Intersecting Paths

How cinema has confronted the tragedy of the 20th century
by Jean-Michel Frodon  posted March 22, 2010
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The following text, reprinted by kind permission of the author and the publisher, is Jean-Michel Frodon's introduction to Shoah and the Cinema, a collection of essays edited by Frodon and newly published by SUNY Press. Frodon, former editor of Cahiers du cinéma, is speaking at the Harvard Film Archive on March 22 and at Columbia University on March 25.   

The Shoah was a huge decisive crisis that left an irreparable mark at the heart of the twentieth century.

The cinema will come to be seen as the art of the twentieth century.

The two preceding statements articulate ideas that are often asserted. We believe them to be true, and they bring about two types of commentary.

An incredible strong link connects the twentieth century on the one hand to the extermination of the European Jews by the Nazis and on the other to the legitimate art and industry of the cinema, which focuses particular attention on the interactions between two phenomena so obviously different in nature: the Shoah and the cinema.

As a historical event, the Shoah is limited in time to just a few years. But as a phenomenon that has indelibly branded the history of humanity, its effects continue to be propagated to this day. Mass murder has existed in a number of historic contexts, some with far greater numbers of victims than the millions of deaths in the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis. The Shoah nonetheless holds a special place in history. It is the poisoned fruit of an ideological plan that was clearly asserted, in the service of which the arguments and experience of science ("exact science" and "social science"), philosophy and religion, the power of the media, and the archaic recourse to rumor were marshaled. It could only be put into practice because of the proportions of its industrial, technological, legal, and administrative organization, and at the same time because of the position, both strategic and appalling, granted to it by the highest-ranking political heads of Germany until the very final days of the Nazi regime. The extravagant combination of these heterogeneous factors constitutes an unfathomable and monstrous enigma, which exceeds and will continue to do so the descriptions and explanations that we are capable of giving, while at the same time being a sequence of events subject to description, study, and reflection. This double nature makes the Shoah, with its multiple dimensions, a unique event, laden with meaning and questions, a cardinal catastrophe in a time already not lacking in other immense dramatic events and atrocities.

The cinema, on the other hand, is born of nineteenth-century technology. It configured the collective imagination on a planetary scale during the first two thirds of the twentieth century, before losing this prominent status to television, which has in turn been challenged by new communications technologies. Although it has become a minority practice, the cinema has not disappeared and will not so. It corresponds to a manner of articulation between individual and collective reality and imagination that, since its inception, established its pertinence for human beings. That pertinence continues into the twenty-first century.

These two phenomena are historically dated: the Shoah (brief but of extreme intensity) and the cinema (several decades long in its role as the "art of the century"). But they affect more than just the periods of time that contained them. They are heterogeneous but of the same era, and are not confined to the exact same period; they belong to the same state of human civilization, that of the Western world as defined at the turn of the nineteenth century, a state that has spread its influence over the entire world. Technology, organizations focusing on an industrial model, the Great War as the founding tragedy of the twentieth century, and the methods used in the construction of the collective imagination that characterize that particular time frame also constitute some of the principal conditions of existence both of the cinema and of the Shoah; they designate the relationships, more or less direct, between these two events. These relationships can at times be complicit, as in "the aestheticization of politics," denounced by Walter Benjamin as a characteristic of fascism, that will have been practiced widely on a cinematic model, (one need only observe the Nuremberg ritual, directed by Goebbels and filmed by Riefenstahl, to be convinced of this). These relationships can also at times be in opposition to each other: the cinema that warned of the terror to come also attempted, in vain, to combat it. Those who would love the cinema the most later on would say that its very reason for being, its "historic mission," would be to render the extermination impossible.

