On Thursday September 2nd, the 1st year MFA students attended “A Film Unfinished” along with professor David Deitcher. The film deconstructs the making of a never fully completed Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw ghetto. The Nazi’s silent 60 minute rough draft, discovered toward the end of WWII, has been a source document for research on the Nazi instated ghettos. However, the recent discovery of an additional reel along with interviews and journal entries from former ghetto occupants who witnessed the film’s production, “A Film Unfinished” sheds new light on the Nazi document.
The additional reel contains deleted scenes and shots of the filmmakers themselves donning SS uniforms, thus providing evidence against the “truth” that this document silently purports. Scenes of abundance contend against scenes of death and starvation in the Nazi’s version of ghetto life. This juxtaposition is meant to provide evidence of greed and apathy among the Jewish people, thus making them appear to be victims of their own devices, rather than that of the Nazi’s.
As a modern viewer informed by reality television, broadcast news and viral marketing I found nothing shocking about the Nazi construction of “reality” within the original document. What I did find shocking was their argument. In order to understand the logic behind showing such violent and devastating images I watched completed Nazi propaganda, such as the one below.
This 6’25’’ piece describes the Jewish people as a plague, as an other, a danger to the majority. After watching this piece I can almost hear the Nazi narrator’s voice over the footage of ghetto residents rushing down the streets past dead bodies laid across their sidewalks, seemingly oblivious of the “plague” that they themselves embody.
Unfortunately this argument is not unfamiliar to me in modern times, nor is it hard to find within contemporary popular media. After watching “An Unfinished Film” I found myself thinking about a “YouTube” video a friend recently showed me. Perhaps the similarities are not immediately obvious, however I cannot help but see a familiar tactic in this clip from the show “Cops”:
Originally aired on national television and now available to the masses via “YouTube” this video zooms in on “Steven’s” pock marked face, pans up and down her body while the officer questions every aspect of her presence. The titles for this clip range from, “CROSS DRESSER ARRESTED ~ Excuse My Beauty” to “Steven the Funny Tranny on Cops”. The video depicts a transwoman and two of her friends getting arrested after stealing balloons from a local car dealership. The “YouTube” audience speaks, and they say:
“Lmao i laiugh evry tym i watch dis it soo fukkn funni” – FroznHeavn
“This THING should be Tarred, Feathered, and Set on Fire.
505-xxx-7155” – thezvirus22
“i almost puked watching he/she talk” – Sneauxboarder8
“Good for you, takes balls to be the way you are! Could have been worse, especially that your native!” – ghostyfireXz
“oh this is so sad and funny at the same time. I say this is because my cousins moms friend knew who steven was, He’s gone now.” – Yankumi3D
An interesting transformation occurs by taking the video off the airways and placing it on “YouTube”. A certain democracy springs up around the video. The video is removed from the “Cops” framework and their “Bad boy” angle. The audience is given a voice, even those who know the subjects of the video are allowed to speak. The truth is muddled by pseudonyms and anonymity, however, the audience is intrinsically educated, as this is the modern form of media consumption. Remixes and reenactments have sprung up around the video, including a queer skit and a music video titled, “Release my Beauty”.
As the “YouTube” audience has deconstructed “Cops” othering work of documentary fiction, “A Film Unfinished” approaches the “reality” of media with a similarly modern tactic. Remove the framework dictated by the film’s makers and give voice to those who the film purports to describe. By doing so mechanics of propaganda are laid bare for all of us to see.