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Of recent historical events, few events have been so searing, and thus so difficult to depict faithfully both in nature and scope in film, than the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis. This film tells the story of Hollywood's approach to the subject, starting with its initial pre-war reluctance to alienate the lucrative German market. With World War II, and the discovery of the Nazi horrors, we follow Hollywood's reaction over the decades to the atrocity. Challenged with a tragedy that beggared the imagination of artists and audiences, Hollywood grew from trying to keep it in the abstract to striving to depict it head-on in ways that would be both truthful and respectful with the proper humanity. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
For over a half a century Hollywood films have dealt with Nazism and the Holocaust in complex and often contradictory ways. Marked by outrage and indifference, compassion and ignorance, the need to understand and the desire to forget. And yet while this most horrific chapter in modern world history happened far from America's shores, it has been American movies, perhaps more than any other medium, that have shaped how we understand and remember these events.
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"Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust" (2004) was directed by Daniel Anker and narrated by Gene Hackman. The film is a serious, in-depth exploration of Hollywood's and television's portrayal of the Holocaust. The director presents film clips--both newsreels and commercial films--about Hollywood's response to the Holocaust before, during, and after World War II.
Hollywood is an industry, of course, not a force for or against social justice. Both before and after the war, Hollywood's decisions about portraying the Holocaust hinged on the possibility of profits, or loss of profits, from depicting the Nazi horrors.
Seventy-five years after the rise of Naziism, we forget how much support Fascism then had in the U.S. and in western Europe. Producers, even though many were Jews, feared losing potential markets if they portrayed the true nature of the situation in Germany.
During the war, many filmmakers worked for the Army Signal Corps, and they accomplished great things. However, most American leaders were more interested in defeating the Germans than in saving the Jews and other minorities being shipped to concentration camps.
After the war, an unwritten code of silence arose. Possibly producers believed that an honest portrayal of the Holocaust would alienate audiences. Also, of course, postwar Germany was considered an important ally in the struggle against Communism, and politicians quietly urged that Hollywood turn its attention elsewhere. Another factor in downplaying the Holocaust was the wish to prevent people from asking, "Why didn't we do something?"
It wasn't until the 1970's that television producers realized that people would watch dramas about the Holocaust. Once the unspoken taboo was broken, Hollywood struggled to catch up. However, it's interesting to consider how long it took for films like "The Pawnbroker," "Sophie's Choice," and "Schindler's List" to make it to the screen.
All in all, an excellent, but discouraging film. Worth seeing, but definitely not a feel-good movie. We saw "Imaginary Witness" at the outstanding Rochester Jewish Film Festival. However, it should work well on a small screen
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