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 Post subject: 197 Night and Fog
PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 10:51 am 
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Night and Fog

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Ten years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, filmmaker Alain Resnais documented the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek in Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard), one of the first cinematic reflections on the Holocaust. Juxtaposing the stillness of the abandoned camps' empty buildings with haunting wartime footage, Resnais investigates the cyclical nature of humanity's violence against humanity, and presents the devastating suggestion that such horrors could occur again.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Excerpt from a 1994 audio interview with director Alain Resnais
• New interview with documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer
Face aux fantômes, a 99-minute 2009 documentary featuring historian Sylvie Lindeperg that explores the French memory of the Holocaust and the controversy surrounding the film's release
• New English subtitle translation
• PLUS: An essay by film scholar Colin MacCabe

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 11:38 am 
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swingo wrote:
I'd expected more replies on this...

For me, it is the best documentary I've ever seen.

Yes I think it is perhaps the best documentary on this subject - it condenses almost every element of the holocaust into just half an hour. The only thing it leaves out is personal testimony and this is well addressed in the film Shoah, which is nothing but individual accounts and makes a very good companion piece.

I really like the questioning voiceover. One of the things that I find disturbing about a lot of the holocaust films is that there is an attempt to show the events as the ultimate expression of evil there was and ever will be, and while it is certainly the defining atrocity of the twentieth century, the questioning voiceover avoids making the events specific and 'special', and instead suggests that these events are not something inhuman but an expression of something dark in human nature that is not unique to that time, but could easily occur again. The film shows very well the banality of evil, through committees, business meetings, quotes for building work, or from companies for research, it could be daily life except that peoples lives are being used. I think this might be the type of thing a film like Salo was trying to point up - how things can be pushed a little, then a little further until you are in a much more extreme place than you were to start off in, but without the sense of being in such an extreme place (I think it might be disturbing to apply the same logic to our current climate, where it seems world leaders are slowly pushing things inch by inch to more extreme positions)

I think my annoyance with a lot of debate about the holocaust is that there seems to be an attempt to set it apart from world events - that it was a terrible event brought about by one evil leader and his cronies who the good guys defeated, never to allow anything like this to happen again. I think that this is a natural urge - no one wants people to forget what happened, to forget how many people died, but I think putting this event up on a pedestal gives it a sort of untouchable quality that might be just as dangerous as forgetting about it altogether. Unfortunately similar events have happened again, just not on such a large scale but with similar devastating consequences such as Rwanda, East Timor, Bosnia etc and the great power of Night and Fog is that it shows that an event like the holocaust should not to be set apart from other massacres, even though it is the most extreme example, because that simply allows people to dismiss it as being something that could never happen again, or become complacent about other terrible tragedies because they somehow do not 'measure up' to the horror of the holocaust. For me, whether it is 'holocaust' or the less emotive 'ethnic cleansing', it is still the same process, and I think that the greatness of this film is that it shows that it understands in the final few minutes of the voiceover that it has documented a terrible, defining event for so many people, but that the underlying factors that make people turn on each other, on those that can be easily seen to be different, and blame them for their problems still very much exist today and are only waiting for the type of person like Hitler, with the rhetoric and policital backing to harness these feelings and create a similar situation. This is the reason that I get very worried when I see political parties playing the race or immigration card - they are playing a very dangerous game, and one which I do not think many politicians fully understand the implications of and to me it does not seem too great a step from that to the more extreme policies of detention camps, or a policy of forced labor.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 12:21 pm 
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There was a book that came out a few years ago called "Flickers". The author took a still from selected films and commented on the image and went in depth on the film's critical analysis. Night and Fog was one of them. The image was of all the piled up shoes of the dead victims. He scathingly wrote that this film in its short 30 minutes is 10 times more powerful than Schindler's List. He made an interesting contrast in that everything in Night and Fog is real whereas in Schindler's List, although the images in that film were awful, between takes the extras could sit down, talk to each other, drink coffee and eat while they set up the next shot.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 11:07 pm 
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oldsheperd wrote:
He scathingly wrote that this film in its short 30 minutes is 10 times more powerful than Schindler's List.