To a great extent, these relationships connect around what is visible: the cinema is the device of making real bodies appear in time, the machine that shows men to themselves having recorded the marks they have made in four dimensions. The Shoah was not only an operation of annihilation of real bodies, killed and then burned, but also a procedure of erasing that very device of annihilation itself, a machine that did away with humanity as well as every trace of it. The Shoah is a tragedy of humanity in its relationship to the visible, and it is as such that it fundamentally concerns the cinema. The Shoah is not the only horrific event that marked the twentieth century. But the dual crisis that it opens upon—the denial of what is human, the denial of the image—and even more so the manner in which the ideology and the practices of mass extermination perpetrated by the Nazis solidify these two denials, make the Shoah the event that questions the cinema itself in the entirety of these terms of aesthetic and social existence.

The stakes that will be discussed herein are those that largely exceed the limits of factual time. They are those of long-term history, the stakes of ongoing modern History—therefore, also, those of the present time.      

The Shoah has left its unique mark on the history of mankind. The cinema, as a unique material and imaginative device, reconfigures the relationship of men to themselves and to the world. These two assertions, which give such great importance to both phenomena, state at the same time that they are in History; that it is not a matter here of making either essential; that however extreme the Shoah was, and to a great extent incomparable to other horrific events committed by men, however specific the procedures of cinema are, the question here is not to give either an absolute character. Neither the Shoah nor the cinema are ideas, or at least not Ideas. They are fact. But such facts challenge our manner of being within the world, in any case since the forties, based on terms previously unknown that remain active to this day.

The decisive relationship between these two phenomena is still at work in the one that endures: the cinema. One of the characteristics of the cinema is that it only exists in symbiosis with its time, and to redistribute, with more or less impact and more or less explicitly in real life, what is modeled in its bosom. This book is therefore a "book about the cinema" in the sense that it is about the cinema as it has been worked, transformed, and challenged to its very depths by the Shoah—depths that existed prior to the extermination, but that were perceived only in the black light of the industrialized racial prejudice perpetrated by the Nazis.

However, because there is filtration between the cinema and the real world, this work within the cinema engendered by the Shoah also has many effects on practices, mores, laws, individual and collective behaviors, and our manner of reflecting and debating upon it. While this book is in fact, in its approach and its references, a book about the cinema, its scope is hence not limited to the sole field of cinematography.

There are a number of ways of approaching this intersection of the phenomenon of cinema and the phenomenon of extermination. We believe these approaches have a lot to offer to each other, and therefore to all of us. It is possible to draw up a schematic list of these approaches: the cinema as archive; the cinema as material for historical research; the cinema as material for constructing one or several realms of imagination; the cinema as method of investigation and/or revelation; the Shoah as the subject of film; the Shoah as a backdrop to films whose "subject" is or appears to be something else; the Shoah as a question mark on an ethic of representation or of narration; the Shoah as a test of the limit to the possibility of representing things, as a threshold to the possibility of the image.

The classical distinction between documentary and fiction, which should be made with caution, reveals itself in this case as manifestly problematic. There are archives that turn out to be fiction (fabrications which are not admitted as such: propaganda films, for example, those of the period as well as more recent ones such as the manipulated footage of the Eichmann trials done by Sivan and Brauman in their film A Specialist [1999]) and other fictions that are invaluable documents for historians; there are documents recording reality but in which staging entirely recreates actual reality (for example, Triumph of the Will [1935] by Leni Riefenstahl) and there are scrupulous recordings of reality that tell a story, even a tragic saga (for example, Shoah [1985] by Claude Lanzmann) and of course other films that deliberately work at mixing genres, such as Drancy Avenir (1997) by Arnaud Des Pallières. There are works of fiction, which explicitly or in a roundabout way interpret the characters and situations of reality and of fantasy that were those of the Shoah, from To Be or Not to Be (1942) by Ernst Lubitsch to L'Avventura (1960) by Michelangelo Antonioni. There are also films—and this is most often the case—that have recourse to fiction or romance, without taking into consideration the radical and particular nature of the Shoah or its powerful questioning of the very process of filmed fiction. This questioning is pushed to the extreme by the fact that the film is in relation to the extreme and particular event that is the Shoah, but it opens or a least intensifies the possibility of questioning the very process of all cinematic fiction: critical questioning that involves no condemnation of principle, which would again be an abusive closure to conclude the impossibility or the indignity of all fiction regarding the extermination, and why not, of the impossibility or indignity of fiction "in general." It is a matter of daring to think, when faced with this horror, of refusing both the effects of being staggered and the lazy despicableness of passing it off to the profits and losses of History. It is a matter of attempting to bring out the positive idea that the Shoah will have not only inspired a great number of films (as is also the case for many other historic events) but above all reworked the manner in which we make films and the manner in which we watch them and speak of them.

