Projecting the Holocaust into the Present

The Changing Focus of Contemporary Holocaust Cinema

By (author) Lawrence Baron

Publication date:

01 November 2005

Length of book:

320 pages

Publisher

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9780742543324

Most Holocaust scholars and survivors contend that the event was so catastrophic and unprecedented that it defies authentic representation in feature films. Yet it is precisely the extremity of "the Final Solution" and the issues it raised that have fueled the cinematic imagination since the end of World War II. Recognizing that movies reach a greater audience than eyewitness, historical, or literary accounts, Lawrence Baron argues that they mirror changing public perceptions of the Holocaust over time and place. After tracing the evolution of the most commonly employed genres and themes in earlier Holocaust motion pictures, he focuses on how films from the l990s made the Holocaust relevant for contemporary audiences. While genres like biographical films and love stories about doomed Jewish-Gentile couples remained popular, they now cast Jews or non-Jewish victims like homosexuals in lead roles more often than was the case in the past. Baron attributes the recent proliferation of Holocaust comedies and children's movies to the search for more figurative and age-appropriate genres for conveying the significance of the Holocaust to generations born after it happened. He contends that thematic shifts to stories about neo-Nazis, rescuers, survivors, and their children constitute an expression of the continuing impact the Holocaust exerts on the present. The book concludes with a survey of recent films like Nowhere in Africa and The Pianist.
Some authors provide sound scholarship, others supply detailed analysis, but few combine these accomplishments with prose that bridges the gap from the academic to the general reader. Historian Lawrence Baron has done just that while dealing with the often-controversial area of cinematic representations of the Holocaust. Because World War II genocide remains so dark a subject, it is easiest to see the era in high contrast black and white. This author points to the complexities of history, filmmaking, and cultural perceptions by contextualizing his work within classic films of the Shoah (from 1945-1979) while identifying trends and shifts in how stories of the Holocaust are now brought to the screen in the twenty-first century. Few previous works study more than the obvious contemporary movies, Schindler's List (1993) or Life is Beautiful (1997). This author looks at a wide range of films, including X-Men as "Holocaust pop metaphor" indicating that the shadow of past atrocities pervades our culture. Baron meticulously developed a database of films to discern changes in filmic Holocaust narratives.