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BLIND SPOT

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Traudl Junge
Director: André Heller, Othmar Schmiderer
Audio: German 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Color, 1.33:1 full-screen
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Trailers
Length: 87 minutes
Release Date: October 28, 2003

"The longer I live...the more I feel this burden, this feeling of guilt, because I worked for a man and I actually liked him, but he caused such terrible suffering."

Film *** ½

The re-emergence of the documentary feature in the cineplex reflects a truly remarkable turn of recent events and, for any film buff, it is certainly a cause for celebration.  After all, any growing public acceptance or appetite for more cerebral forms of entertainment must surely be recognized as a good trend, even if, ironically, the popularity of reality programming on television has played a significant role in the revival of the theatrical documentary.  The best of these documentaries maintain an objective stance in which the subject matter is allowed to speak for itself without the intrusive voice or opinion of the filmmakers.

One such documentary is Im toten Winkel - Hitlers Sekretärin (Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, 2002).  This documentary examines a controversial topic - the final years of Adolph Hitler's life - from the viewpoint of one of his personal secretaries, Traudl Junge.  As a young girl, Frau Junge served as a private secretary for the Third Reich between 1942 and 1945, although she herself was not a member of the Nazi Party.  Much of what is presented in this documentary consists of personal recollections as well as Junge's own interpretations of the events in her life during this time.

The interviews in this documentary were conducted in April and June of 2001 and generally present Junge as an affable, elderly woman, albeit with an unfortunate past.  Junge is allowed to speak entirely for herself, and the filmmakers have wisely chosen not to interject their own opinions or political stance, as should be the case with any truly objective documentary.  The interviews cover a span of Junge's life starting with events in her early years, including her family life and her conformist upbringing.  The early portions of these interviews relate mostly to Junge herself, such as her secondary school education, her aspirations to become a dancer, her arrival in Berlin to seek employment, and the manner in which she eventually ended up as a secretary for the Führer's chancellery.

Junge's sheltered upbringing instilled in her a need for a strong father figure.  The Führer, with his paternal attitude toward the young girl, fulfilled that need.  The subsequent isolation of Junge's work as a private secretary within the command bunker complex only further contributed to her initially subservient acceptance of Hitler.  As a very young woman at the time (barely into her twenties), Junge was somewhat naïve, apparently ignorant of the existence of the Reich's concentration camps or the atrocities committed therein.  Junge was also not privy to military or secret discussions, and as such, she never really saw the darker aspects of the Third Reich (so named, for the non-history buffs, as a successor state to the earlier Holy Roman and Prussian empires, reich meaning "empire").

In essence, despite being close to the inner circle, Junge was shielded from the megalomaniac projects and acts of barbarism: "When I started working there, I thought I was at the source of information, and in fact I was in a blind spot."  Junge's world, in this sense, was an illusion.  While such ignorance may sound incredulous in today's rapid information network, Junge's gradual realization soon after the war of the truth behind the Reich's atrocities did plunge her into a deep state of depression and introversion.

Not surprisingly, Junge adopts a somewhat apologetic tone in this documentary, although her comments do tend to humanize Hitler.  Junge mentions his friendly and protective attitude towards his secretarial staff but recalls that he was sensitive to certain topics.  Hitler was also concerned more with ideals, such as a Superhuman Aryan race, than with actual individuals.  He was not a romantic person and was perhaps little experienced in matters of love or relationships.  Junge recalls one peculiar comment made by Hitler: "Children are always a risk.  Sometimes the children of a genius turn out to be cretins."  Perhaps for this reason he feared to marry until the very last.  Aside from his long-time mistress Eva Braun, Hitler's other love was his beloved and ever-loyal dog Blondie, eventually poisoned at the end by cyanide.

Junge mentions a few of the influential figures in Hitler's life only fleetingly.  She touches briefly upon Dr. Morell and his controversial holistic/herbal medicines (used to treat Hitler's stomach and indigestion ailments).  Goebbels, essentially Hitler's right-hand man, is not mentioned in much detail until the latter half of the documentary, which focuses upon the last few days of Hitler's life.

The pivotal date, however, might have been July 20, 1944, the day an attempt was made on Hitler's life.  A planted bomb exploded during one of his situation report meeting, and while Hitler survived the attempt, the plot to assassinate him soon implicated some of his senior staff officials and even members of the military rank (including the "Desert Fox" Erwin Rommel, one of Hitler's most brilliant generals).

At this time, the war was already going very poorly for Germany.  The assassination attempt only reinforced Hitler's misplaced belief in divine providence, that somehow he was chosen to survive and to lead the German people to victory over the hated Bolsheviks, no matter how improbable: "It is impossible for Bolshevism to be victorious.  I am the only one who can prevent that." Indeed, Hitler had a great fear of the destruction which conceivably laid in store for all of Europe should the spread of communism not be checked.  According to Junge, who had been present at the bunker complex on the day of the attack (but not at the meeting), Hitler held little confidence in the Western Powers' ability to halt the spread of communism.  Thus, in Junge's opinion, the assassination attempt on his life probably had the misfortune of prolonging the war by dispelling any possible (though unlikely) thought in Hitler's mind of a negotiation for peace.  The Germans would have to fight until the very bitter end, and any subsequent instances of insubordination were viewed by Hitler as betrayal and were dealt with quite harshly.  As a result, a general policy of denial within the command complex increasingly seemed to rebuke the continuous reports of military setbacks on both the Eastern and Western fronts.