The (too) famous phrase, "How to create poetry after Auschwitz?" applies to the cinema as well, but taken to the letter: not in the thought that it would be impossible from that point onward to make films, any more than poems, but in the question of "how". In Auschwitz, at the same time this extreme blind spot in the relationship of humans to humans and to the very idea of humanity—as Primo Levi, Robert Antelme, Elie Wiesel, Paul Celan or Jean Améry have always clearly specified—resides also the question of representation of men by themselves, the manner of telling stories, of seeing the world. It is certainly not a question of saying that explicitly or in a suggested manner there must be a reference to the Shoah in each cultural production, and notably in each film, but that the great questions of humanity is, that are by nature at the heart of all work (not only great books, or all great visual works of art, or all great musical works, but at the very least of any popular song, just as of the least artistic film), have been underlyingly affected by the Shoah.

This is true of all cultural production, but more so in the field of representation. We live, in the Western world, in a place where images are a moral issue. They are subject to questioning and often condemnation, for the sake of dividing what is True from what is False or Good from Evil, under the influence of the two great sources of our conception of the world, the monotheistic theologies and Greek philosophy. These stakes were formulated based upon the question of figuration, in other words, based upon nature and the intensity of the real presence of what is presented in its representation. The taboo in the "image carved" by Deuteronomy, the allegory of Plato's cave, the philosophical thought of the mime, of the diaphanous, of the catharsis and the political role of Aristotle's theatre, the Christian dogma of incarnation, the clashing of church fathers on the representations of God, the vigor and complexity of the banning of images in Islam and the diversity of its implementations constitute the great milestones of this long history. They have been reprised subsequently by art history—figurative arts, painting and sculpture, but also the performing arts—at the heart of philosophic category of aesthetics. Why is this issue a "moral" one? Because it has always involved a reference to a norm, beyond what is personal between the image1 and the one who created it, as well as the one who created it, as well as the one who is seeing it. This norm can be absolute, in the case of religion (Evil is at work in the figurative process and that which it inspires in he who observes it) or of relative nature, in the case of Greek philosophy and its long descent (images fool you, they are in the realm of illusion, humanity will progress as it detaches itself from them in order to approach the truths of the world). In all these cases, what is at stake is morality, in the sense that one must refer to a norm intended to regulate individual behavior and relationships between humans and to a certain ethic, wherein this reference guides choices, practices that are autonomous to each of us—makers of images and observer of images—and wherein these choices engage the rapport with others.

This moral and ethical question, fundamentally linked to imagery, will have carried over into the visible world through the invention of analogue recording technologies, specifically photography and then the cinematograph. The moral questioning with regard to the effects of the cinema began at its inception. It was frequently denounced as immoral, pornographic, and blasphemous by nature and in its essence by religious authorities and virtue leagues from all denominations, whether for the way in which it reproduced reality (it "would compete with the Creator") or for its power of fascination over people. It would take much longer for people to begin to question what was being challenged, with regard to ethics, in the actual creation—in other words, the direction—of cinematic images.

