I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin’s words remain as urgent and relevant as they were when written

<em>I Am Not Your Negro</em>: James Baldwin’s words remain as urgent and relevant as they were when written

I Am Not Your Negro is not a film about James Baldwin: more like a séance presided over by director Raoul Peck in which he summons up from beyond the grave Baldwin’s voice ventriloquised by Samuel L. Jackson in a narration drawn entirely from Baldwin’s work. It is not one of those conventional documentaries cluttered with the thoughts of  friends, relatives or experts, but a work of literary archaeology that pieces together a book which Baldwin planned but never wrote, using his notes, plus words – and only his words – from letters, essays and books written in the mid-1970s. It is, perhaps, the best documentary I have ever seen. Continue reading I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin’s words remain as urgent and relevant as they were when written”

Son of Saul: Auschwitz in unrelenting close-up

<em>Son of Saul</em>: Auschwitz in unrelenting close-up

In recent days I’ve made two journeys back into the dark heart of Auschwitz courtesy of a book and a film. But You Did Not Come Back is Marceline Loridan-Ivens’ moving memoir addressed to her father. Aged fifteen, she survived the death camp, but her father did not return. The acclaimed film Son of Saul was my second encounter with the horrors of Auschwitz. Despite the praise heaped upon László Nemes’s film, I have my reservations. Continue reading Son of Saul: Auschwitz in unrelenting close-up”

After Bosch: Visions of a 20th century hell

After Bosch: Visions of a 20th century hell

Loop Visions of a hell where unspeakable cruelties are inflicted upon the damned by fearsome devils who take the utmost pleasure in their satanic work. I emerged from the 16th century nightmares of Hieronymus Bosch on display in the unparalleled 500th anniversary exhibition at Noordbrabants Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch into the bright sunlight of a spring afternoon. An hour later, after a ten minute bus ride out of town, I came face to face with the barbarity of a 20th century hell.

Vught was the only official SS concentration camp in occupied northwest Europe, established in occupied Holland. Political prisoners began its construction in May 1942. The first inmates arrived at the camp before it was finished at the end of 1942, the already famished and abused prisoners marched from the railway station in the village of Vught along country lanes to the camp. Socialists, communists and trade unionists, resistance fighters, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and Roma – and, above all, Jews. There were families: married couples with their children, grandparents, uncles and aunts. Continue reading “After Bosch: Visions of a 20th century hell”

Representations of the Holocaust: stage, screen and text

Representations of the Holocaust: stage, screen and text

To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.
― Elie Wiesel, Night

Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.
― Elie Wiesel, Night

Two very different representations of the Holocaust seen in the last 48 hours are the subject of this post. The first is the stage adaptation by Children’s Touring Partnership of  Irish novelist John Boyne’s ‘fable’ for younger readers, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, set in Auschwitzthe second a documentary film, Night Will Fall, about the army photographers who filmed the horrific scenes revealed when British forces entered the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. Continue reading “Representations of the Holocaust: stage, screen and text”

Auschwitz: there was no why there

Auschwitz: there was no why there

In his memoir If This Is a Man, Primo Levi recalled his first adjustments to the Auschwitz regime with a sort of wry irony, telling how he asked a prisoner already experienced in the ways of the camp whether the guards would give them back their toothbrushes. Contemptuously, the prisoner replies: ‘You are not at home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney’. When Levi, thirsty, breaks off an icicle, it is brutally snatched away by a guard who, on being asked ‘Why?’ replies, ‘There is no why here’. Continue reading “Auschwitz: there was no why there”

Primo Levi: To My Friends

Primo Levi: To My Friends

Primo Levi

This is another poem selected by Sheila Hancock in the BBC film My Life In Verse. All the poems are featured and discussed in this article by Sheila Hancock.

To My Friends by Primo Levi

Dear friends, and here I say friends
the broad sense of the word:
Wife, sister, associates, relatives,
Schoolmates of both sexes,
People seen only once
Or frequented all my life;
Provided that between us, for at least a moment,
A line has been stretched,
A well-defined bond.
I speak for you, companions of a crowded
Road, not without its difficulties,
And for you too, who have lost
Soul, courage, the desire to live;
Or no one, or someone, or perhaps only one person, or you
Who are reading me: remember the time
Before the wax hardened,
When everyone was like a seal.
Each of us bears the imprint
Of a friend met along the way;
In each the trace of each.
For good or evil
In wisdom or in folly
Everyone stamped by everyone.
Now that the time crowds in
And the undertakings are finished,
To all of you the humble wish
That autumn will be long and mild.

16 December 1985