Any comments on "Shoah", the documentary?

Discussion in 'DVD' started by David Wilkins, Mar 8, 2005.

  1. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    I'm curious about the documentary titled "Shoah". Anybody have input regarding overall quality, DVD transfer quality, number of discs, etc.?

    The list price is rather high...around $140.00, so I'm a bit reluctant. I enjoyed "The Last Days", and other similar documentaries, so in light of that, what are your comments and comparisons?
     
  2. Brian PB

    Brian PB Supporting Actor

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    Shoah runs 9.5 hours, and is contained on 4 discs on New Yorker's release.

    The documentary itself opened in 1985 to nearly unanimous critical praise. [The most notable dissenter was the New Yorker's Pauline Kael. In her review--collected in her 1989 book Hooked, she begins by writing, "I found Shoah logy and exhausting right from the start," and concludes by saying, "The film is exhausting to watch because it closes your mind."] Internationally, it won 11 major awards (yet, curiously, it was not even nominated for an Oscar).

    I would encourage you to read some of the major online reviews of the DVD release (especially before plunking down $150). If it is not available to rent at the local Blockbuster, try a public library.

    DVD Beaver
    DVD Talk
    DVD Verdict

    Also, note that Deep Discount DVD is selling it for the incredible price of $59.95! No other online vendor even comes close to this price.
     
  3. Joel Vardy

    Joel Vardy Supporting Actor

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    I believe you will find this jewel at DDD for about $57. Still not an insignificant amount but for one of the most powerful documentaries ever made it was worth it for me. You're not going to find Shoah at the local B&M, maybe at Barnes and Noble (though not at internet prices).

    As far as quality of the product, it is not a flawless transfer but considering the subject matter I didn't really care. It is 'difficult' to watch but very worthwhile, IMO. In many ways it is the most powerful and emotion evoking film ever made. Many of the segments are subtitled (though I speak several of the included languages so it wasn't as difficult for me). Not everyone's cup of tea, though.

    Joel
     
  4. danak

    danak Second Unit

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    I can't say anything about the transfer because I didn't pay attention to that, but it's a fantastic documentary. I will admit I've been renting the discs instead of buying. I highly recommend trying to rent the first disc at least to see if it's something you'd want to buy because it's not exactly easy subject matter.

    Dana
     
  5. TimJS

    TimJS Second Unit

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    I just posted the DDD sale in the bargains area.

    Transfer is only adequate. If you can handle 9+ hours of this kind of thing, I recommend picking it up at DDD on sale. Used copies are available at Amazon at roughly twice the sale price, so unless Criterion gets ahold of it & remasters & plusses up the bonus material while keeping it under $100.00 SRP, you should probably be able to make a profit selling it used.

    Subject-wise, it focuses on the 'Final-Solution'(Death Camps) mainly at Treblinka & Auschwitz rather than the concentration-camp phase of the holocaust. A powerful film.

    Tim
     
  6. Seth--L

    Seth--L Screenwriter

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    I saw the DVD, all 9+ hours, in one sitting, last fall on an excellent front projection system. Compared to an old VHS version my father has, it looks pretty decent. DVD certainly makes it much easier to navigate the material.

    I have to say, though, I think the "Shoah" is slightly overrated. Yes the stories are quiet powerful (one I'll never forget is the man who by random chance, when digging up mass graves so the bodies could be burned, ended up digging up his family who were perfectly preserved because the ground was so cold), but Claude Lanzmann is infuriating. All he cares about are getting people to say specific things, and you can see him from a mile away setup people so he'll get the answer he wants. Then there are a lot of times when he seems uninterested in what people have to say. He's standing next to the person he's interviewing, looking off into the distance away from them, mechanically shouting out questions to the translator -- "ask her this, and this, and this" -- and again, just waiting until he gets the answer he wants.