What do we mean, in this context, by "with regard to ethics"? We mean that the specific methods used to create films bring about new ethical stakes. We see on the screen not the actual world, but pieces of the world, and in particular, human beings. For this to happen, it means that the person who organized the recording of these "pieces of the world" makes a great number of very real choices—imposing one's self in the real world on those one is filming. Such choices are more or less emphasized, colored, or sidestepped by what happens after filming: the combination of processes that we designate by the generic name of post-production.2  These choices, as they are configured once the film is finalized, bring about in turn considerable relationships for the viewer with what he is seeing (the characters, the twists and turns of the action), but also with regard to the real world of which the pieces of every film are more or less, at least in part, an assembly.

This is why, while all representation is "a matter of morality" (and especially a matter of ethics), and while any visual work of art is subject to ethical questioning with regard to the means that it uses to move the viewer, the cinema, as a piece of reality, is particularly a matter of morality, and above all, of ethics: it involves the personal practices of those who make the film and those who observe it. When Jean-Luc Godard states his now famous assertion, "the tracking shot is a matter of morals,"3 he is really stating that beyond what is at stake in all representation, the techniques of filming (and sound recording and editing) in the cinema are all the mores laden with ethical questions. What questions? Basically they can be boiled down to two: how should we depict something? What effect are we looking to have upon the viewers? There are ways of showing things, and above all people, with contempt, with condescension, with hatred; these methods are ethically reprehensible. There are ways of showing images and telling stories that subjugate the audience, remove their objectivity, manipulate them, and these means are ethically reprehensible. While these "means," otherwise known as choices of form (in the cinema, they are about directing), are always defined by the medium in use, what is at stake is common to all modes of representation. But they take on a particular gravity with regard to the cinema because real people were filmed, and we see their images on the screen. The indignity in the manner in which they were filmed, like the act of using them to limit the freedom of viewers, is particularly obscene and disgraceful.

These two questions (How to depict? What effect are we looking to have upon the viewers?) are considered connected by critics and modern cinema. They are the singular means of the cinema that can cause an increase of oppression or alienation, or that on the contrary can open spaces of liberty, of affective and intellectual autonomy. The opposition between these two realms—oppression or liberty—is similar to that which opposes art to industry, and they remain the two key active ingredients or principles in the cinema. Art is an opening; it is a call to each of us, by aesthetic means, to venture outside of himself, to encounter the world, other people, and any other experience possible. Industry is production, including by aesthetic means (pretty images, pretty sounds, pretty stories, etc.) of objects that seem different but that are only desirable, in other words consumable, as reproductions of the same thing. The consequence of industry is the commercialization of desire (which exists in all of us), the opportunity to take refuge in consummation of that which has already been tried, in the manner of regressive pleasure. The cinema is always both art and industry, which is what its impure nature is based upon. But it is art and industry in proportions that can vary a great deal, on an arc in which each film occupies its own specific position.

These theories were to a great extent developed thanks to André Bazin, and with him the Cahiers du cinéma, (of which Godard and Moullet are members), even though they have roots just as well in an older history of theory, alongside Jean Epstein and Elie Faure, and in certain artistic practices, the films of Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir, and Italian neorealism. This approach confers a decisive role upon the moment of filming and the so-called "documentary" content (the recording of reality) in all films. It is in the name of this approach that the essential of what is proper to the cinema from the point of view of the ethics of representation4 plays out.

Among the critical texts that demonstrate this concern regarding the ethics of direction, a short article by Jacques Rivette became a reference. Entitled "Abjection," it was published in Cahiers du cinéma 120 (June 1961). This text did not draw too much attention when it was published; it was only fifteen years later that it would begin to function as the basis of a requirement from which Serge Daney would build his essential theoretical architecture. But it is remarkable that Rivette's text was inspired by a film, Kapò (1959) by Gilles Pontecorvo, whose story takes place in a concentration camp. When Rivette writes that the director "only deserves his deepest contempt" for obtaining a spectacular effect—where a prisoner (Emmanuelle Riva) commits suicide by throwing herself on an electrified wire fence—through constructing a tracking shot that ends with a reframing of the hand, the fact that this is about a film whose subject is tied to Nazi terror is completely secondary in his mind. He seeks to share a requirement regarding the direction which could just as well have applied to a tragic scene coming from an entirely different context, and he implies that his condemnation does not only concern the aestheticization of a death scene. The critical (ethical) demands concern all forms of direction, to judge all methods employed in order to produce emotion: laughter, compassion, anger, and so forth.

