The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Seminal Image #452

(Gillo Pontecorvo; 1959)


Vanwall said...

I had been reading about this film for years, since high school at least, as the most realistic Holocaust film ever, and even after "Schindler's List" came out, there were a certain amount of comparisons with this film to the point that SL came out lacking in realism according to some.

I had never had a chance to see "Kapò", and as a student of that period, I always felt like I missed something that might've been big, but who knows? - I passed on chances to view it twice because of other plans that seemed more important at the time, and then it seemed to have been pretty much buried.

Pontecorvo's other films were quite commonly available, and having seen a few of them, I was afraid "Kapò" would be another well-crafted diatribe about the failures of non-communist governments, and I feel the Holocaust, or any genocide, is something that shouldn't be skewed in political directions.

After finally seeing it, yes, Pontecorvo had his political message there, but it certainly didn't flatter the absolutists on either side - the Stasi and the KGB, as just a couple of examples, both ran similar operations at the time of the "Kapò" release.

I was amazed by Susan Strasberg's acting, supreme among the others, and the realism was frighteningly good. I always had a thing for her on screen - all the time, she seemed to play the smart girl of still waters, and I don't think she gave a bad performance, ever. She was all over TV as kid, and I wondered what she could've done with a really great role - now I know. A lot of reviewers seem to fault the romance element in the later parts of the movie, but even that's well handled IMHO. It's a tough film to watch, and realistic as hell.


Richard Gibson said...

Hello Vanwall, I read with interest your comments on this film. I must admit I know zero about Pontecorvo and it was actually Tom Sutpen who said this was worth catching. It's certainly disappeared off the DVD/TV/Theatrical circuit here, which is a shame as I think it's one of the better films I've seen this year.

Like you I'd read something about the romance element but for me, the imagery, acting and music all impressed me and this area was not an issue for me.

Vanwall said...

Richard -

Thanks for reading! I literally stopped in my tracks and looked like a mouth-breather when I was passing in front of my TV set recently and saw it listed for later that same night on TCM! No other network had the guts to show "Kapò" over the years, I guess. The European far-left films can be a bit numbing, but Pontecorvo's are very well made, with excellent writing that avoids the usual screeds. "The Battle Of Algiers", for example, has characters acting from genuine human motives, not some paper cut-out figures mouthing platitudes.

I think those complaining about the romance want a totally soulless, grind-your face-in-it experience, but I think it actually humanized the whole thing by offering another angle to survival in hellish conditions. I have read of similar incidents happening in real-life, so it has a place in the scheme of things. Sure beats hell out of havin' Benigni disgustingly caper for an Oscar.

Richard Gibson said...

Hello again Vanwall, funny I thought of 'Life is Beautiful' whilst watching this. It reminded me when I visited Auschwitz and the tour guide was an ex-inmate, he said the camp was just like 'Schlindlers List' only there was no grass as the inmates had eaten it. A humbling moment for all visitors.

On a similar theme have you seen 'Nuit et Broullard'? I haven't and wondered if it's worth trying to see.

Vanwall said...

Richard -
You have to be glutton for punishment - 'Nuit et brouillard' is pretty unpleasant stuff, altho it must've been worse back when it was released, as there was much less footage of the Holocaust floating around in public, to say nothing of the many graphic horror movies we have now to de-sensitize us a little. That said, I highly recommend it. It's the real deal, tho, and uses the Nazi's narcissitic penchant for recording in exruciating, venal detail as much of their banal evil as they could, no doubt for later editing by Reifenstahl or some other sycophant into an epic account of the triumph of the Fatherland.

Instead it was used in a chilling and poetic indictment of National Socialism by Resnais, and is one of the first and best at portraying the Camps as possibly the lowest point in our indstrialized society - I can't really use the word modern, as the intentions of the Nazis were clearly to bring a most primitive, (albeit highly mechanized) past, forward into their time, and whack out everyone who wasn't acceptable. I also recommend Brownlow and Mollo's "It Happened Here", and a little reading goes a long way on this subject.

Richard Gibson said...

Hi again Vanwall, I think I'll seek out 'Nuit et Brouillard'. I can't for the life of me remember the other Holocaust film that was recently re-released here, I think it was shown at our NFT - National Film Theatre and maybe a few other places.

I've seen 'It Happenened Here', albeit some time ago. I've often thought of putting that as a dream double bill (a series I have been running in my mind and on my site) with 'Went the Day Well?'.

Vanwall said...

Richard -