Film and the Holocaust: New Perspectives on Dramas, Documentaries, and Experimental Films
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When representing the Holocaust, the slightest hint of narrative embellishment strikes contemporary audiences as somehow a violation against those who suffered under the Nazis. This anxiety is, at least in part, rooted in Theodor Adorno's dictum that "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." And despite the fact that he later reversed his position, the conservative opposition to all "artistic" representations of the Holocaust remains powerful, leading to the insistent demand that it be represented, as it really was.
And yet, whether it's the girl in the red dress or a German soldier belting out Bach on a piano during the purge of the ghetto in Schindler's List, or the use of tracking shots in the documentaries Shoah and Night and Fog, all genres invent or otherwise embellish the narrative to locate meaning in an event that we commonly refer to as "unimaginable." This wide-ranging book surveys and discusses the ways in which the Holocaust has been represented in cinema, covering a deep cross-section of both national cinemas and genres.
Plaszow concentration camp is scheduled to be shut down, and all the internees are due to be transported to Auschwitz, Schindler negotiates a deal with Goeth, and buys 1,100 Jews. Due to an error in paperwork, however, the women on Schindler’s list are transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. When the women arrive in the camp they are processed, their hair is cut, and they are ordered to disrobe and enter the shower. The sequence invites the sadistic and fetishistic gaze of the spectator. The women are
unrepresentable suffering of Holocaust victims. “That the unspeakable is an inevitable product, or aspect, of language is axiomatic,” Naomi Mandel observes. As language is a human enterprise, the inhuman — in the form of radical evil, infinite good, absolute beauty, or the utter alterity of the divine — poses a specific challenge to the potential of human conceptualization and hence to language. When we say that what the Nazis did to the Jews is unspeakable, we are implicitly identifying this
genres is often measured by the degree to which the audience sensation mimics what is seen on the screen.”3 121 122 Film and the Holocaust In the physicality of the body genres Williams suggests that there is a degree of violence inflicted upon the viewer. The viewer is manipulated in one way or another, and because there is “a sense of over-involvement in sensation and emotion.” In response to the manipulation associated with body genre films we have developed colloquialisms that express the
get involved, finally pushing him out of the room so that she might take her punishment. Just as Nathan demanded an “explanation!” Stingo too will want an explanation, and while he does not exorcise the same sort of violence, his desire to “know,” his insistence, brings Sophie back to the source of the trauma governing her melancholic character. While she is drunk, alone, and sitting in her room with the lights off, Stingo approaches Sophie and says, “Sophie, I want to understand, I’d like to
to take responsibility. Strategies for representing the Holocaust have much to learn here. For there is a delicate balance to reach: it is arguable that explicit and unadulterated representations of horror are imperative — after all, shouldn’t representations of the Holocaust strike us to the very core? But how does one do that without (re)violating the victims? Contemplating the genre of torture porn, Edelstein queries, “Fear supplants empathy and makes us all potential torturers, doesn’t it?”