To See or Not to See? That is the Question…

ImageCharles Lanzmann directed the documentary Shoah, which is considered one of the foremost films about the Holocaust, in 1985.  Lanzmann’s 9.5 hour film (yes – I said nine and a half hour long film) used only personal testimony and contemporary footage of Holocaust sites.  No historical footage is used at all.  In fact, he is famously quoted as saying the following:

If I had found an actual film, a secret film, since that was strictly forbidden—made by an SS man and showing how 3,000 Jews, men, women, and children, died together, asphyxiated in a gas chamber of the crematorium 2 in Auschwitz—if I found that, not only would I not have shown it, but I would have destroyed it. (Visual Culture and the Holocaust – edited by Barbie Zeilzer – pg 133)

ImageNot ten years after Shoah Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List recreates a scene where the viewer is forced to go through the entry into Auschwitz with a group of women.  We watch their hair being cut.  Being forced to disrobe and then pushed into a shower, but we have heard the rumours along with the women about the gas chambers.  The doors are closed and locked.  The lights go out.  We, like those in the chamber, await the next moment with trepidation.  This scene is on youtube if you are interested in seeing it.  Search for Schindler’s List Shower Scene.

This moment – while powerful – also brings forth so many questions.  Should Spielberg have recreated a moment like this?  Has he truly captured this moment, or does the dramatisation of events like these have the danger of fictionalising truth?

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Night and Fog takes a different approach to both Shoah and Schindler’s List.  Resnais moves between two types of footage – contemporary images of Auschwitz (1950s) and historical footage.  He does not attempt to recreate anything – in fact – the commentary during the contemporary footage refers to how the camera cannot show these moments now.  The camera can only show the outer shell.  The commentary over the historical footage often says little, allowing the power of the image to speak.

Discussion Starter: We spoke in class about the ethics of showing certain images.  Blog about your thoughts about Night and Fog.  Also, what do you think about showing scenes of extreme violence (actually captured on film, or recreated).  Point to examples if you would like.

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