was a case of one legendary director replacing another. Billy Wilder was in and
Alfred Hitchcock was out, but the project was not a suspense-thriller, like Double Indemnity. It was a Holocaust documentary
that was to incorporate devastating footage shot by Allied film crews during
the liberation of National Socialist concentration camps. Only years later
would a partial, incomplete cut see any sort of meaningful exhibition. However,
the British Imperial War Museums have recently reconstructed and restored the
intended director’s cut of the bureaucratically titled German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. Yet, there is still more
to the story that is finally told in Andre Singer’s documentary, Night Will Fall (promo here), which premieres
this coming Monday on HBO.
Hitchcock completists will be familiar with what was retitled Memory of the Camps when it aired on
PBS, but the print was decidedly rough and the final reel was missing.
Technically, it had never been completed (a problem the restoration team
rectified using the surviving screenplay and cue lists). While it was generally
known Hitchcock was more of an advisor than a hands-on director, Singer and
company actually make a compelling case his vision largely guided the direction
and aesthetic of the planned documentary.
Hitchcock researchers really should consider it part of his filmography,
producer Sidney Bernstein was the man most responsible for its day-to-day
production and editing. Unfortunately, he would not see it to completion. With
signs of the Cold War already surfacing during the early days of the Occupation
of Berlin, the Allies essentially put the project in turnaround. The Americans
still wanted a picture to convince Germans of their national guilt, so they
recruited Wilder to recut some excerpts into the documentary short subject Death Mills.
fascinating as the story is, Hitchcock fans will be disappointed he does not
factor into Night to a greater
extent, but he was only assigned to the project for a month. Nevertheless, they
will gain a considerable appreciation for Bernstein, his team of editors, and
the brave military cameramen who recorded the nightmarish footage in the first
place. Ultimately, it is a tribute to their work, which in many cases left deep
psychological and spiritual scars.
are some dramatic interviews with surviving veterans and the excerpts from the
finally finished film are truly horrific. Night
also supplies a good deal of explanatory context that ought to be quite familiar
to most viewers, but sadly is probably necessary given the declining level of
historical awareness among younger generations and the precipitous rise of
anti-Semitism abroad. If you have seen the work of Lanzmann and Ophüls, you
should already know full well the bigger truths, but there are still telling
details to be found throughout.
At just seventy-nine minutes, Night is brisk but surprisingly comprehensive.
It also further burnishes Hitchcock’s reputation and gives Bernstein his long
overdue acknowledgment. One can imagine it works best screening in conjunction
with the restored Factual Survey (as
it did at last year’s Berlinale), but it easily stands alone (as it will on HBO).
Highly recommended for general audiences and particularly for students of
history and cinema, Night Will Fall debuts
this Monday (1/26) and repeats on various arms of HBO over the following days
Labels: Alfred Hitchcock, Documentary, HBO, Holocaust Cinema