Walter Mencken 8:33 a.m., Nov. 21
4th row center: Triumph of the Will
The long-awaited demise of Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch, had finally arrived. His death at age 96 brings to mind my one and only dust-up with Bund-lovin' brown shirts.
It was one of the first films I remember driving to after my dad "tipped" the automaton at the DMV ten bucks to buy his kid a license. Commissioned by Hitler in 1934, Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's stirring Nazi recruitment film, remains one of the most powerful, controversial, and influential pieces of propaganda ever produced.
My interest in Triumph stemmed from a censorious incident that occurred while attending Chicago's Columbia College. History professor, Bob Edmonds, did everything in his power to block a proposed personal appearance by Ms. Riefenstahl. Never mind separating the art from the artist. Edmonds was unmovable; in no way was a Nazi going to be granted free speech on his watch.
Edmonds' will be done; a chance to see the long-banned film was placed on the back burner.
But not for long.
Several months after the boycott, The 3 Penny Cinema secured a 16mm print of the contentious documentary for a one night only screening. A 1912 Nickelodeon converted into a garage and then in the late '30's back into a theatre, The 3 Penny was hands down Chicago's most undesirable single screen. What better place to welcome a bunch of jeering Nazi-wannabes?
Eager and curious, an audience of 30 sat waiting for the curtain to rise on the banned objet d'art. A few minutes prior to showtime, the theatre began filling up with arm-banded goons. Hitler's first appearance on screen was greeted with applause.
The print wasn't subtitled and not many in the audience impressed me as being bilingual. That didn't stop them from cheering on the message.
Aside from gales of reverent applause every time Hitler hit the screen, nothing inside the theatre interrupted the showing. Halfway through the film squad car sirens could be heard pulling up to the theatre as cops were called to help squelch an outside rally.
The bubble gum lights of the police cars were still blinking as the crowd exited the theatre. Never before was I so happy to see Chicago's finest.
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