The Damned released
Luchino Visconti’s 1969 Nazi drama The Damned was undoubtedly his most controversial work when it opened in Italy in 1969. With operatic flair and flamboyance, the film chronicles the complex sexual politics of the German Essenbecks family as they slowly cede power to the Nazis and destroy themselves in the process. (The Essenbecks were loosely based on the Krupp family, whose metal works helped arm the Nazis). The Damned was rooted in real events (the famed “Night of Long Knives”), and its tone and themes came from opera––the Italian title La caduta degli dei (The Fall of the Gods) is a nod to Wagner’s The Twilight of the Gods––and Macbeth. For many observers, the lurid, erotic feel was a far cry from the neorealistic works, like Ossessione and La terra trema, that put Visconti on the map. But in some ways, the film was quite close to Visconti personally. As an opera director, he had a sense for the grandiose. As a gay man (involved with a German, the film’s star, Helmut Berger) and a leftist from a wealthy aristocratic family, the storylines were quite familiar. When questioned why he focused on German Nazism rather than Italian Fascism, Visconti responded, “Of course, Fascism was a tragedy in many, many cases… but Nazism seems to me to reveal more about a historical reversal of values.” In the end, the film succeeded both because (and in spite) of its controversy. In Italy, it proved to be a box office smash, and, in America, even though it was slapped with an X-rating, it garnered Visconti his one Oscar nomination, for Best Screenplay. Rainer Werner Fassbinder later exclaimed that The Damned is "perhaps the greatest film, the film that I think means as much to the history of film as Shakespeare to the history of theater."