This week, I did a capsule review of Shoah for the Portland Mercury. Shoah is having some rare public showings at the NW Film Center. The 9 1/2-hour documentary about the Holocaust is a rightly revered historical record, telling the story of death camp survivors in a straight-forward manner. The details are harrowing as they are, they require no embellishment, just the human voice to relate the facts. Seeing Shoah was a large inspiration for Steven Spielberg to make Schindler's List (a movie I personally think is fantastic).
You can read what the Mercury printed here.
I like how it turned out, though it's particularly no-nonsense, just-the-facts in approach. Which might best fit the movie. The assignment was for 150 words. That's not a lot when it comes down to it. In fact, I had a different write-up originally that I couldn't find a way to cut. It's 216 words:
Halfway into Claude Lanzmann’s 9 ½-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah, the importance of his monumental undertaking becomes all too clear. An anonymous man emerges from a crowd in front of a Polish church, mere miles from the Treblinka death camps were 400,000 Jews were murdered, to relay a story he heard about a rabbi instructing his people to go with the Nazis willingly as atonement for killing Jesus. It’s an unsettling moment. Lanzmann has been rooting around for just this kind of justification, and there it is. That one of the only two people to escape Treblinka is standing in the group, silently observing, makes it all the more haunting. The technique in Shoah is raw, but it’s not about cinema, it’s about making sure the stories don’t fade away. Lanzmann gathers up survivors, observers, and persecutors and pushes them to tell their version of events. With them, he travels to the notorious camps and ghettoes, tracing the long march of death. Completed in 1985 after a decade of work, Shoah is a towering tribute to those lost. It’s also difficult to sit through, both in terms of content and presentation. The Film Center will be showing it in two parts, and whether you go all day or two days in a row, expect a long haul.
You can see how I worked some of the info around for the final piece. The basics were easy to communicate, but there wasn't much room to get flowery.
It was weird watching Shoah and Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator within a couple of days of each other. Both films touch on basically the same subjects in very different manners, and yet both moved me to consider the evil that men do and the possibility of such evil repeating. I noted in my review of the Chaplin that actions our government has taken since 9/11 seem to come from the same willful blindness that comedian warned about. I had similar thoughts while watching Shoah and listening to how Jews were packed onto trains and whisked away to prisons and slaughterhouses with no one questioning a thing. I couldn't help but think that extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay are really no better. Isn't our government removing people from their lives and imprisoning them for no other reason than because of their race and religion? Most of these victims are never charged with a crime, never given a trial; some have been arrested just because of their name. Have we really learned so little in all this time? And who among us is going to answer for these crimes in future generations? Have we tried to stop it enough, if at all? You can pretend it's for the greater good, but the greater good makes for easy justification when the definitions are malleable. Move the line, there is no penalty.
History may judge us just as unkindly as it judges the people who lived near Treblinka and Auschwitz, who watched the trains roll in full of people and then leave empty, all those lost souls never to be seen again.
Current Soundtrack: The Black Ships, "The Kurofune EP" [free download]; Ride, Nowhere (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
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All text (c) 2011 Jamie S. Rich