November 22, 2006

Reading Lips: Deciphering Silent Films

New computer program enables historians to learn the dialogue spoken in Adolf Hitler's intimate moments in the silent films shot while at the Berghof--and the possibility for more revelations from other silent films is endless:
New computer software that can read lips at almost any angle has helped make sense of one of the Second World War's lingering mysteries —Hitler's home movies.

The technology allows the dialogue to be dubbed on to the silent films, many of them made by Eva Braun at Hitler's mountain retreat, the Berghof. With the new soundtrack, Hitler can be heard encouraging young children towards a life in the military, criticising even his closest henchmen and flirting with Braun.

. . .

He is also seen teasing Braun about a screening in his cinema at the Berghof. "I understand you didn't like the movie last night," he says. "I know what you want. You want Gone with the Wind."
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Much of the footage is taken on a terrace at the Bavarian retreat, with Hitler and his guests relaxing in the sunlight. He finds time to flirt with Braun, saying: "What are you filming an old man for? I should be filming you."
Other new quotes emerge from the previously "silent" films--
"You talk about a dress that does not fit … imagine my problems," he says with exasperation to his lover.

The technology that has allowed the dialogue to be reconstructed is called ALR — automated lip reading — and has been developed by Frank Hubner, a speech recognition expert. The computer recognises shapes that lips make, turns them into sounds and matches these to a dictionary.

When actors voice the script that this generates, the result is home movies all the more chilling for their apparent happy domesticity. Hitler is shown reading to children, and playing with them. "You be a brave boy," he says to a small Aryan child. "You will be a fine soldier one day."
Other top Nazi officials are similarly exposed:
Himmler is seen telling Heidrich and Wolff: "I'm very busy with this project and that project." A disturbing statement from the man in charge of the Final Solution.

Film shot towards the end of the war shows Hitler complaining about tremors in his arm, giving more credence to the theory that he was suffering from Parkinson's Disease.

What also becomes clear is that Hitler did not hold back from criticising his inner circle. He is scathing about Himmler's enthusiasm for archaeological digs to establish the origins of the Aryan race but reserved his bitchiest remark for Goering.

"I looked at him across the dining table and then I knew that what they say was true," he says, "that pigs eat the flesh of their own."
No doubt the impetus for bringing Hitler's silent films back to life and revealing hidden dialogue not recorded with sound or in transcripts comes as a bonus for historians and others wishing to tease out any additional information from these historical records. Any video recording, including the CCTV video recordings used in criminal prosecutions or any other video source without clear audio (or none at all), can now be analyzed wih one additional layer of scrutiny.

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