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'Film Unfinished' Reveals Nazi Horrors, Manipulation

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'Film Unfinished' Reveals Nazi Horrors, Manipulation

Movies

'Film Unfinished' Reveals Nazi Horrors, Manipulation

'Film Unfinished' Reveals Nazi Horrors, Manipulation

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A Film Unfinished is a provocative and disturbing film about an hour of incomplete Nazi footage shot in the infamous Warsaw ghetto in 1942. That footage was discovered without sound or credits in a concrete vault hidden in a forest. It was clearly the rough first draft of a Nazi propaganda film, but as the years went on clips from that footage were considered trustworthy enough to find their way into various Holocaust documentaries. In 1998, another reel was discovered that reveals how manipulated and stage key parts of the original film were.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

"A Film Unfinished" is a film about a film. It's a piece of Nazi propaganda from the Second World War. Israeli director Yael Hersonski has released a critical analysis of the notorious footage.

MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN: "A Film Unfinished" is a provocative and disturbing film about an hour of incomplete Nazi footage shot in the infamous Warsaw ghetto in May, 1942. That footage was discovered without sound or credits in a concrete vault hidden in a forest. It was clearly the rough first draft of a Nazi propaganda film, but as the years went on, clips from that footage were considered trustworthy enough to find their way into various Holocaust documentaries.

Then, in 1998, a reel of outtakes was discovered, as well, outtakes that revealed how nakedly manipulated and meticulously staged key parts of the original film were. One reason to show the original film, here presented in its entirety, is because its authentic parts are not like other Holocaust footage.

These scenes are not shot in concentration camps. They show ordinary city streets turned into nightmarish ghettos. Squeezing half a million Jews into the three square miles of Warsaw led to almost unimaginable poverty and despair. The beggars in rags, the starving people dying on the streets, the sick and destitute living in squalor - these were all too real.

The Nazis, obviously, were not interested in a film that emphasized Jewish suffering. They wanted to contrast this pain with the alleged callous indifference of better-off Jews. Only there were no better-off Jews, which is where the Nazi fakery and manipulation came in.

(Soundbite of tape reel)

(Soundbite of beeping)

TURAN: Outtakes show that key scenes were staged over and over again from multiple angles, including shots of Jews putting on evening dress to go to champagne banquets.

Unidentified Woman: (German spoken)

TURAN: One scene involves a dinner with flowers on the table.

Unidentified Woman: (German spoken)

TURAN: A present-day survivor of the ghetto was shown watching it, and remarks...

Unidentified Woman: (German spoken)

TURAN: We would have eaten the flowers.

"A Film Unfinished" does more than show us horrors. It's a forceful reminder of the multiple ways the documentary form can be manipulated, of how nominally real footage can be turned to anyone's purposes in the blink of an eye.

WERTHEIMER: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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