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Concentrationary Cinema

Concentrationary Cinema: Aesthetics as Political Resistance in Alain Resnais'sNight and Fog

Griselda Pollock
Max Silverman
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 358
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  • Book Info
    Concentrationary Cinema
    Book Description:

    Since its completion in 1955, Alain Resnais'sNight and Fog(Nuit et Brouillard) has been considered one of the most important films to confront the catastrophe and atrocities of the Nazi era. But was it a film about the Holocaust that failed to recognize the racist genocide? Or was the film not about the Holocaust as we know it today but a political and aesthetic response to what David Rousset, the French political prisoner from Buchenwald, identified on his return in 1945 as the 'concentrationary universe' which, now actualized, might release its totalitarian plague any time and anywhere? What kind of memory does the film create to warn us of the continued presence of this concentrationary universe? This international collection re-examines Resnais's benchmark film in terms of both its political and historical context of representation of the camps and of other instances of the concentrationary in contemporary cinema. Through a range of critical readings,Concentrationary Cinemaexplores the cinematic aesthetics of political resistance not to the Holocaust as such but to the political novelty of absolute power represented by the concentrationary system and its assault on the human condition.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-352-5
    Subjects: Film Studies, Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Plates from Night and Fog
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xi)
    Richard Raskin

    This new book, illuminating Alain Resnais’sNight and Fogfrom a number of perspectives, is essential not only in that it helps to enrich our understanding of one of the most important documentary films ever made, but also because it calls fresh attention to a film designed to warn against the emergence of new forms of racism. And unlike other representations of the Holocaust which position audiences in a self-exempting stance of righteous indignation,Night and Fogcalls upon its viewers to ask difficult questions of themselves and to search their own souls for tell-tale signs of the racist ‘contagion’....

  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Introduction: Concentrationary Cinema
    (pp. 1-54)
    Griselda Pollock and Max Silverman

    Aconcentrationarycinema disturbs the slumber induced by post-war reconstruction by showing us the novel message of theconcentrationarysystem in which we have toseewhat it means that ‘everything is [now] possible’. It is a cinema utilizing radical techniques of montage and disorientation, camera movements and counterpointed commentary to expose invisible knowledge hidden by a normalized, documentary presentation of a real that could become bland and opaque unless agitated by disturbing juxtapositions and prolonged visual attentiveness. It connects the living to the dead, past to present, here to there in order to shock us out of comforting dichotomies...

  8. Chapter 1 Night and Fog: A History of Gazes
    (pp. 55-70)
    Sylvie Lindeperg

    Writing a historical analysis of the filmNight and Fogpresents several challenges to the film historian – developing the ideas on the fate and migration of archives which I broached in my bookClio de 5 à 7,implementing a ‘history of gazes’, and gaining a historian’s understanding of the question of the work of art.¹ In my book-length study of Resnais’s film, published in French in 2007, I resolved these challenges through the manner in which I structured the presentation of material and through the conclusions I was able to draw from my extensive examination of the archives, documents,...

  9. Chapter 2 Memory of the Camps: The Rescue of an Abandoned Film
    (pp. 71-83)
    Kay Gladstone

    Memory of the Campsis the title allocated by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in 1984 to an officially commissioned documentary on the liberation of the German concentration camps which was assembled in London during 1945 but abandoned before completion.¹ Five of the film’s intended six reels survive in the form of a fine-cut print without titles, credits or soundtrack. In 1952, these five reels were transferred from the film vaults of the War Office to the IWM’s film archive, at the same time as the Museum assumed responsibility for the permanent preservation of all the record film shot by...

  10. Chapter 3 Opening the Camps, Closing the Eyes: Image, History, Readability
    (pp. 84-125)
    Georges Didi-Huberman

    The 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was commemorated in 2005. Pilgrimages were made and minutes of silence observed. Numerous speeches were made by political figures. People gathered together. Some books were republished. Certain images were seen again. For several weeks, magazines put the horror of the camps on their covers, as though this horror could be used as a ‘cover’– and to cover what in any case? Some films and archival documents were seen again, which are in fact always good to see again. The television depicted a multitude of ‘subjects’ and ‘panels’ with the kinds of time...

  11. Chapter 4 Resnais and the Dead
    (pp. 126-139)
    Emma Wilson

    In an essay published in theCahiers du Cinémavolume on Cinema and the Shoah, Marie-José Mondzain considers art’s response to trauma and death. In thinking about the representation of the Shoah, and the dead matter of the archive, Mondzain emphasizes the importance of questioning through art, and the questioning of all the spectres of emotion conjured through the artistic process, both creation and reception. She suggests that we should speak not of the problem of the Shoah, but of the question of the Shoah, and that this should be a question we keep open, unanswered, like an anxiety. It...