Couldn't agree more...


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 6:11 am 

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Quote:
He made an interesting contrast in that everything in Night and Fog is real

I thought a few of the scenes in this were taken from the Auschwitz museum? Thus making it only semi-real. Not that it really matters.

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...instead suggests that these events are not something inhuman but an expression of something dark in human nature that is not unique to that time, but could easily occur again.

Yes, I think that this is key to the films objective. It is easy to slip into the 'power' of the film and its imagery, but it really needs to be watched with your head not your heart. We should not be thinking how they could (the Nazi's) carry out these atrocities, but how can we stop them happening again.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 6:33 am 
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The film never remotely suggests that these and other atrocities were caused by any part of human nature, as far as I'm aware.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 9:54 am 

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oldsheperd wrote:
He scathingly wrote that this film in its short 30 minutes is 10 times more powerful than Schindler's List. He made an interesting contrast in that everything in Night and Fog is real whereas in Schindler's List, although the images in that film were awful, between takes the extras could sit down, talk to each other, drink coffee and eat while they set up the next shot.

A telling point, but I think the more important contrast is that, as Kubrick said (quoted in the awful-yet-essential Frederic Raphael book), the Holocaust was about millions who died, whereas Schindler's List is more about a few who were saved. We can imagine from this that what Kubrick would have tried to accomplish with The Aryan Papers might have been close in tone and in philosophical concern to Night and Fog.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 5:35 am 
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Gregory wrote:
The film never remotely suggests that these and other atrocities were caused by any part of human nature, as far as I'm aware.

Yes it does not state this explicitly but it also does not say that the situation is due to just a few powerful 'evildoers', to quote a certain President! The final few minutes of the voiceover show that those making the film see this situation as not just a specific incidence of atrocity, but that its root causes have not been addressed because there is still a chance that such a situation could occur again, if we allow it. That we as the citizens of a country could allow someone like Hitler and the National Socialists to take power might be seen to be absurd, but you can be supportive of an evil regime without being evil yourself - in fact many regimes dull peoples sense of morality through a comparison with say the Holocaust itself (because if you look in pure number terms at something like Bosnia it is comparatively insignificant, but in moral terms it is doing the same thing - which is why sometimes I am worried about such an enormously horrific act like the Holocaust looming over the current world climate. In the light of that anything is relatively insignificant - you can justify creating Israel and displacing a lot of people for example, because it is the 'right' thing to do to allay our guilt over not stopping the Holocaust).

This is why human nature is important as a subtext to the film - there are shots of Hitler, but it seems to me that the films main concern is to show the people who job it is to make the ideas Hitler had work in this world the National Socialists were trying to create (whether from bidding for contracts, to logistical planning etc), to keep this new regime going, and the film aims to finally put faces on both the victims and the perpetrators. Think of the doctor and nurse shown in the concentration camp hospital, or the parade of the guards out of their barracks once the camps have been liberated - they look like normal people - not monsters. What makes them not only do something like this, but to actively participate - only stopping what they are doing when an outside army forces them to?

Think of the guards putting the people on the trains to the camp (or the story Resnais tells in the radio piece about the French guard whose obvious insignia had to be obscured - because the French obviously would not have condoned such a thing) - some of them are shown actually helping people into the carriages, like you would help someone struggling onto the train at your local station. The subtext throughout Night and Fog is to say look at these people, the victims are people like you or I, but also the people doing this are people as well, not someone possessed by evil or the devil or something that could be easily explained away. The film is also trying to show that this particular system of National Socialism is gone, the leaders destroyed, but the legacy remains. The legacy of all the dead and also that the people who lived under such a rule could not have done so quietly without in some way condoning what was done. It is a warning film as well as one which explores the mechanics of this situation.

