Jun 6, 2013

Von Trotta watches Hannah Arendt watching Eichman watch Holocaust films.

Thu, 6 Jun 2013 03:22:26 -0400
Reply-To: Association of Moving Image Archivists
Subject: Von Trotta's Hannah Arendt

Lisa Flanzraich wrote:  "I often wonder why people don't shout it out loud about movies they have seen. Oh well, hope this can be something of a thread. . . . [HANNAH ARENDT] is a truly remarkable and astonishing film."


Although AMIA-L is a forum for discussion of archival issues rather than film criticism, I will second Lisa Flanzraich's shout-out to the remarkable new feature film HANNAH ARENDT -- but also justify mentioning it by pointing to its commendable use of archival footage. 

Two frames from HANNAH ARENDT (the trailer, actually). We get to see an honest and revealing re-presenation of the original trial footage.  At top, Eichmann gets his head chopped off when the original video is used to fill von Trotta's CinemaScope-dimensioned frame. No one saw it this way in 1961. At bottom, von Trotta's cutaway shot showing us a television set and how the trial would have looked to viewers in 1961. Or to anyone watching the replay in correct aspect ratio. I like this. Head room.

Here's an even better contrast. 
Two frames taken from the German-language trailer for HANNAH ARENDT.  Above, the press room, where Arendt and other journalists watch a live feed of the courtroom cameras. 

The incorporation of the footage of the 1961 Adolph Eichmann trial into the new movie is as seamless in technical quality and as deftly deployed in the narrative as any feature film I can recall. And this despite the fact that HANNAH ARENDT is released in CinemaScope aspect ratio, thus chopping off a lot of the original 4:3 image -- a practice that usually irks my inner archivist.  Von Trotta even does us the favor of showing images of television sets playing the trial footage, revealing how the 2.35:1 compositions truncate the original whenever the black-and-white scenes fill the wide screen.

The trial sequences are all dramatic enactments, except no actor portrays Eichmann. The shots of the man in the glass booth are all from actual trial footage. The person who I watched the film with at Film Forum (AMIA advocate Mark J. Williams of  Dartmouth's Media Ecology Project <http://sites.dartmouth.edu/mediaecology, as it happens), said the effect made him realize that Eichmann, as seen in this footage, has a striking cinematic/televisual presence. It’s true. George Clooney used the Joseph McCarthy kinescopes of 1954 to good effect in GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK (2005), but not nearly as effectively as von Trotta does in HANNAH ARENDT. 

Having not done the research, I hesitate to say what quality and format of archival material the producers used. The recording of the Eichmann trial exists as original 2" videotape. The shots used in HA are fairly clear and sharp. [I wondered if any 16 or 35mm film cameras also used to record any parts of the trial? According to the director of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, Deborah Steinmetz (who also helped catalog the videotapes), no. Only the television cameras were allowed in court. Unusual for the day not to have any newsfilm shot. ] 

According to a news item of 1961: "Video tape recordings made in the Jerusalem courtroom will be flown to this country daily for use by networks and stations" (Val Adams, "News of TV and Radio -- Eichmann," New York Times, April 9, 1961). And there were many broadcasts on multiple networks and local stations at the time. The Times also reported that the Israeli government allowed only one TV company to have camera's in the courtroom [rather, the auditorium used as a courtroom]. Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation deployed 4 cameras and two tape recorders. Each U.S. network paid $50,000 for an hour of daily edited highlights. 

However, in Israel, no one saw telecasts of the trial, edited or otherwise -- because there were no television stations in Israel until 1966! 

A few interesting threads from all this: 

• Noted American documentary filmmaker Leo Hurwitz directed the 356 tapes worth of footage that Capital Cities recorded at the Eichmann trial.  (q.v. Did they record only one feed, that consisting of the shots as Hurwitz called for them among the four cameras? Or are there tapes that have raw feeds from single camera positions? Presumably not much of the latter if only 2 videotape recorders were in use. Did the Israeli court have a separate film or video documentation system for this historic event? Or was the Hurwitz video record the only one?)

• Kino Video distributed the European theatrical release THE SPECIALIST (1999, aka "Un spécialiste, portrait d'un criminel moderne") created by Eyal Sivan and Rony Brauman, using two hours of the 1961 video recordings -- much as Emile de Antonio and Dan Talbot's documentary POINT OF ORDER (1963, edited by Robert Duncan) was assembled from more than 100 hours of CBS kinescopes of the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearing broadcasts. (POINT OF ORDER sneaks in one stock footage shot, as Vance Kepley has pointed out.)  Some reviews of THE SPECIALIST referred to the remarkable "restoration" of the original videotapes of the Eichmann trial. 

And yet. . . .

