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Night and Fog

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I just saw this for the first time.

Incredible, haunting WWII images.

An amazing film which makes me ask so many questions when looking for the right answers.

Much of the footage was made by the Nazis themselves. How did Resnais come across it? Why would they have wanted this footage in the first place? To record their heroic deeds for future generations, would be my guess. If your biology is right (Arian, non-Jew) then you are in the in-crowd, you are a member for life, you need to make babies and your babies need to see our history of world purification. And anyway, why not? We're going to win the damn war in the end.

The footage got me thinking about other footage I know from that era and from Germany in that period, which also raises more questions.

It has been said that media propaganda led the way for the nazi groupthink that followed. How much did Leni Riefenstahl know when she made Triumph of the Will? How much did Murnau know when he was making films there in the mid-twenties? When did Germany head from the most beautifully captured aspects of Film Expressionism into propaganda Nazi mind control?

I recommend everyone on the earth see Night and Fog at a certain point. Think: kinda like Schindler's List, except that everything is real. The blankets made from human hair, the gold in Jewish skulls (teeth), the soap, the recycling from the bones of human bodies -- how efficient. I guess that's just evidence of what spurned this mess of modernity. The Holocaust illustrates the rationalization of society through gas chambers which were built in the age of Industrialization.

It is wild that these camps were built only ten years after the propaganda films began.

It makes me wonder what is being built in my back yard.

-s.

A link to the post which was close to a Night and Fog thread, but not close enough: Here, and the IMDB page here.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Thanks for your thoughts, Stef, this is an extraordinary half-hour film, and one of the first and definitive modern "essay films," among other things. Your comments immediately brought forth so many unforgettable images from the film.

Much of the footage was made by the Nazis themselves.  How did Resnais come across it?  Why would they have wanted this footage in the first place?  To record their heroic deeds for future generations, would be my guess.
I think you're exactly right. The Nazis were obsessively structured and documenting, and embraced technology immediately (IBM was a big help); one of their greatest crimes was the systematic destruction of their records (papers, films, photographs, diagrams, files, etc.) in the last days of the war. This suppression of information partly explains is why there has been such a strong 50-year effort to "tell the story," especially from the point-of-view of the dwindling eye witnesses.

It has been said that media propaganda led the way for the nazi groupthink that followed.  How much did Leni Riefenstahl know when she made Triumph of the Will?  How much did Murnau know when he was making films there in the mid-twenties?  When did Germany head from the most beautifully captured aspects of Film Expressionism into propaganda Nazi mind control?
Well the Nazis didn't come to power until '33, long after Murnau had emigrated, but one of the reasons they came to power was the terrible post-WWI social conditions in Germany throughout the '20s that did indeed inspire much of the extraordinarily creative German expression we still revere today. And a whole genre of heroic mythmaking arose called the "mountain film" (many examples of which starred Riefenstahl) that celebrated larger-than-life athletic virtues and conquest and eternal virtues the Nazis drew heavily upon. Many of Fritz Lang's films are especially interesting as subtle critiques of mounting Nazism in the early '30s. But like many artists, he eventually left the country after the Nazis came to power, while other "artists" (like Riefenstahl) courted them.

I guess that's just evidence of what spurned this mess of modernity.  The Holocaust illustrates the rationalization of society through gas chambers which were built in the age of Industrialization.
Well put--the clear, systematic organization of it all, involving the work of millions on every level of society, is incredibly sobering in the film.

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I greatly appreciated both works, and I agree that "Night and Fog" needs to be seen by every holocaust-debunker out there, to set them straight.

However, I LOVE Last Year at Marienbad, and am bummed not much has been written about it in this thread.

--Nick


Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Last year, some friends and I put together a series of essay films for a small cine club I was hosting, and we began with Night and Fog. I'd never seen it before and was grateful for the opportunity to discuss it (for, like, 2 1/2 hours) immediately afterwards.

Our longest debate was over the shots of shoes, shaving kits, eyeglasses, etc. (I'm working from memory here.) What especially impressed me was the way Resnais constructed that sequence. As I recall, the first few shots are static photos, then he ends on an image of piles of hair -- an image that appears at first to also be static, until the camera begins to pan, revealing more and more and more and more human hair.

One segment in our group felt that the sequence was designed to make audiences identify personally with the victims. Something like, "Hey, I have hair and shoes. I could have been a victim, too." The other segment (myself included) thought that the sequence was constructed very deliberately to short-circuit that kind of identification. Identification (or empathy) is important, of course, but it's also easy. All movies make us identify with a character. As I watched that shot of the hair, my intellectual powers failed me. At some point, I was no longer able to recognize or understand what I was looking at. It was too much. That's why I think Night and Fog is the only great Holocaust film.

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It really is the only good Holocaust film DH. I have a great article in the bib. of that stack on Resnais that is still awaiting a final edit. It places Night and Fog in the context of contemporary memory and historiography theory. I am generalizing here, but there are two historiographical approaches to human tragedy. The first is embodied in the Holocaust Museum in DC; it memorializes with no sense of closure. Memory in this context becomes a constant rehearsal of tragedy in a way that seeks to prevent such a tragedy occuring again (arguably the approach in Schindler's List). The second approach occured in German thinking and European theology post-Holocaust. It sought to define the socio-political mechanisms that led to the Holocaust, expose them, and permanently vilify them in the public arena.

The problem with the first is that no sort of closure is ever reached, historiography becomes a way of generationally ripping the scab from the wound. The problem with the second is that it reduces the tragedy to its material and historical components, thus creating a distance between "us" personally and "it" as a thing in history that had explainable social and physical motivations.