    At 9+ hours, there is a lot of redundancy. For instance, take the part of the film where he interviews the Polish Christians. Here, he sets people up to say that the Jews being killed was a good thing for them (which it was since they took their homes and jobs -- but what they didn't know, was that they were next on the chopping block). After getting two or three people to admit this, I get the idea, let's move on. But Lanzmann needs to show us the entire town admitting this, and for whatever reason, each time he includes the 10 banal minutes of his series of questions that trap people into saying it.

    So I guess want I'm saying, the content is amazing, but there are things which get in its way.
     
  7. Joel Vardy

    Joel Vardy Supporting Actor

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    Seth,

    Lanzmann has been criticized for his style over the years, if you follow the history of this work. Non-the-less, the information he extracted over this 9+ hours of difficult material has in good part not been duplicated by any other documentary that I know. Since I have immediate family members who are survivors I have studied this topic for some time and seen quite a bit of material not always available to the general public, some of it focused directly about my family. Lanzman has a transparent agenda but without it he would not have been able to put himself through this process. Sometimes you have to be a bit obsessed to do difficult work. History will be kind to this landmark piece just because it has accomplished filling out some difficult to tackle mysteries about the human experience. For those not so inclined, perhaps a 30 minute highlight of this material would be more entertaining -- though this stuff is not about entertainment and if you get bored with the repetition or stylistic choices maybe this type of documentary isn't worth the investment.

    As I've said in another post, this stuff is both difficult to watch and perhaps not everyone's 'cup of tea'. Even professionals in this field don't always want to sit through this stuff. I have personal experiences in this matter. I must admit that Lanzmann's style wasn't that appealing to me either, though I feel it is tolerable, especially in what he accomplished as a whole in capturing ex-Nazi and village reactions. He is overbearing, abrassive, abrupt and ultimately thoroughly irritating yet effective. What few people know today is that tens of thousands (if not more) were murdered among the concentration camp survivors who tried to return to their towns and villages after the war. I found it fascinating to watch the reaction from the same village people who may have felt 'liberated' by the war experience to murder their childhood friends because they rightly concluded that there wouldn't be any accounting for their actions.

    Joel
     
  8. TommyT

    TommyT Stunt Coordinator

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    I rented this one from GreenCine in 2003 & watched it over 4 consecutive nights & found it consistently fascinating. Many critics have commented or even attacked Lanzmann for being pushy with his interviewees & I've never really known what to make of it. We all know that the Holocaust is an extremely sensitive subj (esp for survivors) but a lot of people have wanted to know the truth & one way of finding it is to interview the people most directly involved: survivors, villagers & former Nazis. The idea that the Polish & German commoners were complicit or even knew what was happening in the death & concentration camps has been a raging debate for over 60 yrs & might not ever be solved. Obviously Lanzmann was trying to spark more debate over that issue, not just in the confines of the film but also with anyone who sees it.

    Redundant? I didn't think so. Yes, Lanzmann only interviews a few dozen people BUT they obviously have hours upon hours of stories in them. What I liked was that the film is NOT like documentaries today where you only get small bursts of interviews & they're packaged in a staccato fashion.

    For me the most telling interview is with the barber about 1/2 way thru the film & a lot of critics have cited that scene as the film's highpoint.

    Hmph, makes me wonder why PBS or the History Ch didn't jump on the bandwagon when this was released in Oct 2003 & show it. You'd also think it would see a revival in arthouse theatres.

    My recommendation for buying the film is if you have a vested interest in the Holocaust or WW2 then its essential for your collection. If you just wanted to see what the fuss is all about then there are probably several online rental places that have it. Netflix doesn't but GreenCine does. Also, if you happen to live in a good-sized metro area there must be at least one rental store that carries special interest & obscure films.
     
  9. danak

    danak Second Unit

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    TommyT,
    Netflix does indeed carry Shoah, as does Blockbuster (online).

