Afterimage : film, trauma, and the Holocaust / by Joshua Francis Hirsch.
The dissertation asks how films have responded to the Nazi Holocaust as an historical trauma. I argue that cinema has become a significant witness to the Holocaust when it has formally repeated and transmitted the traumatic structure of the experience of witnessing the events themselves. Chapter 1 presents a theory of posttraumatic cinema in two stages. In the first stage, atrocity footage potentially causes vicarious trauma in the audience, in the sense in which vicarious trauma was defined in an influential article by psychologists Lisa MacCann and Laurie Anne Pearlman in 1990. Vicarious traumatization occurred on a large scale when films of the liberated concentration camps were widely distributed in 1945. In the second stage, certain films adopt a form of narration evocative of posttraumatic memory. French filmmaker Alain Resnais was key to the development of a posttraumatic form of film narration during the 1950's and 1960's that was historically related to the modernist form of literary narration discussed by Gerard Genette in his study of Marcel Proust. Posttraumatic film narration rejects the unself-conscious mastery over time and point of view traditionally used to represent the past in classical realist cinema, employing instead fragmented temporal structures, the restricted point of view of the witness, and narrative self-consciousness. The dissertation then proceeds to examine a series of documentary and fiction films that made significant contributions to the posttraumatic cinematic discourse of the Holocaust, contrasting them with realist films that arguably worked to deny the traumatic impact of the Holocaust. Chapter 2 argues that Resnais' 1955 documentary Night and Fog largely originated this posttraumatic narration of history, and influenced later posttraumatic films. Chapter 3 traces the development of the posttraumatic Holocaust documentary after cinema verite, focusing on Shoah (France, 1985, dir. Claude Lanzmann). Chapter 4 turns to the adoption of posttraumatic narration in fiction films, focusing on the contribution of The Pawnbroker (USA, 1965, dir. Sidney Lumet) to the posttraumatic flashback. Chapter 5 looks at three films written and directed by the Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivor Istvan Szabo (1966–1973) as examples of posttraumatic autobiography.
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