The Famous Downfall Scene Explained: What Really Happened in Hitler’s Bunker at the End?

Before his role as Hitler in the 2004 German film Downfall turned Swiss actor Bruno Ganz into a viral internet star, he was best known for playing an angel who comforts the dying in Wim Wenders’ 1987 Wings of Desire. “People really seemed to think of me as a guardian angel,” he told The Irish Times in 2005. “People would bring their children before me for a blessing or something.” Seventeen years later, the self-described introvert transformed his gentle, comforting face into the Nazi screen monster: “Nothing prepared me for what must be the most convincing screen Hitler yet,” wrote The Guardian’s Rob Mackie. “An old, bent, sick dictator with the shaking hands of someone with Parkinson’s, alternating between rage and despair in his last days in the bunker.”

This portrayal has never been surpassed, and perhaps it never will be. How many fictionalized film treatments of these events do we need? Especially since this one lives forever in meme form: Ganz endlessly spitting and gesticulating, while captions subtitle him ranting about “his pizza arriving late” – Gael Fashingbaeur Cooper writes at cnet – or “the Red Wedding scene on Game of Thrones, or finding out he wasn’t accepted into Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.” As Virginia Heffernan wrote at The New York Times in 2008 – maybe the height of the meme’s virality – “It seems that late-life Hitler can be made to speak for almost anyone in the midst of a crisis…. Something in the spectacle of an autocrat falling to pieces evidently has widespread appeal.”

Given the widespread preference for memes over facts, the ubiquity of the Downfall clip as viral spectacle, and the renewed relevance of murderous autocracy in the West, we might find ourselves wondering about the historical accuracy of Downfall’s portrayal. Did the dictator really lose it in the end? And why do we find this idea so satisfying? To begin to answer the first question, we might turn to the video above, “That Downfall Scene Explained,” from the makers of The Great War, billed as the “biggest ever crowdfunded history documentary.” Despite taking as their subject the First World War, the filmmakers also cover some of the events of WWII for fans.

First, we must remember that Downfall is an “artistic interpretation.” It condenses weeks into days, days into hours, and takes other such dramatic liberties with accounts gathered from eyewitnesses. So, “what is Hitler freaking out about” in the famous scene?, the subtitle asks. It is April 1945. The Red Army is 40 kilometers from Nazi headquarters in Berlin. The dictator’s Chief of the Army General Staff Hans Krebs explains the situation. Hitler remains in control, drawing possible lines of attack on the map, believing that SS commander Felix Steiner’s Panzer divisions will repel the Soviets.

Little does he know that Steiner’s divisions exist only on paper. In reality, the SS leader has refused to take to the field, convinced the battle cannot be won. Another General, Alfred Jodel, steps in and delivers the news. Hitler then clears the room of all but Jodl, Krebs, and two other high-ranking generals. Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann stay behind as well. Then (as played by Ganz, that is) Hitler has that famous screen meltdown. The outburst “shows just how he had centralized the chain of command,” and how it failed him.

This may have been so. Downfall presents us with a convincing, if highly condensed, portrait of the major personalities involved. But “the scene that spawned a thousand YouTube parodies,” writes Alex Ross at The New Yorker, “is based, in part, on problematic sources.” One of these, the so-called Hitler Book, was compiled from “testimony of two Hitler adjutants, Otto Günsche and Heinz Linge, who had been captured by the Red Army and interrogated at length…. The most curious thing about The Hitler Book is that it was intended for a single reader: Joseph Stalin.” The Soviet dictator wanted, and got, “a lavishly detailed chronicle of Hitler’s psychological implosion.” Other sources “convey a more complex picture.”

According to other accounts, Hitler was “generally composed” when learning about the Red Army attack on Berlin, even as he decided to give up and die in the bunker. According to Nazi stenographer, Gerhard Herrgesell, it was the generals who “violently opposed” surrender and spoke harshly to Hitler to persuade him to defend the city – a speech that had some effect during an April 22nd meeting. It did not, of course, prevent Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun’s eventual April 30 suicide. For Ross, however, this more complex historical picture shows “how cults of personality feed as much upon the aspirations of their members as upon the ambitions of their leaders.” The members of Hitler’s inner circle were as committed to the ideology as the leader himself.

