Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Secret Glory (2001)

Richard Stanley's documentary on Otto Rahn, a dreamer who got in over his head and in the process ended up dead.

Rahn's passion was the Holy Graal. Not the grail you think of, the chalice used either to catch Christ's blood or used at the Last Supper. Rather a remnant from the fall of the angels, an object that was made from the crown of Lucifer after his fall from grace. Its a powerful relic that Rahn believed could be found by decoding the poem Parzival by Wolfram Von Eschenbach. Rahn found backing for his ideas in the mystical societies that were active in Germany between the world wars. The societies were tied to right wing politics and it wasn't long before Rahn was attached to the Nazi's and the SS. Its a dark story about a man who ended up in a situation that was way over his head.Simply put the SS who recruited him and then disposed of him when his research didn't pan out as they hoped.

Director Richard Stanley was sent on the trail of Rahn by Channel Four in England who wanted him to find out if this was a real life Raiders of the Lost Ark story ala the Last Crusade. They were hoping for a great special. Stanley in doing some digging found out that there was a story, it just wasn't Indiana Jones material. The network passed, but Stanley didn't and after the collapse of his version of the Island of Dr Moreau, he went at it whole hog.

Over the next bunch of years Stanley began filming the people who knew Rahn and who could fill in the details of the Nazi obsession with the occult. The ability to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the Nazi interest in the occult is a difficult thing. There have been more than a fair share of books and films on the subject and not all of them have been scrupulous in their reporting. What you think is real very often not and what you think is not occasionally is. Myth and legend and fact have intertwined so much that anything is possible, especially for an open mind. This is Stanley's attempt to unravel the knot (or begin to unravel since Stanley in the commentary on the DVD states that some documents concerning some of the subjects are just now being declassified. Stanley hopes to pursue more leads and produce a longer cut later).

The film is structured as a mystical journey. The visuals and music are often very hypnotic taking you to another place and time. The visuals, taken from photographs and old films are supplemented with interviews with people who knew Rahn and spell out, occasionally contradictorily, the events in Rahn's life. It takes Rahn from his days in college to his final days in the SS.

Richard Stanley has fashioned a unique film about a unique character. Its a film that is made in such away as to suck you in and to give you some sense of the subject and the times. Its a good film and good introduction to the weird mind set that one often finds when one looks at the Nazi/occult connection.

Its not a perfect film. Stanley at times seems more interested in developing a mood (which he does brilliantly) than he does in telling all he knows (he doesn't, as he explains in the DVD commentary). Everything isn't explained and more than a few questions are left unanswered. I'm not sure how much of this is the result of Stanley leaving it out intentionally or the result of his simply not having the answers. Rahn was not a major figure in the Nazi regime, he was at best a footnote so the fact that we have any information about him is amazing.

The film as a stand alone is good. Its a trippy film that raises more questions than it answers. Its ultimately still a work in progress since Stanley is looking to get the money to make a longer more detailed version of the film. To that end this film is best seen twice, once as the film itself and then again with the commentary track on the DVD (the film is available in the five DVD set of Stanley's Dust Devil film which collects his documentaries as well as that horror film). Stanley's commentary adds a great deal to the film factually and emotionally. After seeing the film the actually seems to gain a weight it didn't have before. In all honesty the commentary makes the film go from say seven out of ten to close to ten out of ten.

If the subject appeals to its worth tracking down.

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