Documentary Films Have Played an Important Part in Determining the Way We Construct History and Memory. in What Ways Do Documentary Films Dealing with the Holocaust Determine Contemporary Understandings of That Historical Event?

Topics: Raul Hilberg, Nazi Germany, Oskar Schindler Pages: 9 (2965 words) Published: April 1, 2006
Documentary films and their representations of the Holocaust have served not only to speak their ‘truth' of the atrocities but also to document changing paradigms of social thought concerning Holocaust ‘truth'.

Holocaust History and its documentation:

Theodor Adorno's famous 1949 injunction that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric' is indicative of the initial approaches of documentary to the subject matter. The first documentary footage of the Holocaust was shot as Allied troops entered the camps of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, but this footage was archived by British Ministry of Information, wary of the political and social repercussions of such explicit imagery in a war-torn and divided Germany. These censorious tendencies, leading to what is often phrased as a voluntary and collective ‘social amnesia' have traditionally followed such culturally cataclysmic events as the Holocaust. As Todorov examines in his seminal work Facing the Extreme this cultural will to erase serves to deepen the wounds. By only allowing literal understandings of the history, and ignoring the exemplary and processed history we disseminate the ‘consequences of the initial trauma over all the moments of existence.' Subsequently both historians and documentarians have sought to redress errors and point out lacunae in the constructed narrative of the Holocaust, producing a new knowledge of history and its rhetoric . Documentary film, initially, as the self-proclaimed harbinger of historical ‘truth', has sought to ‘reactivate' and analyse the events of the Holocaust in modally divergent ways. The development of the documentary form, however, its divergence from connoting completeness and increasing interest in displaying historical subjectivity and contradiction, signposts for the contemporary audience not only changing attitudes towards documentary but also towards the Holocaust. From initial shock, greater acceptance of the Jewish persecution, and eventual understanding of broader European and social complicity in the events of the Holocaust, the contemporary audience appreciates not only the immensity of the systematic killing but takes on an individual role in the evolving understanding and shaping of the social historical record through documentary film.

Night and Fog and The Sorrow and the Pity: Elucidating the trauma

Night and Fog (1955) by Alain Resnais is a revealing and ‘aestheticised' exploration of the Holocuast memory. The film explores issues of remembrance, responsibility and history through its edifying use of archival footage. Resnais structures the documentary with fourteen brief colour segments showing Auschwitz in 1955 interrupted by thirteen black and white newsreels, photographs and other visual documents. The effect on the audience here, particularly of the film's époque, is to provocatively prod them into locating, both in memory and place, the atrocities and, to comprehend their memories of the event. Until Resnais' film, these documents had not been released publicly, and the foregrounding of footage with, then, present-day images of Auschwitz reinforces for the audience the visual confrontation with the atrocity. These contemplative qualities are enforced by both the chilling remoteness of the score, written by German composer Hanns Eisler and Jean Cayrol's narrative text . These three elements: the score, the narration and the contrast between colour and black-and-white footage serve to heighten the confrontation with the horrors of what is being addressed. The matter-of-fact, delivery of the narration by actor Michel Bouquet, Resnais directed him to speak in an unaffected tone, and the score, where "the more violent the images the gentler is the music," evoke irony but most importantly force focus upon the image. The film takes on an elegiac purpose in this, and whilst it is ostensibly a work of documentary it is, in my opinion, also a carefully ordered work of art. The documentary's cogency...

Bibliography: Armes, Roy The Cinema of Alain Resnais, London: A. Zwemmer Limited, 1968
Bruzzi, Stella Contemporary Documentary: A Critical Introduction, Routledge 2000
Gubar, Susan Poetry after Auschwitz: Remembering What One Never Knew. Jewish Literature and Culture Series. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003
Hoberman, Jim, "Schindler 's List: Myth, Movie and Memory," Village Voice 39, no
LaCapra, Dominick History and Memory After Auschwitz, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998
Rabinowitz, Paula Wreckage Upon Wreckage: History, Documentary and the Ruins of Memory in History and Theory; Vol. 32, Issue 2, 1993
Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
Williams, Linda "Mirrors without Memories: Truth, History and The Thin Blue Line" in Barry Keith Grant & Jeanette Sloniowski (eds), Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video Wayne State UP, Detroit, 1998
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