Sieg heil or sieg ... homo? That is the basic question raised by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato in their provocative documentary, The Hidden Fuhrer: Debating the Enigma of Hitler's Sexuality. Bailey and Barbato (the directors responsible for Party Monster as well as the current documentary Inside Deep Throat - clearly, these fellas are comfortable with the seamier side of life) are not known for necessarily hewing close to the facts, choosing instead to go for the juicy, tabloid-ready angle - a caveat to bear in mind before approaching The Hidden Fuhrer as anything other than well-assembled conjecture.
German historian Lothar Machtan proposed in his 2002 book, "The Hidden Hitler," that the Nazi leader may have been gay and his desire to keep it a secret motivated many of his murderous actions. Immediately seized upon by historians and scholars around the world, Machtan's motives and research methods were roundly criticized and indeed, many of them discredited as being coincidence, inconclusive, subjective, etc. What Bailey and Barbato purport to do with their film is allow an exploration of the details of Machtan's findings and provide other historians with a chance to refute Machtan's conclusions - which several of them do without hesitation throughout the film.
As is pointed out at the film's opening, over 100,000 books and stories have been created, based in some way upon Hitler. It's upon this mass of academia that Machtan's findings dropped like so many hand grenades - pointing out repeated homosexual references in both Hitler's own writings as well as those of his close friends and confidantes, Machtan stubbornly maintains that part of Hitler's rise to power resulted in a destruction of his private life to the point that any concrete proof of his sexuality was obliterated. That's edgy territory to be in and at least in my view, it takes more than brief passages that could be interpreted as lurid, soft-core gay porn from a memoir to convince me that the most megalomaniacal murderer this world has ever known was a little light in the jackboots.
Nevertheless, the filmmakers actually do a fairly decent job of remaining objective when it comes to presenting both sides of the debate; at every turn, surely as Machtan offers a hypothesis, two or three historians or scholars are there to swat it down, citing one reason or another. It's to Bailey and Barbato's credit that viewers are left to answer the question for themselves, rather than being force-fed an opinion. While a lot of what's presented as carefully researched fact feels highly suspect, there could very well be some truth to part or all of what Machtan posits. However, as it's often repeated during the film, scholars will never truly know since Hitler saw fit to eradicate almost any and everything having to do with his past. Perhaps, as the Germans elected to not unearth Hitler's bunker, it's a matter best left alone.
The Hidden Fuhrer is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and looks passable - the large majority of the shot-on-video interview segments look rather hot and in some cases, have flesh tones bleeding slightly. Softness, a harsh, blown-out look and slight video noise also plague most of the interview segments; the archival footage looks appropriately aged but the overall image is very soft and murky.
Only Dolby 2.0 stereo is offered here - since most of the footage is either a talking head interview or of an archival nature, there isn't much need for anything else. Dialogue (although heavily accented at times) is nevertheless clear. Optional subtitles are unavailable but English subtitles are forced on segments spoken in German.
The bonus material on The Hidden Fuhrer consists of seven interview featurettes, all presented in non-anamorphic widescreen - "Is Hitler's Sexuality Important?," "Historical Outing," "Gay Community Reaction," "Machtan's Motives," "Hitler and The Arts," "Explaining Hitler" and "Fetishizing Nazis" - which run for an aggregate of 44 minutes, 40 seconds. They can be played together or separately. Also included are trailers for other Strand films, including Swoon, Crash, Testosterone and Open My Heart.
Fascinating, if more than a little specious, this examination of one of history's most controversial figures leaves far more questions on the table at its conclusion than answers. The Hidden Fuhrer seems, on the surface at least, to be little more than titillating propaganda that hinges upon coincidence - however, some of the suggested research contains allegations that do give one pause. While not academically sound, it's an interesting corner of history that is successfully skimmed in this briskly paced documentary - definitely worth a rental for the curious.