I've just watched the film The Corporation over the weekend, which details how corporations are the new controlling force in our world, some of them more powerful than governments, and I would like to quote Noam Chomsky who was interviewed in the film (at about 42 minutes in). This is specifically about corporations, and how people act in them, but it is interesting to apply it to someone living under a rule of a particular government:

Quote:
It's a fair assumption that every human being, real human being, flesh and blood ones, not corporations, but every flesh and blood human being is a moral person. You know we've got the same genes, we're more or less the same, but our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean, every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant or a saint...when you look at a corporation just as when you look at a slave owner, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual. So slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny, are inherently monstrous but the individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you could possibly imagine, benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves, caring about other people. I mean, as individuals they may be anything. In their institutional roles they're monsters, because the institution is monstrous...so an individual CEO let's say, may really care about the environment and, in fact, since they have such extraordinary resources they can even deovte some of their resources to that without violating their responsibility to be totally inhuman

It might be interesting to think of Oskar Schindler in this context. Thinking of Schindler's List mentioned in earlier posts, there are some people who love the regime and glory in its ideals, but most just toe the line and try to survive, or are using the situation for power and monetary ends. In that sense I think the Spielberg's film is quite interesting, but it has to go for the emotive moment at the end where it becomes obvious that Schindler was not just doing it for the money and he breaks down in front of everyone - I think a better film would have left his role more ambiguous.

A social system, in government or corporations, makes people used to putting aside their morality, their feeling that they may be doing the wrong thing, by making them part of the running of things. They have their job, their role and it is defined so that a person can feel overwhelmed, feel it necessary to go with the flow otherwise they might loose their job, or perhaps their life if they allow themselves to think too much about what they are part of. It becomes easier to follow, to do things without thinking of their consequences as you become more indoctrinated to for example the speeches and propaganda; or the removal of undesireables into ghettos where the 'ordinary' people are given time to forget about them, about the essential humanity of a Jew like anyone else, so that once they are transported to the camps there is little outcry, they have been erased from public life, before they have their lives physically taken from them. Everyone in the society has been indoctrinated to feel that this is the best thing because the ideology permeates every part of life, such as the Hitler Youth or through films such as the one excerpted in the Physcial History documentary on the M disc.

This is why for me Night and Fog is so powerful, because it is not specific in blame, it is questioning human nature, what makes people able to do such a thing, or allow something to be done in their name and then be able to say without a trace of irony "I was not responsible". Well, who is? All are for facilitating such a regime, they may have played only a small part in keeping the ideology going, but they still played a part. And in a larger context we all are for allowing events to escalate to such a level, for not standing up against such an extreme ideology, and in the case of National Socialism creating the economic and social conditions through punitive sanctions after the First World War that made the German people angry at the injustice and ready for someone, anyone who would make Germany great again, and with a need to find a group of people to easily blame for their current problems as scapegoats, while Hitler was willing to give them someone to blame.

And we should be aware that just because Hitler and the Nazi party are consigned to history that the dehumanising way of thinking remains. One of the things Night and Fog does not foresee clearly is that it is corporations that are now overtaking governments in being the extremely powerful, indoctrinating force. They are amoral, not immoral because they only exist to make money, and they do that very well, but with no thought for the consequences of their actions unless it becomes economically efficacious to do so. And I would agree with the idea put forward in the film The Corporation that while it is necessary to have a corporation, just as it is necessary to have a government, there needs to be an awareness of how extreme the behaviour is getting so it can be held in check. Although thinking about it now, Night and Fog does show the link between government and companies when it mentions that many companies used the easy labour found in concentration camps for their own economic ends, or for medical testing (also explored near the end of The Corporation).

These were just a few of the ideas Night and Fog made me think about, and one of the great things about this film is that it is so condensed, and there is room for much further discussion about every issue touched on in the film, from the camps themselves to the trains, the medical experimentation, the ideological indoctrination, the business deals, and so on - so many subjects that have been explored in greater detail in many documentaries since this film. But this one gives the concise overview.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 12:05 pm 
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You touch on so many crucial issues, but just to continue the discussion about human nature...
Quote:
What makes them not only do something like this, but to actively participate - only stopping what they are doing when an outside army forces them to?