On the other hand, the rapport between the subject of the film that provided the basis for Rivette's text and the ethical stakes of direction is taken into consideration by Serge Daney when he makes it the cornerstone of his critical judgment, as he would much later in an article that would become a major reference, "The Tracking Shot in Kapo," published in Trafic's fourth issue (Autumn 1992) and reused as the opening of the book Perseverance (POL, 1994). In the meantime, a number of events in the critical discourse of the cinema took place. The question of the ethics of cinematic direction and its political corollary was developed and deepened, particularly by Godard, the Straubs, Pasolini, Eustache, and Fassbinder. Cahiers du cinéma, at the end of the sixties and throughout the seventies, gave it a great deal of reflection. This ethical and political questioning relies to a great extent upon the updating of a paradox: it is a documentary dimension, therefore the recording of what is visible, that defines the impact of the cinema and the particular moral demands that this impact imposes upon it, but at the same time all its beauty, its interior richness, and its artistic nature are based upon what it brings up that is invisible, through visible means. The art of cinema is the art of giving the most in feeling and in understanding what we cannot see (the real world, feelings, ideas, the supernatural, God, etc.) thanks to the recording of what we do see. And notably, following the works and writings of Robert Bresson,5 it is once again Serge Daney who made the strongest opposition, to denounce the obscenity of what he calls the "visual," in other words the saturation of what is visible, which in fact hides the invisible, the crushing of the freedom of the image beneath what it shows, the enslavement to the "message" of what makes its open richness unlimited. This horror for which the cinema is so often guilty is the very principle of publicity, in which the image must be entirely controlled by its objective (to sell the object), and also characteristic of television, a means of communication that is theoretically "without remainders," without loss, whereas art, precisely, only exists through loss or excess, is born of loss. And it is in this loss, through subtraction or excess in this unmastered area of artistic representation, that the viewer's freedom is played out, as well as the respect for the complexity of the world. The ethical thought of the cinema will have been to a large extent the thought for the invisible.

And then a cinematic event that came out of a different conceptual universe took a historic turn: the release of Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, in 1985.

From the point of view of its genealogy, Shoah belongs in another filiation, that of "films about the camps." We must briefly recall here that the specific history regarding the evocation of the Shoah is connected to numerous parameters, beginning with the constitution of the extermination of the European Jews as an autonomous event, against essential practices—historiographical, commemorative, militant, and so forth—of the period immediately following the war. The concentration camp phenomenon will primarily have been perceived through literary works based upon lived experience (by Primo Levi, David Rousset, Robert Antelme, Elie Wiesel, etc.) without allowing a clear distinction between the horror of the concentration camps (comparable to what is committed, alas so frequently, for reasons of war, foreign or civil, for colonization, for oppression) and the exceptional particularity of the process of systematic extermination. It would take the solitary and titanic work of the historian Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of Europe's Jews6; it would take the turnaround of Eichmann's trial and the instauration of a "policy of remembrance" by the State of Israel in the service of its specific objectives, in order for the issue of the Shoah to be created as such.