The article very cogently argues that Night and Fog strikes a perfect balance between both. It rides the razor edge between the two extremes, somehow discovering the cathartic tension between both.

Whenever I watch Mr. Death, I can't help but think back to the footage Resnais' footage. Different shots, but same places. I wonder if Morris had this in mind as he was shooting on location.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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However, I LOVE Last Year at Marienbad, and am bummed not much has been written about it in this thread.

--Nick

We have scoured that one somewhere, it may have been on the previous version of this board.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Nick,

This wasn't necessarily meant as a slam on Marienbad. The first thing I thought of when starting the thread was that I've only seen one other film by Resnais that I know of, and that it is such a different film from Night and Fog that it is hard to even believe the two are by the same director. Night and Fog really wants to horrify you in its description accounting for what was very recent history at that time. The feeling in it is so immense that it overpowers you. The feeling is that of a giant question mark that is too large to fathom.

I'm still trying to figure out what Last Year in Marienbad was trying to accomplish. I'm not against the film, I just don't get it. But the fact that Resnais is able to pull off both styles so easily speaks to his well-roundedness.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Resnais is a filmmaker I would love to spend a month or two exploring. Unfortunately, given the current state of his DVD releases, I would have to learn French and/or move to Paris to do so.

Stef, give Hiroshima, Mon Amour a try. It's a beautiful film, and it seems to live somewhere in the gap you've described that separates Night and Fog from Marienbad.

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Thanks, Darren. I've moved it to the top of my queue.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I hate to say it in public, but Hiroshima mon amour is an even better film than Night and Fog, please comment on it after you have seen it.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I hate to say it in public, but Hiroshima mon amour is an even better film than Night and Fog, please comment on it after you have seen it.

though Hiroshima is quite painful too, it's a beautiful movie, I love the opening scene while the couple covered by dust and the documentary about effect on Hiroshima after the bombing, a question comes to mind, what does the ending mean when they talk to each other that she is Nevers and he is Hiroshima???

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That is a tough one, but one of the tensions in the film is based on two differing geographical locations that represent two different men. Apparently, this young lady had an horrid affair with a German soldier in Nevers (a city in France) before coming to Japan and meeting this current lover. As she walks around Hiroshima, she rehearses the awfulness of this experience (because of the affair her parents abused her and locked her in the cellar). The horror of Hiroshima elicits these memories from her. In the act of remembering what happened to Hiroshima, she realizes what it means to remember any awful thing, and she encounters how it is that awful memories come to define us.

So when they each claim a respective city, they are defining themselves in relation to each other. They are each claiming the awful guilt that has defined their present experience. These place names lock them into cycles of rememberance that they cannot escape. Yet even though they can't escape these things, they can share them with each other.

Something like that. Resnais is tough, and he often doesn't have a definable point to the dialogue he chooses to include. He is just trying to demonstrate the keenly modern sort of guilt that was literally born in the ashes of WW II.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Similar to a concept played out in Night and Fog, I feel as if I am revisiting the past by posting in this thread. I am able to continue conversing with some great friends and memories through a conversation that began and ended in 2005.

Stef ~ thanks for inviting me to this thread.

I am in complete agreement with all those who have posted previously, what an excellent, thought provoking film. All of the comments perfectly express what I felt and thought during this recent viewing experience. I think a good documentary, or any film for that matter (fiction or nonfiction), will often elicit responses of a more thoughtful role in the viewer.

This is a film about memory and historical juxtapositions of time, which can engage the idea of time/life (or the memory of) not being linear. However, in the process of recalling a specific time the narrator makes it known that it becomes nearly impossible to really remember every detail while, at the same time, reinforcing the notion of how memory allows one to look at life from a non-linear perspective. Visually juxtaposing the present with the past only emphasizes the aspect of how we remember as well as what we remember.

I am absolutely enthralled when I see the incorporative use of found art, in this case archival footage. Maybe I shouldn


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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I just watched Night and Fog for the first time this evening, and the ever-expanding shot of human hair is an image I will never forget. I'm about to embark on reading through Paul Ricoeur's massive tome Memory, History, Forgetting, which explores the ethics of remembering and forgiveness, particularly in light of the Holocaust. One commentator on Ricoeur compares this film with Lanzmann's Shoah as two very different approaches to the act of remembering, so I planned to watch them both alongside reading the book.

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Oh wow, I would love to talk to you about the Ricoeur book sometime (if you're ever in southern Ontario again). I love the Renais film and I read excerpts of Ricoeur's book during my PhD but would love some more insight. It is indeed heavy stuff. Literally.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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5 hours ago, Anders said:

Oh wow, I would love to talk to you about the Ricoeur book sometime (if you're ever in southern Ontario again). 

The 2020 Film-Philosophy conference is happening in Toronto this upcoming summer, hosted by John Caruana and Mark Cauchi. I've submitted a paper on the Dardennes, so if it gets accepted, I'll be back in Toronto in July. You should submit something too!

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On 1/30/2020 at 3:13 AM, Joel Mayward said:

The 2020 Film-Philosophy conference is happening in Toronto this upcoming summer, hosted by John Caruana and Mark Cauchi. I've submitted a paper on the Dardennes, so if it gets accepted, I'll be back in Toronto in July. You should submit something too!

I did! And I plan on attending to hang with John and Mark regardless of whether my paper gets in. 

John was my external examiner on my defence, and I feel very fortunate to have him as an advocate and mentor.

Edited by Anders

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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