There is more to the film’s title in German, Untergang, than its translation suggests, Ross writes: “It carries connotations of decline, dissolution, or destruction.” When we fix the end of Nazism to the suicidal death of one delusional, drug-addled madman, we lose sight of this wider meaning. In the viral spread of the Hitler meme, we see a kind of comically banal triumph. It is “the outcome,” Heffernan argues, that “Hitler, the historical figure sought….” A situation in which he becomes “not the author of the Holocaust” but “the brute voice of the everyman unconscious,” a proliferating grievance machine. From another perspective, imagining Hitler’s end may offer “comforting moral closure to a story of limitless horror,” writes Ross. But it has helped feed the myth that it could only happen there and then: “Now German historians are ending their books on Nazism with thinly veiled references to an American Untergang.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Sassy Justice, the New Deepfake Satire Show Created by the Makers of South Park

If any cultural, political, or technological phenomenon of the past couple of decades hasn’t been lampooned by South Park, it probably didn’t happen. But the 21st century has brought forth so much nonsense that even Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of that at once crude and multidimensionally satirical cartoon show, have had to expand into feature films and even onto Broadway to ridicule it all. The latest project takes the humbler but undeniably more relevant form of a Youtube series, and one modeled on the form of ultra-local television news. Sassy Justice comes hosted by anchor Fred Sassy, a flamboyant “consumer advocate” for the people of Cheyenne, Wyoming — and one possessed, come to think of it, of an oddly familiar face.

Fred Sassy is based on Sassy Trump, a creation of voice actor Peter Serafinowicz. Despite his formidable skills as an impressionist, the trouble Serafinowicz had nailing the sound and manner of the current U.S. President gave him the idea of dubbing over real footage of the man with deliberately invented character voices. This led to an interest in deepfakes, videos created using digital likenesses of real people without their actual participation.

The increasingly convincing look of these productions once had a lot of people spooked, as you’ll recall if you can cast your mind back to 2019. Deepfakes thus made perfect subject matter for a Parker-Stone project, but not long after they began collaborating with Serafinowicz on a deepfake-saturated Fred Sassy movie, the coronavirus pandemic put an end to production. From the ashes of that project rises Sassy Justice, which premiered last month.

This first episode (with a clip playlist here) also provides a glimpse of the surely enormous all-deepfake cast to come. Uncanny versions of Al Gore, Mark Zuckerberg (now a dialysis-center magnate), and Julie Andrews (as computer technician “Lou Xiang,” a reference that if you get, you get) all make appearances, as do those of White House regulars Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and even Donald Trump, on whose voice Serafinowicz seems to have made progress. But “it’s impossible for a human to accurately mimic someone else’s voice to 100 percent,” as Sassy is assured by a Zoom interviewee, the oft-imitated actor Michael Caine — or is it? Less able than ever to tell real from the fake, let alone the deepfake, “we’re all going to have to trust our gut, that inner voice,” as Sassy advises in the episode’s final segment. “It’s all we have now.” But then, all effective satire is a little frightening.

via MIT Technology Review

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch a Mesmerizing Stream of Unwatched YouTube Videos: Lets You Discover the Hidden Dimensions of the World’s Largest Video Platform

When times are hard, it often helps to zoom out for a moment—in search of a wider perspective, historical context, the forest full of trees…, an algorithmic YouTube-based project by Andrew Wong and James Thompson, offers a big picture that’s as restorative as it is odd:

Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see.

If the stars look very different today, it’s because they’re human, though not the kind who are prone to attracting the paparazzi. Rather, Astronaut is populated by ordinary citizens, with occasional appearances by pets, wildlife, video game characters, and houses, both interior and exterior.

Launch Astronaut, and you will be bearing passive witness to a parade of uneventful, untitled home video excerpts.

The experience is the opposite of earthshaking.

And that is by design.

As Wong told Wired’s Liz Stinson:

There’s this metaphor of being on a train …you see things out the window and think, ‘Oh what is that?’ but it’s too late, it’s already gone by. Not letting someone go too deep is pretty important.

After some trial and error on Twitter, where video content rarely favors the restful, Wong and Thompson realized that the sort of material they sought resided on YouTube. Perhaps it’s been reflexively dumped by users with no particular passion for what they’ve recorded. Or the account is a new one, its owner just beginning to figure out how to post content.

The videos on any given Astronaut journey earn their place by virtue of generic, camera-assigned file names (IMG 0034, MOV 0005, DSC 0165…), zero views, and an upload within the last week.

The overall effect is one of mesmerizing, unremarkable life going on whether it’s observed or not.

Children perform in their living room

A woman assembles a bride’s bouquet

A kitten bats a toy

A pre-fab home is moved into place

The vision is heartwarmingly global.

