Saturday, 8 April 2017

The 6th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Short Film - Night And Fog (1956) - Alain Resnais

Released in 1956, barely a decade after the end of World War II, Night And Fog was one of the first films to deal with the subject of Nazi concentration camps. Although a short subject, the film had a troubling production and release. Initially, the premise came about from an exhibition by Henri Michel and Olga Wormser (Resistance, Liberation, Deportation), which opened on November 10th, 1954 at Institut Pedagogique National in Paris. On it’s opening day, public notice was given of a proposed film project. Although Michel was under pressure to make a film honoring the French resistance fighters, Wormser argued for a more scholarly, broad approach focusing on the concentration camps, and Michel saw that this would enable wider financing. As such, producers Anatole Dauman, Samy Halfton and Philippe Lifchitz were invited to the exhibit and felt a film should be made. Dauman contacting the initially reluctant Alain Resnais (who felt someone with direct experience should address the subject matter), who would later agree to direct on the basis that poet and novelist Jean Cayrol, himself a concentration camp survivor, be brought in as a collaborator. This is a key example of the collaborative approach Resnais took as a filmmaker, and Cayrol’s scripted dialogue, which became the narration read by actor Michel Bouquet is a crucial part to our intellectual understanding of the barbarisms the film explores. The film’s long tracking shots, by Ghislain Cloquet and Sacha Vierney of the large, open, empty spaces of the camps, capture a terrible, terrible beauty inside these places where unspeakable things occurred. The film is immaculately put together by Jasmine Chasney and Henri Colpi, whose multimodal collection includes the original footage shot in the camps, black-and-white archive stills, excepts from older French, Soviet and Polish newsreels, footage shot by detainees of the Westernbork internment camp, and from the Allies’ ‘clean-up’ operations. The film features contributions from Austrian composer Hanns Eisler, whose chilling score adds to the overall atmosphere of the piece. Indeed, the atmosphere during production created issues for many of the main players. Eisler felt under a lot of pressure to finish his work, Cayrol, feeling sick while scribing to the images, was aided by Chris Marker (an unsung hero on the project) in writing the film, and Resnais suffered nightmares during the preproduction and was upset through the editing process. Upon release, despite initial opposition from both French censores and the German embassy (producer Dauman, though proud to be a part of the film, guaranteed to Resnais that “It will never see a theatrical release,” and most notably, a local association of former deported prisoners insisted the film be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, threatening to occupy the screening room in their camp uniforms), it was widely acclaimed. Jacques Doniol-Valcroze of Cahiers du Cinema compared its power to the works of Franz Kafka and Francisco Goya, and his contemporary, the great writer-direction and critic Francois Truffaut, referred to it as the greatest film ever made. Today, it retains a strong legacy. Sight And Sound magazine named it in a 2014 poll the fourth greatest documentary of all time, it stands as one of the greatest works in the life and career of Alain Resnais, and one of the great testaments of the horrors of war and inhumanity.

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