That's a huge question that people have been trying to answer for a long time, although I don't think Night and Fog explicitly goes into it much. However, leaving behind what we know the filmmakers intended to present, the film still inspire discussion of that question.
I would want to point out two important things in response to the question above:
[Talking about the Nazi Holocaust, I'll frame these observations in the past tense with the understanding that genocide and atrocities continue on, and that in some sense there is truth in the quote attributed to Faulkner, "The past is never over, it's not even in the past."]
First of all, not everyone did participate. Many people resisted and were killled. Some fought and escaped with their lives. Many left their homes believing they could escape involvement, although it's certainly an open question whether failing to stay and fight what was going on made someone morally culpable. There were many people who knew was going on and did not actively participate in it because they were opposed. Even in the Nazi Party there was a silent majority of members who were against the "final solution" but generally did nothing (or very little) to stop it.
My point is that it's a very complex political situation and not one, I'm convinced, in which anyone can clearly discern human nature at work. Relative to the vast complexity of our behavior, we have so little understanding of human nature. Understanding even the simplest traits is a great challenge. One can make common-sense observations such as "People tend to be attracted to authority and/or passive in the face of it," or "People tend to mistrust members of other groups." But there are good reasons to believe that these have to do with learning and social context, for example because these kinds of things vary greatly in different societies. As it stands, these are political observations not biological ones. Even in cases that are far more rudimentary, I think it is good to be skeptical whenever anyone claims that something is due to human nature, even when such claims are accompanied by numerous supporting references from the scientific literature (as they should be).


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 12:32 pm 
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Gregory wrote:
But there are good reasons to believe that these have to do with learning and social context, for example because these kinds of things vary greatly in different societies.

Yes, I think this is why there is no 'everything is OK now' feeling to the end of Night and Fog. You could think of any society as teaching values, it just depends what a society decides to teach, as can be seen in an extreme case study such as this. If you are brought up to believe one thing, have it drummed into you through youth groups, speeches, television, your peers, your family, at what point do you subordinate yourself to the will of the society, and how much of the responsibility do you as an individual take for the actions of the society that you are part of?

Quote:
As it stands, these are political observations not biological ones.
I might go for sociological observations (and I would say that they are done in a very stream of conciousness manner, I'm not a sociologist!) rather than either of the other two - both of which are loaded terms.

Quote:
I think it is good to be skeptical whenever anyone claims that something is due to human nature, even when such claims are accompanied by numerous supporting references from the scientific literature (as they should be).

That is where I think we agree - you should formulate your own opinions. These are just the ideas which the film provoked in me. But we should not be afraid of asking questions of culpability or guilt and how people can be manipulated.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:09 pm 

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oldsheperd wrote:
He made an interesting contrast in that everything in Night and Fog is real whereas in Schindler's List, although the images in that film were awful, between takes the extras could sit down, talk to each other, drink coffee and eat while they set up the next shot.
How dare they!

Honestly, I don't really like Schindler's List, but this seems like a pretty silly arguement.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:31 pm 
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Not so much silly as stupid. Schindler's List is a bit like the Holocaust itself: when it came out everyone reeled under its impact...and now as time goes on people are stepping up to deny its significance. List is a powerful film. If you can watch that and not feel the impact then I feel sorry for you. Night And Fog hits me much the same way...just takes a different avenue. I fail to see why one of the two needs to be belittled in order to appreciate the value of the other.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 11:52 pm 
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What do folks here think about the appropriate age to be exposed to this film? I'm teaching a high school World Lit course (composed of all seniors) for the first time, and I've just been following the curriculum that's been set up (I only teach one section, and for only one semester). For this unit, we've read Wiesel's Night and watched Life is Beautiful. I have my problems with that film, for reasons other board members have already elaborated on (trivialization of the Holocaust, etc.). I wanted to take a brief detour from the curriculum and show them Night and Fog as a contrast to Life is Beautiful to set up a discussion of different ways in which artists can communicate the unspeakable (without leading them in any direction).