As it referred to the event that was the Shoah, the cinema unavoidably accompanied this process, with an imprecision and confusion that seem retrospectively shocking but that corresponds to the state of knowledge and comprehension of the time. We know that the word "Jew" is only pronounced once, and only incidentally, in Night and Fog (1955) by Alain Resnais, whose title, significantly, was originally to have been Resistance and Deportation. And while the film justifiably represents a founding cinematic work on the subject, it is certainly not the first film to be mentioned. An enormous image documentation was produced and distributed, often creating both its own directorial rhetoric and new uses of filmed imagery, notably in a legal context or mass reeducation—where the shown images are never those of actual extermination but documents from the "ordinary" camps, where the atrocity serves as metaphor (and therefore also as mask) for even worse things. Fiction also mentioned the Nazi camp atrocities very early on: The Criminal by Orson Welles (1974), The Last Stop by Wanda Jakubowska (1948), and Distant Journey by Alfred Radok (1949) referred to it clearly, and the episode of the collective film Return to Life (1949) directed by André Cayatte evoked it as well.

The fact that it was Alain Resnais, one of the modern greats of the cinema from the fifties on, who took on the first great cinematic work dealing with the abyss that was the Nazi camps and the Shoah, is not a coincidence. The Passenger (1963) by Polish director Andrzej Munk; Memory of Justice (1976), an American film by French director Marcel Ophuls; Mr. Klein (1976), a French film by American director Joseph Losey; Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977) by the German director Hans-Jürgen Syberberg; more indirectly the work of Samuel Fuller; and of course the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, are milestones in the parallel paths of the history of the Shoah and the modernization of the cinema. These two paths, that of the construction of the particular place of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and that of modern adventures of the observation of the world by the cinema, would take a long time, forty years to be exact, to reach their exact point of convergence. This point of convergence is the film entitled Shoah.

There is a before and an after Shoah, both for History and individual and collective perception of the extermination event itself, and for the history of the art of cinema. And this is something that is stated immediately by a great number of texts of varying origins and focus that followed the release of this film.

The principal choices in direction taken by Lanzmann were based upon his recording of live witnesses, his refusal to use any archival images, his wanting to connect present day sound (the present voices of the victims, the executioners, the witnesses) and the locations as they exist today, with traces as well as lack of trace, forgotten places haunted by those who were to be forgotten and whom Lanzmann summons for what they are: dead, ghosts. Shoah is not a film about the camps, but about the immense enterprise of convening something that no longer exists, something that was erased several times over: the men, women, and children who were assassinated, their bodies reduced to dispersed ashes, and the machines that were used to kill them, also destroyed. Precise, complex, combative, and very well documented, the strategies used in making this film aim at infinitely opening each person's spirit to the immeasurable horror of this crime, in "seeing through" the survivors and their testimonies as stated by Soshana Felman.7 These direction choices were inspired in Lanzmann by his thoughts and feelings toward the extermination itself, but they have a great bearing upon the questioning of the modern cinema in ethical terms about film directing. The crisis of story, subject, and character, the disjunction of sound and image, the reciprocal challenge of fiction and documentary, the impact of perceiving the invisible through the most fierce attachment to the reality of the locations, bodies, voices, and temporalities: Bresson and Rossellini, Antonioni and Godard, Resnais and Buñuel, Ozu and Cassavetes, Rohmer and Straub, Pialat and Welles are present. Their aesthetic decisions, their directing biases put to the test of classical representations of the world through fiction and documentary, find not only a translation legitimized by the imperious ethical demands that carry all directing decisions in filming Shoah, but also their paroxysmal accomplishment.

When the question regarding the non-appearance, the invisible within the visible, was posed, first by Lanzmann's film and then by his statements, a number of cinema critics were willing to hear and pick up this discourse based on its own progression. And the film Shoah, born of an approach built upon a rapport with the subject—the extermination of Europe's Jews in the oblivion of visibility chosen and obtained by the Nazis—will have crossed paths with, and become the major example of, not only a crisis of the visible at the heart of the cinema but at the heart of cinema confronted with the onslaught of "modern" visuals, that of publicity and the media.

