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February 07, 2003 - Image 94

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-02-07

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Arts I Entertainment

At The Movies

The Film No One Wanted

The film 'Max" has been drawing criticism for its "human" portrayal of a young Hitler.


Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles


of far into the arduous jour-
ney of making Max, Menno
Meyjes' controversial film
about the early life of Adolf
Hitler, John Cusack debated with his
father, a World War II veteran.
"He said, 'John, this is a worthy
piece, but it disturbs me,"' said
Cusack, who plays a German Jewish
art dealer who befriends Hitler during
his artist years.
"He told me, 'I just don't want to

having one of Hollywood's most pop-
ular actors as its star and champion.
While cliched or cartoonlike images
of Hitler have long graced the silver
screen, from Charlie Chaplin's The
Great Dictato. r to Mel Brooks' 1968
version of The Producers, Max breaks
precedent by depicting the future
Fi_ihrer as caustic but human.
Shattering the cinematic taboo made
the film, and its filmmaker's, virtual
pariahs in Hollywood and beyond.
"No one wanted anything to do
with us," said Dutch-born Meyjes,
best known for his Oscar-nominated

Museum of the Holocaust declined to
host screenings; and a cynical New
York Times column lumped the movie
in with several other projects about
the young Hitler (including the 2003
CBS miniseries Hitler: The Early Years,
currently filming in Prague).
After reading the column, titled
"Swastikas for Sweeps," Cusack —
who took no salary for the film —
promptly telephoned it author,
Maureen Dowd.
"I pointed out that she had mocked
Max but hadn't even seen it, like most
of the -film's detractors," said the
intense, soft-spoken
actor, leaning for-
ward in his chair
over a bottle of -
Pellegrino at L.A.'s
Beverly Wilshire
"But . she wouldn't
admit that her com-
ments felt caustic
and dismissive. She
just said, 'Oh, I love
your work; I'd love
to see the film.' I
said I thought her
approach was lazy."
Max opens in
metro Detroit
Friday, Feb. 7, exclu-
sively at the Uptown
Birmingham 8 in
Birmingham and the
Michigan Theater in
Ann Arbor.

An Artist First

John Cusack, right, portrays a German Jewish art dealer who befriends Adolf Hitler during his artist years,
before Hitler's rise to power in Germany.

see that man as human.' And that par-
adox excited me.
"I also knew intellectually that
Hitler was human, but emotionally I
didn't want to accept it. It was easier
for me to imagine him as Grendel in
the cave, breathing fire and drinking
blood. And within that discomfort lies
some of the brilliance of the film."
It's also the reason the provocative
movie — dubbed a "Pulp Fiction-sized
shot of intellectual adrenaline" by the •
Los Angeles Times — raised ire despite

2/ 7


screenplay for Steven Spielberg's The

Color Purple.
Prospective investors avoided the
project, going so far as to pretend they
were someone else on the telephone,
Meyjes said.
A number of viewers stormed out of
the Max premiere at the Toronto Film
Festival, according to the L. A. Times-,
the right-wing Jewish Defense League
labeled the movie "a psychic assault on
Holocaust survivors"; the Museum of
Tolerance and the Los Angeles

The idea for Max
began with Meyjes'
childhood in post-
war Holland, a
milieu "absolutely drenched in Hitler,"
according to the 48-year-old writer-
His father spent his late teens in a
German slave labor camp where a
Nazi smashed out his front teeth with
a rifle butt.
"To my family, the Fiihrer was a
one-dimensional beast," said Meyjes,
who became obsessed with the ques-
tion of whether Hitler was human.
While perusing Ron Rosenbaum's
book Explaining Hitler around 1998,

Meyjes read a quote by Nazi architect
Albert Speer: "If you want to under-
stand Hitler, you have to understand
he was an artist first."
"Suddenly I had a way into a movie
about my [question]," he said. "I
decided to make a film about a man
who chooses to become a monster."
After extensive research, Meyjes said
he wrote Hitler (played in the film by
a riveting Noah Taylor) as a marginally
talented, virtually homeless painter
who is petulant, self-pitying, puritani-
cal, grandiose, maladroit, with "a tor-
tured relationship with his physical
self and the caprices of the body."
"There is almost a sexual element to
his artistic failure," Meyjes said.
"Because he loathes himself, he cannot
penetrate his paintings."
The fictional gallery owner Max
Rothman, maimed in World War I,
meanwhile, is suave and worldly while
trying to persuade fellow veteran
Hitler to channel his pent-up rage into
art instead of politics. Meyjes said
Rothman is "loosely based on a
Viennese Jewish gallery owner, Josef
Neumann, who was always telling
Hitler that he had to work harder and
that he was lazy."

About Important Things

The quintessentially assimilated
German-Jewish character immediately
intrigued Cusack, 36, who grew up in
a liberal, activist Irish-Catholic family
(the radical Berrigan brothers were fre-
quent guests in his Chicago-area home
and his mother has been arrested for
her antiwar activities).
The secular, casually idealistic
Rothman "is Jewish in the way I am
Catholic," said Cusack, who is
renowned for playing heartsick heart-
throbs in films such as Say Anything
and High Fidelity. "It informs who he
is but it is not how he primarily
defines himself.
"I also strongly identified with Max
because he is an intellectual, a sensual-
ist, a modernist, a man who is flawed
but who understands that art can
change the world," the actor said.
"In him I saw some part of myself
that is damaged and something I
would like to be."
Max's relationship with Hitler,

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