Dec

29

Imaginary WitnessIn "Imaginary Witness," now at the IFC, Greenwich Village, opening January 2008, the documentarians have produced a technically sophisticated, visually imaginative, scholarly documentary that manages in the space of 100 minutes or so to investigate the belief system and history of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of Hollywood, the development of the anti-Semitic meme conflict (more accurately, the age-old revivified hate-Jews bloodlust conflict) and the aftermath of the H!tlerian Anschluss. The documentary's enormous achievement is in bringing all this together to show incontrovertibly the total misunderstanding of the US role that shaped the policy follies of the West in general and the U.S. and U.K. in particular. The potentially deadly results are summed up in the foreboding title. "Imaginary Witness." They marinated in their lassitude juice. They were pathetic witnesses of no value whatsoever, until it was far, far too late.

This viewer, considering herself knowledgeable, learnt that the Hollywood of the late 1930s and 40s were gingerly on the side of the Germans so as not to antagonize their film-going publics. Those who declared alarm over the rise of death camps and rumblings with statistics of dead and collected Jews were treated like prior versions of Kucinich-nutter Smurfs. Even flanks of bearded, congregational rabbis.

Narrated authoritatively by Gene Hackman, this film culls thousands of newsreels, films, TV serials, broadcasts and archival footage of Hollywood greats past and present to assemble a damning stab of shame at the lacklustre, not to say supine, reaction of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Congress, and the public in general to the obscene plight of Europe's Jews.

ShoahThe standout reference I expected to see, the nine-hour documentary "Shoah," was entirely absent. I puzzled why. "Shoah" was not a Hollywood product, however: Produced by Claude Lanzmann in France and Poland, it fell outside the bounds of the archival deconstructions in "Imaginary."

Again and again through the lenser, the lucid and scalpel-sharp commentary and analysis by Fordham Law Professor Thane Rosenbaum, a personal favorite of mine from numerous symposia and film festivals he has helmed a few blocks from my home, himself the child of Survivors, pierced the Stygian black and white captures of sorrow and pity.

Featured throughout are film luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin ("The Great Dictator") and Stephen Speilberg ("Schindler's List"), and the thoughtful exegeses of other great analysts and scriveners who sat in on the writing of the plays, or screenplays, film or parody. Painful irony of the tacit cooperation accorded H!tler when he requested that all Jewish members of crews working in the European field be fired, and all were, was that every single one of the executives so doing were themselves emigres from Europe. All Jews.

"The Pawnbroker," "I was a Nazi Spy," "The Pianist," "Anne Frank," "Judgment at Nurenberg," "To Have and Have Not" and on and on. Not so many. But each adding to the canon of documenting the unheard of and unthinkable. Until very late in the game, all US films that dealt with the Jewish question were all in 'gentleman's agreement' code. Not one even mentioned the word "Jew" at all. Instead, the Power Lunchers That Be in filmland called the subjects of their risky A- and B-list films "non-Aryans." Don't hurt the feelings of the Germans. Watch those European filmgoing audiences. Globalize the suffering of Anne Frank so she is not too "ethnic."

This is not a rehash of other omnibus films on WWII. Much that is exposed is first-time compilation. It captured only seven people in the audience at the public showing at the International Film Centre in NYC, one person having the temerity to chew popcorn. But this is a film that will command its enduring, if deathly silent, audience.

And that email that's circulating, about how Ike wanted to capture and document the release of the death-camps, so ''no one would forget what occurred there," in 50 or 60 years? Turns out it's that rarity today: It's actually true. He sent in a flotilla of Hollywood cameramen to record what they saw.


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