It has long been an enduring facet to Alfred Hitchcock’s character that away from the director’s many films of murder and heart-stopping suspense, he was greatly repulsed by violence in real life. The examples of this irony might call to mind the twisted types of crime seen in Hitchcock’s usual wheelhouse, but as a new documentary partly made by him about the WWII Nazi death camps nears closer to a re-release, we get the sense that the most unlikely example was the most affecting for the director himself.
In 1945, Hitchcock was asked by his friend Sidney Bernstein to delve into British and Soviet units’ footage of German wartime atrocities and turn it into a cohesive document of the time, one reportedly made to force the German people to come face-to-face with their actions. But as Hitchcock initially saw the footage at Pinewood Studios and left so disturbed that he didn’t return for a week, and then delays led the Allies to reconsider the political point to the film, five of the finished project’s six reels were quietly tucked away in London’s Imperial War Museum.
However, an American researcher found the reels of film in the ‘80s, and after showings at the Berlin Film Festival and on PBS, now the documentary is set for a re-release, in the way that Hitchcock, Bernstein, and others originally intended. Digitally restored with the sixth reel back in, and featuring “Night Will Fall,” a new companion documentary from producer André Singer (“The Act of Killing”) and “directorial advisor” Stephen Frears, Hitchcock’s as-yet-untitled film will be shown on British television in early 2015 with cinema and festival screenings to occur before then.
You can read the full history of the project (once called “Memory of the Camps”) over at the Independent, but the new release will undoubtedly shine a new tragic light on Hitchcock’s work and approach; even though he took only a small role on the project, its emotional effects were no doubt irreversible from that day onward. As Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Imperial War Museum described, feedback on the film largely strayed toward calling it “terrible and brilliant at the same time,” and we’ll soon see how accurate that assessment proves.