"To Encompass the Unseeable": The Last Stage (Times Film, 1949) and Auschwitz in the Mind of Cold War America

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Presentation Date


Conference Name

Reimagining Jewish History in the Cold War. Cold War Cultures: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Conference Location

University of Texas at Austin, Austin TX


This paper is a revision and expansion of both "Hollywood, Foreign Films, and the Birth of the Holocaust Film" and "'To Encompass the Unseeable': The Last Stage (Times Film, 1949) and Auschwitz in the Mind of Cold War America." Here I take a reception-based approach to consider the first fictional feature films screened in the United States to depict the Holocaust, and how these films might have initially shaped audience expectations for subsequent films depicting genocide and Nazi atrocities. In particular, the paper examines the role of New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther in mediating these expectations for an audience as yet unfamiliar with the emergent conventions of these films. To do this, I consider Crowther's multiple reviews and mentions of The Last Stage and how he positioned this film both through the lens of Italian neo-realism, as well as against a Hollywood that had failed to adequately "encompass the unseeable." The paper thus argues that some American audiences were at least aware of cinematic depictions of the Holocaust by the late 1940s, that Italian neo-realism provided a frame of reference for these films, and that early encounters with these films were deeply embedded within taste culture and its appreciation for the foreign.



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