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Completed Holocaust Documentary That Alfred Hitchcock Worked On Is Being Released
January 10, 2014
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(Photo: Baron/Getty Images)

In 1945, British media mogul and producer Sidney Bernstein hired his friend Alfred Hitchcock to work on a documentary about the Holocaust using footage of concentration camps that had been recently captured by British and Soviet film units. The film was mostly finished when it was shelved soon after due to political sensitivities and delays in production — but the Independent reports that the Imperial War Museum will be digitally restoring and completing an edit of the doc in preparation for showing it on TV in early 2015. 

Hitchcock's contribution to the work, called Memory of the Camps, was not as its director but, according to a PBS fact sheet about the film, as a "treatment advisor," who helped shape and edit the material in the doc. 

The reason the film never got released comes down to the Allies' shifting priorities after the war. "Once they discovered the camps, the Americans and British were keen to release a film very quickly that would show the camps and get the German people to accept their responsibility for the atrocities that were there," Dr Toby Haggith, a curator at the Imperial War Museum, told the Independent. But the film, which features explicit imagery of the camps, took longer to produce than expected, and once the war was over, the Allied military authorities decided that emphasizing German war crimes to Germans was not conducive to postwar reconstruction. Decades later, an incomplete cut was screened at the 1984 Berlin Film Festival and on PBS in 1985.

The doc's reportedly shocking footage may also prove too much for the 21st century. According to the New Yorker's Richard Brody, the doc includes harrowing images of emaciated corpses and weak and dying survivors, taking the opposite tact to one of the most renowned documentary about the holocaust, Claude Lanzmann's 10-hour-long Shoah. The latter uses no archival material of the camps, opting instead to focus on the testimony of survivors and witnesses.

The effect of the gruesome footage on contemporary audiences is something that Haggith has considered. "The fact that we have been habituated to these images over the last 70 years" made it easier to see the film as "historic source material," Haggith said.

But that doesn't mean it won't be a difficult movie to watch. "Judging by the two test screenings we have had for colleagues, experts and film historians," Haggith added, "what struck me was that they found it extremely disturbing.… One of the common remarks was that it [the film] was both terrible and brilliant at the same time."

Via the Independent

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