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Afterimage: Film, Trauma And The Holocaust

Joshua Hirsch

Publication Year: 2004

The appearance of Alain Resnais' 1955 French documentary Night and  Fog heralded the beginning of a new form of cinema, one that used the narrative techniques of modernism to provoke a new historical consciousness. Afterimage presents a theory of posttraumatic film based on the encounter between cinema and the Holocaust. Locating its origin in the vivid shock of wartime footage, Afterimage focuses on a group of crucial documentary and fiction films that were pivotal to the spread of this cinematic form across different nations and genres.

Joshua Hirsch explores the changes in documentary brought about by cinema verite, culminating in Shoah. He then turns to teh appearance of a fictional posttraumatic cinema, tracing its development through the vivid flashbacks in Resnais' Hiroshima, mon amour to the portrayal of pain and memory in Pawnbroker. He excavates a posttraumatic autobiography in three early films by the Hungarian Istvan Szabo. Finally, Hirsch examines the effects of postmodernism on posttraumatic cinema, looking at Schindler's List and a work about a different form of historical trauma, History and Memory, a  videotape dealing with the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World  War.

Sweeping in its scope, Afterimage presents a new way of thinking about film and history, trauma and its representation.

Published by: Temple University Press

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pp. ix-xiii

If scholarship can never be wholly objective, writing about the Holocaust presents the historian with a limit case of scholarly implication. One of the effects of the trauma constituted by genocide and concentration camps is that it continues to thrust upon those who encounter it in the present the subjectivities assumed by or forced upon the participants in the events of the past. What reference to the Holocaust is not marked by an identification...

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pp. xv-xvi

Countless UCLA faculty, students, and staff helped me move this project through the dissertation phase. Nick Browne patiently saw me through many intellectual and practical crises. Robert Rosen was my guardian angel. Without the generosity and insights of Gyula Gazdag, I could not have written the chapter on Istvan Szabo. Jim Friedman gave advice and support during the search for a publisher. Chon Noriega, Peter Wollen, Janet Bergstrom, Teshome...

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1. Introduction to Film, Trauma, and the Holocaust

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pp. 1-27

OF THE mass murdering of more than ten million people in German concentration camps, extermination camps, POW camps, euthanasia centers, Einsatzgruppe actions, and Jewish ghettos during the Second World War, there is only one known piece of motion picture footage, lasting about two minutes.1 It was shot in 1941 by Reinhard Wiener, a German naval sergeant and amateur cinematographer, stationed in Latvia, who had received permission...

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2. Night and Fog and the Origins of Posttraumatic Cinema

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pp. 28-62

In film history, myths of origins have been correctly viewed with suspicion, both because of their inherently repressive tendencies, and because of the problem of lost and neglected films. I would argue however, that there is good evidence supporting the recognition of Night and Fog as the most important, if not the sole, originator of posttraumatic cinema, not only because of its subject matter and formal innovation, but also because of its extremely...

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3. Shoah and the Posttraumatic Documentary after Cin

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pp. 63-84

While newsreel-type films like The Death Camps traumatized the public by constructing their image tracks exclusively from atrocity footage, they failed to distinguish the genocidal aspect of the concentration camps. Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, released forty years later, focuses exclusively on the genocide, but constructs its posttraumatic discourse without a single frame of atrocity footage. What had happened in the intervening years to transform so...

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4. The Pawnbroker and the Posttraumatic Flashback

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pp. 85-110

IT IS no accident that posttraumatic cinema originated in documentary. The indexical mode of representation that is the basis of documentary was necessary to the cinematic relaying of trauma by films like the Wiener footage and The Death Camps. Night and Fog, too, relayed trauma through indexical reference to atrocity, but did more: it originated a cinematic discourse of trauma through a form of narration that was not in itself bound...

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5. Istvan Szabo and Posttraumatic Autobiography

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pp. 111-139

In the previous chapter, I argued that a film need not be a documentary in order to document historical trauma. Hiroshima, mon amour and The Pawnbroker experimented with the use of posttraumatic narration to register historical trauma in fiction, expanding the techniques of posttraumatic narration through the semiotic flexibility of the fiction film. Istvan Szabo, Hungary's most successful filmmaker of the past four decades, subsequently extended the possibilities for registering historical trauma in the...

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6. Postmodernism, the Second Generation, and Cross-Cultural Posttraumatic Cinema

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pp. 140-162

Shoah arguably the culmination of the modernist, posttraumatic cinema on which the book has focused thus far. It may have felt like the end of the line for Holocaust cinema, but of course it wasn't. The phenomenal success of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993) launched the dissemination of an unprecedented quantity of films, television programs, and other media about the Holocaust, including the massive database of survivor...


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pp. 163-192

Works Cited

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pp. 193-204


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pp. 205-213

E-ISBN-13: 9781439903957

Publication Year: 2004