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"Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah" begins by putting the eponymous journalist/filmmaker's monumental nine-and-a-half-hour documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah (1985), in a quick context with thoughts from the likes of film critic Richard Brody and director Marcel Ophuls. It then dives headlong into a study of its making, with Lanzmann recounting the great emotional toll the seven years of production and five years of editing had on him. It is at once a fascinating portrait of a man openly pessimistic about the world, and a unique distillation of a creative process that yielded one of the most powerful cinematic documents of our time.Written by
The archive footage shown is mostly from the outtakes of Shoah (1985). They are part of the 'Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection' in the 'Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive' of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They are in the public domain now. See more »
Claude Lanzmann, Himself:
I got very close to people, men from the "Sonderkommandos," who were the special unit who were charged with the maintenance of the extermination, the work in the incinerators, who led people up to the gas chambers... The Sonderkommandos who talk in "Shoah" never tell their personal story. They are the spokesmen for the dead.
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Fascinating in-depth exploration of the mind-set that enabled Lanzmann to create the groundbreaking documentary Shoah and some of the choices he had to make in order to achieve what he did. I saw Shoah on video in the 1970s but had forgotten that one of its most interesting aspects other than its length was that it was made entirely without archival footage. This making-of featurette opened my eyes about its other qualities -- mostly qualities in Lanzmann -- that make Shoah the great work of art it is.
Two unforgettable passages: In one Lanzmann describes how it took him months to track down in impossible circumstances a former death camp barber, whom he finally found still working as a barber in a small village. The story of how he found him is fascinating in itself and shows why it took Lanzmann twelve years to make the original documentary. Then he describes how he decided to interview this barber while he was in the act of cutting someone's hair, in order to help elicit sense memories of his time in the camps. The camera slowly moves in on the barber's face as not only his hands but his memory are working and he is asked one question after another. The gradual metamorphosis of his features from flatness to anguish is very moving. There is a sense here, and throughout the movie, that there is much more unsaid.
Later Lanzmann is interviewing a former Sonderkommando who dispassionately and off-handedly, with no emotion whatsoever, as though he is talking about spilt milk, describes piles and piles of naked corpses that were burning in the trenches. Only one thing causes him to break his poker face and speak with any emotion or force, and it's not about any of the people or crimes he witnessed but when he recalls how bitter cold the weather was.
I didn't realize how short the movie was - only 40 minutes. I would have liked more. Lanzmann is a unique artist, uncompromising and incredibly committed to the truth in all its aspects. This aspect of his personality and artistic process is worth a full-length movie. "Spectres" requires a certain level of interest and inquisitiveness from the viewer. It caters to those who tend to think and ponder and evaluate. If you're looking for thrills and the height of drama in their most obvious manifestations, you will be disappointed. To me, there is tremendous drama in what Lanzmann achieved, in the choices he made, and in his artistic process and commitment. Observing these was more dramatic and affecting to me than the most riveting thriller or even the most harrowing holocaust footage. Comcast idiotically gave this film one star in its rating - but if you're not that committed to this topic, or to inquiries about the nature of art and people, and you just want to be entertained, you may not love it either.
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