  12. Chapter 5 Night and Fog and the Concentrationary Gaze
    (pp. 140-151)
    Libby Saxton

    Alain Resnais’sNight and Foghas frequently been seen as an exemplary template for ethical representation and the solicitation of moral responses through cinema. For Jacques Rivette and Serge Daney, Resnais’s aesthetic strategies provide a corrective to an immoral reframing in Gillo Pontecorvo’sKapo(1960).¹ Other critics have argued thatNight and Fogstages an ethical encounter for the viewer by refusing to offer any omniscient or totalizing perspective on the Nazi camps. Such approaches have deflected consideration away from the historical and political import of the drama of looking played out within the images themselves. This chapter attempts to...

  13. Chapter 6 Auschwitz as Allegory in Night and Fog
    (pp. 152-182)
    Debarati Sanyal

    Night and Fogcloses with a disquieting admonition: the narrative voice declares that we who have watched these images of atrocity fail to see the ongoing reality of concentrationary terror as it unfolds in different times and places, just as we fail to hear the endless cry of human suffering:

    Those of us who feign to take hope again as the image fades, as though there were a cure for the concentrationary plague. Those of us who feign to believe that all this happened only once, at a certain time and in a certain place, and those who do not...

  14. Night and Fog Film Stills
    (pp. None)
  15. Chapter 7 Night and Fog and Posttraumatic Cinema
    (pp. 183-198)
    Joshua Hirsch

    When I speak aboutNight and Fog, I speak as the child of a Jewish Holocaust survivor. I state this not to claim a special privilege, but rather to acknowledge my position and thus the limitations of my work. In 1944, at the age of 16, my father was deported with his family from Hungary to Auschwitz. When he was liberated at Buchenwald in 1945, only one cousin remained from his extended family. No photograph remains to show that my grandparents, my uncle, and all the rest had ever existed. Their images existed only in my father’s decaying memory. In...

  16. Chapter 8 Fearful Imagination: Night and Fog and Concentrationary Memory
    (pp. 199-213)
    Max Silverman

    In an essay entitled ‘The Concentration Camps’ published in 1948, Hannah Arendt criticizes the way in which the stock responses to those returning from the camps simply assimilate their stories to psychological and other normalizing narratives of understanding:

    There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible by means of liberal rationalizations. In each one of us, there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense. We attempt to understand elements in present or recollected experience that simply surpass our powers of understanding. We attempt to classify as criminal a thing which, as we...

  17. Chapter 9 Disruptive Histories: Toward a Radical Politics of Remembrance in Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog
    (pp. 214-237)
    Andrew Hebard

    A scandal occurred at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956.¹ A short film produced a long series of problems that reverberated in the European press for the next two years. The film was Alain Resnais’sNight and Fog(1955), a 32-minute documentary on the Holocaust. Banned from the festival because of German protests, the film made public a whole process of historical repression. The initial complaint pressed by the German foreign office claimed that the film would incite anti-German hatred. A combination of these protests, Cold War anxiety, and the French government’s own reservations about archival material in the film...

  18. Chapter 10 Cinema as a Slaughterbench of History: Night and Fog
    (pp. 238-257)
    John Mowitt

    Some films, such as what are now referred to as ‘blockbusters’, bear or solicit repeated viewing because they are marketed that way. One returns to them – even repeatedly – because the prospect of not being part of their ‘market share’, their ‘draw’ is, if not intolerable, then certainly unacceptable. Oddly, it is as if we refuse, in relation to such films, to abandon the very sociality whose destruction they both herald and, at the same time, defer.

    Other films, such as Resnais’sNight and Fog, bear or solicit repeated viewing because repeated viewing forms their very subject matter. It is not...

  19. Chapter 11 Death in the Image: The Responsibility of Aesthetics in Night and Fog (1955) and Kapò (1959)
    (pp. 258-301)
    Griselda Pollock

    In his essay against commitment –engagement– in art written in 1962, Theodor Adorno addressed the problem of aesthetics and suffering: ‘I have no wish to soften the saying that to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric: it expressesin negative formthe impulse which inspires committed literature.’¹ This debate between Sartre and Adorno about politics and aesthetics, between existentialist commitment and disenchanted Marxism, between political intentionality and self-consciously artistic formalism may seem remote to us today. None the less, it introduces the key question I aim to propose in this chapter: responsibility in the image towards the atrociously dead...

  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 302-320)
  21. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 321-324)
  22. Index
    (pp. 325-338)