Coming Soon: The Holocaust Documentary Hitchcock Was Almost Too Scared to Make

Before Hollywood dubbed him the "Master of Suspense," Alfred Hitchcock made anti-Nazi propaganda films for the British Ministry of Information. Some of his work from that period, including "Foreign Correspondent" (1940) and "Saboteur" (1942), enjoyed wide release, but two of the films -- "Bon Voyage" (1944) and "Aventure Malgache" (1944) -- were deemed by ministry officials "too subversive" to serve the allied cause and remained in storage until the 1990s.

Now another of his long-forgotten propaganda films -- perhaps the most disturbing -- is set to make its worldwide debut. The Imperial War Museum announced Wednesday that it had digitally restored and re-edited a nearly 70-year-old Holocaust documentary that Hitchcock worked on with Sidney Bernstein, the film chief of Britain's Psychological Warfare Division. The film has never been publicly screened in its entirety.

Toby Haggith, a senior curator at the Imperial War Museum and one of the people responsible for reviving the film, told the Independent that "colleagues, experts, and film historians" who had pre-screened the movie were profoundly disturbed by it. "One of the common remarks was that it was both terrible and brilliant at the same time," he said.

The film consists of footage captured inside concentration camps by Army videographers at the end of World War II. As the story goes, Hitchcock found the footage so horrific, he refused to return to the studio for a week after first screening it. When he finally did come back, he worked with Bernstein to give the film a cinematic treatment that would set it apart from conventional newsreel documentaries from the period.

The project was meant to be a British-American collaboration and the film was to have three versions, according to documents drafted by Bernstein: one for Germans living in Germany, one for German prisoners of war, and one for Allied audiences. The German versions were intended to remind "the German people of their past acquiescence in the perpetration of [war] crimes" and encourage them to take responsibility for those crimes.

It's not clear how much Hitchcock contributed to the film. He certainly didn't oversee any of the filming -- but he helped Bernstein order and set the mood of the piece. One of his major contributions, according to Bernstein, was situating the atrocities of the Holocaust within a familiar, pastoral setting, the proximity of which would shock audiences. A 2011 article in the journal Arcadia argued that the auteur's influence is "clear already in the beginning of the film when images of an idyllic countryside create, in light of the horror to come, a kind of vintage Hitchcockian suspense."

The project was abandoned for a number of reasons. The production ended up taking much longer than expected due to myriad logistical challenges. The U.S. Department of War and its collaborators, impatient to produce a short, to-the-point atrocity film, pulled out in light of these delays to make their own movie, "Death Mills." After hostilities ended in May 1945, the psychological warfare office was dissolved, leaving the film in the hands of the British Ministry of Information. By 1946, official demand for atrocity films had diminished in response to the changing political climate. A note (documented here) to Bernstein from an official at the Foreign Office highlighted some of the challenges to completing the film: "Policy at the moment in Germany is entirely in the direction of encouraging, stimulating, and interesting the Germans out of their apathy and there are people around the [regional commander] who will say 'No atrocity film.'"

Eventually, Bernstein, too, abandoned the film. Comprising six reels, the documentary lay forgotten in government archives until the 1980s, when they were discovered by a researcher. Shortly thereafter, PBS aired a version of the documentary made up of the first five reels and some additional Russian footage used in previous Holocaust films.

The digitally remastered version of the film to be released by Imperial War Museum next year will include all six reels, edited in a the way "that Hitchcock, Bernstein, and the other collaborators intended."

But will the footage leave contemporary audiences as traumatized as it left Hitchcock?

AFP/Getty Images


A Theory for Why Rodman Loves Kim: They're Both Miserable Loners

Both North Korea and Dennis Rodman know the pain of ostracization. 

When he was child growing up in a Dallas housing project, Rodman was relentlessly teased by his peers. Because of the way his body moved when he played pinball, he earned the nickname "worm." It's stuck with him ever since. He had big ears, and he definitely wasn't tall. His father abandoned him and fled to the Philippines. At age 19, all five-foot-nine of him worked a janitorial job at a Dallas airport.

Then, he rocketed in height and turned into an unlikely basketball sensation. He won three championships with Michael Jordan. But over the course of his career he also turned into something more than a star athlete. Isolated, misunderstood, and profoundly weird, he became the bad boy of the NBA. He donned a wedding dress and married himself, went through women and wives like they were sneakers, and dyed his hair every color of the rainbow.

Had it not been for his adventures in basketball diplomacy, he might have faded into a drunken obscurity. As detailed in a fantastic Miami New Times profile from May 2013, Rodman has in his post-NBA career become a sad version of his former self. He hangs out with strippers and drinks Estonian vodka by the liter; he goes on three-day binges and does endless push-ups in the sauna to sweat out the booze. He's alienated from ex-wives and his children. No one in his life seems able to reach a man enveloped in depression and alcohol abuse. But all his confidants agree: Somewhere in there is a really very sweet man.

So what is this giant of a man doing serenading North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on his birthday? After a trip last year to the hermit nation, Rodman declared himself friends for life with Kim. This week he returned for more of the same: basketball and media fireworks. In what might be loosely described as an "appearance" on CNN yesterday, Rodman suffered a meltdown. He may have been drunk, he might not have been. Either way, he implied to Chris Cuomo that Kenneth Bae, an American missionary imprisoned in North Korea, might have gotten what he had coming. Profanities rained down on Cuomo as Rodman explained how he didn't care much for the CNN host's opinions about his trip.

But why is Rodman doing this in the first place? As he's learned over the course of his career, there are many ways to get media publicity -- and the pay checks that come with it -- but why he's using North Korea to do it has been something of a mystery.

In Kim, Dennis Rodman has found someone with a reputation very similar to his own. Isolated from the world, he is repeatedly ridiculed and denounced for its barbarity. Just last week, the world's media exploded over what turned out to be in all likelihood false allegations that Kim had executed his uncle by setting free 120 starved dogs on him. They reportedly tore him to shreds. The story was just weird enough to pass muster with the world's blogs and newspapers. It fit the preconceived notions of the country: utterly weird, utterly depraved, utterly fascinating. The same thing could be said of Dennis Rodman and his treatment in the media.

Rodman and North Korea have developed a shared strategy for survival: publicity bombs. North Korea threatens to fire missiles at the United States and South Korea and detonates nuclear weapons. In return, it generally gains diplomatic concessions. The threats also satisfy a domestic demand to justify a state on a continual war-footing. Rodman uses a similar tactic of outrage to receive his paychecks. By maintaining his media profile as a bad boy beyond repair, the reality shows keep calling. Moreover, the attention fuels the megalomania that has become part and parcel of his depression and, probably, his alcoholism.

Misery loves company.