It is therefore at the intersection of these stakes which are contradictory but which do not cancel each other out, that one hopes—based on the power of imagery, particularly recorded imagery, and based in that decisive importance, for all forms of representation and in particular those that have to do with art (because they deal with the invisible, the invisible as a principle of their reason to be, as opposed to propaganda, publicity and communication)—that the cinema will find itself confronted with the Shoah. It is therefore logical that questions of film criticism—in which criticism is justified in intervening, including in the offensive, when it discovers the effects of crushing, of visual influence—have managed to point in a particularly engaged manner that can be spotted in the media, to films whose subjects are linked to the Shoah, particularly Schindler's List (1993) by Steven Spielberg and Life is Beautiful (1997) by Roberto Benigni. And it is just as logical that critics, whose work is based upon the ethical and political concerns of the visual, and Claude Lanzmann, whose reflection and directing strategies come from other sources, find themselves side by side struggling with such instrumentation of the abyss of the Shoah in order to produce spectacular effects—with the best intentions.8 If a debate (in our opinion biased and artificially bitter) later opposed Lanzmann and Godard, it must be reiterated that in a letter that is a veritable testament of what he considers his political failure as a filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard states as being the top of the list the fact that he was incapable of preventing Steven Spielberg from reconstructing Auschwitz in order to film Schindler's List.9 Godard situates himself very clearly here in connection to his assertion that "the tracking shot is a question of morality" and to Rivette's critique of Kapò.

After the release of Claude Lanzmann's film, it would take time for this fundamental convergence with the aesthetic and ethical questions of modern cinema to be completely recognized, because of the gigantic importance of the "subject," the extermination of the Jews of Europe. This film that marks a summit in the history of art is also, and in a more visible manner, a turning point in the history of the extermination and how it is perceived by society. Shoah, this masterpiece at the height of modern art, is also a stroke of thunder, less in the domain of History in the strict sense, in spite of the imposing historian's work accomplished by Lanzmann, than in History in the proper "political" sense, wherein ideational power struggles are developed. The film will play an essential role in recognizing the particularity of the event, notably in at last imposing a distinction between Nazi crimes taken as a whole and the specific project of industrially exterminating a people responsible for a metaphysical function, possessing an attribute marked off by an absolutely negative sign, an attribute conferred from the outset, by law, to each individual reputed to be part of this people.

One of the most visible effects of the film will have been to name the event, or rather to impose in a part of civil society and scholarly circles (not all of them) the Hebrew word Shoah. Very logically, following this film and the decisive role it played, Shoah will be the preferred term in this work. This preference was not the general rule, however: some auteur filmmakers refused to use the word, for two types of reasons. Some reject it as a perceived gesture, an act of appropriation of such an event, in Lanzmann's claim to name it; others remain attached to the use of another word, "Holocaust," whose usage is of Anglo-Saxon origin. It is noteworthy that another method of direction and imagery, an American television series10 that did not pose any ethical directorial questions regarding the depiction of extermination, was also in the position of naming the event. In this manner, it would be only one film, the one made by Claude Lanzmann, and a television miniseries that will have been at the origin of the two words accepted from that point forward to name this major event.11 And now we return to the very heart of the present work.

This book is born of the conviction that contribution to the thought of the Shoah as a real event and as an event of representation cannot presume to establish a doxa, a body of rules and precepts. This would require several inscriptive clauses in vaster compilations. It would require precise nomenclature and intimate emotion. It would require reference to political violence, to art history, to the history of philosophy, to the effects of meaning within national cinematographies. It would require the difference in sensibilities engendered by belonging to different countries and cultures. This book will therefore deliberately be lacking in what has so often accompanied contemporary thought regarding the representational stakes of the Shoah: the verbosity, the invectives, the posturing and demonstrations of rhetorical strength. The very lesson of contemporary art, such as it will have been affected by the Shoah, and in particular the art of cinema as the art of that period—a period that is still, sixty years after the liberation of the Auschwitz camp, our period—this lesson is precisely the reformulated demand that we reject any closed system, any totalitarian or linear pretension. Crisis and disjunction are necessary in order to be, as much as possible, worthy of such an event, in its double nature: brief history (the 1940 to 1945 extermination) and long-term history, that which is still ours at the present time. The divergences summoned here in the name of a shared ethic are not only part of the very basis of this work, they are its criteria.

