Director Vanessa Lapa grabs hold of an unsettling subject in her documentary Speer Goes to Hollywood. Lapa tells the story of how the man known as Hitler's architect entered discussions with British screenwriter Andrew Birkin who was to write a screenplay about Speer's life. Interest in Speer was prompted by the fact that Speer had written a bestseller called Inside the Third Reich.
Much of Lapa's movie involves some 40 hours of interviews that Birkin conducted with Speer. These are delivered by voice actors, a fact that left me feeling bit letdown when I read in the end credits. Viewers may think they're listening to Birkin's tapes, which may have been too degraded to use.
Stanley Kubrick evidently considered Speer's story, but only if any resultant movie did nothing to lionize the high-ranking Nazi.
British director Carol Reed communicates with Birkin through various stages of the screenplay's development, reminding him that he may be involved in a whitewash of a Nazi who was convicted at Nuremberg for using slave labor. Speer served 20 years.
Almost all of Speer's comments are attenuated. He wanted to build. Hitler gave him his opportunity. He didn't know about genocidal plans involving Jews. He rose to the position of Minister of Armaments and War Production.
What emerges is a portrait of a slippery man who put ambition before morality but the film's historical footage tells its own story. Scenes of the Nuremberg trials feature the defendants chatting with one another as if they might be at a reunion. Scenes of Nazi brutality feel freshly horrific.
Watching Speer Goes to Hollywood enables us to understand why a serious filmmaker might consider a movie that explored the power of blind ambition -- and that seems to raise the key question about Speer.
Did he blind himself to Nazi horrors or did he ignore them? Regardless of the answer, Lapa's documentary puts Speer's vanity, his capacity for compartmentalizing, and his delusions on disturbing display.
Lapa shows us a man whose inflated self-regard may have protected him from a story that would have submerged others in the deepest pools of remorse and despair.*
*I recently (Nov 18) received this comment from Andrew Birkin and decided that it belonged with the review and not in the comments section.
I only just read your very perceptive review for Vanessa Lapa's "Speer Goes to Hollywood", which nevertheless makes a number of false assumptions based on Lapa's film and her publicity pitch. The Hollywood Reporter has recently posted an addendum to their review for the same movie, as follows: Addendum: Birkin has gone on the record to point out that Lapa’s film takes liberties with the material he recorded, and the director has acknowledged to some journalists that the lines read by the actors are compressed from the conversation on Birkin’s tapes and incorporate material from other interviews.
I should be most grateful if you would consider doing the same, although of course using whatever words you see fit.
I can send you a time-coded list of Lapa’s main inaccuracies, as well as my response to a recent Q&A between Lapa and P J Grisar, with my own comments, from which you are free to quote or follow up as you wish. I would post them here but assume there isn't room. Glenn Kenny is currently writing a piece for the Roger Ebert website, where he recently reviewed the film, and Variety has invited me to write a first-person article about the whole wretched saga.
"Thank you for your consideration" as studios are wont to chirp come Oscar time. Andrew Birkin "gone on record" hyperlinks to my statement on the wsws.org website over a year ago. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/13/birk-m13.html
I thought Birkin deserved to have his words used, not mine. I will say, though, that I received no exposure to any publicity pitch from the director or anyone else. I've never spoken to her and only watched the movie as it was provided to me. The Q&A to which Birkin refers appeared in The Forward on Oct. 26, 2021 under the headline, “How a notorious Nazi almost got a Hollywood biopic — and why Kubrick refused to direct.”