Jennifer CazenaveJan 8, 2024
An Archive of the Catastrophe
The Unused Footage of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah
SUNY Press 2019
Jennifer Cazenave’s An Archive of the Catastrophe: The Unused Footage of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (SUNY Press, 2019) is a fascinating analysis of the 220 hours of outtakes edited out of the final nine and a half-hour 1985 film with which listeners and readers might be familiar. Well known around the world as one of the greatest documentary films ever made, and certainly one of the most important works/artifacts of Holocaust history and memory, Lanzmann’s eventual finished film emerged from an astonishing 230 hours of interview footage shot in various locations. Commissioned originally by the State of Israel to make a film about the catastrophe, Lanzmann collected these testimonies over a period of several years before beginning the epic task of editing the film. He saved the outtakes as a vital repository of accounts of those who had lived through the Shoah. The footage has since been acquired, preserved, and digitized as an archive by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The chapters of Cazenave’s book explore the film’s conceptualization and production, reframing the final film in terms of all that it left out, to think about what was included in relationship to those stories and scenes excluded for different reasons. Over years from an initial dissertation project to this volume, Cazenave pursued the story of the film and its outtakes through archival research, detective work, and close technical, aesthetic and theoretical consideration. The resulting analysis takes author and reader from consideration of the film/archive in relationship to Holocaust trials (and especially the Eichmann trial of 1961), to issues of gender and the feminine, to the question of rescue and refugees, as well as debates about representation, witnessing, and testimony. The book is a wonderful and complex study that will be of great interest to readers in Holocaust and cinema studies. The magnum opus of a French filmmaker working with a largely French crew, and produced with funding provided in part by the French government, the film also illuminates, in its own ways (including its silences) the difficult French past and politics of Holocaust history and memory.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and empire. She is the founding host of New Books in French Studies, a channel launched in 2013.