Astronaut is anti-star, but there are some frequent sightings, owing to the number of nameless inconsequential videos any one user uploads.

This week a Vietnamese fashionista, a karaoke space in Argentina, and a boxing ring in Montreal make multiple appearances, as do some very tired looking teachers.

The effect is most soothing when you allow it to wash over you unimpeded, but there is a red button below the frame, if you feel compelled to linger within a certain scene.

(You can also click on whatever passes for the video’s title in the upper left corner to open it on YouTube, from whence you might be able to suss out a bit more information.)

A very young Super Mario fan has apparently colonized a parent’s account for his narrated gaming videos.

Halfway around the world, a formally dressed man sits behind a desk prior to his first-ever upload.

Some gifted dancers fail to rotate prior to uploading.

A recently acquired night vision wildlife cam has already captured a number of coyotes.

And everyone who comes through the door of a Chinese household adores the happy baby within.

It’s unclear if the algorithm will alight on any cell phone footage documenting the shocking scenes at recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Perhaps not, given the urgency to share such videos, titling them to clue viewers in to the what, who, where, when, and why.

For now Astronaut appears to be the same floaty trip Jake Swearingen described in a 2017 article for New York Magazine:

The internet is a place that often rewards the shocking, the sad, the rage-inducing — or the nakedly ambitious and attention-seeking. A morning of watching is an antidote to all that.

Begin your explorations with Astronaut here.

h/t to reader Tom Hedrick

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Every day since March 15, she has uploaded a set of 10 micrhvisions of socially distanced New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

365 Free Movies Streaming on YouTube

The wail resounds in every corner of the house, you cannot stop it—the books have all been read, the new releases streamed, every video game played to the end multiple times. I’m bored… You gave up quarantine homeschool weeks ago. Just who did you think you were? Here’s an idea, parent at your wit’s end: sit the kids in front of Lone Wolf McQuade or Over the Top.

Tell them how everything used to look like that when you were young. No second or third screen to turn to when you lost interest. You’d catch a free movie on a Sunday afternoon—streaming in real time, as it were—on one of four or five channels. No pause, rewind, or save for later. (Play it up—maybe you didn’t live this, they don’t know that.)

Oh, and there were commercials every ten minutes or so—lots and lots and lots of ads. This is a lesson in media history—you’re an educator! They’ll readily admit how much better they have it as they watch Chuck Norris and Stallone rack up the kills on YouTube, free to stream (and pause, rewind, and save for later), with many fewer ad interruptions than in your day, and with 363 other films to watch and more to come.

But say you find this content objectionable, or… well, bad. You could certainly do much worse, believe me, as you’ll see in a cursory look at the many feature entertainments available to stream free with ads on YouTube. But, in all seriousness, you care about your children’s education, and with some careful digging, you’ll find quite a lot to give them a real cultural lesson, and to enlighten the grown-ups, too.

Learn, for example, about the Wrecking Crew, in a documentary of the same name, the famous cohort of studio musicians who played on hundreds of the best pop, rock, soul, etc. records in the 60s. As the Funk Brothers were to Motown, Booker T. & the MGs to Stax, so were the Wrecking Crew to the West Coast Sound (and the sound of Elvis, The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Mamas and the Papas, Sonny & Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, and so on).

And as the Wrecking Crew were to the West Coast so was Muscle Shoals to the deep South. The tiny Alabama town and its FAME Studios featured some of the greatest R&B, soul, and country rhythm players in the world, major contributors to records by Dylan, the Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and so many more. There’s a film about them too. (We can’t embed the full movies here, but you’ll find them in the links below.)

There are many other quality educational entertainments about pop music history, like the Dave Grohl-directed Sound City. You’ll also find documentaries like Super Size Me, Capitalism: A Love Story, and Freakonomics. (An economics course!) Many other platforms have introduced free streaming movies with ads. In YouTube’s case, as AdAge notes, the move to streaming free films comes as a way to recoup advertisers who increasingly found their ads running “inside offensive videos, some with terrorist propaganda and hate speech.”

The company is cleaning up its image, and in the process becoming something like the TV channels of old, only with all the digital ease that makes streaming so convenient. “They are now a TV network,” says an executive for one video ad technology platform, moving away from low-quality, user-generated content and toward high dollar series and the goldmine of old movies. Advertising is everything, so, there’s another lesson for you—even in the new media business, history repeats.

