Monday, April 21, 2014

"Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust": from Charlie Chaplin (and earlier) to Steven Spielberg

Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust” (2004, directed by Daniel Anker) is most interesting in its presentation of the early days of the issue. 
In the 1930s, the production code prevented Hollywood studios from presenting any country in an unfavorable light politically, because Hollywood wanted to be able to sell its films overseas.  Warner Brothers broke the ice slightly with “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and MGM followed with “The Mortal Storm”, which did not specifically mention Jews. Nevertheless, MGM got what it wished for, a ban on all its films in Germany.

Charley Chaplain broke the ice because he was rich enough to produce his own film with “The Great Dictator” (1940), in which he shows a caricature of Hitler holding a translucent globe of the world and tossing it in the air like a beach toy. 

The war and early post war years were marked by the way the US government tried to enlist Hollywood to send the right message, to support the war effort.  After the war, the government sponsored a tour by some of Hollywood executives of the concentration camps. Film was seen as the ultimate medium to communicate a political or moral message, but it would be a long time before artists and filmmakers could say what they wanted (like I expect to).

Over the years, the treatment of the Holocaust, and the nature to show it as an absolute evil, became more intense.  The documentary discusses many important films, including “The Diary of Anne Frank” (or “Dairy of a Young Girl”), “Judgment at Nuremberg” (which was first a TV series), the miniseries “Holocaust” (which persuaded Germany to end the statute of limitations on war crimes), “Sophie’s Choice” (with the bloodless horror of the “choice” scene which I remember seeing in Dallas), and “Schindler’s List”. 


The film (distributed by Koch Lorber) can be viewed on Netflix Instant Play. 

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