Right now I'm leaning towards showing it -- I've been thinking that I would warn kids in advance of the nature of the images, and that anyone who needs to leave the room can, etc. If they were sophomores, I don't think I'd show it. But since they're seniors ... But I don't know anyone else who's seen the film, so I thought I'd throw out the question to you guys.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 11:55 pm 
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essrog wrote:
I've been thinking that I would warn kids in advance of the nature of the images, and that anyone who needs to leave the room can, etc. If they were sophomores, I don't think I'd show it. But since they're seniors ... But I don't know anyone else who's seen the film, so I thought I'd throw out the question to you guys.

If they're old enough to understand the Holocaust, they're old enough to watch Night and Fog.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 12:04 am 
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I'm a sophmore in college and know someone who was required to watch it in highschool. We watched schindlers list as sophmores in high school. Children are exposed to violence in so many negative ways through growing up, I dont think it'd hurt. If I were a teacher, this would be the first thing on the holocaust I would have them read/see. In other words, good choice and good luck.

Just wanted to ask why the curriculum was centered so much on the Holocaust? I wanted to know primarily because through middle school and sophmore year of high school, in English classes, the holocaust was drilled into us. I think it become unreal it was so much, it lost meaning. There are other atrocities in life. This one should be studied, but so should others. Also interesting to this argument is the person above who mentioned that it seemed to be set apart from other atrocities somehow, decreasing the meaning. Reading so much and watching so much about it isn't good I think. Especially if one book or film doesn't have anymore to say than another.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 12:47 am 
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blindside8zao wrote:
Just wanted to ask why the curriculum was centered so much on the Holocaust? I wanted to know primarily because through middle school and sophmore year of high school, in English classes, the holocaust was drilled into us. I think it become unreal it was so much, it lost meaning. There are other atrocities in life. This one should be studied, but so should others. Also interesting to this argument is the person above who mentioned that it seemed to be set apart from other atrocities somehow, decreasing the meaning. Reading so much and watching so much about it isn't good I think. Especially if one book or film doesn't have anymore to say than another.

The questions you raise are important ones. They're taken up with particularly thought-provoking results in Norman Finkelstein's book The Holocaust Industry. He always makes a careful distinction between remembering the Holocaust (something in my opinion so vital as to render pointless the question of whether we should or shouldn't) and the political use of the particular ways in which the Holocaust has been enshrined since 1967.
In a recent interview he said,
Quote:
There are a lot of people who have suffered in the world. It's time to give other people's stories a public airing. I don't think there's any danger here of the Holocaust being forgotten, given the fact that the New York Times prepares a story on the Holocaust probably 5 out of every 7 days in the week. First, the only subject covered more thoroughly than the Holocaust is the weather. Second, most of what's called the memory of the Nazi Holocaust is politically motivated. Its use and exploitation is used to immunize Israel from criticism, immunize American Jews from criticism, and for many years, it was used as a shakedown operation to extract monies from Europe. That kind of memory we can surely do without.

But as far as remembering the Holocaust? I remember every day. It's my parents.

(His parents are survivors.)
As a personal memory, I remember some guest speaker who came to our high school history class one day to talk about the Holocaust. She asked if any of us knew how many people the Nazis had killed. I raised my hand and said that a commonly accepted figure is around 11 million. She said, no, the Holocaust took the lives of only six million Jews. I felt like saying back, "Why wouldn't all the others -- the Sinti and Roma people, the communists, socialists, other political dissidents, gays, people with disabilities, and so on -- merit inclusion?"
I only wish most public remembrances of these atrocities were as insightful and reflective as Night and Fog. That may sound like one of the usual efforts to come back directly on-topic, but I say it with utmost sincerely.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 12:59 am 
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They pumped Schindler's List into us in high school as well (which I still find questionable for a multitude of reasons). Night and Fog seems a much better choice to show a high school class if for no other reason than the short running time. Film as an excuse to not have class for three or four days is the quickest way to diminish any meaning for the students. With Night and Fog the focus stays on the subject, not the fact that "we're slacking off and watching a movie this week."

