The Empty Mirror (1998)
Barry J. Hershey has made a number of shorts, which are as unknown as most other movie-makers’ short films. If The Empty Mirror is a fair example of his full-length scripts and directorial presentations, I’d say he needed to consider the advice of a good editor. Instead, he chose a superb cinematographer, Frederick Elmes, and an ingenious special-effects assistant to produce this unusual theatrical representation of Hitler’s last days in the bunker or of his punishment in a hell hole. The coterie of hangers-on--Goebbels, Goehring, and Eva Braun--seem more like visitations of phantasms than incarnate companions. Sigmund Freud has to be a ghost; only the secretary at the typewriter appears to be a necessary constant, recording Der Führer’s retrospective monolog--two hours of somewhat intriguing blather.
Norman Rodway, representing Hitler, might be a good British thespian, but for the life of me his well-modulated litany of non-stop declarations wore down this listener. Hitler will never get the story straight, no matter how he redefines his political career. The snores of my family, who started out watching the film with me, were so seductive that I joined them, lulled by the silvery flickering newsreels Hitler gazed at. Waking, I was impressed by flames and colors and magical settings surrounding the newsreel images so that I had to rewind the tape to catch the lost passages: dreary montages of Hitler searching in vain for signs of his real life. After a short while I couldn’t be bothered even with the light-show charades.
Records and films of the Führer’s staccato rhetoric and poses, the propagandistic choreography and orchestration of those Nazi parades, the “Triumph of the Will” cameos--all these are very old-hat by now. We have in our own time living examples of diabolical bullies and political puppets, most of them of the second-string type, reincarnated Mussolinis, with trumped-up photo-ops, inane posturings and totally inept speechifying. Today the propaganda of tinpot tyrants seems much more obvious; in fact, I’m so sated by present-day dictatorial, ego-maniacal shenanigans, all of them producing chaos in the world, I can’t seem to find an interest in those of moldy Hitler. A one-man show of his narcissistic reminiscences is playing too much into the hands of the ego-maniac himself on screen.
Hitler was, I’ll grant Mr. Hershey, a funny narcissist, as keyed-up-robotic and pathetic as they come. The bit-moustache--very funny on Hitler, the jerky, old stiffy. Funnier on a mouth-twister as Rodway grimaced and winced through the part. Charlie Chaplin knew how easy it was to make Hitler funny.
At one point, Hitler asks himself, “Mein Kampf?” Hmm! Why don’t they translate the title--My Struggle?” Maybe it was to demonize the evil man, to preserve the memory of “His Kamps.” Notice the way “jihad” is used today. Besides pre-emptive war, there was the Holocaust. ”We must not forget!” the Jews have been morosely exclaiming for over half a century to the world’s cognoscenti, hoping at best to arouse a global historical consciousness about other attempts at genocide. Well, tell me what good remembering has done in light of the mini-holocausts perpetrated in the past four decades. Even the rememberers have stood by and silently tolerated the wholesale slaughter of Nigerian tribes-people, of East Timorians, of Algerians, of Cambodians, of various Balkan peoples, of Rwandans, of Liberians, etc. etc. Ranting Hitler no longer has the power to arouse anyone to historical consciousness.
Frederick Elmes did a good job to pump-up Mr. Hershey’s play into movie status. However, The Empty Mirror is ironically a vanity of vanities. It might have been a better horror film if the mirror were filled with a vampire’s nothingness than with Hitler’s pompous ghost.
I rate it 3 for film-making and FX, 2 for overall effect.