The Architecture of Doom
1989, NR, 119 min. Directed by Peter Cohen.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Jan. 24, 1992
Using archival footage, still photography, and clips from propaganda films, the impeccably researched documentary The Architecture of Doom formulates a convincing thesis about Hitler and his legacy, the Holocaust -- the Nazi sense of aesthetic purity, as opposed to mere politics, motivated those 20th century horrors. Although the Aryan ideal of perfection is a familiar one, The Architecture of Doom places it in a historical, sociological, and artistic perspective which comes close to explaining the inexplicable. According to its premise, the Nazi cult of beauty, which sought to emulate the classicism of the Age of Antiquity (Greece, Sparta, Rome), inspired the Nazis to “purify” German culture and society. At first, the purge occurred on a cultural level, as the Nazis cleansed German museums of so-called “degenerate art,” which they believed celebrated the distorted, the deformed, and the impure, all antithetical to the notion of a master race. From there, it progressed to the quiet disposal of Germany's mentally ill -- over 70,000 asylum and hospital patients were gassed by 1942 -- and then to the Final Solution, the mass extermination of society's defectives, most prominently, the Jewish race. The Architecture of Doom exemplifies how Hitler's propaganda machine “prepared” the German people for the inevitability of this form of political euthanasia; a Nazi film about the need to exterminate rats and other pests for health reasons is juxtaposed with another about the squalor of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. What's dumbfounding in this day and age is the prospect of a “civilized” nation of people acquiescing to the concept of murder as a hygienic measure. (Then again, the American public's gung-ho patriotism in response to the carnage of Operation Desert Storm last year indicates that there's no monopoly on blind chauvinism.) Aside from its central thesis, this documentary is a gold mine of fascinating information about the Third Reich, especially in detailing the roots of Naziism in the German arts and the important role the arts played in the new Germany. For anyone who's a student of history or, for that matter, vaguely interested in this dark period of modern man, The Architecture of Doom is a must-see.