Wednesday, April 18, 2012
By: Vickie J. Rubinson
Q- Your comedy "The Producers" is set at the end of the 1950s on Broadway and concerns a Nazi musical that breaks box officer records. It shows a dancing and singing Hitler. Isn't that a bit tasteless?
A-Of course. But it's also funny isn't it? The film revolves around a Broadway producer who, for financial and technical reasons, wants to produce a flop. After he turns down the chance to adapt Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," he comes up with the idea of creating a musical about Hitler, produced by the lousiest director in the city, cast with the worst actors by far--in the middle of the Jewish metropolis of New York. He's sure it won't work. Yet because the audience considers the piece to be a brilliant parody, his worst fears are realized, it's a hit. "The Producers" therefore deals with the difficulty of having a flop.
Q-Which you of course know well yourself, "The Producers" is based on a musical that you produced that ran successfully on Broadway for five years and also on the film "The Producers" that you shot in 1967. How did the audience react to the film back then?
A- The Jews were horrified. I received resentful letters of protest, saying things like "How can you make jokes about Hitler? The man murdered 6 million Jews." But "The Producers" doesn't concern a concentration camp or the Holocaust.
Q- Can you really separate Hitler from the Holocaust?
A- You have to separate it. For example, Roberto Benigni's comedy "Life is Beautiful" really annoyed me. A crazy film that even attempted to find comedy in a concentration camp. It showed the barracks in which Jews were kept like cattle and it made jokes about it. The philosophy of the film is: people can get over anything. No they can't. They can't get over a concentration camp.
Q- But the film has deeply moved a lot of people.
A- I always asked myself: Tell me, Roberto, are you nuts? You didn't lose any relatives in the Holocaust, you're not even Jewish. You really don't understand what it's all about. The Americans were incredibly thrilled to discover from him that it wasn't all that bad in the camps after all. And that's why they immediately pressed an Oscar in his hand.
Q-So there are limits to humor?
A- Definitely. In 1974, I produced the western parody "Blazing Saddles," in which the word "nigger" was used constantly. But I would never have thought of the idea of showing how a black was lynched. It's only funny when he escapes getting sent to the gallows. You can laugh at Hitler because you can cut him down to normal size.
Q-Can you also get your revenge on him by using comedy?
A-Yes absolutely. Of course it is impossible to take revenge for 6 million murdered Jews. But by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths. In doing so, we should remember that Hitler did have some talents. He was able to fool an entire population into letting him be their leader. However, this role was basically a few numbers too great for him--but he simply covered over this deficiency.
Q- Was he a good actor?
A- Yes, as he convinced many millions of Germans. It's not without good reason that comedies about Hitler often concern actors who should play him. Just think about Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (1940) or Ernst Lubitsch's "To Be or not To Be." (1942). There's no doubt about it, Hitler worked in the same branch as we do he created illusions.