See a list of recommended films available to stream free on YouTube, with ads, below. Enter the general collection here. And feel free to explore our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

Super Size Me

The Wrecking Crew

Capitalism: A Love Story

Freddie Mercury: The King of Queen

Muscle Shoals


Bob Marley: The Roots of Man

Sound City

All Things Must Pass (Documentary on Tower Records)

The Bird Cage

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Free M.I.T. Course Teaches You How to Become Bill Nye & Make Great Science Videos for YouTube

If I had my way, more academics would care about teaching beyond the walls of the academy. They’d teach to a broader public and consider ways to make their material more engaging, if not inspiring, to new audiences. You can find examples out there of teachers who are doing it right. The heirs of Carl Sagan–Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye–know how to light a spark and make their material come alive on TV and YouTube. How they do this is not exactly a mystery, not after M.I.T. posted online a course called “Becoming the Next Bill Nye: Writing and Hosting the Educational Show.

Taught at M.I.T. over a month-long period, Becoming the Next Bill Nye was designed to teach students video production techniques that would help them “to engagingly convey [their] passions for science, technology, engineering, and/or math.” By the end of the course, they’d know how to script and host a 5-minute YouTube show.

You can now find the syllabus and all materials for that course online at MIT’s OpenCourseWare site. This includes all video lectures and class assignments. Or, if you prefer, you can get the video lectures straight from this YouTube playlist.

Becoming the Next Bill Nye will be added to our meta collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Discover The Backwards Brain Bicycle: What Riding a Bike Says About the Neuroplasticity of the Brain

Like most of us, engineer Destin Sandlin, creator of the educational science website Smarter Every Day, learned how to ride a bike as a child. Archival footage from 1987 shows a confident, mullet-haired Sandlin piloting a two-wheeler like a boss.

Flash forward to the present day, when a welder friend threw a major wrench in Sandlin’s cycling game by tweaking a bike’s handlebar/front wheel correspondence. Turn the handlebars of the “backwards bike” to the left, and the wheel goes to the right. Steer right, and the front wheel points left.

Sandlin thought he’d conquer this beast in a matter of minutes, but in truth it took him eight months of daily practice to conquer his brain’s cognitive bias as to the expected operation. This led him to the conclusion that knowledge is not the same thing as understanding.

He knew how to ride a normal bike, but had no real grasp of the complex algorithm that kept him upright, a simultaneous ballet of balance, downward force, gyroscopic procession, and navigation.

As he assures fans of his Youtube channel, it’s not a case of the stereotypical uncoordinated science geek—not only can he juggle, when he took the backwards bike on tour, a global roster of audience volunteers’ brains gave them the exact same trouble his had.

Interestingly, his 6-year-old son, who’d been riding a bike for half his young life, got the hang of the backwards bike in just two weeks. Children’s brain’s possess much more neuroplasticity than those of adults, whose seniority means habits and biases are that much more ingrained.

It couldn’t have hurt that Sandlin bribed the kid with a trip to Australia to meet an astronaut.

Did the arduousness of mastering the backwards bike ruin Sandlin for normally configured bicycles? Watch the video above all the way to the end for an incredible spontaneous moment of mind over matter.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

1,000,000 Minutes of Newsreel Footage by AP & British Movietone Released on YouTube

Both Faulkner and the physicists may be right: the passage of time is an illusion. And yet, for as long as we’ve been keeping score, it’s seemed that history really exists, in increasingly distant forms the further back we look. As Jonathan Crow wrote in a recent post on news service British Pathé’s release of 85,000 pieces of archival film on YouTube, seeing documentary evidence of just the last century “really makes the past feel like a foreign country—the weird hairstyles, the way a city street looked, the breathtakingly casual sexism and racism.” (Of course there’s more than enough reason to think future generations will say the same of us.) British Pathé’s archive seems exhaustive—until you see the latest digitized collection on YouTube from AP (Associated Press) and British Movietone, which spans from 1895 to the present and brings us thousands more past tragedies, triumphs, and hairstyles

This release of “more than 1 million minutes” of news, writes Variety, includes archival footage of “major world events such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, exclusive footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.” And so much more, such as the newsreel above, which depicts Berlin in 1945, eventually getting around to documenting the Potsdam Conference (at 3:55), where Churchill, Stalin, and Truman created the 17th parallel in Vietnam, dictated the terms of the German occupation, and planned the coming Japanese surrender. No one at the time could have accurately foreseen the historical reverberations of these actions.

