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The third movie from director Keith Gordon ("The Chocolate War", "A Midnight Clear"). The 35-year-old director who started as an actor ("Christine") has turned into one of the more assured directors working today. His films are ambitious in plot and tone. With "Mother Night" he works with his first major star, Nick Nolte. n In 1961, the fictitious Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American by birth, shares the same deserted prison with Adolph Eichmann. As he prepares to stand trial for war crimes, the former playwright scribes his memoirs. Now this is the same Howard W. Campbell Jr. who was a notorious voice on German radio during the war, tearing into American policy and spreading Nazi propaganda. Was he a willful participant or an American spy? Campbell, who romanticizes at the drop of a hat, tells his story of indifference, morality, and love. His days of notoriety in Berlin give way to anonymity back in the States. He purrs about his true love (Sheryl Lee) and tells truths with his sh
- Deleted Scenes
- Conversation with Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Nick Nolte
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Don't miss this one. I'm telling you, it is wonderful. Alan Arkman as usual does a masterful job. You have to watch it for its surprises and twits that you'd never believe until you see it. No give aways here. I don't want to ruin it for you.
this is the story of one Howard W. Campbell, Jr., an American playwright living in Berlin just as the Nazi menace was beginning to build up steam. inspired no doubt by the odious radio progagandist known as "Lord Haw-Haw," Campbell finds himself with a weekly radio series where he spouts Nazi rhetoric. only, it's been set up for him by the Allied Forces, and what he's actually doing is sending information to the agents of democracy, through a code of inflections, throat clearing, that sort of thing. only a few people are in on this - even Campbell never knows for sure just what vital data he is transmitting - so the world at large comes to know him as a tyrant, a champion of evil.
the story cheifly concerns the aftermath. in the early '60s, years after his heyday as a despot, Campbell falls in with sincere white supremecists, gets caught up in their schemes, and finds himself in Israel to stand trial for his "war crimes." because security dictated his true activities be hush-hush, only a few ever really know what he was doing, and there is therefore no one to come to his defense now.
basically the story is a character study in the form of a Rorshach test, asking just how you feel about this hero with villain tendencies. interestingly, one of the ones who'd most firmly made up his mind is Campbells' creator: it is related in the commentary that the producers asked Vonnegut for his assessment, but instead of the debate they were expecting he simply said up-front "he was a monster".
you might say Howard W. Campbell, Jr., is the anti-Dexter. being a serial killer, Dexter should give us the mother of all screamin' heebie-jeebies. but because we accompany him in his attempts to decipher how emotion and/or morality work, and of course because he see him reseve his "gift" for the genuinely evil, for people we've seen do truly horrendous things, Dexter comes off as having as close to a nobility about him as someone in his condition is capable of attaining.
conversely, Howard Campbell should have his own nobility, since he's doing a job for his country, for the cause of freedom and democracy. and his efforts were apparently of some value, since the Nazis did fall. but the thing is, we never hear what specific good he did. neither the book nor the movie ever mentions prisoners being rescued or skirmishes being sidestepped or whatever thanks to Campbell. we witness only his affect on the "lay" people, mostly the loathing and outrage his hate-mongerer facade provokes. in the single most disturbing incident from both the book and the film, a high-ranking Nazi officer states that he came within a hairsbreadth of forsaking Germany when the tide started to turn, and thanks Campbell for convincing him his homeland hadn't lost it's collective mind after all. so Howard Campbell should seem like a hero but just doesn't FEEL like one.
Vonnegut didn't goof. this lopsided statement of the case was a deliberate artistic choice. as he has said more than once, this is a story with a moral: we are what we pretend to be. he's actually asking you, does even the defeat of "Der Furer" justify transforming oneself into a monster?
so does it, or what?
DVD has English and French subtitles. Special features include deleted scenes and two commentaries, including one with Nolte.
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