You’re likely to find Claude Lanzmann’s landmark documentary “Shoah” near or at the top of any list of the greatest documentaries ever made (it’s number 2 on Sight & Sound’s recent list), but it’s not always been as widely available as its status called for. That changed last year upon its Criterion Blu-Ray release, but it still hasn’t been available on any online streaming service, not even through Criterion’s partnership with Hulu Plus.
But Sundance’s streaming service SundanceNow Doc Club has announced that it will make Lanzmann’s masterpiece more accessible than ever by hosting the film’s exclusive digital premiere on Sunday, November 9. This version will be the same 4K HD transfer released on the recent Criterion release in the film’s original 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
This is a major get for Doc Club, but more importantly it’s a terrific opportunity for fans of world cinema to catch up with one of the most important documentaries of all time. “Shoah” is a film that many might understandably view with a certain amount of trepidation. After all, it’s a nine hour-long documentary about the Holocaust, a sober meditation on the evils that man is capable of consisting entirely of interviews with those who experienced it, not exactly the first choice for an afternoon viewing. Even when it was made more widely available than ever upon its Criterion Blu-Ray release last year, it’s one that requires a great amount of patience and emotional fortitude.
But while few are going to put the film at the top of their Netflix queues, the film’s availablity online now makes the film easier to access and (somewhat) easier to take. Instead of ordering “Shoah” online over less daunting Criterion releases, viewers can get to it at the click of a button and space their viewing of the film over the course of a few nights. The film is still the closest thing to a definitive statement about the Holocaust on film, and essential viewing for cinephiles, historians, and anyone with even the vaguest desire to understand the enormity of the event. We’ll close with what Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote about the film for Sight & Sound’s list in August:
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Of course cinema already had to exist in order to allow Lanzmann to make Shoah – the title is the Hebrew word for catastrophe – but he also had to rethink what cinema could be. His 550-minute examination of the Jewish Holocaust falls within the documentary tradition of investigative journalism, but what he does with that form is so confrontational and relentless that it demands to be described in philosophical/spiritual terms rather than simply cinematically. Determined to make us imagine the unimaginable, Lanzmann literalises a quote from the philosopher Emil Fackenheim: “The European Jews massacred are not just of the past, they are the presence of an absence.”