Mar 28, 2017
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Hitchcock Helmed First Holocaust Doc
by Doniphan Blair
Alfred Hitchcock on set around the time of the filming 'German Concentration Camps Factual Survey'. photo: courtesy A. Singer
AS HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN, WHEN
Allied troops liberated the concentration camps in 1945, army and newsreel cameramen filmed it for what was to be an earth-shaking, revelatory documentary.
Masterminded by Sidney Bernstein, an English officer who went on to found the London-based Granada Group and become a media baron, he enlisted Stewart McAllister, a well-know documentary editor, and other film luminaries, notably Alfred Hitchcock.This would have been Hitch's only documentary.
Hitchcock was originally called Treatment Adviser, for his structuring of what was a very complicated film, although he was ultimately credited as Director. He came on board between his 1945 production of "Spellbound" and "Notorious", in 1946, which featured Ingrid Bergman as the daughter of an American Nazi expunging her guilt by seducing an ex-Nazi and helping bust a Nazi cabal in Rio de Janiero.
"I had felt that I needed to make some contribution," Hitchcock notes in the new documentary, "Night Will Fall" (1945/2014, 74 min),
"Night Will Fall" was directed by André Singer, who has been praised for his success in bringing together the many elements. His other notable work is "Forbidden Rites" (1999), a television documentary series for National Geographic.
Andre Singer, director of 'Night Will Fall' on set in Auschwitz. photo: courtesy A. Singer
As the Allies conquered Germany, they realized the specter of Nazism would have to be tackled psychologically through propaganda. When the Brits liberated Bergen-Belsen, in April 1945, the Psychological Warfare Division was there, filming everything, including the 10,000 dead and 15,000 dying.
They also shot at Dachau in Germany, Auschwittz, in Poland, and elsewhere for the chilling and understated documentary with the odd title of "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey",
. Intended to be the mother of all newsreels, it would expose German crimes and inform the people of the world why Germany had to be unconditionally defeated.
But it was never released; indeed, it was banned.
The thing was: VDay, or Victory Day (May 8th 1945) became a public holiday in Europe and touched off a celebration of unprecedented proportions. Indeed, it was still going strong when this author's mother was in Paris, in May 1946, and his father arrived in 1947.
Allied authorities often forced German civilians out to the camps to see what the "master race" had wrought in their name as well as to dig graves and haul bodies on occasion. Intended as a re-educational piece, "Camps Factual Survey" addressed them directly several times.
But, a film of this scope is not an easy edit, even with Hitchcock at the helm, and it was still unfinished in September, 1945. Although many European municipalities were still in complete chaos, de-Nazification was coming to a close, reconstruction was starting and Germans were needed as allies with the Cold War looming.
British cinematographer at work in Bergen-Belsen. photo: courtesy A. Singer
Moreover, as Bernstein and his superiors conceded, the world wasn't ready for the buzz kill of learning about the full depravity of what happened.
Indeed, for the next 30 years, there were only a few films, documentaries or features, covering the Holocaust, notably "Night and Fog", the 1955 dark, poetic short by one of the French New Wave's emerging masters, Alan Resnais.
It wasn't until the television mini-series "The Holocaust" in 1978 that the gates to Auschwitz were finally opened, metaphorically, and the flood of Holocaust-related material we are familiar with today started.
Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter and produced by directors Brett Ratner (most recently "Hercules" 2014) and Stephen Frears ("My Beautiful Launderette" 1985, "Philomena" 2013), "Night Will Fall" tells the story of this production, cutting between the "Camps Factual Survey"'s raw footage and interviews with survivors—several of whom identify themselves in the footage— and liberating soldiers.
British soldiers on body-digging duty in 'Camps Factual Survey'. photo: courtesy A. Singer
It also has well-restored and rarely-seen archival footage and interviews with the original filmmakers including Bernstein, Hitchcock and the director Billy Wilder.
"I remember [Hitchcock] said, 'Make the shots as long as possible,'" Peter Tanner, an editor who worked on the film, recalled, "'to show there was no trickery'." Evidently, being the "Master of Suspense" had practical applications.
Singer also shows much of the original film and the contemporary reaction to footage the Allies found too shocking for public consumption. But now we can.
"Night Will Fall" will premiere on Monday, January 26 at 9 pm on HBO with a second showing HBO2 on Tues. Jan. 27 to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The cine-archeology started in the 1980s, when the original reels, which had been stored at England's Imperial War Museum, where first unearthed. Although the final reel was missing, a fragment entitled "Memory of the Camps" was shown on US television in 1985.
In 2011, when the museum began to digitize and restore "Camps Factual Survey", they found the sixth reel and reconstructed it from the original shot list. Indeed, all the material has now been scanned from the original negatives. Even the original narration was preserved, replete with factual inaccuracies and political biases, rerecorded by actor Jasper Britton.
Although obviously faked, this shot of a cinematographer in a plane still shows how the iconic image of rows and rows of Auschwitz barracks was filmed. photo: courtesy A. Singer
"Night Will Fall" was screened at the LA's Museum of Jewish Heritage on January 15th where an "emotional Ratner appeared near tears introducing the project," according to the Hollywood Reporter (1/17/15).
“'The saddest thing is that the survivors [of the Holocaust] here today have to watch events 70 years later [like] the atrocities in France,' he said, referring to the Kosher-market attack there."
It will be shown at the Berlin Bianale in February. While "Night Will Come" will be written off by some as CGI, much as they claim the moon landings were faked, both it and the original footage are essential to understanding a history now repeating itself with the extermination-oriented but very popular Islamic State.
Doniphan Blair is a writer, film magazine publisher, designer and filmmaker ('
Our Holocaust Vacation
'), who can be reached
Posted on Jan 21, 2015 - 03:04 AM