Documentary films are always linked to historical recollection. It often serves as a historical document. Claude Lanzmann’s documentary films show a powerful presentation of the Holocaust survivors through his interviews using memories as a tool of relating what happened in the past.
This paper also explains the narrative film of Steven Spielberg and how Claude Lanzmann sees the film in relation to its historical accuracy.
Claude Lanzmann’s condemnation of the film Schindler’s List for “representing the unrepresentable” may be explained by the film’s failure to conform to the historical truth.
For Lanzmann, the historical truth can not be represented through graphic images of horror and human suffering. The experiences of the survivors let alone their sufferings can not be simply described through a dramatic narrative as attempted by the film Schindler’s List according to Lanzmann.
In his essay, Claude Lanzmann stated that “Spielberg will see himself confronted with a dilemma”, in which he had to tell not only the story of Oskar Schindler but he should also tell the story of the Holocaust (Lanzmann, 1994, Schindler’s List is an impossible story, www.
phil.uu.nl). Lanzmann questioned the historical perspective of the film since it is based on the personal experiences of a German (Oskar Schindler), who had a shady character. He further points out that the film’s narration of the events like that of the scene of the deportation to the Cracau ghetto or the scene where the Jewish victims were summarily executed, Lanzmann questions how Spielberg could explain these events with such “normalcy” in showing the murder process and the organized system of annihilating the Jews. Lanzmann explains that in Auschwitz or Treblinka the prospect of escape or rescue was unimaginable (Lanzmann, 1994, Schindler’s List is an impossible story, www.phil.uu.nl).
Claude Lanzmann’s documentary film Shoah contains a series of interviews with people who were at the time witnesses to the Holocaust. These witnesses included the survivors, the bystanders and the perpetrators. They tell the story of the Holocaust based on their own personal experiences. On the other hand, Lanzmann’s Sobibor Oct. 14, 1943, 4:00 p.m., the experience of Yehuda Lerner who was one of the leaders of the revolt in the death camp was told. Lerner recounts how he was able to escape “from eight camps before being sent to Sobibor” (Tanzer, Heroes amid horrors, www.offoffoff.com). The film documents the rebellion of the Jewish prisoners at a Nazi concentration camp (Scheck, 2001, Sobibor Oct. 14, 1943, www.hollywoodreporter.com).
In these two documentary films, Claude Lanzmann’s cinematography does not make use of “newsreels, archival footage” (Scheck, 2001, Sobibor Oct. 14, 1943, www.hollywoodreporter.com) or dramatic narrative. Instead, he focuses his camera on his subjects during his interview. The spectators of the film would only see landscapes where the actual atrocities took place. Lanzmann did not believe in any form of sensationalism.
In comparison, the film Schindler’s List showed that the Jews had constant communication with the Germans, Lanzmann in his documentary Shoah makes a philosophical stand where the people he met were solely interviewed in particular making no contacts with anyone.
In Spielberg’s film, the difficulty lies in its vague representation of events such as “the Jewish police officers bouncing on doors during razzias” (Lanzmann, 1994, Schindler’s List is an impossible story, www.phil.uu.nl) Spielberg made unclear suggestions that the Jews were partly to blame for their own demise as perceived by Lanzmann. The film revolves around the life of Schindler, his women, his money, his work and connections. All images portrayed were far from what actually happened during that time. Lanzmann criticized the failure of the actors and actresses to express the true misery, the sufferings and the humiliation that the Holocaust victims felt (Lanzmann, 1994, Schindler’s List is an impossible story, www.phil.uu.nl).
For Lanzmann, “images kill the imagination” (Lanzmann, 1994, Schindler’s List is an impossible story, www.phil.uu.nl) and the only way to preserve people’s experiences is to see it with such honesty and simplicity as told by his subjects in both of his documentary films.
Although Schindler’s List was able to reach wide audiences, it is of great importance to take notice of the tools he used in order to reach his audience. It is a well known fact that Spielberg used the “traditional Hollywood cinematic strategies and generic conventions” (Foley, 1999, Portrayal of the Camp Experience on Film: An Examination of Cinematic and Historical Issues Raised by Schindler’s List and Shoah, www.kooriweb.org) to impart the life experiences of Oskar Schindler which questions the authenticity of the film “as a historical document” (Foley, 1999, Portrayal of the Camp Experience on Film: An Examination of Cinematic and Historical Issues Raised by Schindler’s List and Shoah, www.kooriweb.org). As the author and Professor on the subject of Genocide, Omer Bartov explains that “Mass-oriented films” always poses a problem of remaining constant with the significant themes that should be presented (Foley, 1999, Portrayal of the Camp Experience on Film: An Examination of Cinematic and Historical Issues Raised by Schindler’s List and Shoah, www.kooriweb.org). Both Bartov and Lanzmann condemn Spielberg’s portrayal of Jews as “haggling black marketeers” (Alster, Soap opera with jackboots?, 1998, www.timeshighereducation.co.uk) and the “stereotype that connects Jews with money” (Lanzmann, 1994, Schindler’s List is an impossible story, www.phil.uu.nl).
For Lanzmann, Spielberg transgressed through showing the Holocaust in the eyes of a German and not the Jewish survivors. This changes the perspective on history according to Lanzmann ( Lanzmann, 1994, Schindler’s List is an impossible story, www.phil.uu.nl). Spielberg also failed in relating the true historical events that the victims of the Holocaust experienced through his use of cheap Hollywood suspense tricks. The events that transpired in the film were sensationalized to attract more viewers.
For the most part, I agree with Claude Lanzmann’s argument that there are things that can not be represented in film. The sufferings and misery of the survivors and victims of the Holocaust can not be portrayed in a narrative film because it is impossible to create the horrors of what they experienced in the concentration camp. These experiences are too personal to convey. On the other hand, one must note that there is a difference between a documentary film and a narrative film. I consider documentary films as an in depth analysis of historical events in the eyes of the film’s subjects whereas a narrative film is a mixture of both fiction and reality.
I believe that Claude Lanzmann’s films, Shoah and Sobibor was able to represent genocide because it uses personal accounts and memories of the survivors that are on a personal level; both films provide meaningful accounts of the life in the concentration camps. The absence of archival footages, newsreels and reenactments makes these documentary films believable and pure in its nature.
Alster, L. (1998). Soap opera with jackboots? http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/
story.asp? storyCode=163784§ioncode=6. Retrieved on 30 January 2008.
Foley, G. (1999). Portrayal of the Camp Experience on Film: An Examination of
Cinematic and Historical Issues Raised by Schindler’s List and Shoah. http://www.
kooriweb.org/foley/essays/essay_12.html. Retrieved on 30 January 2008.
Lanzmann, C. (1994). Schindler’s List is an impossible story. http://www.phil.uu.nl/
staff/rob/2007/hum291/lanzmannschindler.shtml. Retrieved on 30 January 2008.
Scheck, F. (2001). Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/search/
article_dispaly.jsp?vnu_content_id=1098836. Retrieved on 30 January 2008.
Tanzer, J. (2001). Heroes amid horrors .http://www.offoffoff.com/film/2001/sobiborphp3.
Retrieved on 30 January 2008.
Cite this Claude Lanzmann and Steven Spielberg
Claude Lanzmann and Steven Spielberg. (2016, Sep 27). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/claude-lanzmann-and-steven-spielberg/