Tonight in Seattle:  

Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today

Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today (Nurnberg und siene Lehre) isn't really a movie I feel I can "review" in the way I normally think about such things. Far more a historical artifact, it as much belongs in a museum as in your local theater. If you have an interest in the Nuremberg trials as a touchstone point in international justice, the Nazis and their reign of terror, or archival footage of the era, it's certainly something you might want to catch.

Those seeking a deep analysis of the trial likely should look elsewhere, but I'd imagine anyone looking for such would fall into one of the categories of folks who would want to see this previously unavailable film. One of the principals of the restoration will be at the Landmark Varsity Friday evening to chat with the audience at the 7pm screening - so that's likely the best time to go this weekend if you'd like to delve deeper into the material.  

Commissioned by the US government and distributed in Germany during 1948 and 1949, Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today documents the famous trial of Nazi war criminals. For reasons that aren't 100% clear to me, its distribution in the US was squashed on mainly political grounds (according to most descriptions accompanying the re-release).

The press release also hints at Hollywood's opposition to its distribution - and I can certainly see why it's not really a bankable commercial product (seems some things don't really change), but none of that post Nuremberg history is something you'll see in the film. Instead what you get is a straight as possible restoration - the previously largely unseen original film, in its original form. The original negatives and sound components were lost, but Sandra Schulberg (daughter of the original film's director) and Josh Waletzky have recreated the original from an archived print along with a voiceover from Liev Schreiber.  My understanding is that Schreiber's script is largely reconstructed from the original work as well.

Even though I'm unsure how much the outcome was truly in doubt, the film certainly gives you a memorable view into one of the great courtroom drama's of the last century. It's a powerful statement, particularly as the prosecutors call out their intent to hold the instigators of global war and genocide accountable under the rule of law. Maybe an equally powerful statement is that not everyone was actually found guilty of something notwithstanding the horrific evidence on display.

With today's perspective at least one part of the trial borders on the comical. Specifically the recounting by the prosecution about all the lies Hitler told.  Turns out he might not have been a trustworthy guy… Something that in hindsight seems pretty obvious (especially given the mustache). Kidding aside, in the vein of all things are propaganda I did note a skewing wherein lots of folks/countries that acted quite late were given pretty big out in a "well, we were just trusting Hitler at his public word and not his actions" way. Though given who was making the film, I suppose one can't expect a big mea culpa, we should have demolished Hitler earlier, component of the film.

As a 78-minute film, Nuremberg hits the high points of the trial - leaving one with the sense that the Nazis were given the fairest of shakes, not to be nice to them presumably - but so that people would better understood what had happened. A major theme being that the accused were convicted solely on their own documentation (filmed and written) and not on the basis of witness testimony. The film weaves in those documents throughout, and they're as bad or worse than anything you've seen before onscreen about the Holocaust.

Most striking for me though were the vacant-eyed stares of the men on the docks. That's not something I'd seen before onscreen, and the images of that evil, so normal-looking except for the coldness in their eyes, is particularly frightening. There are a few statements from the defendants that border on contrition, though the ability to believe or care about a near deathbed reversal are difficult to muster up given the crimes committed.

The structure of the film is that of the trial. We hear the prosecutors statements, exhibits presented in support, some of the testimony, closing statements and the verdict. The voiceover gives a bit more context along the way.  Try as I might, I'm not really fully able to connect with the "its lessons for today" part of the title. Notwithstanding, it's an interesting historical piece that shows both the trial and how the Allies wanted the legal process to be viewed by the German people - not something I normally would have sought out, but absolutely an interesting 80 minutes spent watching.

If you're thinking of attending, I'd strongly suggest the 7pm show on Friday where the Director of Restoration Sandra Schulberg will be attending (along with Dee Simon of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center).

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