    Dana
     
  10. Joel Vardy

    Joel Vardy Supporting Actor

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    This may be precisely the reason for Lanzmann's method since in, my mind, his extraction of comments and 'looks' are just as powerful an insight into this question as the memorable view of the girl heckling her former neighbors in the streets in Shindler's List and peasants looking on to the trainloads of deported victims on their way to Auschwitz and Dachau with the universal sign across their throats, clearly indicating that they understood the fate of the 'passengers'. Had he conducted a more 'polite' set of interviews much of this opportunity to get firsthand accounts would have been lost forever and the debate would have drifted into historical speculation.

    Joel
     
  11. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

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    Lanzmann wasn't just pushy, he also purposely staged some of the interviews. For example, the famous scene where he interviews a barber who had cut the hair of holocaust victims before their death is staged. It's an unforgettable scene--the crowd I saw this with were openly sobbing. But it was Lanzmann who made the interviewee hold a pair of scissors and cut hair in a barbershop; the interview subject had not been a barber for years. Lanzmann doesn't tell us that.

    All this is not to say that I dislike Shoah; of the parts I've seen (about half), I still think is the best picture on the subject of the holocaust. The paragraph above was just to say that Lanzmann was questionable in (or at least we can debate about) his methods beyond his personal temperment.
     
  12. Joel Vardy

    Joel Vardy Supporting Actor

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    I don't see how else you get this type of material (some 30+ years after the fact) without some form of staging. The fact that the interviewee had not been a barber for years has minimal relevance to the point. Had the interviewee never been a barber prior to his ordeal I would be more concerned. Since you note that this segment was one of the more effective I don't see the harm in reenacting a piece of reality with the primary parties (after all this wasn't an actor or reenactor). In what way is this dishonest or overly manipulative? Could he have gotten a spontaneous form of this information without some prodding? You have to realize that there is an enormous amount of guilt exhibited by survivors (as in many such ordeals) and their participation in this type of process is not a pleasant experience, though some are more resistant than others. I don't find Lanzmann's style altogether unpalatable, though as noted earlier he definitely has an irritating style. There's plenty to criticize but the aforementioned incident doesn't, in my mind, add up to much of a case against this work.

    Joel
     
  13. TommyT

    TommyT Stunt Coordinator

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    Hmph, I could swear that it wasn't there when I posted on 3/9! Anyway, I'm happy to know it's there now. They must've listened to me when I requested they put it in their collection! [​IMG]
     
  14. Rick Deschaine

    Rick Deschaine Stunt Coordinator

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    I'd like to throw in another perspective on Mr. Lanzmann.

    A couple of years ago I read a book called "Explaining Hitler" by Ron Rosenbaum. Mr. Rosenbaum's ambition was to write a book detailing numerous and divergent ways in which scholars, Holocaust survivors and various other people have tried to 'Explain' Hitler. One of the chapters in the book details Claude Lanzmann's efforts at making Shoah and the aftermath of that film.

    A quote from Amazon's review of the book; "We witness Shoah director Claude Lanzmann's imperious attempts to stifle analysis of Hitler and the Holocaust, branding such historical inquiries as "obscene.""

    I remember reading in the chapter, that Lanzmann thought that his work was the defining and final look at Holocaust survivors and that any attempt to try to 'explain' the Holocaust was blasphemy or obscene as the above quote says.

    I believe that Mr. Lanzmann's thoughts were that his film showed raw testimony of Holocaust survivors and we should leave it all at that. No further discussion necessary.

    He even went so far as to humilate and shout down an elderly Holocaust survivor at a forum who dared to try and 'explain' Hitler himself and what it meant to him.

    In lieu of that assessment of Mr. Lanzmann, I thought that Shoah was fairly well done but in no way the end all and be all of Holocaust documents that Mr. Lanzmann claims.

    Later, Rick
     
  15. Seth--L

    Seth--L Screenwriter

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    Showing him cutting the hair while talking about cutting the hair of condemned people reinforces the man's routine indifference to his role in the Holocaust, which is Lanzmann's thesis. To the man, cutting hair is cutting hair, which has a viewer, I find quite chilling. While this thesis may (is) be true, the fact that it is true doesn't make it ok to stage such a scene to reinforce the point.
     

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