Translated from the French by Anna Harrison

1. These complex questions bring up a number of further developments, which have no place in this context. But we must mention nonetheless that when we speak here of "image," we are obviously speaking of images "created by the hand of man," and having recourse to elements that are materially visible, and not to the whole of perceptive representations, and even less to the imagination or so-called acheiropoiete images, in other words those that were not created by man.

2. Post-production involves mainly the editing of the film, and often post-synchronization (the adding on of re-recorded dialogue), then the mixing (the arranging of the various components of the soundtrack) and the calibration (the color and lighting corrections).

3. This phrase was a play on words, while underlining and specifying the meaning of a symmetrical phrase used by Luc Moullet, "Morals are a matter of the tracking shot," to attest that it is in the choices of the direction that the ethics of a film are played out.

4. It must be noted here how much this history, this approach to the cinema, this demanding nature toward it, which is the quid pro quo of a love for films and the hope in the political possibilities of cinematic form, has been essentially a French history—or one under a French influence. The resources of other great schools of critical discourse—Germany, Russia, the United States, and to a lesser degree Italy and Japan—have for the most part worked according to different approaches, with other stakes at hand.

5. Notes on the Camera (Paris: Gallimard, 1975).

6. Although pioneers like Leon Poliakov, who wrote The Breviary of Hate in 1951, and Gerald Reitlinger, who wrote The Final Solution in 1953, contributed tremendously to creating awareness of the genocide.

7. "In the Age of Testimony," On the Subject of the Shoah (Collectif. Belin, 1990)

8. See notably the interview granted by Lanzmann at the release of Schindler's List, entitled "Holocaust, the Impossible Representation" (the unfortunate title was chosen by the newspaper Le Monde [3 March 1994]).

9. "Letter to an American Friend" in Jean-Luc Godard by Jean-Luc Godard, Vol. 2 (Cahiers du cinéma, 1998). We very deliberately chose not to reprint the debate between Godard and Lanzmann, one which also involved, in terms very unlikely to promote further thought, in our opinion, contributions from very high-quality intellectuals such as Georges Didi-Huberman and Gérard Wajcman. In a typically media-driven manner, in which this debate focused upon "short sentences," Lanzmann stated that if he were to find a film that recorded a group killing in a gas chamber he would destroy it, Godard having said that he was sure that such a film existed and that he could find it if he were given the means. All parties took these statements out of context and beyond their interrogatory value and trouble, in order to make of this, in bad faith, slogans. Readers interested in this discussion can find they key points in the interview with Lanzmann in Le Monde (see note 8, above); the Godard interview in Les Inrockuptibles (October 21, 1998); Gérard Wajcman, "Photographic Belief," in Modern Times (Spring 2001); "Saint Paul Godard versus Moses Lanzmann?" (Le Monde [3 December 1998]); Georges Didi-Huberman's Images in Spite of Everything (Editions de Minuit, 2003).

10. The "Holocaust" miniseries, broadcast in 1978 in the United States on the NBC channel, contributed a great deal to commemorating, or revealing to Americans, the history of the extermination. Even during the scenes of extermination, the episodes were interrupted every fifteen minutes by advertisements. The series was also broadcast widely all over the world, and it is estimated that it was viewed by 220 million people in all.

11. The television miniseries did not create the usage of the word "holocaust," but it is what popularized it and instated it for researchers. The extermination was also named in the language of the victims, Yiddish, as Khourbn


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Jean-Michel Frodon is the author of L'Âge moderne du cinéma français, La Projection nationale, and Horizon cinéma, and is the former managing editor of Cahiers du Cinéma.

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