Yes, we see bodies plowed into holes, stacks of skulls and mounds of human hair, and while that may have shocked years ago, one must be aware that Bela Lugosi’s original turn in 1931’s Dracula, by Tod Browning, was also considered by some to be far too scary for film. Now it’s hokum, and Night And Fog is the documentary equivalent of Dracula. One might argue he’s not to blame, since time and history have swept by his film, but a truly great artist knows that his work will stand up not only upon first peek, but decades later, centuries after that, and as far into the human future as one can envision. This is why the best of Greek tragedies speak to a reader today, and why Night And Fog fails.
And, a final word on the narration, written by Cayrol and voiced by Bouquet. Aside from the pseudo-poetry, there is a condescending tone throughout. Oftentimes, Bouquet chides a viewer for not believing what is being shown (an unwitting invitation to Holocaust deniers in years hence), and then offers platitudes like, "Words are insufficient." Well, not really, not in great art. And while, at 31 minutes, there was obviously no attempt to be comprehensive about the death camps, much less all of World War Two, there is not even an attempt to distill the experience. This lack of focus and air of flippancy make a strange combination for the viewer to chew on, for there is no reflection, no analysis, and what is presented seems almost parodic.
The film’s score is no great shakes either, often being wildly out of touch with the images onscreen. Hanns Eisler plays flute and woodwinds against horrific images, which only further underscores the film’s seeming California surfer dude approach to the subject matter. Music need not be didactic and ponderous, thus recapitulating a terrible image of the dead, but it need not flounce lightly off the carcasses, as well.
Other than the five minute Resnais radio interview, there are only a few essays on the film. As Resnais was still alive at the time of the DVD’s release, one wonders why there are no interviews with him, nor even a commentary. And, as usual, Criterion really flubs it when they use only black and white subtitles, half of which wash out when the white of the black and white segments are shown. All in all, Criterion really shafted the public on this release.