-Toilet Dcuk


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 2:59 am 
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real images will always mean so much more when it comes to events like these in history.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 3:54 am 

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And you might want to check this out

D'Angelo posits a good argument for the gravity of Life is Beautiful


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 30, 2006 12:53 am 
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blindside8zao wrote:
I'm a sophmore in college and know someone who was required to watch it in highschool. We watched schindlers list as sophmores in high school. Children are exposed to violence in so many negative ways through growing up, I dont think it'd hurt. If I were a teacher, this would be the first thing on the holocaust I would have them read/see. In other words, good choice and good luck.

Just wanted to ask why the curriculum was centered so much on the Holocaust? I wanted to know primarily because through middle school and sophmore year of high school, in English classes, the holocaust was drilled into us. I think it become unreal it was so much, it lost meaning. There are other atrocities in life. This one should be studied, but so should others. Also interesting to this argument is the person above who mentioned that it seemed to be set apart from other atrocities somehow, decreasing the meaning. Reading so much and watching so much about it isn't good I think. Especially if one book or film doesn't have anymore to say than another.

I think your perspective is a valid one that many history teachers should consider. Myself, teaching college surveys I do not dwell on the Holocaust too much, precisely because of the reasons you outline. However, if young adults are exposed to any materials about the Holocaust, Night and Fog should be it. Until now, I have shown about 10 minutes of remarkable color footage shot by an American and British crew who joined the allies as they uncovered the camps. My intent is to let the images speak for themselves. Night and Fog, however, manages to condense every aspect that any proper lesson on the Holocaust should cover into 31 minutes of the most powerful filmmaking i've ever seen. It will now be a part of every survey and upper division course I teach that includes coverage of World War II. I often have to remind myself that while I grew up in a generation whose grandfathers were almost all veterans of the war, these kids today are as distant from it as I am from World War I. As much as I can lecture them on the events, it is images that have the most profound impact on them, and I find myself increasingly dependent upon them for making whatever point. Whether it's using a clip from Far and Away to illustrate the craziness of the Oklahoma Land Rushes or the Cotton Club to give the feel of Jim Crow alive and well in Harlem, I've found that students respond to them in a way I simply can't evince with mere pictures or lectures. and It's just that much less I have to talk as well :)

My only qualm with the presentation was the speed with which the subtitles often flitted on the screen, so that I couldn't even catch them all....which means students will catch even less. I also don't understand why they used a light grey color for the text in a largely black and white film - some are undecipherable without pausing and really squinting. Nonetheless, the images are what makes this film so powerful, and I will instruct them not to get too hung up on catching every syllable at the bottom of the screen.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 2:14 pm 
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swingo wrote:
Special Features

• New high-definition digital transfer, with restored image and sound
• Excerpts of audio interviews with Alain Resnais from Le Cinéma des cinéastes (1980) and Les Étoiles du cinéma (1994)

I've only just noticed this. My disc of Night and Fog doesn't have the Cinema des cineastes interview, and the menu screens are authored differently. Was this interview added in a second printing of the disc?


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 2:57 pm 
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It's probably just a misprint on the website; the 1980 interview is on Hiroshima Mon Amour.


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 Post subject: Re: 197 Night and Fog
PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:57 pm 
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Another great Resnais film. Even if it were sold at full Criterion price, it'd be worth every cent.


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 Post subject: Re: 197 Night and Fog
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:53 pm 
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Blu-Ray upgrade coming in July


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 Post subject: Re: 197 Night and Fog
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 7:13 pm 
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A reissue actually, with all new special features.


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