As a young woman, and only a secretary at that, Junge certainly did not have the confidence or authority to question anything that Hitler said or did publicly.  Privately, at some point around this pivotal assassination attempt, she did begin to sense that Hitler was somehow losing touch with reality, that even he must have known that victory by this stage in the war was impossible.  To some degree, perhaps the young woman did not want the reality of the Hitler she had come to know to diminish the idealized, indomitable public facade of Hitler to which she (and the rest of the German populace) had grown accustomed.

Following Junge's account of her personal experiences on July 20, 1944, the second half of Blind Spot focuses exclusively upon events in the last month of Hitler's life, as witnessed through Junge's eyes.  She relates the increasingly bizarre chain of events within the bunker complex in the final days of April 1945, including Hitler's progressively apathetic and resigned mood towards the end.  Yet even as Russian artillery rained ever closer to Hitler's Berlin bunker complex, Junge would take walks outside and around the bunker grounds (with Eva Braun), enjoying the full bloom of blossoming flowers.  These walks were a rare opportunity to escape the stiflingly oppressive and desperate atmosphere underground.

Within the bunker complex, the mood was quite pessimistic.  Junge describes overhearing many macabre conversations about ways to commit suicide.  In spite of this, there were still surreal parties, including two actual marriages.  Junge also alludes to the sad fate of the Goebbels children but does not mention it directly.

In the final week, there was one last party, given by Eva Braun.  The following day, April 22, Hitler informed his secretarial staff that he would shoot himself.  Junge's final duty for Hitler was to take dictation for his last will and testament.  On April 30, 1945, Adolph Hitler died of a self-inflicted gunshot injury.

As a documentary, Blind Spot is quite absorbing, even if visually it is not very cinematic.  Blind Spot consists entirely of stationary interview footage of Traudl Junge conducted within a drab, nondescript setting.  There are no supporting footage or archival records to supplement any of Junge's recollections.  We the viewers must simply accept (or not) anything that Junge has to say, although her statements generally bear a ring of verisimilitude.  In essence, therein lies the inescapable allure of this film - the frequently revealing and intimate statements made by Junge over the course of the film's running length.

Truly avid World War II aficionados will probably not find much here that they have not already heard or read before.  For the rest of us, hearing about these events for the first time from the voice of someone who actually lived through them and who actually worked closely with Hitler is an unparalleled experience.

Blind Spot bravely tackles a sensitive subject that is potentially still quite volatile, even decades after the demise of the central political figure in question.  But at the very least, this documentary displays the courage on Traudl Junge's part to be forthright and upfront about her experiences, as she at the time of these interviews was surely one of the last survivors to have personally known Adolph Hitler.  Certainly, Junge was not a wicked person, but her experiences do suggest how even unassuming and decent-hearted people can be misled by the unctuous persuasions of a leader with an ulterior motive.

Today, Adolph Hitler is routinely vilified as an absolutely inhuman monster.  Nonetheless, he was no more than just a man, as the rest of us, and his flaws, however horrible, were always partially counterbalanced by traits which made him undeniably human.  That the foibles and hubris in his leadership qualities could result in such widespread suffering is a tragic footnote in the annals of human history, though unfortunately these traits are perhaps not as extinct as many of us might wish to believe.  Indeed, Hitler's Third Reich is an illustration of a vital truth about leadership - that charisma and the ability to manipulate the conscience of an entire society willing to listen can often blind such a people to the consequences of their leadership's actions or true aims.  This essential truth is certainly not limited to Hitler alone and regrettably can still be seen very much in effect today's world.

So, is the world truly any safer now than over half a century ago?  Have we as a race learned from our past errors, or is humanity doomed to repeat its mistakes through eternity or until we utterly destroy ourselves?  Only time will tell.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Traudl Junge's autobiography, "Bis Zur Letzten Stunde" ("Until the Final Hour"), was written with the assistance of Melissa Müller, who had arranged for the interviews seen in this documentary.  Junge also provided some voiceovers for the 2004 film Downfall, based partly on her autobiography.

Video ** ½

Blind Spot appears to have been shot entirely on videotape.  The image quality is as one would expect from videotape, and the setting is rather monotonous and ordinary.  There are also a few awkward moments of editing wherein Junge can be seen watching herself talk on television.  These editing cuts are more confusing than functional, but they do occasionally allow Junge to comment further upon her interview statements.

Audio ** ½

The soundtrack is obviously in German and is typical of interview-quality audio.  There is a slightly hollow tone and certainly no aural fireworks, but the dialogue is always crisp and engrossing.  This is an instance in which the essence of the message supercedes its presentation.

Features ½*

The only bonus features on this DVD are trailers for Blind Spot and The Endurance, a documentary about Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914.

Summary:

Traudl Junge displayed admirable courage in appearing for the candid interviews in Blind Spot.  Her comments do humanize Adolph Hitler and provide a rare first-hand, interpretative account of his flawed character.  Tolerant viewers who are open to hearing her recollections may also wish to check out the exceptional film Downfall, an acclaimed dramatization of the final days of Adolph Hitler.

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