parody to leak the inside story of the actual dutch coalition capitualition.