Afterimage: Film, Trauma And The Holocaust

Joshua Hirsch
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The appearance of Alain Resnais' 1955 French documentaryNight and Fogheralded the beginning of a new form of cinema, one that used the narrative techniques of modernism to provoke a new historical consciousness.Afterimagepresents a theory of posttraumatic film based on the encounter between cinema and the Holocaust. Locating its origin in the vivid shock of wartime footage,Afterimagefocuses on a group of crucial documentary and fiction films that were pivotal to the spread of this cinematic form across different nations and genres.Joshua Hirsch explores the changes in documentary brought about by cinema verite, culminating in Shoah. He then turns to teh appearance of a fictional posttraumatic cinema, tracing its development through the vivid flashbacks in Resnais'Hiroshima, mon amourto the portrayal of pain and memory inPawnbroker. He excavates a posttraumatic autobiography in three early films by the Hungarian Istvan Szabo. Finally, Hirsch examines the effects of postmodernism on posttraumatic cinema, looking atSchindler's Listand a work about a different form of historical trauma,History and Memory, a videotape dealing with the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.Sweeping in its scope,Afterimagepresents a new way of thinking about film and history, trauma and its representation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0395-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. 1 Introduction to Film, Trauma, and the Holocaust
    (pp. 1-27)

    Of the mass murdering of more than ten million people in German concentration camps, extermination camps, POW camps, euthanasia centers,Einsatzgruppeactions, and Jewish ghettos during the Second World War, there is only one known piece of motion picture footage, lasting about two minutes.¹ It was shot in 1941 by Reinhard Wiener, a German naval sergeant and amateur cinematographer, stationed in Latvia, who had received permission from the navy to film in the area of the fleet. According to testimony given by Wiener in Israel in 1981, he had walked into the town of Liepaja one day in August of...

  6. 2 Night and Fog and the Origins of Posttraumatic Cinema
    (pp. 28-62)

    In film history, myths of origins have been correctly viewed with suspicion, both because of their inherently repressive tendencies, and because of the problem of lost and neglected films. I would argue, however, that there is good evidence supporting the recognition ofNight and Fogas the most important, if not the sole, originator of posttraumatic cinema, not only because of its subject matter and formal innovation, but also because of its extremely wide distribution and profound international impact on both the broad public and intellectuals.

    Before focusing onNight and Fog’sformal innovation of posttraumatic cinema, however, I want...

  7. 3 Shoah and the Posttraumatic Documentary after Cinéma Vérité
    (pp. 63-84)

    While newsreel-type films likeThe Death Campstraumatized the public by constructing their image tracks exclusively from atrocity footage, they failed to distinguish the genocidal aspect of the concentration camps. Claude Lanzmann’sShoah, released forty years later, focuses exclusively on the genocide, but constructs its posttraumatic discourse without a single frame of atrocity footage. What had happened in the intervening years to transform so starkly the relations between a historical trauma, the filmic evidence of that trauma, and its documentary representation?

    Shoahhas most often been seen by critics as an exemplary representation of the Holocaust. It has also been...

  8. 4 The Pawnbroker and the Posttraumatic Flashback
    (pp. 85-110)

    It is no accident that posttraumatic cinema originated in documentary. The indexical mode of representation that is the basis of documentary was necessary to the cinematic relaying of trauma by films like the Wiener footage andThe Death Camps. Night and Fog, too, relayed trauma through indexical reference to atrocity, but did more: it originated a cinematic discourse of trauma through a form of narration that was not in itself bound to a documentary mode of representation. Posttraumatic narration then became available for adaptation by fiction films, in which the referencing of historical reality did not depend on indexical signification....

  9. 5 István Szabó and Posttraumatic Autobiography
    (pp. 111-139)

    In the previous chapter, I argued that a film need not be a documentary in order to document historical trauma.Hiroshima, mon amourandThe Pawnbrokerexperimented with the use of posttraumatic narration to register historical trauma in fiction, expanding the techniques of posttraumatic narration through the semiotic flexibility of the fiction film. István Szabó, Hungary’s most successful filmmaker of the past four decades, subsequently extended the possibilities for registering historical trauma in the fiction film through the genre of autobiographical fiction. In an informal trilogy composed of his second, third, and fourth features, Szabó built on Resnais’s experiments in...

  10. 6 Postmodernism, the Second Generation, and Cross-Cultural Posttraumatic Cinema
    (pp. 140-162)

    Shoahwas arguably the culmination of the modernist, posttraumatic cinema on which the book has focused thus far. It may have felt like the end of the line for Holocaust cinema, but of course it wasn’t. The phenomenal success of Steven Spielberg’sSchindler’s List(1993) launched the dissemination of an unprecedented quantity of films, television programs, and other media about the Holocaust, including the massive database of survivor oral histories collected by Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, and three Academy Award winners for Best Documentary:The Long Way Home(1997),The Last Days(1998),and Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 163-192)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 193-204)
  13. Index
    (pp. 205-213)