German epic confronts Hitler

It is not caryed in stone that movies must be less than two hours long. Or less than five hours, for that matter. But inordinate lengths do pose problems for theaters, which like to pack spectators into as many showings per day as possible. And many viewers might balk at the idea of a seven-hour film, unless it were broken up into the comfortable fragments of a TV miniseries.

For those willing to take the plunge, however, a seven- hour-long picture has indeed come along. The title is "Our Hitler -- A Film from Germany," and it was directed by Hans-Jurgen Syberberg. It has already been shown in San Francisco, where a full house hailed it as a "sensation," according to the entertainment newspaper Variety. It has also been screened at the London Film Festival, and the British Film Institute has voted it best film of the year. Its next American presentation will take place at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in early March.

According to its distributor, the Omni Zoetrope production company, "Our Hitler" was four years in the planning and 20 days in the making. Its musical score mingles Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Haydn with popular songs and Nazi marches. The film is divided into four parts. At the Lincoln Center showing last month, there was a 1 1/2-hour intermission between Parts 2 and 3. After the first hour of the intermission, Syberberg answered questions from the audience. (Future screening dates in New York are Feb. 23 & 24 at the Beacon Theather).

The United States has been witnessing a boom in imports from West Germany. Among recent examples, Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu -- the Vampyre" has become the most successful German film ever shown on American screens, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "The Marriage of Maria Braun" s fairly certain to take over the first-place position soon, so popular has it proved in a number of American cities. The arrival of "Our Hitler" i n the US is partly a reflection of this widespread interest in West German movies, and partly a reflection of Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic taste. Coppola is chief of Omni Zoetrope, which is the past year has given us "Apocalypse Now" (directed by Coppola) as well as "The Black Stallion."

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