The 2004 Oscar foreign-language film nominee “Downfall,” depicting Adolf Hitler’s final days, is certainly an unlikely source for a mass Internet comedy explosion.
But a pivotal scene in the film, in which Hitler’s high command informs the deranged Nazi leader that the Allied armies are closing in on Berlin, has become nothing less than an online phenomenon as spoofers worldwide replace the clip’s subtitles with their own absurdist takes.
There’s “The Downfall of Grammar,” with Hitler erupting violently after one of his generals critiques him for ending a sentence with a preposition. Another has him reacting to the housing downturn. And Michael Jackson’s death. And a lame videogame. The clip has even been used to comment on the parking situation in Tel Aviv, causing outrage in Israel.
Posters have taken to using the “Downfall” spoofs as video tweets, commenting on the smallest of news items, with sports being the most popular. Some have racked up millions of hits.
Pinning down the first spoof is difficult business, as pointing out the first bloom of any phenomenon is tricky. But back in 2006, “DReaperF4” posted a clip on YouTube in which Hitler, in Spanish subtitles, loses it over a flight-simulator game.
Now there are even parodies of Hitler reacting to the “Downfall” parody. Indeed, there are channels on YouTube and Web groups devoted to them.
Ironically, the videos have yet to create a stir in Germany, where the press has ignored the phenomenon that takes viral video to a new level. German speakers recommend turning down the volume when viewing the clips, since the comedy is all in the subtitles.
The horror that Hitler wreaked upon the world is not forgotten, but it does feed the farcical notion that such a monster unknown before in all of humanity should lose his cool over a late pizza delivery.
Constantin Film, which produced “Downfall,” has ordered clips to be taken down, creating a buzz about fair-use rights and parodies. But many of the “Downfall” channels on YouTube clearly credit the company, and of course, “Downfall” enthusiasts have created videos with Hitler commenting on intellectual-property laws.
Besides, the guy who wrote the film’s screenplay and produced it, Bernd Eichinger, loves the clips.
“I find those parodies tremendously amusing,” Eichinger says. “Obviously, the film and this scene in particular is a real fire-starter for people’s imagination. What else can you hope for as a filmmaker?
“My favorite one so far is when Hitler is having his tantrum over his losses in the real estate crisis. Hitler’s real crisis at the time was also about a gigantic real estate loss: the loss of all those territories he had conquered, fueled by false credit and driven by avarice, megalomania and barbaric ruthlessness. And then history’s Dow Jones came crushing down on him. … I find this parody so funny because it’s historically relevant.”
Even Steve Carell’s Michael Scott of “The Office” has one on Funnyordie.com. And true to Scott’s misguided humor, the parody doesn’t make sense. Which is kinda funny in itself.