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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Holocaust > World War II > Shoah (Documentary)

Shoah (Documentary Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Film: A



When director Claude Lanzmann set out to make Shoah (1985), it would be a unique achievement.  He decided at a time when anti-Semitism was winning against the truth about the Holocaust to revisit all the locations he could with many of the survivors in search of evidence and truth about the events that attempts at the time were being made by “revisionists” to say never happened.  The result is a groundbreaking triumph that changed documentary filmmaking forever and began the road to recovering the ugliness that was being kept in the dark by those who still to this day are responsible for what happened.


If you wonder why we have War & Remembrance, Schindler’s List, the move towards reparations from multi-national corporations, and other successful works on the subject (as well as too many that dangerously trivialize it), Shoah is the beginning of that movement:  A portrait of The Final Solution and how it very nearly succeeded.


The program is now available finally on DVD, in the most collectible and reference quality version to date.  Covering four DVDs, the boxed set is a slide-case.  When you slide the discs out, you have to unfold a book-like unit that holds each DVD in four DigiPaks.  There is some text printed when you first open it up on either side, plus a foldout booklet that extensively shows each person interviewed, chapter by chapter.  DVD’s searching capabilities offers instant access to any given testimony about what was witnessed more immediately than ever.  This gives Shoah a multi-media feel by default, a characteristic that ironically continues how ahead of its time this work was.  It runs nearly nine-and-a-half hours, but is extremely well edited, and now that it is interactive, can be delved into in new ways that could even produce new thoughts and ideas about how all this happened, depending on what the viewer wants to focus on.


Sometimes, that testimony is in parts, continuing after others have spoken.  I was surprised how much this work had stayed with me so many years later.  It was one of those occasions where, as I watched, I started to recall what was going on.  It helped to form some of my earliest, most fully developed senses of what had really happened.  The many little things, finer details, of the simple banal things that suddenly became markers for murder, or the long list of petty things the Nazis and Italian Fascists did to degrade the people (especially Jews and their culture) incessantly as a way to destroy a people and a culture.  There were several they went after, but The Jews became the #1 target because of their massive contributions to society, civilization, and belief in individualism.  Those ideas are not convenient when trying to set up the nightmare future the original Axis of Evil was all about.


I also enjoy the interviews with the ignorant people whose attitudes helped make that Axis and The Holocaust possible.  Lanzmann lest these people humiliate themselves with their nonchalant attitude, where they could care less what happened because it was “those Jews” that it happened to.  They help strongly reinforce the powerful thesis, found in this set on Disc Two – 1st Era, 2nd Part.  The other side to this is how “missing” people of Jewish affiliation are, showing to what extent The Final Solution still did succeed.


The full screen, color images are from serviceable, older analog transfers.  They look clean, but the source shows its age.  The entire program was shot on film, but this is a few generations down, despite being the sharpest this has looked on video to date.  The only disturbing aspect of this is that it puts too much distance between the viewer and the events that do not need to be so.  This is less that twenty years old, and should look more current than that.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is above average and more like what we would expect for such a soundtrack for its age.  A Stereo remix would be pointless, though the sound is down a generation or two.  The only extras are text biography and filmography information on Lanzmann.


We get some of the most shocking details about how all this happened, and it is fortunately recorded (or rerecorded for that matter) here for good.  Nazi and Axis documentation is also used to reinforce what happened.  What often gets lost the most in examining The Holocaust is not just what the Revisionists try to pull by saying it was all a fabrication or propaganda created by “those Jews”, but what has happened today.


Besides far too many dramatic and documentary works on the subject, which are actually turning people off about the subject, we have become a more cynical world.  After the 9/11 events, some new types of anti-Semitism have resurfaced.  There was that which was bubbling up over in the Middle East to begin with.  There are also those not certain of the U.S. role there, especially with what has happened with Iraq.  There are those who would like to scapegoat Israeli affairs as the cause of 9/11, but that does not hold water.  These recent events make The Holocaust more distant.


The point is, any culture that wants to trivialize a group, whether it is what the Axis did to Jews and other minorities, or the way women are treated in Islamic countries, that are always a sign of evil and genocide to follow.  That is what The Taliban was and is all about.  That is what Chechnya and Kosovo also mirrored.  The point is, The Holocaust is one of the most successful expressions of this sickness and there are going to be those who learn, those who do not, and those who know better but do not care.  It is not just about what happened to Jews, Homosexuals, Gypsies, and even Allied soldiers sixty years ago.  It is about what always happens when ignorance in groups wins over the individual and Shoah is a masterpiece that will always be one of the ultimate cinematic arguments of why life and the individual over all else need to be protected the most.  Without them, there is only darkness.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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