“THE SPECIALIST is almost entirely a perverse fraud; So says the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, claiming large parts of the documentary about the Eichmann trial are a forgery," wrote Goel Pinto in HAARETZ (Jan. 31, 2005. http://www.haaretz.com/culture/arts-leisure/the-specialist-is-almost-entirely-a-perverse-fraud-1.148832 )

The then-director of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive at Hebrew University, Hillel Tryster [no stranger to AMIA types; now living in Berlin with the name Rodney Stewart Hillel Tryster], conducted a detailed comparison of THE SPECIALIST and the original videotapes. According to HAAREETZ, he pointed out numerous ways in which the editing of the footage -- and even some added and sweetened sound -- is manipulated to make Eichmann more sympathetic than the entirety of the video evidence suggests. Similar critiques were made of POINT OF ORDER, that it showed sequences out of chronological order, conveyed wrong impressions by inserting false "reaction shots," putting audio from one passage over images recorded at a different time, and so on. 

Thu, 6 Jun 2013, AMIA-L note from Braden Cannon: 
Cineaste recently published an in-depth interview with Eyal Sivan (director of "The Specialist") in which he talks about his use of the Eichmann trial footage and his less-than-pleasant interactions with the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive. Full article can be accessed here: www.eyalsivan.info/medias/Interviews/Historical%20Memory%20and%20Pol=itical%20Violence%20An%20Interview%20with%20Eyal%20Sivan%20by%20Gary%20Crow=dus_cineast%20fall%202012.pdf

So was I taken in? Does HANNAH ARENDT selectively use portions of the Eichmann trial footage that convey an impression that supports Arendt's controversial argument about the banality of evil and the "I was only following orders" defense? Yes and no.

Yes, of course, movies selectively edit and therefore cannot reveal the whole of the evidence. But the great thing about von Trotta's film is that it paints an ambiguous portrait of both Arendt and the intellectual argument she presented in her trial reports for the NEW YORKER. Over all, it portrays the philosopher-journalist as a courageous intellect, one who sticks to principles. Yet the movie seldom makes her into a hero battling villains. Those who argue against her interpretation of Eichmann are given their due. The evidence and argumentation the film gives allows one to see more than one perspective on the history of the Holocaust and of the 1961 trial. (The only conventional Hollywood-like moment of melodramatic morality comes when the Arendt character points out to the Israeli agent, who tells her to suppress her book, that he wants Israel to take the Nazi-like route of banning books.) 

• For anyone who wants to compare HANNAH ARENDT's use of historical footage (or Hannah Arendt's interpretation of the trial)  to the original documentation, access is available. On the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial project created a YouTube channel, uploading ALL of the trial footage (plus supplemental materials). Here's the English-language channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/EichmannTrialEN  

• Among the hours of video are trial sessions in which we see FILMS introduced as evidence to show the court. And we hear arguments for and against the introduction of those films as evidence -- how were they edited? are the subtitles in them accurate? Hyper-self-reflective stuff, which needs to be better studied and written about. 

• I am recalling the following only from a conversation I had with film historian Bjørn Sørenssen about Chris Marker. One of the films projected during the Eichmann trial was NIGHT AND FOG (1955). Marker was an assistant director on this canonical documentary about the Shoah death camps and helped shape the script and editing. On rare occasions Marker showed, to select audiences, a video piece he never released. He constructed it using parts of the Eichmann trial footage.  Apparently it is built around footage taken from a camera dedicated to shooting only the man on trial. What we see, I'm told, is a lengthy sequence of Adolph Eichmann's face as he watches NIGHT AND FOG! 

Amazing. I hope to see the remarkable Marker’s work some day. (But how?)

Here, not Marker, but frames from Hurwitz's TV direction. Adolph Eichmann watches NIGHT AND FOG in court! Other atrocity footage was screened as well. In frame 1, we see a 16mm projector being set up. The court permitted the prosecution to project an English-subtitled print of NUIT ET BRUILLARD (with no sound[!]). Hurwitz intercut long takes of the defendant watching the film screen with the TV camera's recording of the film screen.

Below, a link to 44 minutes of video from which these screenshots are taken. All recordings of the trial are in the public domain. 
trial part 70  משפט אייכמן - ישיבה 

So, yes, I agree with Lisa Flanzraich. HANNAH ARENDT is a movie well worth seeing. Regardless of what is does with the archival video, it accomplishes something very rare and difficult in cinema. It dissects an intellectual argument and a philosophical debate, while remaining captivating throughout. It some how manages to be a movie, a work of engaging cinema, while also keeping to a deep, challenging, and enduring philosophical examination of historical events.  

Dan Streible

Of related interest:

• The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive - Witnesses of the Eichmann Trial, www.youtube.com/watch?v=X098U8_oU1Q 

• Trailer for the German-language edition of EIN SPEZIALIST (1999)

Eichmann in color!? (Looks fake, no?)