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“Night and Fog”

A Film in History

2014
Author:

Sylvie Lindeperg
Translated by Tom Mes
Foreword by Jean-Michel Frodon

“Night and Fog”

A microhistory of arguably the most important documentary ever made

An engrossing account of Alain Resnais’s incomparable film, this book documents how a film that began as a cinematic spin-off of an educational exhibition became a significant step in the building of a collective consciousness of the tragedy of World War II. The book offers a unique interpretation of the interworking of biography, history, politics, and film in one cultural moment.

I do not hesitate to call Sylvie Lindeperg’s marvelously detailed study “Night and Fog”: A Film in History a major work of contemporary film historical scholarship. . . . [It] affords genuinely original historical and aesthetic insights . . . in finely wrought prose.

Stuart Liebman, Cineaste

François Truffaut called Night and Fog “the greatest film ever made.” But when Alain Resnais finished his documentary, with its depiction of Nazi atrocities, the resistance of the French censors was fierce. A mere decade had passed since the end of the war, and the French public was unprepared to confront the horrors shown in the film—let alone the possibility of French complicity. In fact it would be through Night and Fog that many viewers first learned, as film critic Serge Daney put it, “that the worst had only just taken place.”

An engrossing account of the genesis, production, and legacy of Resnais’s incomparable film, this book documents in extraordinary detail how a film that began as a cinematic spin-off of an educational exhibition on “resistance, liberation, and deportation” went on to become a significant step in the building of a collective consciousness of the tragedy of World War II. Sylvie Lindeperg frames her investigation with the story of historian Olga Wormser-Migot, who played an integral role in the research and writing of Night and Fog—and whose slight error on one point gave purchase to the film’s detractors and revisionists and Holocaust deniers. Lindeperg follows the travails of Resnais, Wormser-Migot, and their collaborators in a pan-European search for footage, photographs, and other documentation. She uncovers creative use of liberation footage to stand in for daily life of the camps featured to such shocking effect in the film—a finding that raises hotly debated questions about reenactment and witnessing even as it enhances our understanding of the film’s provenance and impact.

A microhistory of a film that altered the culture it reflected, “Night and Fog” offers a unique interpretation of the interworking of biography, history, politics, and film in one epoch-making cultural moment.

“Night and Fog”

Sylvie Lindeperg is professor of history at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is the author of many books in French, including Les Ecrans de l'ombre: La Seconde Guerre mondiale dans le cinéma français (1944–1969).

Tom Mes is the author of many books on Japanese film and cotranslator of Cinema and the Shoah.

Jean-Michel Frodon is a journalist, critic, and historian of cinema.

“Night and Fog”

I do not hesitate to call Sylvie Lindeperg’s marvelously detailed study “Night and Fog”: A Film in History a major work of contemporary film historical scholarship. . . . [It] affords genuinely original historical and aesthetic insights . . . in finely wrought prose.

Stuart Liebman, Cineaste

The ultimate authoritative source on Alain Resnais’ groundbreaking Holocaust film Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard, 1955). [Lindeperg’s] research is remarkable, and the book will be invaluable to those working in European history as well as film. This volume does remarkable service to Night and Fog, a film that in the immediate aftermath of the war challenged viewers to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

CHOICE

Night and Fog gave me a context, a literal frame of art through which I could watch the unwatchable. Slyvie Lindeperg’s book does something similar for the film itself, and readers willing to tackle it and the film will find the effort well rewarded.

Documentary Magazine

“Night and Fog”

Contents

Foreword
Jean-Michel Frodon

Acknowledgments

Introduction
Abbreviations
Prologue: Olga Wormser-Migot, the Missing Link

Part I. Inception: A Breakdown of Gazes
1. The “Invisible Authority”: The Stakes of a Commission
2. The “ Merchants of Shadows”: A French–Polish Coproduction
3. A Journey to the East: Research and Documentation
4. Writing Four Hands
5. The Adventurous Gaze
6. The Darkness of the Editing Room
7. Suffocated Words: A Lazarian Poetry
8. Eisler’s Neverending Chant

Part II. Passage and Migration
9. Tug of War with the Censors
10. The Cannes Confusion: Dissecting a Scandal
11. Germany Gets Its First Look
12. Exile from Language: Paul Celan, Translator
13. Translation Battles in the GDR
14. A Portable Memorial
15. Shifting Perspectives: An Educational Institution
16. Constructing the Cinephilic Gaze

Epilogue: Olga’s Tomb
Notes
Index