Music & Holocaust Portrayal

Amy Lynn Wlodarski ’97 talked film, music and the Holocaust.

Courtesy of Dickinson College

Amy Lynn Wlodarski ’97 talked film, music and the Holocaust.

By RACHEL HOROWITZ- BENOIT

In her Monday, Oct. 16 talk, entitled “Musical Witness and Holocaust Representation,”, author and Associate Professor of Music at Dickinson College Amy Lynn Wlodarski ’97 discussed the film score for Alain Resnais’s work, “Nuit et brouillard”/“Night and Fog,” and the concept of a secondary Holocaust witness that played out in the film. The film itself was barred from the Cannes Film Festival due to German outrage, but later in a commercial showing received an even larger audience than did the festival’s opening film. According to Wlodarski, the audience was silent throughout the showing of the film and left the theater without applause when it ended.

Faculty, students and community members joined Wlodarski in the Mahaney Center for the Arts to hear her discuss the research in her recently published book, also named “Musical Witness and Holocaust Representation.”

Wlodarski explored the concept of “witness” as a noun, a verb and a genre in the context of the Holocaust. The complexities of these ideas were evident — Wlodarski’s research specializes in untangling the complicated, often problematic way the Holocaust is represented musically.

For “Night and Fog,” Alain Resnais was invested in retaining a critical distance from the Holocaust’s emotional devastation. Score composer Hanns Eisler attempted to write music which would stay “cool, polite, and gentle.”

Wlodarski argued that in several cases, Eisler strays from Resnais’s and his own coolly intellectual vision. She highlighted a specific piece she referred to as the “Deportation Theme.”

The camera lingers on the face of a young girl while the deceptively simple piece fluctuates between an airy melody and grating trumpet over plodding, low piano notes, instituting a sense of dread.

Later in the film, the wide-eyed corpse of a young woman stares into the camera while the same piece plays. The repetition implies the fate of the young girl in the cattle car, thereby suggesting the exact narrative Resnais was trying to resist.

At the end of her talk, Wlodarski refused to classify Eisler’s score as entirely problematic or irresponsible, as some have argued.

She stated that it displays the critical moments in all acts of witness, which are “the impetus to speak out, the realization of the inaccuracy of one’s own language and the first flawed utterance.”

She credited the power in Eisler’s effort, and in some ways, his failure: “That’s part of the genre – that failure. How do you translate the untranslatable?”

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