Monday, September 3, 2007
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As one of the defining events of the 20th century, and one of the most stark examples of human brutality in modern history, the Holocaust has had a profound impact on art and literature over the past 60 years.
German philosopher Theodor Adorno famously commented that "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," but he later retracted this statement. There are some substantial works dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, including the work of survivor Paul Celan, which uses invented syntax and vocabulary in an attempt to express the inexpressible. Celan considered the German language tainted by the Nazis, although it is interesting to note his friendship with Nazi sympathizer and philosopher Martin Heidegger.
The Holocaust has also been the subject of many films, including Schindler's List, Voyage of the Damned, The Pianist, The Sorrow and the Pity, Night and Fog, Shoah, Sophie's Choice, and Life Is Beautiful. A list of hundreds of Holocaust movies is available at the University of South Florida.
The Holocaust has been particularly important theme in cinema in the Central and East European countries, particularly the cinemas of Poland , both the Czech and Slovak halves of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. These nations were either host to concentration camps and/or lost substantial portions of their Jewish populations to the gas chambers and as a result the Holocaust and the fate of Central Europe's Jews has haunted the work of many film directors, although certain periods have lended themselves more easily to exploring the subject. Although some directors were inspired by their Jewish roots, other directors, such as Hungary's Miklós Jancsó, have no personal connection to Judaism or the Holocaust and yet have repeatedly returned to explore the topic in their works.
Early films about the Holocaust include Auschwitz survivor Wanda Jakubowska's semi-documentary The Last Stage (Ostatni etap, Poland, 1947) and Alfréd Radok's hallucinogenic The Long Journey (Daleká cesta, Czechoslovakia, 1948). As Central Europe fell under the grip of Stalinism and state control over the film industry increased, works about the Holocaust ceased to be made until the end of the 1950s (although films about the Second World War generally continued to be produced). Among the first films to reintroduce the topic, were Jiří Weiss's Sweet Light in a Dark Room (Romeo, Juliet a tma, Czechoslovakia, 1959) and Andrzej Wajda's Samson (Poland, 1961).
In the 1960s, a number of Central European films that dealt with the Holocaust either directly or indirectly had critical successes internationally. In 1966, the Slovak-language Holocaust drama Shop on the Main Street (Obchod na korze, Czechoslovakia, 1965) by Ján Kadár and Elmer Klos won a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965 and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film the following year.
While some of these films, such as Shop on the Main Street used a convention film-making style, a significant body of films were bold stylistically and used innovative techniques to dramatise the terror of the period. This included non-linear narratives and narrative ambiguity, as for example in Andrzej Munk's The Passenger (Pasażerka, Poland, 1963) and Jan Němec's Diamonds of the Night (Démanty noci, Czechlovakia, 1964); expressionist lighting and staging, as in Zbynych Brynych's The Fifth Horseman is Fear (...a paty jezdec je Strach, Czechoslovakia, 1964); and grotesquely black humour, as in Juraj Herz's The Cremator (Spalovač mrtvol, Czechoslovakia, 1968).
Literature was an important influence on these films, and almost all of the film examples cited in this section were based on novels or short stories. In Czechoslovakia, five stories by Arnošt Lustig were adapted for the screen in the 1960s, including Němec's Diamonds of the Night.
Although some works, such as Munk's The Passenger, had disturbing and graphic sequences of the camps, generally these films depicted the moral dilemmas that the Holocaust placed ordinary people in and the dehumanising effects it had on society as a whole, rather than the physical tribulations of individuals actually in the camps. As a result, a body of these Holocaust films were interested in those who collaborated in the Holocaust, either by direct action, as for example in The Passenger and András Kovács's Cold Days (Hideg Napok, Hungary, 1966), or through passive inaction, as in The Fifth Horseman is Fear.
The 1970s and 1980s, were less fruitful times for Central European film generally, and Czechoslovak cinema particularly suffered after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion. Nevertheless, interesting works on the Holocaust, and more generally the Jewish experience in Central Europe, were sporadically produced in this period, particularly in Hungary. Holocaust films from this time include Imre Gyöngyössy and Barna Kabay's The Revolt of Job (Jób lázadása, Hungary, 1983), Leszek Wosiewicz's Kornblumenblau (Poland, 1988) and Ravensbrück survivor Juraj Herz's Night Caught Up With Me (Zastihla mě noc, Czechoslovakia, 1986), whose shower scene is thought to be the basis of Spielberg's similar sequence in Schindler's List.
Directors such as István Szabó (Hungary) and Agnieszka Holland (Poland) were able to make films that touched on the Holocaust by working internationally, Szabó with his Oscar-winning Mephisto (Germany/Hungary/Austria, 1981) and Holland with her more directly Holocaust-themed Angry Harvest (Bittere Ernte, Germany, 1984). Also worth noting is the East German-Czechoslovak coproduction Jacob The Liar (Jakob, der Lügner, 1975) in German and directed by German director Frank Beyer but starring the acclaimed Czech actor Vlastimil Brodský. The film was remade in an English-language version in 1999.
A resurgence of interest in Central Europe's Jewish heritage in the post-Communist era has led to a number of more recent features about the Holocaust, such as Wajda's Korczak (Poland, 1990), Szabó's Sunshine (Germany/Austria/Canada/Hungary, 1999) and Jan Hřebejk's Divided We Fall (Musíme si pomáhat, Czech Republic, 2001). Both Sunshine and Divided We Fall are typical of a trend of recent films from Central Europe that asks questions about integration and how national identity can incorporate minorities.
Generally speaking, these recent films have been far less stylised and subjectivised than their 1960s counterparts. For example, Polish director Roman Polanski's The Pianist (France/Germany/UK/Poland, 2002) was noted for its emotional economy and restraint, somewhat surprising to some critics given the over-wrought style of some of Polanski's previous films and Polanski's personal history as a Holocaust survivor.
Central European Film
The massacre of Jews at Babi Yar inspired a poem written by a Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich in his Symphony No. 13.
In 1984, Canadian rock band Rush recorded the song "Red Sector A" on the album Grace Under Pressure. The song is particularly notable for its allusions to The Holocaust, inspired by Geddy Lee's memories of his mother's stories about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, where she was held prisoner.
In Pink Floyd's album The Wall, one of the record's tracks is titled "Waiting for the Worms". This song is set in the middle of the time the main character, Pink, has become a neo-nazi, and the head of a fascist group. The song seems to be set in a march down a main street in Brixton, England, with Pink singing/saying the lyrics through a megaphone. One of the lyrics from the song is, "Waiting! For the final solution to strengthen the strain!"
A song from Arcade Fire's 2007 album Neon Bible titled "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" is rumoured to be about the Holocaust as well, with such lyrics as "Left my name with the border guards/a name that I don't need" , "We'll make it if we run!/Run from the memory" and "been eating in the ghetto on a $100 plate". The music in the song itself seems very Eastern European inspired with string instruments and a military chorus in the background.
Trauma and the arts
Posted by gigihong07 at 12:46 AM