Another strange, even uncanny piece of film shows us the English football team giving the Nazi salute in 1938 at the commencement of a game against Germany. “That’s shocking now,” says Alwyn Lindsay, the director of AP’s international archive, “but it wasn’t at the time.” Films like these have become of much more interest since The Sun published photographs of the royal family—including a young Queen Elizabeth II and her uncle Prince (later King, then Duke) Edward VIII—giving Nazi salutes in 1933. Though it was not particularly controversial, and the children of course had little idea what it signified, it did turn out that Edward (seen here) was a would-be Nazi collaborator and remained an unapologetic sympathizer.

This huge video trove doesn’t just document the grim history of the Second World War, of course. As you can see in the AP’s introductory montage at the top of the post, there is “a world of history at your fingertips”—from triumphant video like Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, above, to the below film of “Crazy 60s Hats in Glorious Colour.” And more or less every other major world event, disaster, discovery, or widespread trend you might name from the last 120 or so years.

The archive splits into two YouTube channels: AP offers both historical and up-to-the-minute political, sports, celebrity, science, and “weird and wacky” videos (with “new content every day”). The British Movietone channel is solely historical, with much of its content coming from the 1960s (like those hats, and this video of the Beatles receiving their MBE’s, and other “Beatlemania scenes.”)

Movietone’s one nod to the present takes the form of “The Archivist Presents,” in which a historian offers quirky context on some bit of archival footage, like that above of the Kinks getting their hair curled. The completely unironic lounge music and casually sexist narration will make you both smile and wince, as do Ray Davies and company when they see their new hair. Most of the films in this million minutes of news footage (and counting) tend to elicit either or both of these two emotional reactions—joy (or amusement) or mild to intense horror, and watching them makes the past they show us feel paradoxically more strange and more immediate at once.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

12 Interminable Days of Xmas: Hear the Longest, Trippiest Holiday Carol

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is, of course, already long and repetitive, such that when in recent years I’ve sung even the first few notes of it at “Ave Maria” speed, I’ve been greeted with satisfying moans of agony. This year I decided that the thing must be put to tape, with each verse slower than the last. The whole thing now runs to around 75 minutes.

To  make this pleasingly bearable, even if an exercise in Zen-like patience, I crowd-sourced the backing arrangements for the verses among musician-fans of The Partially Examined Life podcast, plus a few special guests, including Camper van Beethoven’s Jonathan Segel (who arranged and performed verse 11 and plays solos on guitar, lap steel, and violin in the verse 12 group jam) and New York comedian Adam Sank (who adds a naughty monologue to verse 12).

Here’s a quick guide to help you keep your bearings during this strange trip:

-Verses 1 and 2 are my effort, to establish the concept for the album: ignore the melody to set any beat at any tempo you want and throw down a bunch of tracks without second-guessing yourself or redoing anything.

-Verse 3 is Swedish prog-keyboardist/guitarist Daniel Gustafsson, sporting a baroque ensemble.

-Verse 4 is Jason Durso and Shannon Farrell providing some staid beauty while a narrator spouts some epigrams about our experience of time.

-Verse 5 is a disco monstrosity by a being who wants to be known only as Wilson.

-Verses 6 and 7 are electronic, textured pieces by Maxx Bartko and Belgian musician Timo Carlier respectively. Comedian Alex Fossella (@afossella) provides some brief narration in the vein of True Detective.

-Verse 8 is a collage of atmospheric sounds and acoustic instruments by Kenn Busch and Jenny Green, while Verse 9 turns into a tuneful acoustic folk song featuring UK singer Al Baker.

-On returning in verse 10, Daniel Gustafsson establishes a death-metal purgatory, which morphs in Jonathan Segel’s verse 11 into an endless nightmare landscape.

-Verse 12 is over 25 minutes alone, with a jazz fusion vibe a la Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and contributions from Kylae Jordan (sax), Rei Tangko (piano), Gustafsson, Segel, Wilson, Carlier, Greg Thornburg, and Sank, over my bass and drums.

An early commenter on the Partially Examined Life site where the “song” was posted (as an exemplar in support of a discussion on Edmund Burke’s ideas about aesethetic judgments of the sublime), said that it’s “kind of what I would expect a Pink Floyd Christmas album to sound like.”

Can you live through the 12 days? What will your mind look like on the other side?

A free, audio-only mp3 version of the song can be found here.

Mark Linsenmayer is a musician who releases his work free to the public. He also hosts the Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast and blog, which you can access via iTunes or the PEL web site.

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