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Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust

12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

"a devastating, impressively reflective documentary" -The New York Times

Featuring interviews with Steven Spielberg, Sidney Lumet and other prominent filmmakers and historians, Imaginary Witness examines Hollywood's attitude towards one of the most horrific events in world history. Using rare newsreel footage as well as gripping clips from over forty films, this award-winning documentary explores how filmmakers and popular culture have portrayed the Holocaust over the past 60 years.

Narrated by Gene Hackman - A Film by Daniel Anker - As Seen on AMC


Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Gene Hackman, Norma Barzman, Jack Benny, Michael Berenbaum, Robert Berger
  • Directors: Daniel Anker
  • Producers: Daniel Anker, Diana Holtzberg, Ellin Baumel, Jan Rofekamp, Nate Smith
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Koch Lorber Films
  • DVD Release Date: January 13, 2009
  • Run Time: 92 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001HM2CC4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,462 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By J. Lovins HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 4, 2008
Format: DVD
Koch Lorber Films presents "IMAGINARY WITNESS: HOLLYWOOD AND THE HOLOCAUST" (25 December 2007) (92 mins/B&W/Color) (Dolby Digital) --- This is an expertly made documentary on Hollywood, not just how they handled one topic, but how they are embroiled in current politics --- There will be some surprises to some moviegoers and clips from some relatively unknown gems, some of which I have never seen and will now seek out! --- Otherwise, I have to give this documentary a big thumbs up --- Narrated by Gene Hackman and featuring a remarkable series of clips and interviews, IMAGINARY WITNESS is a revelation, not least for its large inclusion of material from BEFORE the Holocaust even happened, including American newsreel footage of Nazi book burning that treat it like a fraternity prank and pre-war Hollywood films in which characters refer to Jews as non Aryans --- This is one documentary not to be missed.Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Z Hayes HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on December 15, 2008
Format: DVD
I found this documentary to be a compelling watch. It begins with an explanation for the lack of portrayal in Hollywood movies about the rising Nazi threat back in the early 1940s. The reason for this was due to the fact that Germany accounted for 10% of Hollywood's foreign market. But economics wasn't the only reason for the dearth of anti-Nazi depictions in movies made by Hollywood. There was quite a bit of anti-semitism within the US itself - e.g. the Ku Klux Klan and the German Bunde [sic], an organization that was based in the US and represented the interests of the sizable German population in the States did not want to see attacks on Hitler or the Nazis.

Yet, there were some compelling portrayal of life under the Nazis and how it affected the Jews. Movies like The Mortal Storm with Jimmy Stewart told the story of a respectable, upper middle class Jewish family in Germany and how the anti-semitic movement in Germany under Hitler and the Nazis affects them. There are also movies like The great Dictator starring Charlie Chaplin [who funded the movie himself], playing dual roles of a Jewish barber and a parody of Hitler. It was in the Great Dictator that the word "Jew" is first referenced in a Hollywoood production [even in the Mortal Storm, the phrase "non-Aryan" is used when referencing Jews].

This is a well-researched documentary and for someone like me who is keen on anything to do with the Holocaust and WW II history, I found it to be a minefield of interesting historical facts and trivia. I made a list of classic movies that I plan to look up and add to my library - movies like "To Be or Not to Be", starring Carole Lombard [a comedic attack on Nazi ideology], None Shall Escape [1944], The Search [1948], and Singing in the Dark [1956].
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Westley VINE VOICE on January 7, 2010
Format: DVD
"Imaginary Witness" is an interesting although somewhat slight documentary about how Hollywood films have dealt with the Holocaust. The documentary starts with the 1920s and discusses the uneasy relationship between Hollywood studios, which were run largely by Jewish Americans, and Germany, which was an eager consumer of films, contributing up to 10% of American film studio's grosses. The Jewish-led studios were nervous about offending Germany while also wanting to avoid anti-semitism in the United States and accusations of bias, so negative depictions of Germany and later Hitler were rare in Hollywood films until the U.S. entered WWII.

Even during the war, films often avoided addressing issues of the Holocaust directly; for example, one of the most daring anti-Nazi films of the time, "The Mortal Storm," never used the term "Jew" at all! After the war, the studio heads toured Germany and filmed the death camps, playing the footage as newsreels before films. At that point, they really lead the way in terms of speaking of the Holocaust, yet it would be decades before Hollywood films tackled the topic fully. Using interviews with top Hollywood filmmakers such as Sidney Lumet and Steve Spielberg, "Imaginary Witness" explores the reasons for this lag.

Although there have been dozens of documentaries in recent years that have explored seemingly more "important" aspects of the Holocaust, "Imaginary Witness" makes an intriguing argument. To wit, most American's understanding of the Holocaust is vis a vis films! How many of us think of "Schindler's List," for example, when we think of Nazi atrocities? For many of us, our personal connections to the Holocaust are through Hollywood films.
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